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Derotation Approach                       









The De-rotation Approach.. an explanation / definition..

I started developing the De-rotation Approach while I was training to become an Alexander-teacher. I’m sure that my back-ground within Rehabilitation (both professionally and personally) was an important driving-force for me. I found in my own training that the more I was able to “let go” and inhibit my old habitual patterns of use; the more my body wanted to “do funny things”.. – On several occations I experienced feeling very frustrated when a teacher said : “stop pulling your head back..!” – when I was pretty certain that the “going back” of my head was due to the letting go and not an actual “pulling” out of bad habit. – And in working with my hands on others (e.g. my fellow students) I could often feel a deep sense of movement in their bodies when I was just “listening” to their whole system and not having any agenda. – In Alexander-terminology you could say : inhibition with no active direction into the other person. – I was rather thrilled by and focussed on “creating a window in time and space where anything was possible and allowed”!!!

My starting-point in this work was my own traumatic car-accident. And later – as I was training in London – I overheard a conversation between some teachers as they were talking about their “un-teachable pupils”. That was an incomprehensible concept to me! – How could a pupil coming to the AT voluntarily and spending their own time and money, be basically “un-teachable”. I do realise that some people will go to great lenghts to get an alibi for not changing, not getting better,  not healing; but these teachers described their “un-teachable pupils” as those where “nothing happens when you put hans on them – they are just not responsive!” – or “by the end of the lesson you might get a little bit of inhibition through to them.. – but.. already when they reach the frontdoor they are back to square one!” – To say that this puzzled me is an understatement!

Motivated by my own difficulties I wanted to understand more about  this apparently “un-teachable pupil”. I went searching for reasons why some people seem to not be able to “let go” with the AT. - Looking into the development of the nervous system and exploring practically with my own short-comings.. was very good for my understanding of the “un-teachable pupil”. – As I had to write a thesis on the Alexander Technique for the University of Copenhagen and the academic part of my Alexander-training, I wrote my thesis around my exploration. This work was to become the basis for my way of working with the AT today, i.e. the De-rotation approach.   

As a model I have expanded on the more “traditional” AT- approach of Inhibition and Direction and added the De-rotation step between the two. After years of exploring and experimenting both practically and theoretically with this I feel certain that the Inhibition-Direction-track can be and is of use to perhaps the majority of people.. BUT also that adding the De-rotation-step makes the contribution of the AT even more useful, efficient and effective to more people. – I experience to be able to “teach the un-teachable pupil”, because I’m listening to and communicating with his or her Compromised Nervous-system, rather than Directing it, telling it, talking at it.  

Early life, reflexes, stress and stress management:

My work with the early development and the early reflexes has taken me into the field of stress and stress-management. Over the years my interest in the early reflexes have focused more and more on the two very first reflexes to emerge, i.e. the Fear Paralysis Reaction (FPR) at 7-9 weeks in utero and the Moro reflex at 9-12 weeks in utero. These two – both emerging in the very first trimester of our womb-life - are the very foundation of our equipment to handle stressful situations for the rest of our life! The activation of the FPR leads to dissociation, the “freeze-reaction” or “leaving the body”, and activation of the Moro is the foundation for either fight or flight. Throughout life these are our only three possibilities when in high-stress situations. Quite significant I think!

As these two very early and fundamental reflexes emerge in the nervous-system so much earlier than e.g. the Tonic Neck Reflexes (at 16-20th week in utero), imbalances in these two have a great impact on all the development of all the later emerging reflexes – primitive as well as the later postural reflexes. Therefore I find that over the years I have focussed more and more on the two stress-reflexes and how to help balance the nervous-system refering back to this very early stage. I’ve found that once the foundation is moving more into a situation of more balance, the reflexes that come later in development are prompted to start moving in the same direction, i.e. more balance, too.

Emotional development:

Another area that my work with the early development has taken me into is the field of emotional development and behaviour. As the two early stress-reflexes emerge so early in the very young brain they are bound to have a huge impact for better or for worse on the general development of the individual and thus also on the emotional development.

In the AT community I have often experienced a resistance toward looking at emotions in the AT-work. – Alexander is quoted many times for saying : “don’t ever trust your feelings” and that has often been interpreted to mean “emotions”. He lived, worked and wrote his books at a time when “therapy, psycho-analysis” etc. were very young disciplines and he was very sceptical of them. – I believe it is now time to move on and start consciously differentiating emotions from feelings and instead to consciously read FM’s quotes to address the kind of “feelings” that are sensations.  – I believe that we need to include emotional development into the work with Alexander’s principles – and I sense that the community or a part of it, is perhaps ready for it too. Many may not want it.. and for different reasons; but I experience a growing body of open and willing people..

The field of Trauma; developmental and /or shock trauma:

In my exploration og Human Potential the AT-work and the early development took me into the field of shock and trauma and a training in Somatic Experiencing (SE), i.e. understanding more about the danger-aspect of the Chineese sign for Crisis (link to read more.) And it also took me into studying the Ageless Wisdom teachings, philosophy and a soul-based psychology in order to understand more about the possibility /potential-aspect of Crisis.

To start with the danger-aspect:

In SE we define shock and trauma as : the nervoussystem’s reaction to experienced overwhelm (too much, too soon, too early). It is in the nervoussystem, not very much in the experience! And it’s in the older parts of the nervoussystem; the reptilian brain and the limbic system (the Amygdala is the “bell” ringing when anything appears life-threatning).  As the Amygdala, the alarm-system, has not been called off, the person’s nervous-system is experiencing the traumatising event to be in the future rather than in the past. – It is up to the individual nervoussystem to decide when given stimuli are too much, too soon and /or too early. The determining factor is the individual resiliency in the person’s Autonomic Nervous System, i.e. the space between the maximum sympathetic and the maximum para-sympathetic reactions where the person will cope and not feel overwhelmed. Another way to define Resiliency could be : the ability to recover readily (e.g. from misfortune) – and to be capable of returning to an original shape or position  (e.g. from being compressed). – When the nervoussystem experiences stimuli to come too fast, too many or too soon it will automatically go into survival mode. In survival mode we have but the three possibilities that emerged already in the first trimester in utero : we can fight, flight or freeze – and it is not a conscious choice!!

So..  – a fundamental question for me is always:

How can I best support the individual nervoussystem when it is stuck in some kind of imbalance?

To create a little model that can demonstrate some of the differences between “traditional AT”, the “de-rotation approach” and “somatic experiencing” I have looked at what bodies or qualities are used in the three :

Traditional AT : we use our mental capacities to inhibit and direct our physical capacities.. we “say no; we stop our habitual reaction“, we “allow the neck to be free..”  or we “send the head forward and up..” – When we have an imbalance, a blocking in the nervoussystem; the direction is easily reacted to by the nervoussystem with defending the status quo. The parts of the nervoussystem responsible for survival get activated and thus the “conscious choice” goes out the window.

De-rotation approach : I observe the habitual reaction and explore its physical, emotional and mental aspects. I have a wish to see what happens if I can stop it using my conscious will – and then I observe what might come up as a result of either the wish to stop or my allowing it to be there if I cannot stop it with the use of my conscious will. – A movement, an emotion, a thought or a smell or an image or.. ? – might be released when I allow / inhibit. – This allowing creates a space where I have no agenda, I’m suspending my evaluation and I’m focusing on staying in the moment.. – and this makes it possible for my autonomic nervous system to re-balance itself. Subsequently, I may experience either a sympathetic (some kind of activity) or a para-sympathetic (some vegetative reaction – perhaps a desire to “pull down”) reaction. – If I can allow this process and even make space for the “pulling down”.. eventually the different bodies will move in the direction of more balance and harmony  - and that is usually experienced as “up” in my whole system. – Then.. I can support the UP with my AT-directions. – As an Alexander-teacher I can support the UP either with my hands-on work or just by “exchanging” my nervous system with my pupil depending on what is required.

Somatic Experiencing : We listen into the nervoussystem, the felt sense, the emotions, thoughts, images, behaviour, attitudes.. – and we never actively want to change anything. Again.. no agenda! Patience! - The premise is that trauma creates a blocking, a stuck-ness in the nervoussystem – that is not negative in itself , rather it is recognised as the ANS’s attempt to ensure survival. So, we want to allow whatever is there and to build up new connections to our resources and thus create conditions for a more balanced ANS.


In short :

Traditional AT : Mental + Physical bodies : we say: ”allow to let go..” – or even a firmer “I want my neck to be free, my head to go forward and up…” and “I say no! to my body’s habitual reaction..”   

De-rotation : Mental + Emotional + Physical bodies : I say : ”allow whatever might come up..” – or “I wish to be able to stop my body’s habitual reaction – and I stay with and observe the body’s reaction to that wish.. – while at the back of my mind I know that ultimately I wish for more freedom.. - And then.. I might allow the body to move me rather than vice versa..”

Somatic Experiencing : Mental + Emotional  + Physical bodies : we say : ” allow whatever might come up..” – or “I observe what’s going on in my experience.. body sensations, emotions, thoughts, images…? – and I stay with them.. – If they become very strong and difficult to contain, I resource myself / or my client by consciously thinking, feeling or sensing something that I know can make me feel better.. – and.. at the same time allowing and observing the first experience to move where it wants to…”                       


As can be seen in this “concise” model the Inhibition-Direction process of Traditional Alexander-work – is expanded with De-rotation inbetween – so : Inhibition – Derotation – Direction… etc. .. .


