Reflex, Habit and Learning




Finger, Suzanne

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This thesis explores the way in which the primary reflexive pattern of expansion and contraction through the spine connects to habit and learning. My eighteen-year practice as an Alexander Technique teacher and extensive experience as a musician and dancer informed my study. Research into the literature about habit and reflex in the late nineteenth through the twentieth century brought to light two radically different discourses, which are contrasted here. F.M. Alexander and John Dewey both understood the interaction of habit and reflex as an opportunity for learning and the empowerment of choice. Behaviorists in experimental and educational psychology redefined habit as automaticity and focused on the external control of behaviour. The primary reflex, also known as startle pattern, is expressed in the fields of interplay both within self and between the self and the world. The continually shifting mix of habit and creativity that constructs learning and perception is accessible to conscious awareness and direction through working with this reflex. In the interactive learning process in which I participate with my students, movement becomes a dynamic, expressive process rather than either a mechanical goal-oriented function or an habitual phenomenon disengaged from the sense of self. My intention here is to invite my reader into this process by telling stories, offering analysis and historical context, and juxtaposing writing from Alexander, Dewey and others with my own text. The flow of my text moves along the right facing pages; the quotations, poetry and prose on the left may be read in conjunction with or separately from the text. I chose this form to create a depth of experiential understanding, a field in which to discover interconnections. Of course, the choice and placement of writing reflects my standpoint. The student stories are fictionalized and constructed from experiences common to many different people and therefore contain no clues as to individual identities. Because of the foundational nature of the process that I work with, a telephone line repair technician could be dealing with the same issues as might, for example, a massage therapist, fire fighter, singer, teacher or car mechanic.



Alexander Technique