I was thinking I’d start a series of posts under the category ‘Student comments’. These posts won’t be examples of students saying how wonderful I am, nor how the Alexander Technique changed their lives. What I thought could be interesting is to comment on some the topics that come up during lessons as they are often relevant to others learning the Technique.
The advantage of individual lessons in the Alexander Technique are pretty clear: as the primary purpose of the Alexander teacher is to give the pupil a new experience, the more individual attention the better. However, there is the disadvantage that by perhaps not having contact with other students, we miss out on the opportunity to share our experiences, doubts and discoveries with others taking the same journey.
Learning the Technique and learning to apply it to our daily lives is often a difficult task. To see that we’re not the only ones finding it difficult can ease anxiety and facilitate the learning process.
So, let’s make a start:
The Alexander Technique and Bullfighting
When teaching in Madrid a few years back, I had an English student who had only lived in Spain for a couple of years. His wife had suggested he start lessons. She’d recently started having lessons with me and wanted her husband to also enjoy the benefits. He didn’t seem particularly convinced and usually kept pretty quiet in the lessons.
During what was perhaps his third or fourth lesson, he suddenly spoke up:
“The Alexander Technique is just like bullfighting!” He then returned to his customary silence. Now I was the one who didn’t understand. Am I the bull or the bullfighter? My classes don’t involve blood or sequins. What does he mean?
“Sorry?”, I replied.
“Alexander lessons are just like going to see bullfighting”, he insisted. “All of a sudden, everyone jumps up and starts cheering and I have not idea what’s happened!”
I could finish the story there. For me at least it’s already pretty funny. However, I sure he’s not the only Alexander student to have their teacher is comment on progress that they can’t perceive.
Why does this happen?
Alexander Technique lessons are primarily practical where most adults are accustomed to learning things in the abstract. The teacher, due to their training, is able to give the student a new experience which the student will, through repetition, later be able to reproduce for themselves. Sometimes only a small change is possible, or the student simply isn’t capable of perceiving the difference. Given time, however, greater change will be possible and the student will become more aware of what is happening. We also need to remember that, like with any other learning process, there are phases when we just don’t yet understand the new material.
Learning anything worth time and effort to learn, particularly a practical skill, is rarely a linear process. There are moments when we plateau or are confused, sometimes we seem to be going backwards, and sometimes we believe there is now nothing else to learn. The strange thing is, our assessment of the situation can change radically from one day to the next. Some may have an easy start whilst others need a bit more time before understanding what is required of them. We also often don’t understand why a teacher is asking us to do something. The art of teaching lies in figuring out what a student doesn’t understand, what’s getting in the way of their understanding, and then coming up with a way to overcome the problem.
In this particular case, I lent him an introductory book about the Technique and this, in conjunction with further classes, led him to broader understanding of the of the Technique and what he could expect from the lessons. Never again did we talk about bullfighting.
As a final twist to the story, it turned out that his wife had started having lessons as she’d heard it was a good preparation for pregnancy. He hadn’t understood why he’d need lessons as well!