Hands-on guidance in teaching

I am a bit baffled by the implication that hands-on chair lessons in the Alexander Technique do not teach one to work on oneself. I was very quickly able to apply my early lessons to most things in my life — other than just sitting and standing, that is. The guided opening of hands-on work exposed sensations of my constant misuse to me, and I was able to apply the basics of inhibition and direction to gradually more and more of my activities, from work to sport — something I was entirely unable to even approach in the how-to method I was taught prior in Marjorie Barstow workshops.

In my 35 years of teaching, I have encountered very few students who were resistant to applying the work outside of the guided comfort of a lesson. The technique is clearly not for everyone, and some may respond to a more “how to” approach, but to suggest that hands on teaching as Alexander taught is not teaching people to apply the work for themselves is not true in my experience.

On the other hand, I have encountered trained teachers who are exposing what they have failed to learn in the long, detailed, A.T. teacher training by using methods like Carl Stough breathing or Pose running, instead of applying the Alexander Technique in their daily lives. I cannot explain the resistance some have to basic, hands-on work, which I think of like guiding my son to riding his bike.

When he was six years old, my son told me he wanted to take the training wheels off his bike. I took him and his bicycle, without the training wheels, to a nearby park, and held his bicycle firmly while he climbed up onto the seat. I took a moment to direct him to balance on his seat without fixing his arms or legs – he needed to send his feet to the pedals and his hands to the handlebar grips while remaining mobile in his arms and legs. I moved the bike very slightly forwards and side to side assuring that he allowed some basic mobility while sitting nicely long and upright. I then rolled his bike very slowly forwards asking him to keep light pressure on the pedals and to rotate them to turn the rear wheel. I gradually picked up speed, circling the park, and leaning the bike slightly on the turns. As we continued, I did less and less, gradually letting him feel his balance and press on his pedals to move himself. At some point, I let go of the seat. He asked if I was still holding on, worried that I was not. I told him I was, my hand inches behind his seat.

I would say that this not a bad description of the basics of a first chair lesson in the Alexander Technique – I begin by giving enough guidance to a student that he can give up his control patterns and experience being moved without the habitual sense of control he uses when moving himself. I want to keep myself mobile, alert, and adaptable to his movement. I do less and less as the student follows my directions with less fear of loss of balance and general control. Like my son, who was riding his bike after several guided circles around the park, my student will soon be moving himself as if he experienced it for the first time, like my son on his bike, without doing some of the things he was doing habitually when unguided.

Clearly, there is far more to hands-on work in teaching the Alexander Technique then in there is in guiding a child in learning to ride a bike: