Thursday, 11 February 2010

More About Inhibition

My previous article on inhibition was recently cited in a paper on inhibition posted on That article equated inhibition with self control and came to a conclusion that inhibition was "A state you find yourself in".

I decided to post this article to address these points and hopefully to add clarity to the understanding of inhibition in the context of the Alexander Technique.

First of all let me summarise what I was trying to say in my blog post:
Inhibition allows us to suppress our subconscious habitual responses to stimuli. Because our awareness of a stimulus occurs a fraction of a second after we have responded to it, we must apply inhibition subconsciously so that it can afford us a window of opportunity to choose a better consciously directed response. Practice will, in time, develop a simple act of 'saying "no" to a stimulus' into a state of being and the new consciously chosen responses will become the new habits.

In a lecture Mr. Alexander clearly distinguished his use of its meaning from that in psychotherapy: "Many people would take exception to the word 'inhibition' but this inhibition is not the inhibition that we usually hear of... It is not the inhibition of supression".

The opposite of inhibition is volition. "Volition [stands] for the act of responding to... stimuli [with] psycho-physical action (doing), and inhibition [stands] for the act of refusing to respond to... stimuli [with] psycho-physical action (non-doing)"

Self control, on the other hand is perceived as self-denial: the act of denying yourself; controlling your impulses; the trait of resolutely controlling your own behaviour. Controlling emotional responses such as "angry, upset, shy" as quoted in the BodyPlusMind article is in the realm of self-control, rather than purely inhibition. Emotions transcend the simple stimulus-response mechanisms that pure inhibition deals with. However, we don't ignore their effect on the body. The indirect approach of inhibition and direction can affect emotional states via the process of psycho-physical unity. For example, it's not uncommon for a pupil to burst into tears in a lesson as a direct result of releasing tension. That tension would have been the physical manifestation of an underlying emotional state.

Frank  Pierce Jones described it perfectly:
...I found that the paradigm of inhibition that had been demonstrated for physical movement could be applied equally well when the activity would be classed as mental or emotional. ...any emotional disturbance affects [the field of attention] immediately and can often be perceived as a change in the level of muscle tone before a reaction in the autonomic system has begun. Anger for example has a characteristic pattern that is easily recognizable.  [When stimulated into anger] I turned my attention to my neck and shoulders. I found that I could inhibit a further increase in tension and allow the muscles to lengthen; and that as long as I did this I could carry on a rational conversation in spite of my inward agitation.

I would never describe inhibition as "a state you find yourself in". Finding yourself in a state happens at a level of conscious awareness. It follows-on from the subconscious stage where inhibition must actually be applied. It implies a lack of positive conscious control. Inhibition is an attitude of mind which will result in you being able to choose the state you find yourself in.

In my original blog post I described someone who is exercising inhibition as calm, confident and un-flappable. This is not to suggest that they do not appear alert and poised to respond in an instant to any given stimulus. There is no inevitable time-delay in receiving a stimulus and responding to it in a consciously controlled way. This is because the inhibition and the choice of response have been applied in sufficient time for a response to appear instant. It often amuses me when a group of AT teachers get together and try to out-inhibit one another - like a blinking competition where the winner is the one who blinks last.


  1. Thankyou for this Jeff! A response to the points you raise is available to read here.

  2. I've responded to your article on your forum

    It's basicaly a matter of interpretaion of the meaning of words... and perhaps the words left unsaid.

  3. In the light of offline and online comments to this post I wish I'd said in summary that:-

    "Inhibition allows us to intercept and prevent our subconscious habitual responses to stimuli. "

    It would have avoided confusion with the comment by Alexander that this is not the inhibition of suppression!

  4. Nice fill someone in on and this fill someone in on helped me alot in my college assignement. Gratefulness you on your information.

  5. Took me time to read the whole article, the article is great but the comments bring more brainstorm ideas, thanks.

    - Johnson