Learning to put hands on

I’m remembering the first time I put hands on my Alexander Technique teacher trainer after a year of daily lessons from him, from his assistants, from invited senior teachers, and from advanced trainees in the class, which was The Institute for the Alexander Technique in New York City directed by Thomas Lemens. We met for three hours weekday mornings for 44 weeks that year, in addition to a 14 week auditing term. It was a three year STAT certified training to which was to be added another year or two of supervised teaching. The training felt like sailing to a destination that seemed to move further off as approached. There were rough waters traversed and periods becalmed for weeks. I was anxious to take the next step but utterly mystified by its demands. I’d had some hands-on work that seemed miraculous, that allowed me to open myself in unanticipated ways from just the lightest touch. How was I going to learn to do something that seemed invisible, that blossomed without evident movement?

We had worked on putting hands on the back of chairs, on tables, and on the manipulation of objects, like pencils and knives and forks. Somehow, the same calm needed to be applied to putting hands on a person, but forks are not judgemental, nor are they dynamic. Simply preparing to put hands on was enough to elicit a comment from my teacher, “Wait.” Actually placing hands on his sternum and spine usually brought a request to remove them and to reorganize myself. As I got quiet enough to actually leave my hands on for a few seconds, I’d get a string of requests to unlock my hips, knees, ankles, to free shoulders, elbows, wrists, and, of course, my neck. When I was able to follow his directions, he immediately felt the improvement. How?

Gradually I found myself able to remain alive and mobile while contacting another body without pushing, pulling, pressing or lifting it. How was it possible that the directions I’d learned to send throughout my own parts could somehow enter and include another? Or, at least, in this early stage, connect to my teacher without disruption of his superior organization? The next several years, indeed, it is still ongoing over 34 years later, have been about including another through touch in my sense of self.

Eventually I learned, in hands-on exchange with other students, that I could feel positioning in their bodies when they were in contact with mine, and I learned to give helpful guidance and feedback to them so that our bodies could interact without hardness or positioning. My hands learned to sense beyond the point of contact to ribs, hips, knees and beyond and I learned to guide others into the dynamic opening we seek in the Alexander Technique.

At times, I can still hear my teacher’s voice when I’m working on a student, telling me not to pull or stretch them, but to direct myself to allow them to participate in what I’ve learned to do with myself.