April 2006 is when I graduated as an Alexander Technique Teacher and began private practice. The ten years since have pass swiftly and I’m taking a moment to consider what has changed in my attitude and practice.
When I graduated, I had a range of procedures related to teaching. I began to develop some of my own, thinking that I’d build a large enough vocabulary to meet any situation. Some of them are very educationally sound, some give the student a lovely sensation. Many frequently present in my repertoire in any given lesson.
Shifting from Procedures to Principles
My perspective has shifted from constructing a seres of educational procedures to now aligning myself with the principles and using that as the basis for what form the lesson will take. When I work like this, the need for a repertoire evaporates, as everything we do orients the student towards functioning from principle. Having a formula simply doesn’t meet the variety of needs even students present with, and cannot on its own guarantee an embodiment of Alexander Technique.
I have found that when I stick to principle, the ‘classical’ procedures continue to be one of the most valuable resources. They are a reference point where student and teacher can check in and decide what is the next relevant form.
In this manner, I am constantly engaging imagination and am required to respond to what is presenting in the moment. Being in the moment is critical to staying ‘alive’ in The Technique. When one gets stuck on a particular procedure, or presenting a lesson one particular way, inevitably both teacher and student tense up! ‘Alexandroid’ is what we used to call this.
I have discovered over time, the tendency towards some teaching prejudice. I refer to here the idea that ‘I know what is happening’ for a student. I’ve now seen several hundred students and can make some generalisations, but these simply get in the way. If I expect the student to respond in one particular way, I limit my capacity to change and adapt to what is happening. I lose the ‘in the moment’ experience and the student is deprived of finding their own way of expressing resolution. The understanding we have of human function falls pathetically short of the potential humans have.
When I allow myself ‘not to know’ (which also means ‘allow myself to be wrong’), then I have much more rewarding responses from students - often times in ways I’d never have considered. This is a profession where the teacher is always learning from the student, but must never presume authority. (It’s more fun that way too!)
It is an interesting situation when the student is receiving first impressions of The Technique, or is in acute pain. My desire to impress, relieve the student’s pain or to fix their problem is a huge stimulus! I need to channel this energy into modelling and presenting the principles so that the student can find their own resolution. Much as I often want it to be, Alexander Technique is not something I can give someone, only something I can guide someone towards. Ultimately, this empowers the student and they gain more than I’d ever be able to give them.
Living the principle
Most of my reflections here are simply reinforcing what was taught to me when I trained. I guess the key difference is I am living it - experiencing myself what others have talked and written about. At so many points along the way, I found myself doubting if I was really doing anything useful for people, if they would ever ‘get it’, or if it would be worth their effort. Persistently, I’d prove to myself, (or my pupils would prove to me), yes, this does work, it is the best thing I can offer anyone. People do get it - sometimes to my great astonishment! They respond when I adhere to principle, even when it feels to me like I’m doing nothing of value.
Over the time, I’ve seen such a variety in demographic and application and it continues to impress me. The Technique really is universal. It applies everywhere, in any actin and can be learnt by anyone who is willing. There is an amazing human capacity to improve coordination. It seems infinite! The unfortunate truth is that the human capacity for compromising coordination also appears infinite. I’ve seen people in some extreme conditions of challenge. But always there is something which can be done to improve the situation, and Alexander Technique principles outline a profound practice.
All it takes is a conscious initiation. Without this, we just don’t know what our orientation is. Ten years of professional practice, and five years more of personal study and still I come back to the same instruction I give to students on day one. It doesn't discourage me to always be the beginner, rather it just reminds me that what we are working with is hugely underrated.
My students have exemplified this to me. They have overcome some challenges which seemed impossible, and surpassed expectations of themselves, their peers and professionals.. Some have defied their negative medical prognosis. Some have gone on to excel in sports and arts, others to live a deeper, more engaged and fulfilling life. Thank you to you all for the inspiration - may it continue!
Jeremy Woolhouse - April 2016
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