F.M.Alexander – the orator with no voice

Frederick Matthias Alexander (1869-1955) was an Australian actor who had made a good living from poetry recitals in the 1890s until he encountered a career-threatening problem: he developed breathing problems and chronic laryngitis, and lost his voice! He went from doctor to doctor, but none could find any physical cause nor any cure.

Since no-one seemed able to help him, he resolved to help himself. He studied anatomy books and surrounded himself with mirrors, carefully observing himself. He discovered that the way he had been been trained to carry his body and project his voice was the very cause of the problem. He was tensing his body as he prepared to speak, dropping his head backwards and pressing his neck into the spine. This constricted the air passages and inhibited his voice box. He noticed that others with voice and breathing problems often did the same.

Alexander was a man with little regard for others’ opinions unless supported by scientific evidence and proven by results. So he experimented on himself. He discovered that eliminating muscle tension in the neck prevents the head from compressing the spine, so the spine is free to lengthen. This frees the windpipe and allows the voice to function properly. Within weeks of starting to apply this to himself, the problems were gone and he was able to resume his profession.

Others began to seek his help, so he applied what he learned and developed a hands-on healing method that allowed all the body’s natural processes to work, thus stimulating its capacity for self-healing.

As his research progressed, he made further discoveries. He noticed that he mind could play tricks on him so he developed methods to increase mindfulness. In essence, the Alexander Technique, as it became known, focuses on attention, thoughts, posture and movement. It centres on:

  • Self-awareness: identifying harmful habits that restrict breathing or result in poor posture.
  • Inhibition: pausing for a moment before acting to interrupt and prevent destructive patterns.
  • Choice: knowing that we have the freedom to choose new responses (i.e. not to follow habitual, conditioned reactions).
  • Primary control (neck, head, spine): positioning the head, neck and spine so that the head is up and slightly forward, allowing the spine to lengthen, releasing tension from the neck and throat.
  • Directions: Oral suggestions, self-administered, which send conscious instructions to parts of the body which he had struggled to control before.
  • Using gravity as a healer; positioning and balancing the body so that gravity can do its work. One example is the semi-supine position: lying on your back with your knees in the air, head resting on several books, arms relaxed at the side. This releases muscle tension and brings the body back into alignment.
  • The whispered ‘ah’: To remove unnecessary effort from using the voice.

Alexander practitioners are known as teachers (not therapists). They explain and demonstrate the technique, and use hands-on methods to bring about change in their clients.

Alexander is best known for his work on movement and posture but he also believed that the mind and body were as one. When we take good care of the body, we fell better mentally, emotionally – and spiritually – too. Many physical problems are caused by our behaviour; people behave according to their way of thinking, so to cure some physical problems means changing our thinking. This is a conscious process which takes effort and determination.

The benefits of the Alexander Technique have been well documented especially for chronic back pain, but in the eyes of the medical establishment he remains a quack. Surgery, they say, backed by drugs, is quicker, cheaper and more permanent, and more in tune with our modern lifestyles. But at what cost? Those of us who believe in natural healing methods must not remain silent!

©David Lawrence Preston, 1.11.2018

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Nature or Nurture: Why You Are The Way You Are

Nature or nurture?

One of the questions that has occupied psychologists for years is ‘Are we a result of ‘nature’ or ‘nurture’?’ To what extent are we shaped by childhood experiences, parenting, schooling and environment? What part does our genetic inheritance play? What really determines the sort of people we are and who we become?

Some believe that where we grow up, our parents treatment of us and the experiences we had as children are largely responsible for who we become. They’re right to some extent, these are important – but it doesn’t explain how people from similar backgrounds with comparable levels of ability – even twins – end up leading very different lives.

Ability and hard work don’t account for all of it either it – it takes just as much effort to empty dustbins or work long hours in a shop as it does to be a company chairman.

The answer is, whatever our origins, the world – which includes other people – responds to what we think, believe, imagine, say and do. So to harness our inner resources we must be self-aware. We must know ourselves before we can truly know anything else.  The key is understanding the workings of your mind.

Is the ‘brain’ the same as the ‘mind’?

Let’s imagine you bought a new computer. What’s the first thing you would do, once you’ve unpacked it and plugged it in? Surely you would consult the operating manual. But you’re not provided with one for the ‘computer’ between your ears! You need an instruction manual for the mind.

The brain, unlike the mind, is a physical thing. It’s a small organ weighing about 1½ Kg., housed in the space between the ears. It’s the physical vehicle through which the mind operates. It’s often compared to a computer, and in some ways it does resemble one, but it is far superior.

It is an astonishing fact that most people use less than 5% of their brain’s capacity – if that!

If the brain is the hardware, the mind is the software. The mind is an activity. It is a mass of accumulated thought-forms – ideas, beliefs, memories, attitudes, habits, prejudices and so on. It can’t be seen or weighed, but like electricity, we know it’s there and can monitor its workings.

Programming and Conditioning

In the first few years of life, our adult caretakers teach us what they think we should be. Most of us accept this programming and carry it into adulthood.

Conditioning is the way one person uses reward and punishment to shape the behaviour of another. It is how circus animals are trained and military officer enforce discipline. It’s the chief way in which we learn to relate to the world when we are young. It plays a big part in shaping our behaviour, our attitudes and our beliefs.

This is how it works: if a young boy (or girl) pleases his/her adult caretakers, they respond favourably. This is extremely pleasurable for the child and encourages a repetition of the behaviour (i.e. reinforces it). But if the adult caretakers disapprove, s/he will be told off, punished or have privileges withdrawn, which discourages a repeat of the behaviour.

Conditioning can be beneficial when administered by caring parents who believe in empowering their children. But many parents are ill informed, critical of themselves and their children. Children are quick learners and great imitators: their parents’ and teachers’ habits are soon passed on, and of course, once they reach the teenage years, the peer group and media influences come into play too.

Much of the damage is done in run-of-the-mill remarks which adults regard as insignificant – ‘Don’t…’. ‘Stop it or else…’ ‘You can’t…’  ‘Who do you think you are?’ Young children often take such comments to heart or interpret them in ways which weren’t intended, e.g.

  • ‘Let me do it.’ (You’re not capable.)
  • ‘You’re just as stupid as your father.’ (You’re not OK and neither is he.)
  • ‘Can’t you see I’m busy?’ (You’re not a priority.)

Beliefs about life in general are also handed down, e.g.

  • ‘You can’t trust anyone these days.’ (Don’t be too open with people.)
  • ‘All successful people lie and cheat to get to the top.’ (So you must too.)
  • ‘There’s no point in going to college. It doesn’t get you anywhere.’ (Success is a matter of privilege or luck.)
  • I’m damaged by my childhood and I can’t change. It’s just the way I am.

Research shows that as much as fifty percent of our programming is in place by the age of six; eighty percent by the age of twelve.

Psychologists used to argue that our conditioning is virtually impossible to change, but we now know that this is not true. If it were, then most psychotherapy would be ineffective.

Acknowledge the importance of your conditioning on your thinking and behaviour, then take responsibility for how you handle it.

See your programming and conditioning for what it is – simply part of your learning, some of it very valuable, and some if it worthless or unhelpful. Anything learned can be unlearned and relearned. It’s just a matter of understanding a few basic principles and using some simple techniques. Whatever has gone before can only affect the future if you let it. In a psychological sense, what matters is not where you’re from, but where you’re at. To believe otherwise is tacitly allowing yourself to be controlled by the thoughts and feelings of a young child – the child you once were. That wouldn’t make sense, would it?

Your genetic inheritance

A hundred years ago it was common for behavioural psychologists to argue that only a small proportion of our characteristics comes from our genes. Then later, largely thanks to studies of identical twins, some scientists argued that half or more of our character is genetic.

Increasingly, the role of our biochemistry is also being recognised. We know, for example, that the levels of certain hormones at pivotal phases of our development  controls our level of ‘maleness’ or ‘femaleness’, our sexual orientation, predisposition to aggression, anxiety and depression, and a range of abilities including mathematical reasoning, spatial awareness and emotional skills.

Furthermore, in the past few years, scientists have discovered that our genes do not control anything, they merely create potential which can be switched on or off by environmental and psychological influences. For example, a genetic predisposition to certain health issues can be ameliorated by a good living environment and a healthy lifestyle. So it’s not the genes themselves that make us the way we are, but how our life circumstances and psychological factors such as attitude allow genetic factors to express.

The debate is far from settled, but it is clear that only a small part- perhaps 25-35% – of our adult character comes to us with our genetic and biochemical make-up, but consider this: if even a third of your characteristics are fixed, two thirds are not! That gives you a great deal of scope to make the best of who you are!


Copyright David Lawrence Preston 2018, All Rights Reserved

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An empty shell

Today’s doctors study anatomy in great detail, aided by constant improvements in microscope technology, electronic scanning and, in recent decades, computers. But what exactly are they studying?

If you want to see what a human body looks like with its mental and emotional energies taken away, look out for Professor Gunther von Hagens’ travelling Bodyworlds Exhibition. Here you will find real human bodies displayed in all their glory (or stripped of their dignity, depending on your point of view).

The Professor is a controversial figure. In the 1970s he developed a technique called ‘plastination’, which removes the moisture from human and animal bodies and enables him to preserve them more or less indefinitely.

I found the Bodyworlds Exhibition a powerful educational experience. Waiting to greet me were over two hundred exhibits. Some were simply displays of body parts, including both male and female brains sliced like ham, a smoker’s black lungs opened up and compared with a non-smoker’s, and the tubes inside a scrotum drawn out to their full length, about a metre or so.

Others displayed complete cadavers with their skin removed, their bones, muscles and internal organs arranged in a variety of poses, each designed to demonstrate different anatomical features. A variety of athletic poses illustrated the use of muscle systems; there were plastinates riding a plastinated horse, playing basketball, kneeling before a cross and so on.

Juan Valverde

One stood proud, holding his skin in one hand like a blanket and unashamedly revealing his internal organs, mimicking a similar pose on an anatomical plate dated 1559 by Juan Valverde de Amusco in which a man holds a knife in one hand and his own skin in the other.

Another opened his arms like a pope to reveal all the organs of his stomach and chest cavity and another the torso of a pregnant woman sliced vertically in half to show the womb and foetus in situ.

It is easy to see why von Hagens is accused of publicity seeking. Indeed, press reports in 2009 that he was planning a sex show featuring plastinates attracted hundreds of complaints. Politicians and churchmen lined up to label it revolting and unacceptable, and a short video about the exhibit was banned in several countries.

But despite the protests, the Professor insists that his work is educational. Visitors see the structure and inner workings of the human body and the long-term impact of diseases and are brought face to face with the effects of poor lifestyle choices such as smoking, drugs and excessive alcohol consumption.

I certainly learned a lot, and my occasional discomfort never turned into offence. But as I left the exhibition, one thought kept recurring. I had not been looking at whole human beings at all: whatever had kept them alive and made them human – their very humanness – was no longer there. 

Without our non-physical attributes – what some philosophers call the ghost in the maching – we are nothing but an empty shell.

©David Lawrence Preston, 28.7.2018

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What are we?

One morning I knocked on my son’s bedroom door. ‘Are you up?’ I asked. I heard a groan and then a voice answered. ‘My body’s up, but I’m not!’

Later that day, I turned on the TV.  A reporter was interviewing a woman with piercings all over her body. ‘Why did you do it?’ asked the reporter. She replied, ‘It’s my body. I can do what I want with it.’

We use the word ‘my’ for things that belong to us but are not us: my coat, my car, my chair. Expressions like my hair, my face, my brain, my mind, etc. infer that these belong to us but are not us. So what is this entity we call ‘I’? Is it nothing more than a body with a relatively large brain?

Brain cells die and are replaced at least every couple of years

A human body starts out as a handful of cells. It grows, matures, ages and dies. Then it decomposes.

