John Dewey & F M Alexander
Articles, Nick Chapman Alexander Technique

Does the Alexander Technique vocabulary make you feel queazy?

It (the technique of Mr Alexander) bears the same relation to education that education itself bears to all other human activities.

John Dewey Introduction The Use of the Self F M Alexander

Alexander Technique Language

F M was a hard-working teacher and thought through everything very carefully. Particularly the language he developed to express the theory and practice behind his technique. It is true that some of the vocabulary used in the Alexander Technique confuses the novice. Many people never come to terms with it. I still struggle with aspects of quantum mechanics but I would never try to argue in favour of changing technical terms. However, that is exactly what some of his pupils did. They took umbrage at the direction, ‘head forward and up’* and asked F M if it could be replaced since it was so unpopular.

F M Alexander was incredibly successful in teaching his own technique and amassed a great many highly influential friends. Not only did he share strong friendships with the famous people of his day, but a lot of them became some of the strongest advocates of his ideas. None other than the great philosopher and educationist John Dewey, who was perhaps one of the strongest proponents of Alexander’s work. F M was a very intelligent man and decided to contact his friend Dewey, who by all accounts was a very good man for this particular job of analysing the vocabulary he had developed, over many years, for his technique.

John Dewey visits F M Alexander in London

Dewey came to London and spent six months with F M. They spent a lot of time together and discussed many things. Alexander announced to his trainees that he would not ignore their thoughts and that he took them seriously. He told them that he would allow Dewey to change anything that he felt was worth changing. So the pupils must have been happy. They got their way. Finally, Dewey would straighten out some of these crazy words!

Many pupils and teachers alike to this day try to undermine the language used by F M. It is a debate that rages on. One of the things that baffles me after more than half my life practising this technique, is how people feel so confident that they know better than FM. It is much appreciated that people are very creative. For this reason, we can understand why they might feel that their own ideas work better than Alexander’s. For me, the important thing to remember is that the Alexander Technique is a specific technique. We play football in a particular way with certain rules. If you change these rules you may use a football but you are playing a different game. Indeed, some teachers profess that they do not teach Alexander Technique and just use the bits they like. Let’s wish them luck. For my part, I have never felt the need to change anything and do not teach outside of the Alexander Technique.

Imagine the excitement when F M told his pupils that the work on his technique’s vocabulary had finished. F M announces that he will leave it to Dewey to explain the changes they have discussed. You can feel the atmosphere in the room, see the faces of those that love every bit of the technique and fear the change. You can see the cross anticipation on the faces of those who have advocated this change. Are they looking smug already? They should be. After all this whole process has come about because they decided things needed to change.

An unexpected result.

They sat around waiting for the big announcement in silence. Finally, the door opens and in walks the head of their training course, the great man himself, F M Alexander and behind him another great man, John Dewey. Alexander says all changes will be announced by Dewey and sits down quietly in the corner, ever the man of grace.
“ Well, I have looked through everything, ” says Dewey. “I am happy to say that my recommendation is that we change nothing.’

You could have heard a pin drop. Any speculation that FM had made a mistake or undermined his own technique with faulty or unhelpful language was assuaged by the very well thought of and very well known philosopher John Dewey.

The Four Books…

This story illustrates, very well, two important things. Firstly, the language we use to describe and practice Alexander Technique is not random. It has been thought through. We can rely on it. And secondly, all disciplines will have detractors. There will be those who for one reason or another decide things aren’t good enough for them and as creative beings, we should be happy for them to do whatever they feel is best for them. What we should not do is in any way allow them to pretend that they are improving the technique. We should be very sure about what that is. We should be sure that we are studying the Alexander Technique and not something else. That is made up of the component parts described in Alexanders’ four books. It works. Inhibition and direction. That is what Alexander Technique is.

*For those who haven’t studied the Alexander Technique this ‘direction’ is one of the fundamentals you will learn with your teacher.


Nick Chapman is an Alexander Technique teacher in private practice.

He qualified as a teacher at The Constructive Teaching Centre Lansdowne road in Holland Park and is a member of the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique. He holds the certificate for teachers of the F. Matthias Alexander Technique. He was trained by W.H.M. Carrington.and D.M.G. Carrington. W.H.M. Carrington studied with Alexander and was the most influential teacher in the country. He is now a legend. His wife Dylis was also his teacher and was just as influential.

Nick Chapman is employed by Merrill Lynch and UBS as the resident Alexander Teacher.

Nick Chapman has considerable experience in the treatment of a wide range of musculoskeletal, stress and anxiety related problems.

He worked with the Odyssey Trust, where he used Alexander Technique and other relaxation methods for the relief of drug withdrawal.

He also worked in nursing homes where the nurses found great benefits using the technique for stress and the management of various physical problems from maneuvering and handling high risk patients.