So what actually happens in an Alexander Technique lesson? I suppose it depends very much on one’s teacher’s way of teaching, but all teachers of the Technique follow the same basic principles. I’ve been watching a video of a first Alexander Technique lesson and one of the things to which the teacher immediately introduces the pupil is the notion of Directions.
Directions are the thought process which accompany the movement in an Alexander Technique lesson. They remind us of where ‘forward and up’ is, not to mention back lengthening and widening, but you can more or less direct any part of your anatomy into a more restful state, one which is free of tension that shortens and tightens. Directions are very useful outside of a lesson, in fact they are what reminds us about what we learned during the lesson and how we can continue to apply this as we go about our day-t0-day activities. Take sitting in a chair, for instance, an activity which we do hundreds of times during a day and yet mostly don’t think about how we do this. If we apply Directions as we stand in front of the chair, we can remind ourselves of how we balance in standing and how we are able to send our head ‘forwards and up’, i.e. forwards and up on top of the spine. We can also remind ourselves about where our feet are placed, whether our balance is on our toes or more towards our heels with us being able to sense the ground underneath the big toe, little toe and heel, which should ideally be the case. Only after we have considered these things are we in a position to sit down, bending from the hip joint, knee joints and ankle joints. You may notice that your head leads the way and the body follows it and that your back remains long and loose.
Directions are also very useful at times when we find ourselves in challenging situations, they act as a reference point to which we can always return, there to remind us of where we are space, to check in as to whether we are in balance or not. During a lesson, a teacher will be asking their pupil to think of their Directions as they work on them with their hands, this is basically all a pupil needs to do, is to think of their Directions, it’s not really a lot to ask or is it? Certainly you might find yourself thinking of other things when you begin a lesson, such as the telephone call you’ve just had or the meeting which you need to attend after your lesson, but as you settle down into the lesson, you will find that you are beginning to think of your Directions and how you wish your body to be, there is no other way of participating in the lesson other than to continue to give your Directions.
You can use Directions as you speak, doing the two things at once takes a little experience but it is possible. In fact Directions are a very useful tool when you do speak as they able to remind you about your sense of balance and where you would like to be in space, in addition to being able to release tension in certain areas, such as the shoulder girdle or neck. Thinking of having a free neck is in fact probably the first direction you give yourself in a lesson, because this direction precedes all the other directions. Directions can be used throughout your day, whatever it is you’re doing, and are simple to learn, repetition of the directions playing a large part to learning them.