“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.