The Alexander Technique is hands-on work. It cannot be taught online or in large groups. It is work on posture, the posture that is present before we move and can be poor due to stresses acquired in life. “Inhibiting the immediate response to a stimulus,” as Alexander taught, returns us to a non-doing state in which posture may be altered, but only through direct guidance, because the patterns we maintain, even when we are not moving, are hidden from us – we don’t know we may be bracing and isometrically contracting muscles when we are simply standing, and our brains cannot be convinced to change habitual posture without hands-on guidance and support.
Before we begin to move, a postural set is engaged which locks us into using our habitual posture in the planned movement. It is not sufficient to try to move differently. One must “inhibit the immediate response to the stimulus to move”, releasing the postural set, then applying directions to reorganize the primary control – to alter habitual posture to unfix and to allow posture to be dynamic. Healthy posture is movement – all muscles subtly changing length (myotatic reflexes) – all positioning interferes with these reflexes, and all movement begins in the neck, so directions to allow the neck to be free are directions to allow the whole body to be free. As Alexander wrote: “There is no such thing as a right position, but there is a right direction.”
A properly trained teacher of the Alexander Technique has spent hundreds of hours working hands-on on his own use and on transmitting that use to a student. He has learned to feel positioning in a student’s posture and to guide that student into freedom and opening. If the student is then guided into movement, he may be able to sustain that freedom and opening in movement. If not, the teacher can sense his return to misuse in his postural set and can tell the student to pause before he even begins to move – to “inhibit the immediate response to a stimulus to move.” This essential work is impossible without very refined hands-on work.
Some have suggested that online and group teaching represents an evolution in the teaching of the Alexander Technique, one that Alexander himself might have achieved had he lived longer. But the Alexander Technique was not an evolution of Alexander’s group teaching of breathing, it was a revolution that caused him to reject his prior teaching and led to his development of the technique we know today. Rather than continuing to work on “proper” breathing, he stated categorically that it is an error to try to control any aspect of respiration; rather, that healthy respiration will follow from good use and direction of the self. In his experimentation of hands-on work, he discovered that he could sense misuse in his students that he had been unable to see, and that he could guide his students into opening in a manner into which he had been unable to verbally coerce them. Indeed, his awareness of what is possible was something he learned to feel.
There is much more to be said about hands-on working in teaching: