All quotes are from: “Clinical Somatic Education, A New Discipline in the Field of Health Care,” by Thomas Hanna, Ph.D; Somatics Journal, Autumn/Winter 1990-91.
F. Matthias Alexander, father of the Alexander Technique, 1904 - 1955, “elaborated this internal self-teaching technique by means of discoveries he had made within himself in the course of a sustained effort to change his won posture. He had excessive habituation of the startle reflex - a posture condition causing lorgosis of the neck vertebrae, depression of the chest wall, and a too-forward carriage of the head. This distortion of the the windpipe also distorted the projection of his voice. Alexander focused his attention on the “means” by which he was unconsciously using his neck, shoulders, chest, and head while doing any movement whatsoever. By “inhibiting” the “end” and focusing proprioceptively on the “means - whereby,” Alexander taught himself to control the muscles of the upper trunk, he changed his posture - something no one believed was possible. This was the beginning of somatic education in the twentieth century.”
John Dewey, the philosopher and professor at the Un of Chicago (and one of my father’s professors), under Alexander’s guidance, changed his posture and realized “not all problems are solvedby intellect, for some are solved by direct experience of oneself - a somatic insight.” Dewey learned he could interrupt a habitual pattern by sensing some of its components and making what was unconscious, conscious, which allowed new motor control. Dewey saw that this was a radical new physiological educational process which achieved “a better integration of the reflexive and voluntary elements in one’s response patterns.”
Elsa Gindler took another approach to somatic education in Berlin, by conducting classes in “Gymnastik, where she invited her students of focus upon the sensations within their bodies as they went through various movements.” She had her students focus their attention on such things as,
“how is one breathing during the movements? How does the weight of the body during movement shift over the heel, this hips, and so forth?” She had her students “turn conscious attention inward to the proprioceptive background of an objective movement, and the quality of the objective movement begins to improve. Greater self-control is gained by means of greater sensory awareness.”
There are other notables such as Charlotte Selver, Carola Speads, Ilse Mittendorf, and Gerda Alexander (no relation to F. M. Alexander), whose work spread in Europe and the US and whose early work in somatic education “taught others how to gain greater voluntary control of their physiological process by sensory-motor learning.”
Moshe Feldenkrais, an Israeli, was greatly influenced by Gerta Alexander and M. F. Alexander, while living in London. He was an electrical engineer and research scientist in high energy physics, and introduced judo to France during the 1930s. He advanced somatic education through his movement system which he called, “Awareness through Movement,” which combined the “means-whereby of F. M. Alexander and Gerda Alexander’s practice of intense sensory scrutiny while lyingon the floor” which improved both posture and movement. His genius is was to create a hands-on form of somatic education he called “Functional Integration.” In Functional Integration he “(1) used his hands to provide sensory information (the “means-whereby”) to make the learner aware of unconscious movement patterns in his body; (2) from his knowledge of judo he applied the principle of going with another person’s resistance and never going against it. There is no stretching or pulling against resistance. This second procedure was a brilliant and fortuitous discovery of how habitual or spastic muscular contractions can be encouraged to relax.” Thomas Hanna named this second method of Feldenkais’s work, “kinetic mirroring,” in which you bring the muscle origin and insertion toward each other. The result is that the muscle begins torelax. “As Feldenkrais describes it, “if you do the work of a muscle, it ceases to do its own work”; that is it relaxes.”
Hanna Somatic Education: Thomas Hanna felt that even though Moshe Feldenkrais opened a very important door to sensory-motor learning, it lacked: “(1) a comprehensive diagnostic theory for understanding the origin of the typical neuromuscular postural distortions; (2) a general somatic theory of sensory-motor process; and (3) a method of somatic education that not only gave the learner the sensory feedback of “kinetic mirroring” and “means-whereby” instruction, but also went the full route of engaging the learner’s motor actions so as to use the full capacity of the sensory-motor feedback loop.”