At the molecular level too it constantly changes. With every breath, we inhale ten thousand billion atoms from the environment – each one modifying our physical make-up to some degree. Moreover, 98% of our atoms are renewed every year; if this were not so, we would die within hours, poisoned by our own waste.

We grow a new skin and liver every few months and the skeleton, which appears so solid, regenerates every six months. Not one cell remains from the body we occupied two years ago. Even the brain cells, where our personality and memories are stored, die off and are replaced – yet our sense of self goes on.

Could it be our body and brain are only part of what we are?

If you lost both legs, would you still be the same person? Of course. Our sense of self remains intact even if the body suffers horrendous injuries. As Walt Whitman wrote, ‘There is more to a man than lies between his hat and his boots.’

So who or what dwells within your body? If you contemplate your existence it soon becomes apparent that you are more than just a collection of muscle, soft tissue and bones. There is a part of you that endures despite changes in your physical form. It is non-physical – that is, spiritual.

Are you defined by the roles you play?

Over a lifetime we play many roles. We also occupy many roles at once. A man may simultaneously play the roles of father, son, brother, uncle, teacher, colleague, employer or employee, customer, friend and neighbour. Our roles also change several times a day, depending on where we are and with whom.

If we were what we do, what if we’re not doing it? Do we become a different person? And if we’re doing nothing, do we cease to exist?

Are you what others think you are?

Many people think so. If someone repeatedly calls them an idiot, they begin to believe it. But if you are what others think you are, to whom should you listen? Different people have different opinions of you, and they change over time. Some know you from work, others from home. Meanwhile, your deepest sense of ‘I’ stays constant and remains intact.

What others think of you – your reputation – is outside, in their thoughts. How can this be who you are?

Are you a mind?

To answer this question, we first need to understand what we mean by ‘mind’. Is it not just another word for ‘brain’? No. The mind is not a physical object, it’s an activity – a collection of memories and thoughts. The brain, on the other hand, is physical, a small organ housed in the skull which sends and receives impulses to and from the cells through a network of nerves.

Most of us were brought up to believe that the mind exists only inside the brain, but this is not true. The mind is no more confined to the brain than the electrical field is confined to a magnet. It is located in every cell and also extends into the energy field (biofield) that surrounds the body. Most people have felt they were being stared at on occasions, turned round and found that someone was indeed looking at them. This can only happen because the mind reaches beyond the body and brain.


The mind uses the brain in much the same way as you use your body – as a vehicle. The brain is like the hardware and the mind the software, which begs the questions: Where is the programmer? And who is the operator?

Are you your thoughts?

No. Your thoughts are always changing, but the ‘I’ is constant. Try thinking the same thought for five minutes. Almost impossible. Similarly with your emotions. Moods come and go, but essence of you remains the same.

Even if you practise taking charge of your thoughts, you’re still aware of the ‘I’ that is doing the thinking. As Eric Butterworth wrote, ‘I am not what I think. I am thinking what I think.’

Part of you is aware not only of what you are thinking but also that you are thinking. This part can judge a thought right or wrong, good or bad, and choose to accept or reject it. It is even possible to stop thinking altogether, in deep meditation for instance, and remain fully conscious of self.

So what are you really?

A human being is a complex organism made up a body, mind, and a spark of the Life Force (often called ‘Spirit’) that brings life to the physical form.

  • The body is simply an instrument used by the ‘I’ to carry out its wishes.
  • The mind is the activity of thinking, remembering and imagining. It also regulates the functioning of the body.
  • Spirit is the spark of energy and intelligence that brought you to life and sustains you. When you die, it leaves the body which, with no life force to animate it, decays and returns to dust.

We are fragments of the same Creative Intelligence that underpins the entire universe and have its qualities just as a droplet of seawater has the same qualities as the entire ocean.

We don’t become spiritual beings – we already are. In the words of philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, ‘We are not human beings having spiritual experiences, but spiritual beings having human experiences.’ All we have to do is let go of whatever is preventing us from realising it!

