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A Newton of health, part II
by Anthony M. Ludovici, 1944
- in The New English Weekly -

(The article starts on page “94” of the Weekly.  Two footnotes, which merely cite a page number in Alexander’s Universal Constant in Living, have been left out.  Note:  ideas that Ludovici attributes to Alexander may not be Alexander’s. In particular, the primary control is not an anatomical feature.)

II.

In his foreword to Alexander’s “Universal Constant In Living,” the late Professor G. K. Coghill wrote:  “The practice of Mr. F. Mathias Alexander in treating the human body is founded on three well-established biological principles: (1) that of the integration of the whole organism in the performance of particular functions; (2) that of proprioceptive sensitivity as a factor in determining posture; (3) that of the primary importance of posture in determining muscular action.”

He goes on to say:  “He [Alexander] has further demonstrated the very important psychological principle that the proprioceptive system can be brought under conscious control, and can be educated to carry to the motor centres the stimulus which is responsible for the muscular activity which brings about the manner of working (use) of the mechanism of correct posture.”

It is not easy to translate this into popular language. The proprioceptive system stands for sensory nerves serving the muscles, tendons and joints, and the middle ear with is nerves. But it should not be confounded with local or cutaneous sensation. It generates the general feeling we associate with our every posture and activity. But it is important to note that this general feeling becomes habitual and feels right and normal, whether we make the correct use of our bodily mechanisms or the reverse. It is no check of itself. It offers the channel whereby correct use may be re-established in one not using self correctly, but it is not an initiator of correct use where incorrect use is established, no matter how damaging this incorrect use may be.

How can it become a check on incorrect use? Only if it is given the experience of correct use — hence the necessity of tuition! Then, by supplying the sensorium of the subject with a standard of comparison, two general feelings are presented to consciousness where one alone (the faulty one) existed. When the two general feelings — that of the proprioceptive system with correct use, and that with incorrect use, are presented to consciousness, it becomes possible to repeat the former ad lib.; the only obstacle is then the persistent general feeling associated with wrong use which, as might be expected, continues for a long while to press itself on the consciousness of the subject as right. But what does all this talk about the mechanisms of the psycho-physical organism mean?

No more than that the human organism, like that of the animals, is a mechanical contrivance and that, like all such contraptions, it may, in functioning, be used to the best or worst advantage. True, the organic contrivance is complicated by the fact that it is run on proprioceptive lines dependent on nervous controls, but it remains a mechanism and is, therefore, subject to right or wrong use. In other words it is not foolproof!

But surely these things may safely be left to Nature! In all of us there must have been bred, through evolution, the right use of our psycho-physical organisms!

“Alas!”  Professor Coghill may be imagined as replying,  “it is precisely on the possible right or wrong use of the psycho-physical organism that evolution to some extent depends!”

Suppose the particular pattern of muscular and skeletal co-ordination once and for all fixed for every activity in every type of organism, where would have been the loophole for escape, and hence for survival, if a quadruped had for once to limp home — often to survive — on three legs? How, indeed, could evolution have been possible at all, if some means of consciously making fresh adjustments accompanied by fresh, proprioceptive feelings had not existed? Could a quadruped have ever become a biped? Thus the intervention of consciousness to alter instinctive co-ordinations was a sine quâ non of mutation.

But there was a snag in the provision. For consciousness may initiate faulty as well as correct use. In the animals, as in prehistoric man, rigorous conditions, and the exigencies of environment over long periods, would eliminate those individuals or strains incapable of correct fresh conscious readjustments to fresh demands, and thus only those whose correct use became standardized achieved the perfect condition needed for survival.

The moment, however, that Man alone began to tread the highway leading to civilization and the historical period, and to encounter innovations too constantly to allow of a standardization of the new correct use in each case, faulty use necessarily established itself as an ever more frequent factor in human life. As civilization developed there was certainly science with its artificial aids to rescue the failures and to make them viable malgré eux. Civilization, moreover, mitigated the rigour of the conditions; made environmental demands less exacting. Thus even the worst users of their bodies ceased to be eliminated and survived and multiplied to serve as bad examples to child, youth and adult alike.

Meanwhile, however, innovations calling for fresh adjustments did not cease. From the first chairs to pedal cycles, from bows and arrows to the tractor, is a far cry, and the intervening centimes were full of new-fangled contrivances and occupations, demanding fresh adjustments.

How could we know the means whereby to recover correct use — i.e. the art of correctly intervening consciously to use ourselves aright in all these new adjustments? How, indeed — for it has come to that! — can we now recover the correct use of ourselves in the simplest activities of standing, walking, sitting and performing all the ordinary movements of our day’s round? For the wrong use, as Alexander has conclusively shown, leads to every kind of unfavourable condition and faulty functioning and thence inevitably to sickness and disease.

Here we come to his most genial discovery — abundantly confirmed by independent scientific investigators.

He found that not one, but every activity of the human organism, from sitting in a chair to driving a golf ball, is amenable to one golden rule of adjustment. He says in effect:  “I discovered that a certain use of the head in relation to the neck, and of the head and neck in relation to the torso and the other parts of the organism, if consciously and continuously employed, ensures the establishment of a manner of use of the self as a whole, which provides the best conditions for raising the standard of the various mechanisms, organs and systems.”

This, he says, constitutes “a primary control.”

He speaks of “the great majority of civilized people” as having “come to use themselves in such a way that in everything they are doing they are constantly interfering with the correct employment of the primary control of their use.” And he adds, “and this interference is an influence constantly operating against them, tending always to lower the standard of functioning within themselves.”

In 1924, Professor Rudolf Magnus located the seat of this primary control in the same area as Alexander had done some twenty years previously, and it is important to note that Magnus’s discovery, as his book Körperstellung reveals, was the result of an approach utterly different from that of Alexander.

This then, all too briefly, constitutes a description of the completely new light on human well-being and efficiency, which we owe to the Newton of Health. It would be difficult to exaggerate its importance. It opens a new era for human happiness and accomplishment in all spheres. It would seem beyond the power of popular leaders to make enough noise about it. The relative silence with which the ordinary channels of publicity have so far greeted it, therefore, can only reflect unfavourably upon these channels as a national service.