And some quotes from my thesis “On the Development of Habit…” : 

 “In cases of a persisting STNR  in a pupil of the Alexander Technique I feel certain that the principle of `inhibition and derotation´ before `inhibition and direction´ could be of much use. I am using the concept `derotation´ in a very wide sense here to mean any kind of `untwisting´or `uncurling´. As opposed to the ATNR  the STNR pattern is one of forwards and backwards movements, and so `undoing´ the STNR pattern or the compensatory systems set up to cope with a persisting STNR must follow the same paths i.e. forward/ backward movements.

  Following on from this the `derotation´-process might more appropriately be concerned with allowing or guiding the pupil into the patterns of more extreme flexion or extension which are set up by the persisting STNR .

  My own experience is that, if the `much desired´ flexion or extension is permitted first (i.e. the derotation), then the more traditional Alexander-approach of `inhibition and direction´ is much more easily achieved. It is necessary to emphasize that the `allowing or guiding´ is supported by the hands of an Alexander teacher, which in themselves have a strong element of `direction´. Without the hands of a teacher the `allowing´ might very well only lead to either collapse or bracing depending on the habitual compensatory mechanism  (habit).”  (p. 72)


 “In cases where an Alexander pupil has a persisting TLR , an Alexander-approach based on accommodation of the compensatory mechanism s and therefore the reflex, would in my view again be one of `derotation´. Here, too, `derotation´ would signify a process of `unwinding´ or `uncurling´ rather than actual rotation.

  The TLR  pattern being one of flexion/ extension in a forward/ backward direction, would have to be derotated through allowing either the forward-collapse or the backward-hyperextension. From my own experience it seems that the collapse or flexion happens prior to extension. If this is true, it might be related to the developmental sequence where flexion comes before extension. Also, it would indicate that the habitual compensatory mechanism  used is apt to be one of extension of the head/ neck to counteract the desire for flexion. So when the Alexander teacher's hands communicate inhibition to the pupil's neck and the head-extension is allowed into a more balanced position (i.e. a better condition for a better primary control), the natural consequence will be flexion of the limbs. This might even take the pupil into the flexor habitus -position. I find that it can be an advantage to do Alexander-work with such a pupil lying in supine or semi-supine. One obvious advantage is that it greatly reduces the fear and chance of falling.

  It seems that the flexion/ extension pattern is a rhythmical one, so that a flexion-phase will be succeeded by an extension-phase. I have to emphasize, that in my practical work, both as a student and as a teacher, `allowing or guiding´ the flexion has always been supported by `Alexander-hands´ with a stable element of `direction´ of myself.  This might contribute to the rhythmicity of the reflex.

  Another contributing factor might be the rhythm of the cranio-sacral mechanism[i], which is a pattern of subtle flexion and extension. However, the relationship between the cranio-sacral system and work with the Alexander Technique is a vast subject and one with which I shall not go more into detail here.”  (p. 81)


 “To recapitulate first on the need for reflex-inhibition in the Alexander Technique: I have described how persisting early reflexes can be the creator of strong habits that are interfering with an individual's ability to function freely. However, these interfering habits are there as compensa­tory mecha­nism s without which a person's functioning might be even worse. For the Alexander teacher to encourage the pupil to let go of a habitual misuse in a case like this, seems to be inadvisable. The result might be, as described throughout this thesis, that the pupil would be left without his/ her old compensatory mechanisms and because of a persis­ting reflex influence still not be able to replace the old habit with a new and better one. The reflex influence becomes exposed and the pupil might feel that he/ she is `unable to move´ or is `falling apart´. Or the pupil might develop new ways of compensating for the reflex influence (hardly the intention of the Alexander teacher!). Or at best, nothing might happen - which means that the pupil is not responding to the Alexander teacher's hands at all. Therefore the only sensible approach seems to be, first to correct the `fundamentals´ through a reflex-inhibition programme and then carry on with Alexander lessons.

  Whether learning the Technique and being on a reflex-inhibition programme at the same time is more efficient or doing the reflex-inhibition first and then have Alexander lessons is preferable, I do not know. This is something I shall experiment with in time to come.

  I would contend that at the INPP they are not only working with inhibition of reflexes, but also with `habit´. In their adult clients especially the element of habit is bound to be rather strong. The power of habit in adults is stronger than in children, not only because adults have had longer time to establish their habits, but also because in cases of persisting early reflexes, habits might have developed very much as compensatory mechanism s or as ways of coping and thus they would be closely linked with psychological and emotional use of the individual. In the adult client with persisting early reflexes it is very likely that he/ she has become so used to living with limitations brought about by the persisting reflexes that the client's habitual experience of him/ herself is one of limitations in all sorts of everyday activities. The client may be so used to having poor balance , being badly co-ordinated, having poor eye-hand co-ordination, etc., that it takes special attention and courage to begin to break the vicious circle. Some clients talk about “fear of the fear”, or “is it going to happen again?”[ii] - Also, the vicious circle can be emphasized by an environment which has grown used to the client with all his/ her limitations and therefore continues to have negative expectations to the client's abilities even after the original limitations have disappeared.