©David Lawrence Preston, 19.4.2016

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How using the right brain makes you more creative

In the past, intelligence was seen as something inherited in fixed amounts which couldn’t be altered. Some people were thought to be more creative than others because they were born with special talents.

Nowadays, we know that the brain has two parts, a left and right hemisphere, each with its own special functions. This discovery thirty years ago changed the entire foundation of psychology, neurology and education.

In broad terms, left brain activity is related to thinking (the ‘cognitive’ domain) and right brain activity to intuition, emotion and creativity (the ‘affective’ domain). To develop creativity, therefore, we must make more use and better use of the right brain. Then we tap into the same resource that great men and women down the ages used to fashion great works of art, music and sculpture and major scientific discoveries.

Most people have a tendency to favour one hemisphere or the other, but for many activities we rapidly alternate between the two.

Some activities are predominantly left brain based: reading, speaking, calculating, computer programming etc. Others mainly utilise the right brain, for example, drawing, playing music, dancing, and long-term memory. The creation of new ideas is a right brain function; evaluating and developing these ideas is a left brain task. Sometimes (e.g. creative writing) the use of left and right brain switches so quickly that it is impossible to tell which is being used.

When both sides are working together and contributing equally, the brain performs at its optimum level.

Are you more left brained or right brained?

Do you tend to prefer to think logically, take things one at a time, step by step, analyse, calculate and use words?

Or do you process things more emotionally, think in pictures, use colour, ‘feel’ and daydream?

Or both equally?

You can develop both sides of your brain

Long ago, Professor Robert Ornstein of the University of California discovered that people who had been educated to predominantly use one side of the brain had great difficulty in using the other. He also discovered that when the unused side of the brain was stimulated, the result was a vast increase in the overall ability of a person – in the region of five to ten times.

To improve your creative mind-power, therefore, first find out which side of your brain is under-used, then concentrate on developing that side.

For many of us the right is the weaker. This is because our schooling encourages us to make more use of the left brain. Politicians stress the importance of the ‘3 R’s’ – reading, writing and ‘rithmetic. We are encouraged to think about the world in words and numbers. Art, music, dance and more imaginative pursuits are pushed to the periphery.

The balanced use of left and right brain can help you to:

  • Become more creative
  • Learn more quickly
  • Improve your memory
  • Solve problems faster
  • Improve communication
  • Be more intuitive
  • Understand body language

Many of the great artists and inventors had the ability to utilise both sides equally. They appeared to tap into a source of inspiration beyond their contemporaries. What were they tuning in to? Some psychologists believe it is their own unconscious minds; others that it is the Collective Unconscious of all humankind; still others that it was some form of Universal Consciousness.

Whatever it was, it is something to which we all have access through the right brain. However, we usually receive only the germ of an idea from there and must use our more structured left to develop it. The right hemisphere is a rich source of inner wisdom but you have to trust it. It’s a quiet voice, a subtle feeling. Tune in. It’s like having a wise being inside you, always on hand to offer guidance and support.

Get started! If you are predominantly left-brained spend more time on activities which utilise the right brain. Try to avoid analytical or calculating thoughts. Allow yourself to daydream. After one month, review your progress. What difference has this made to your life?

©David Lawrence Preston, 7.4.2016

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Understanding the Mind

What is this thing called ‘mind’?

Unlike the brain, it’s not a physical thing. It’s an activity. If you opened up your head you would not be able to find it, because it can’t be seen or weighed. But we know it’s there: we are aware of it and can observe it in action.

Crucially, there is more than one level of awareness within the human mind. At any moment, there are things you are aware of, things you could bring to mind if you wanted (such as a memory of what you did yesterday), and things which lie much deeper, such as childhood memories. We can group these into various categories or levels of consciousness.

The Conscious Mind

The conscious mind is the part of the mind that we are aware right now. It is a stream of thoughts, like a never ending conversation in our heads. The conscious mind functions only when we are awake.

Conscious ‘thinking’ is little more than talking to ourselves.

The conscious mind gathers information through the five senses, processes it according to our previous learning and beliefs, then passes it through to the unconscious for long term processing and storage. It is intelligent, but it can only deal with one thing at a time. Trying to concentrate on more than one is a strain. For instance, if we are reading while someone else is talking, we either have to break off from reading or ignore the other person – the conscious mind cannot handle both.

This is, on the whole, fortunate. It means that we don’t have to consciously remind our heart to beat, our lungs to absorb oxygen or the digestive system to function. Nor is our attention cluttered with information that we don’t need at that moment – that is all stored in the unconscious memory banks.

The Unconscious Mind

We are only ever aware of a small percentage (less than 5%, probably much less) of our mental activity. The remainder (more than 95%) lies beneath the threshold of awareness in the unconscious. It is often compared to the mass of an iceberg which floats below the surface, out of sight but exerting a considerable influence on our thoughts, feelings and behaviour.

  • The capacity of the unconscious is virtually unlimited.
  • It works continually, even when we are asleep.
  • Unlike the conscious, it deals with ‘wholes’, not minutiae.
  • It can come to conclusions without going through analytical thought processes.

We call it the unconscious, but this doesn’t mean that we are never aware of it: all unconscious material can be brought into consciousness, and as long as we have the conscious ability to reason and to think, we can influence it.

When unconscious material comes to the surface in the form of a pleasant memory, it can bring a feeling of harmony and contentment; but it can also disturb, bringing feelings of discomfort or, at worst, psychological problems of one sort or another.

There are many sides to the unconscious:

The subconscious contains material which lingers just below the surface and is capable of being accessed whenever we need it, such as an address, a date, route or set of instructions we have not used for a while. We can normally handle up to nine pieces of information at a time, which is why most telephone numbers are less than nine digits, especially if they do not require intense concentration. For example, we can talk on the telephone and sign a letter at the same time, but would not be able to work out a difficult algebraic equation or plan a major project.

The conditioned unconscious is a storehouse of memories, instincts and drives – a library of knowledge, dreams, experiences and emotions. Much of this material is imprinted in childhood. It’s the part of the mind, for example, that reminds us of what we believe we can and can’t do.

Some of this material can be accessed without involving the conscious mind, for example, when we learned to use a keyboard. At first, we used all our conscious faculties to remember which key was which. Then, with practice, the unconscious took control – an experienced typist can easily type a document accurately and hold a conversation at the same time. The same applies when we learn to ride a bicycle, drive a car, play a musical instrument, speak a foreign language, or knit, and so on.

The unconscious also contains a kind of goal-seeking mechanism which seeks out whatever we consistently place our attention on.  Once a desire is planted in the unconscious, the mind tries to help bring it to fruition. This is a vital and invaluable function of the unconscious.

The unconscious can’t think for itself; it just processes whatever information is fed into it and carries out instructions given (deliberately or accidentally) by the conscious. Once an idea takes root there, it is extremely difficult to shift. Used correctly, it can help to take us where we most want to go; but it can also unknowingly keep us bound to destructive habits and beliefs.

You can learn how to get the conditioned unconscious on your side, so it works for you instead of against you.

The body’s automatic regulation system: the unconscious also regulates the physical operations of the body, including the healing and immune systems, heartbeat and circulation, breathing and oxygen absorption, digestion, waste disposal and the Autonomic Nervous System.

The Superconscious

‘Superconscious’ is an inclusive term for those aspects of mind that transcends the physical and go beyond what we can be explained through our bio-chemistry. It includes the intuition, often referred to as the ‘sixth sense’ or ‘gut feel’, and the ‘Spiritual’ or ‘Higher Self’.

Higher Consciousness

Science recognizes that the basic building block of the universe is a field of energy and information which permeates all things, including us. We live in, and are an integral part of, an ocean of intelligence and consciousness. Much of goes on around us cannot be understood by the human mind with all its preoccupations, fears and misconceptions. This is a fascinating area of research.

Understanding how the mind works is a vital part of self-awareness, which is vital for happiness, confidence and spiritual and self-development.

©David Lawrence Preston, 1.3.2016

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