1. It is 2003 and I have my first Alexander lesson with a dear motherly teacher, who I know and whom I love to this day. While I am lying on my back on the table, my teacher takes my right arm and guides it away from my body, supporting it with her two hands, releasing some of its holding patterns.
Suddenly I am flooded with a memory, me as a four or five-year-old, on my back, both arms in plastic braces, tied to the crib, preventing me from bending my elbows, or turning over to either side.
I feel moved to share this emotional content with my Alexander teacher. After a brief and considerate pause, she moves my arm back, hand resting on rib cage, elbow away to the side. No comment whatsoever!
What a teaching moment: The Alexander technique does not concern itself with emotional content – or so it seems!
I have been grappling with this ever since.
2. Recently, I attended a talk by a Chilean architect about her life’s work. I love architecture, I am attracted to the landscape of Patagonia, where some of her buildings have been established and I learned about the poetic and holistic approach she applies to her commissions. I felt myself getting excited and first interpreted the sensation of heart beating in my chest as awe, triggered by the rapturous beauty before my eyes.
Then I realized an undercurrent – there was the realization that some of my friends could afford to stay a few nights at this gorgeous Patagonia resort. This other feeling of ‘excitement’ turned out to be mere jealousy.
How is this relevant? Discernment, self-knowledge, right proportions. To me it seems important to understand deeper layers of myself, what moves me, propels me, disappoints me, to ask myself which consequences or actions are appropriate. By acknowledging an unwelcome feeling, I can let it go. I do not have to act on a part that I do not welcome. Jealousy is an unwelcome part of my Self, I can recognize it as that and not act on it in any way.
3. Let’s imagine for a moment one of the many people who are coming to the Alexander technique to address pain and tension in their neck, shoulder or arms. A student’s arm while lying on the table can feel jittery, tight, heavy, disconnected, weightless, dark, controlled etc. Their other arm might feel connected, inhabited, loose, weighty, free, available etc.
What am I going to do with this information? First do nothing. Then I can ask my student to direct out and connect with me all the way to their fingers. I can ask how their arm feels to them, or how it feels different from the other arm. I can share my observation, I can ask information about handedness or work habits, I can ask about injuries or other memories connected to this arm.
Sometimes the student relates interesting information; a collarbone broken during the birth process, a car accident impacting the student from a certain side, an early inability to brace a fall by stretching out the arms. Such details can be helpful in our work to more fully embody a traumatized part, it can enrich the dialogue between me, my client and their sensations.
4. To me, the most fascinating concept of the Alexander Technique is The Self. F.M. Alexander’s most approachable book is his last one “The Use of the Self.”
What do YOU make of this concept, the Self? What words are coming to your mind? What kind of images? What does it comprise? What is your Self’s most ideal realization? Is the sense of your Self large or small, old or young, soft or crystalline, does it have a colour?
My words are truth, real, me, core, essence; my movement is shedding layers, my sensation is softness deep in my chest; my images are a peeled nectarine and a green emerald.
5. My teacher did the right thing during our first lesson. I had never any serious issues with my arms that could be related back to that somewhat cruel parental treatment of tying my hands to the crib to prevent me from bending my elbows, scratching itchy chicken pocks or sucking my thumb.
Looking back, I felt dismembered by the way my teacher took my arm out. There was a crack, a disconnect, the memory could seep in! Then, by putting my hand back on my ribs and continuing the lesson, I was re-membered!
I view my work as an Alexander teacher as a holistic approach to help students rediscover and re-member their Selves, to be whole. I am proud of my formal, traditional and long training and proud to deepen my understanding of its principles. My goal and purpose are to embrace and invite more of my students’ Self into a lesson, not to shy away from their emotions, their sensations, their memories and their daily lived experience.
The key is discernment, when to speak and when to be quiet and carry on taking an arm out and back.