  Through an inhibition programme, the `fundamentals´ are corrected, but then, I would suggest, that for some clients, if they are not helped to change their habitual psycho-physical use of themselves, their lives may continue pretty much unchanged. Perhaps other clients will change in the course of the programme, but the pressure of habit might then create the basis for `new compensatory mechanisms ´ based on unnecessary habitual misuse. Unneces­sary, because the original reason for their existence is no longer there. Over time habit may `override´ the changes the reflex-inhibition programme brought about and thus bring with it the old compensatory mechanisms, purely because the client is unable to change his/her habitual psycho-physical (mis)use of him/ herself.

  For the above reasons I suggest that some combination of a reflex-inhibition programme and lessons in the Alexander Technique would give the optimum result.” (pp. 85-86)


 “As argued throughout the thesis, it is my experience, and my belief, that traditional Alexander work based on inhibition of misuse, succeeded by directions for a better use, may prove unsuccessful or even harmful when a reflex influence is threatening to throw the pupil completely off balance . It might seem to work with an Alexander teacher's well-directed hands on the pupil, (i.e. the teacher functions as an `outer compensation ´ or pull in the opposite direction of the reflex-pull), but when the lesson is over and the hands are no longer there, the reflex-pull takes over again and the pupil has no choice, but to return to the old way of compensation.

  I feel certain that the strength of the reflex, or the degree of persistence of the reflex, is of importance in setting up a prognosis as to whether it will be possible to control the reflex influence through Alexander lessons or not. I also feel that an adaptation of the Alexander-approach to the individual pupil according to his/ her reflex profile might prove very useful.

  In this thesis I have proposed a possible approach of adaptation to an individual's habit by way of `derotation´, i.e. allowing, or actually subtly guiding, the pupil into what may be the persisting reflex-pattern. It may be that this way of indulging in the reflex-pattern is a road to inhibition of the reflex, a sort of replication of the movements of the infant which would serve to inhibit the reflexes in normal development. Thus through inhibition of the reflex(es), inhibition in an Alexander-sense may be possible i.e. conscious control of the individual's psycho-physical use of him/ herself.

  It may be that this Alexander-approach is only usable when the reflex influence is not too strong. Or at least it may be that, in cases of strong reflex-pulls, the process of inhibiting or controlling the reflex will be unduly long and frustrating for the pupil. In such cases it may be useful to combine lessons in the Alexander Technique with a movement-programme constructed especially to inhibit the reflexes. In order to construct such a programme, it is necessary to draw up a reflex-profile for the pupil. This can be done by testing for each of the early reflexes individually. In fact, such a reflex-profile might be helpful, too, in cases where the `derotation´-approach is used without an actual reflex-inhibition programme. It may further the understanding of what is happening in the pupil and therefore enable the Alexander teacher to support the process better.

  I am aware as pointed out earlier that the use of active derotation in the Alexander Technique demands further training of the already skilled hands of the Alexander teacher. It seems important that the derotation is merely following and supporting the tendencies already there in the pupil. To take the derotation any further than where the pupil's neuromotor apparatus is ready to go at any given moment, I believe can be just as harmful as any of the pupil's self-imposed compensatory mechanism s. The result of going too far might be the creation of a new compensating bad habit.

  Generally it seems to me that postural habits, as a concept, can be said to exist as the interface  or bridge between early reflexes and work with the Alexander Technique. In other words, knowing about the habit might help in the process of gaining control of the reflex, and more control of the reflex might improve the Alexander-work, which again might make it possible to change the habit.

  My work with this thesis has widened for me the perspective on habit. It seems possible that by stepping one step further back and taking develop­ment (in this case the early reflexes) into account, we might be taking a step forward towards helping people achieve more of their full potential.”   (pp. 88-89)


[i]. According to Upledger & Vredevoogd  the cranio-sacral mechanism performs the `breathing´ of the cranio-sacral system. It seems that the driving-force of the mecha­nism is a rhythmical movement (flexion/ extension) of the sphenoid bone and the sacrum. The body as a whole is part of this subtle rhythmical flexion/ extension.

[ii]. Ruth Hurst Vose  in her book “Agoraphobia” mentioned the “fear of the fear” as a strong element in the agoraphobic condition. Hurst Vose was agoraphobic herself and went through a reflex-inhibition programme with Blythe & McGlown . She pointed out in her book that additional help (psycho-counselling) may be necessary, to help the clients “lose their fear of the fear”. (Hurst Vose, 1981, p.184).






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