Re-education, learning and unlearning

Anyone with an interest in the Alexander Technique knows that at its heart is that it has something to teach and learn, meaning that it is in quite a different class of its own when it comes to the benefits of taking lessons.

The pupil doesn’t attend a lesson to have something done to them, but rather to work on developing the skills of noticing when they are doing too much or too little on a muscular level and stopping to think (inhibition) and direct themselves. The lesson may seem quite repetitive, you go for the lesson perhaps at the same time every week, perhaps twice a week, and what the teacher is teaching you seems to be the same. I say ‘seems’ because each time what you’re being taught, things are different, you may just have come from work, or  you may have come after having dropped off the children at school and you’ve experienced different things during your day from those you experienced the day before. Added to which, each time your teacher works with you, they will be working with someone who is in the process of learning and as such each time things are different. It is in many ways similar to learning to play a musical instrument, each time you pick up the instrument, it’s as if this is something hundreds of times before and yet each time around it’s something different.

FM Alexander was convinced that his Technique fell within the educational field. He definitely had something to teach his pupils, namely to stop interfering with the natural co-ordination of the body by giving themselves directions, in other words to use their ability to think. Tapping into this ability isn’t something you find whilst undergoing a therapy for an aching back or a sore neck, but it is something which lies at the heart of the Alexander Technique. The ability to constantly remind ourselves not to shorten or tighten as we go about our daily activities, to remember that our shoulders are very much attached to our back and our neck to our sternum and so on. Learning to think up and allowing the neck to be free are two of the primary directions we encounter during our learning experience, ones of which we’re reminded on a continual basis both by our teacher but also by ourselves during daily life.

Learning inhibition and direction takes a bit of time to get used to and apply, it’s not something we’ve grown up to learn in school or university and may seem a little strange at first because it’s unfamiliar, indeed not habitual. This shouldn’t worry you, you’ll soon get used to what the teacher is encouraging you to learn as they work with you with their hands and speaking voice. Indeed, it will help you to find more stillness within yourself, as well as the ability to become more centred, as you listen to what your teacher’s hands are asking of you in terms of learning. A lesson is very much about you, the pupil, about your habitual manner of sitting, standing, moving, speaking etc., in fact anything which you do with your body and how the teacher is able to help you discover more ease within yourself in terms of movement. Instead of looking at specific things, the teacher will work with you in a very general manner yet always tailor what they teach to you as an individual.

Education need not be a boring process, but rather re-education on a general basis is one of exploration and experimentation, of learning new skills and learning to apply what you have learned to your everyday life. During a lesson it may not seem as if what you’re learning can be applied to everyday life, but the point is that what you’re learning gradually, gradually does get applied to this, you may not be aware of it at the time. Certainly lessons provide you with a unique learning experience whilst at the same time as alleviating such things as back pain, neck tension, shoulder pain, and a whole host of other aches and pains. They basically teach you how to use your mind and body together in a different manner from that to which you have previously been accustomed, a manner which goes hand in hand with how our bodies are designed to move.

Very much educational, the Alexander Technique is a technique for self-care, that is for learning to look after yourself as best you can without requiring regular weekly lessons, of taking care of yourself as best you can. At this time of the year this may include taking a summer holiday, but you may also be thinking about new things to do come the autumn. I can think of nothing better that encourages health and well-being than taking a course of lessons in the Alexander Technique!