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Power Through Repose:
Annie Payson Call

Nor will you find the Alexander Technique. in Annie P. Call’s Power Through Repose (published 1891, 1905).  It’s a nice little book, though, with the grace of the turn of the (nineteenth) century behind it.

She exhorts us to relax, then we’d be better off.  That’s most of her book.  Don’t be nervous.  It’s good advice, but except for two chapters, rather vague advice.

Chapters 12 and 13 contain the practical exercises.  In a moment I’ll review the parts of them that might bear on the A.T., but first a general observation.

We must take care before accusing someone of stealing.  Any two people who study man may well come to the same conclusion without one stealing from the other.

The nature of human beings exists independently of anyone who observes it.  If two people study man with the intent of finding out about human posture, carriage, health and so forth, they likely will come to at least a few similar or similar sounding conclusions.

Read certain of FM Alexander’s detractors and you get the impression that the only way they would grant him originality is if he had invented human beings.

Now let’s consider Miss Call’s two practical chapters, the parts that might be pre-FM  A.T.  They are interesting, and I shall not make fun of her as I did William James.  She deserves a serious treatment.

Chapter XII  “TRAINING FOR REST”

She urges us not to be nervous, that “a quiet mind, a clear head, and obedient muscles” like those of a good gymnast, is a desirable goal.  Then she describes how we can “prove” — in the now somewhat old-fashioned sense of “test” — how relaxed we are,  “how far you are from the natural state of a cat when she is quiet, or better still from the perfect freedom of a sleeping baby.”

She observes:  “Almost all of us are constantly exerting ourselves to hold our own heads on.”  But  “Nature holds our heads on much more perfectly than we by any possibility can.  So it is with all our muscles; ...”  She then describes some procedures to relax our muscles and “teach them better habits” with the help of a friend.  First we must lie flat on the back, and “give our whole weight to the floor.”  “Let your friend lift an arm, bending it at the different joints, and then carefully lay it down.  See if you can give its weight entirely to the other person, so that it seems to be no part of you ... it will then be full of life without tension.”

“Then have your legs treated in the same way.  It is good even to have someone throw your arm or your leg up and catch it; also to let it go unexpectedly.”  But  “almost invariably it will not be the force of gravity that takes it, but your own effort to make it a dead weight; and it will come down with a thump which shows evident muscular effort, or so slowly and actively as to prove that you cannot let it alone.  Constant and repeated trial, with right thought from the pupil, will be certain to bring good results ... .”  I quote the next paragraph almost in its entirety:

“The next care must be with the head.  That cannot be treated as roughly as the limbs.  It can be tossed, if the tosser will surely catch it on his open hand.  Never let it drop with its full weight on the floor, for the jar of the fall, if you are perfectly relaxed, is unpleasant;  if you are tense, it is dangerous.  At first move it slowly up and down.  As with the arms, there will be either resistance or attempted assistance.  It seems at times as though it were and always would be impossible to let go of your own head.  Of course, if you cannot give up and let go for a friend to move it quietly up and down, you cannot let go and give way entirely to the restful power of sleep.  The head must be moved up and down, from side to side, and round and round in opposite ways, gently and until its owner can let go so completely that it seems like a big ball in the hands that move it.  Of course care must be taken to move it gently and never to extremes, and it will not do to trust an unintelligent person to ‘prove’ a body in any way.”
She goes on to the chest, where your friend lifts up your torso, and then other exercises.

Interesting, and it seems mostly valuable — for relaxing.  There’s no mention of head neck relation, inhibition, directions, etc.  And the author’s ideal — a sleeping baby — has no need for a primary control.  Table work, some of which the above resembles, is not essential to the A.T.

Chapter XIII   “TRAINING FOR MOTION”

After some discussion of a baby learning to walk (not altogether accurate), recommending the Delsarte system, and praising “natural equilibrium” she writes:

“The result of the exercises taken to free the head is shown in the power to toss the head lightly and easily, with the waist muscles, from a dropped forward to an erect position.  The head shows its freedom then by the gentle swing of the neck muscles, which is entirely involuntary and comes from the impetus given them in tossing the head.

“Tension in the muscles of the neck is often very difficult to overcome; because, among other reasons, the sensations coming from certain forms of nervous over-strain are very commonly referred to the region of the base of the brain.  It is not unusual to find the back of the neck rigid in extreme tension, and whether the strain is very severe or not, great care must be taken to free it by slow degrees, and the motions should at first be practised only a few minutes at a time.”
Then she describes exercises for the arms, spine, and legs.

I’ve quoted at length those parts of the book that would be likely to show a connection to the A.T.  Clearly there’s not much contact between Miss Call’s generalized relaxation and the A.T.  She doesn’t mention the head at all in her last chapter  “SUMMING UP.”  Thus another contender in Jeroen Staring’s parade of unwilling ghosts strikes out.

The reason Miss Call’s book, along with dozens like it, is now confined to the shelves of history, while Alexander’s work is alive and well, isn’t because she’s incorrect or worthless.  Her steps — some only vaguely expressed, some precise and in the right direction, others in error — go but a limited distance towards the goal of moving gracefully and efficiently.

Only in retrospect, with our better knowledge, can we untangle her work and say here and there:  yes, there’s a good idea.

Alexander’s work is alive and well because — except for some regrettable “alexanderizing” — his technique is consistent and precise.  And it works.  From theory to practice this guy knows what he’s doing.

If you’ll pardon the expression.

By praising Alexander I don’t intend to disparage the work of Miss Call as far as it goes.  And needless to say I’m not accusing her of stealing from Alexander — which I imagine is what Jeroen Staring would do if the laurels were on the other head.

Of course Alexander learned many things from others, as we all do.  But in his field he made unique and essential contributions, more than enough to justify the “Alexander” in the “Alexander Technique.”

Miss Call’s entire book can be found at
www.soilandhealth.org/03sov/0304spiritpsych/030404%20call.power.repose/030404repose.toc.html

-oOo-

The book’s theme is relaxation.  Though in a away relaxation is a small part of the A.T., relaxation by itself it is not.

I wrote about Miss Call’s book:  “There’s no mention of head neck relation, inhibition, directions, etc.  And the author’s ideal — a sleeping baby — has no need for a primary control.”  “Etc.” of course includes end-gaining, debauched kinesthetic appreciation.  None of these concepts are described by Miss Call.  A respondent however maintains otherwise:

« About inhibition, there are several paragraphs in Call’s book that suggest she is referring to that.  [Quoting Miss Call:]

“You will find probably, either that you try to assist in raising the arm in your anxiety to make it heavy, or you will resist so that it is not heavy with its own weight but with your personal effort.”  [Here the respondent skips to another chapter:]
“When the will is truly trained to its best strength, it is trained to obey; not to obey persons or arbitrary ideas, but to obey laws of life ...  To obey truly we must use our wills to yield as well as to act.”
»
I don’t question the value of this procedure, but even knowing the A.T. to begin with, it’s a stretch seeing the A.T. concept of inhibition in it. A.T. inhibition is done before and during an action on your part, and it involves the head-neck relation.  Both these aspects are absent from the above.

Precision of idea, completeness of method — Miss Call’s book lacks these qualities, no matter her other virtues.