Some Good Questions

I love “good” questions that refresh my thinking, such as:

What timing? What direction does it go? What qualities does it have? What does sequence have to do with it?

What fits? What matches? What contrasts might reveal distinctions? What do the distinctions do, how do they function?

What functions are going on and how can I describe them? What are the factors? What actions are a priority in sequence?  What operates this way and why does it work like that? What point, what need does this function fulfill? How will the meaning I assign affect certain actions and outcomes? What does this action result in over time?
…All this and more questions make learning richly fascinating.


Hands-On, A.T. Style Described

“AT talk seems to not mention what happens when teachers use their hands on people but talks a lot about changing thinking by using thinking. What happens to the teacher and the pupil with the hand contact?”

The answer is – many things. Putting hands-on is a performance art of demonstrated, factual intention being carried into the action of motion on the part of both the teacher and student. The teacher job is using their own ability to actualize Alexander’s principles on themselves as they put their hands on the student.

What actually happens during hands-on are – many things. Most AT teachers continue to originate many, many strategies that work with different people to get their habits out of the way. If one way doesn’t work, they try another. So that is why the so many different styles of how to teach A.T. – and they all work because the principles are principles.

Generally, the greater a teacher’s personal understanding of their own ability to direct their own coordination using AT, the more effective the quality of direction that will come through their hands to their student.

You can prove this the next time you have an Alexander lesson – invite someone else along if you have private lessons. Have that person, not the teacher, put hands-on you like the teacher does and compare and describe the qualities of how it feels. You’ll immediately feel the difference; there will be pulling, heaviness – much physical confusion.

This is why it takes so long to learn to put hands-on with the objective of teaching AT – because a teacher must “walk their talk…” or in a sense, “walk their thought.” A teacher’s objective is to suspend their own ideas about what “should” be done with this student out of the way. This allows the direction to come through their hands, and allows the student to respond in any way they choose. It works much in the same way that an artist suspends “over-control” of their hands in order to allow the image they are looking at to come through their hands into a drawing or painting.

I’m not sure my description above would be appropriate to everyone who teaches A.T. but this is how I experience it myself. I know it does have at least some common agreement; but I’m sure not everyone will agree with my description because everyone comes from a unique micro-culture of implied and expressed meaning.

Why this works is a mystery. Please indulge me and allow me to speculate. Of course, this speculation is from my own experience as a teacher.

I do know that AT teachers often use their hands as merely a backstop so their student can sense the moment they pull themselves out of shape during a movement. Directing timing has much to do with the coaching that goes along with this use of the hands-on.

Actual directing that works from hand-contact: Perhaps the kind that actually making some sort of electrical contact with the students’ body, in a sense, substituting the thought messages as if the student could send lengthening thoughts on their own. That’s just my speculation of course.

Perhaps also hands-on has a sense of empathic ability or sympathy – the kind that encourages people to mirror body language. Just being around someone with much better use than you will encourage you to feel lighter.

Anyway – most AT teachers will not do this speculating, because it’s not very professional and highly subjective to each person who experiences it’s workings.  Most AT teachers never even ask the question “how.”  They are only concerned with that hands-on directing for students does work – to the extent the student’s ability to suspend their habits are able to take a break for a moment. The question of “how” is sort of a moot point, once you can do it as a teacher. You can demonstrate it, so that is “how.”

When you think about it – how does coaching or any teaching process work? Most people arrive at their technique empirically – when they do something that works, they keep doing it. When they try something that doesn’t work, they do something else.

Personal Challenges

“how do people respond when confronted with challenges that are personally presented?”

When you think about it, no matter how much experience you have, there is always the next moment when you might discover something new, right?

The characteristics of discovery is partly what AT is about. How to recognize a discovery when it does emerge.

Mostly people are defensive when challenged. This happens for many reasons; because most people assume a challenge means a contest determining a winner and loser. If they can courageously rise to the occasion and possibly realize that defensiveness either isn’t necessary or is actively not particularly fun or creative, things get interesting. Let’s say the nature of the challenge is you ask people to change their manner of speaking, ( for instance.) Most cannot do that for very long. They will see it as a personal affront to be challenged in this manner because they can’t do it or sustain it. Most adults are not used to being made into a beginner. They had to accept when young, and thus they react as if threatened – many attempts to demote people into beginners is regarded as a sort of “hazing.”

Once people become willing to challenge themselves, I noticed that people seem to have a “favored” way of directing their attention – and also a “favored” way of evaluating results. It is always fascinating to describe these and compare them to other possible styles and preferences.

Usually people do not know that there are other styles and ways of evaluating, so this process is quite eye-opening for them (and fascinating to me.) For example of various favored computations used in making decisions or evaluating results:

  • Some people “add up” results, searching for similarity or grouping what they determine belongs together by their own somewhat idiosyncratic associations.
  • Some people will “match” looking for a exact “fit,” of course, casting aside things that they assume do not fit. Some people “contrast to reveal differences” which is a more appropriate strategy for tapping the unknown.
  • Some “subtract” to “distill the essence” which implies there is already a criteria and a priority in place.

You could generally think of these points as being tied to the various means of critical thinking. Critical in the sense of being able to make critical or operative distinctions, rather than critical in the sense of passing judgment or assuming a position or opinion that then must be justified or gain agreement.

This process is related to AT because objective description of the sensibility of the instrument and how you are using it will, obviously, direct the possible results. As teachers, we are asking students to abstract the specific examples we give them in order to apply them to other situations and circumstances.

OK – what do you think about this?

Questions Answered from answerbag

Is there any evidence–scientific, not anecdotal–that the Alexander Technique works for people experiencing back pain?

Check out some of the references on in the Alexander Technique article there. See also the Society of Alexander Technique Teachers website, where this research is collected that is being done or has been done.
The short answer is not enough research exists. At this point, there are related studies which supports its effectiveness for back pain issues. A.T. is commonly applied for that purpose, (among others,) in the UK. The skills of describing the qualities and functions of bodily movement that Alexander teachers possess are corroborated in gait research lab measurements. If someone who is considering A.T. for back pain was dismayed by the lack of its proof, perhaps taking their prospective teacher to a gait research lab would convince.

Alexander Technique specializes in learning to undo overcompensation. It addresses how people tend to make up habits to adapt to repeating circumstances, which so commonly lack foresight of cumulative effects. When compared to surgery or other “solutions” offered by the traditional medical community, a course of twenty to forty lessons is a bargain. However, it does take an educational commitment; it won’t work if you don’t practice it.

The medical community tends to describe and name back problems without knowing their cause. In some cases, A.T. has successfully reversed back problems – the problems that are due to what A.T. teachers term “misuse” of the body. It is possible to get the benefits of A.T. even though your bones are structurally malformed, because A.T. principles work no matter what the present situation is. In deformities, A.T. principles may only mitigate issues, but these slight improvements can mean significant differences to the student.

I have personally just witnessed an Alexander teacher’s x-ray who had to have the last vertebrae of his tail bone removed due to it being crushed in a car accident. The anticipated collapse of the vertebrae above it has not occurred, and inevitably with it, serious pain and back problems have also not happened. His doctors do not want to hear why this is the case, which the victim believes is due to his practice of Alexander Technique. This is yet another anecdotal evidence in support of the effectiveness of A.T. that will not be recorded. I’d be happy to put you in touch with this person, and you may see his x-ray and hear his story.