Posture Release Imagery

I interview Missouri Alexander Technique teacher John Appleton Friday. He operates Posture Release Imagery.org, a related Facebook site, and a Youtube channel.

Here are some highlights:

Luke: “So how did you become interested in the Alexander Technique?”

John: “It came at the end of a long trail. I’m 66 now. I became an Alexander teacher in 1986, but it was in the late ’60s, when I graduated from university, that I started on a trek to figure out what was wrong with me and to feel better in my body.”

“I read an article by Frank Ottiwell. It was short but personal. I was living in Tucson. I had taken a dance class and this article was pinned to a bulletin board. It appealed to me. I discovered there was an Alexander teacher there and I started taking lessons.”

“I remember saying to myself, ‘I’m coming out of the morass’, almost like some organism coming out of the ocean whose head was out of the water finally.”

Luke: “What was wrong with you [prior to Alexander]?”

John: “I was a pretty happy kid but I had epilespy. When I was seven, I had my first epileptic seizure. By the time I was 18, I gave up using medication and managed to get away without it. So the outward signs of epilepsy only lasted with me ten or twelve years, but it didn’t make me feel any too good about myself.

“I felt insecure in my body. Puberty probably played into that. I didn’t feel the man I wanted to be. Later in life, I had severe lower back pain [prior to Alexander].”

Luke: “When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?”

John: “A baseball player. Nothing unusual. Later on, I developed an affinity for animals. I’d explore bugs in the yard and I’d catch ground squirrels and snakes and put them in cages. And butterflies. I was probably headed towards something in biology but never quite made it. When I started college, I thought I wanted to be a veterinarian but I gave up on that as well. The ’60s arrived and I became a back-to-the-land hippie instead.”

Luke: “Where were you in the social pecking order in high school?”

John: “I had a few friends and that was it.”

“When I was in elementary school, I felt like king of the mountain. I was a happy kid. I liked people and I was well liked. In junior high and high school, I took a dive. In high school, I wasn’t pecked away. I was just ignored. I might’ve been thought of as too brainy by some.”

Luke: “Why do you think you took this dive?”

John: “Puberty was probably the biggest part of it. With boy-girl relationships, my confidence started to disappear. I recall being pushed by friends in junior high to run for an election to student council and I became timid and said no. I pulled away from groups that were popular. I’m probably not making it any clearer. It’s not that clear to me.”

Luke: “Why is an intellectual man such as yourself working as a carpenter for much of your life?”

John: “There have been a couple of carpenters who were intellectuals. I was a child of the ’60s. Building things yourself… I ended up building my own homes a couple of times. Living in the country and raising small animals and butchering them was trying to experience the essence of an earlier life. The kind of carpentry I enjoyed was where I designed and built the thing.”

Luke: “After you graduated [from Alexander teacher training in Urbana], how did you go about establishing a practice?”

John: “I never did. In most senses, I’ve been an unsuccessful Alexander teacher. I’ve lived in south-west Missouri where the Technique is little known.”

“At Missouri State University, I made friends with a professor in the theater department and he introduced me to his students. Those early years of teaching those students. It didn’t make any living. The living by the Alexander Technique never did come. I had a really good feeling with those students. They were up for anything. As it turned out, I’d come up with something unique.

“When I first worked as a teacher, I was insecure. I didn’t quite know what I was doing. With hands-on students, I was sometimes at a loss with what to do. With one particular student [in 1989], I told him, just repeating something I’d heard before, just imagine you’re a cheetah or a jaguar looking out over the savannah. The way they sit looking out over the land.

“He was sitting in the chair as I was working and he just shot up. He lengthened and widened and freed up in a way that was obvious and in a way that I had not brought about earlier with my hands or suggestions. That one occasion got me thinking hard. Here was a way I could get people help me to help them by their state of mind.”

John published an essay on his posture release imagery in the journal Medical Hypotheses and exchanged email with neuroscience professor Antonio Damasio. “I got support from a couple of the right people and it gave me the strength to keep going.”

Luke: “How did the Alexander community react to your ideas?”

John: “It’s broken up. I’ve gotten some good support from Robert Rickover. He’s helped put me on a tiny map. There’s a lot of distrust for it among some. The use of imagery is more or less verboten in the Alexander Technique. The means whereby is not to imagine stuff. I’ve had my detractors.”

“It’s not something easy to have an opinion about unless you give yourself time to enjoy the changes you haven’t felt before. I’ve had changes with the posture release imagery that I would not have had with Alexander Technique alone. The imagery challenges a person beyond an effort to be mindful of your habits.”

“As great as the Alexander Technique has been for me, I’m bothered that it hasn’t given my ideas more of a chance. There have been opportunities for people to invite me to give a power point [presentation] or a workshop and that hasn’t happened. I know the ideas are sufficiently parallel that they are worth looking at more closely if people in the Alexander Technique want to look at new ideas more closely. I don’t know that they do… Different people have different reactions. I’m sort of disturbed that the different reactions weren’t more exposed so that people could choose and develop their own opinion.”

Luke: “Why does the Alexander Technique have a problem with imagery?”

John: “Imagery has a [mixed] history.”

“When images are not well formed, they do more harm than good.”

“I have a theory that each of us falls into one of four types of how we hold ourselves posturally.”

Luke: “How do you teach direction to your new students?”

John: “At this point, I have zero students. They come and go. My greatest support for my work has come from people emailing me on the internet.”

“It’s hard for me to feel totally delighted in the Alexander Technique when more people in it haven’t shown interest in my work. Maybe that’s a childish resentful point of view. A problem with the Alexander Technique is that it has a tendency to make people suspicious of sensations.”

“Posture release imagery embraces the fact that we feel ourselves constantly and it seeks to take control of that by putting archetypal sensations on to the body. Sensations that are appropriate for a healthy body. As you place them on your body surface, you structurally change. Someone who is shivering in the cold is not going to have the same structural support system as someone who has allowed themselves to be comfortable in the cold.”

“I’m not sure where postural release imagery goes from here. It might die on the vine. I’m going to try to complete a book and get things tied together.”

John emails me after the interview: “Here are two people that know my work well. Pete Green is in Los Angeles and probably has worked with my imagery and discussed it with me more than any one else. Jan Eyskens has some of my ideas in a book, Body in Peace, that he published in Dutch and will in English this coming year. He has some exciting science behind him that explains why PRI works. I gave a couple of workshops in Belgium this summer that he organized.”

John says that Alexander Technique historian Jeroen Staring is good friends with Jan Eyskens.

About Luke Ford

I’ve written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).

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