Typos p. 104: the footnote belongs on the next page; p. 104: Cru. [= Crn.]; p. 105: said it was [sic]; p. 94: the two footnotes belong on the next page; p. 94: exingencies [= exigencies]; p. 94: adult like [= adult alike]; pp. 9495: the second part of this article appeared in an issue which should begin on p. 109 but actually begins on p. 89!
A Newton of health
Anthony M. Ludovici
The New English Weekly 26, 194445, pp. 104105, 9495 [sic]
- p. 104 -
The philanthropist who, in the gutter of a thronged thoroughfare, tried all day to sell golden sovereigns at sixpence apiece and went home at dusk with all his wares unsold, makes a whimsical story. But no less whimsical is that of a certain Newton of Health who, having made the kind of discovery that cuts history in two, found in the autumn of his years only a small band indeed, compared with the teeming millions of the civilized world, but a handful, of men who had stopped to lend him an ear.
The trouble was, and still is, that it did not end with lending him an ear. It ended in self-reproach and discipline, and mankind, however sick it may otherwise be, suffers besides from two livelong failings vanity and indolence. Hence the vogue, the glorious reign of bacteriology! Readily as a man may acknowledge the fact of moral depravity and hate it in others and sometimes even in himself, he finds it hard to believe in physical depravity and, what is more, always wishes to keep to habits, however vile, which belong to the life that he knows.
Orthodox medicine could not, therefore, have lighted on a brighter ruse than the belief in bacteria as the beginning of illness. By means of it, medical men could assure most sick people that, not only was their ailment not their own fault, since it was the work of a "bug," but also that they need do nothing whatsoever about it beyond giving science a free, hand. Thus, at one stroke, both their vanity and indolence were spared, and medicine nourished.
This was not the way of the Newton of Health. He fell upon the vanity and indolence of those who stopped to lend him an ear, so that even their small number in each year was quickly winnowed by the chilling truths they heard. He showed them, proved to them, that a great deal of their ailing was physical depravity and, no less than their moral depravity, their own fault. He demonstrated to them, on their own selves, that since they breathed, stood, moved, and even rested in the most villainous way imaginable, nothing but painstaking self-discipline under his teaching could cleanse them of their corruption.
This was wounding. Worse still, it was arduous. Thus, although, with all its difficulties, the secret of the art was incredibly simple, many among those who had lent an ear left to go back to the throng of the depraved.
The few who had the steadiness and, above all, the love of health strong enough, in them, stayed to undergo the discipline. And these had their reward. Month by
* The Universal Constant in Living. Chatterson Ltd. Cru. 8vo. pp. 221. Price 15/-.
But the crowd from whom they felt aloof was not wholly to blame. Each member of it had his or her own guide on what was or was not important. In the daily newspaper each trusted, the big headlines set forth every day what had to be carefully heeded. Every name in these big thick letters must belong to the great. The names not printed in this way, or not printed at all, whatever claim to greatness their owners might have, must be negligible. Besides, editors knew their people, and only discoveries, events and comments that spare vanity and indolence are News. Everything that falls ruthlessly upon both is not News.
Thus F. Mathias Alexander's name remained but a whisper in a world that fusses only over short-lived wonders. His books are beginning to be widely read. But how widely?
Before me lies a copy of the second edition of his latest book, "The Universal Constant in Living," * said it was first published in 1942. Would this have satisfied Edgar Wallace or Hall Caine?
In it he tells once more of his discovery and of the world's need of it, and gathers together a record of his forty years of work. He also tells us of orthodox science at last beginning to uphold the leading principles in his teaching, and of the testimony to its value spoken by some of the most enlightened of modern men.
Belated scientific acknowledgment is better than none at all! When, however, we bear in mind that books on health still pour from the press, giving no hint of one of the most essential conditions of well-being, and still holding up sound food as the one and only need; when we learn that many of these books are by men of science, how far may we boast of scientific acknowledgment?
So much fuss has of late been made in some of these scientific health books about the importance to human well-being of sound food grown on sound soil, that echoes of it readied the House of Lords last year. Now, qua health, Mr. Alexander's discoveries are at least as important as any of the discoveries about sound food from sound soil. Can anyone remember a debate on the educational and health aspects of the Use of the Self in the Upper House?
Far be it from me to hint that here again the old failings, vanity and indolence, may have been at work! But it is surely not fanciful to suppose that reforms do tend to follow the line of least resistance; and, in the hopeless mess we have made of our psycho-physical selves, it is safer, easier, and better form to dwell only on impersonal things like soil, humus or sound cultivation, than to harp on "Dear Brutus!"
I shall deal as fully as space allows with the nature of Alexander's discoveries in a further article.
- p. 94 -
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 thai 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 exingencies 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 like.
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
* Universal Constant in Living, page 7.
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.