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Quackwatch Watch

“Your Guide to Health Fraud, Quackery, and Intelligent Decisions.”  So says the Quackwatch (*) website, maintained by Stephen Barrett, M.D. (psychiatrist).  And yes, unfortunately it has something on the Alexander Technique:

Alexander Technique ® (Alexander method, F.M. Alexander Technique):  A purported means of integrating one’s mental, physical, and spiritual “aspects.”  According to its theory, maintaining alignment of the head, neck, and back leads to optimum overall physical functioning. Frederick Matthias Alexander (1869-1955), an Australian Shakespearean actor, developed the method at the turn of the century and wrote The Resurrection of the Body.  Although his original purpose was to assist voice projection, Alexander concluded that faulty posture was responsible for diverse symptoms.  He posited that habitual unbalanced movement affects the functioning of the entire body, implying that postures entail behavior patterns and that bad postural habits can distort one’s personality.  Alexander further posited that all proper bodily movements flowed from one basic movement, the maximum lengthening of the spine, which he termed the “primary control.”  He stated that, in a sense, his method embraced all religions, and he posited an “all-wise” invisible “Authority” within the “soul of man.”  Practitioners (“teachers”) of the Alexander Technique press manually on various parts of the “student’s” body and simultaneously repeatedly pronounce phrases that are key to the method.
— from  “The Expanded Dictionary of Metaphysical Healthcare:  Unnaturalistic Methods”  by Jack Raso, Quackwatch page


1.  “Alexander Technique”  is not a registered trademark.

2.  The A.T. is not known as the Alexander method.

3.  The A.T. makes no reference to the spiritual distinct from the mental.

4.  It does not use the word  “aspect”  in any special sense.

5.  Calling FM a Shakespearean actor is a bit inaccurate.  During his early career recitation took more of his time than acting, and his recital repertoire contained many selections other than Shakespeare.  (He recited poems, speeches and parts of plays — sort of high-class vaudeville.)

6.  To say FM wrote The Resurrection of the Body is misleading.  FM wrote four books (the first with the help of a ghostwriter).  After his death one Edwin Maisel edited excerpts from these books, giving his anthology the wretched title above  (later changed in the second edition to something with less Passion and more taste,  The Alexander Technique:  Essential Writings of F. Matthias Alexander).

7.  FM did not develop the A.T. merely to assist voice projection.  The springboard for his investigation was his loss of voice after strenuous recital.

8.  From the dictionary,  “posit”  means:

To assume the existence of;  presume;  to take for granted
as being true in the absence of proof to the contrary.
The author insinuates that Alexander just made up the principles of the A.T.  In fact, the story of Alexander’s discovery is one of careful observation and scientific induction.

9.  Quackwatch again:  “postures entail behavior patterns and ... bad postural habits can distort one’s personality.”  This is caricature.  And I don’t think Alexander would use the phrase  “behavior patterns.”

10.  Quackwatch:  “the maximum lengthening of the spine, which he termed the ‘primary control’.”  Off the mark that, though one can sympathize in a hopeless task:  explain something new in twenty-five words or less.

11.  FM “stated that ... his method embraced all religions” – God preserve us from uninformed critics.

12.  “... and he posited an  ‘all-wise’  invisible  ‘Authority’  within the  ‘soul of man.’ ”  Evidently those quotes are intended to scare us.  One wonders where they’re from.

13.  “Practitioners  (‘teachers’)  of the Alexander Technique” – This insinuates that A.T. teachers are not really teachers.

14.  “... press manually on various parts of the  ‘ student’s ‘  body ...”  Again, the author insinuates that this is not really a teacher-student relation.  And caricatures what the teacher does.

15.  “... and simultaneously repeatedly pronounce phrases that are key to the method.”  R.O.L. — rolling on the floor in an access of mirth.  The naive reader will think the A.T. is like Transcendental Meditation, founded by swami Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

16.  Finally, whatever “metaphysical healthcare” is, or an “unnaturalistic method” — sarcasm I guess — judging from the other entries the Alexander Technique doesn’t belong on the list.

So many errors in so small a space.

It’s pretty obvious what happened.  The author had the task of writing a dictionary containing several hundred entries, and for the A.T. he relied on a hasty perusal of a book or two, clearly with prejudice against it, and ended up writing a very silly review.

This item on Quackwatch is all the more inexcusable in that at least one certified A.T. teacher and one student wrote Stephen Barrett, the man who maintains Quackwatch, soon after the item first appeared in 1998, and politely pointed out some of the errors.  Yet years later it remains unchanged, turning away innumerable prospective A.T. students who trust the veracity of its account.

*  After “Quackwatch” Stephen Barrett places the letters SM, which stand for Service Mark.  This device protects the name of a service just as TM or Trade Mark protects the name of a material product.  Thus it is asserted that all the rights to the name Quackwatch are taken.  More from the website:
Quackwatch, Inc., which was a member of Consumer Federation of America from 1973 through 2003, is a nonprofit corporation whose purpose is to combat health-related frauds, myths, fads, and fallacies.  Its primary focus is on quackery-related information that is difficult or impossible to get elsewhere.  Founded by Dr. Stephen Barrett in 1969 as the Lehigh Valley Committee Against Health Fraud, it was incorporated in 1970.  In 1997, it assumed its current name and began developing a worldwide network of volunteers and expert advisors.