In a telephone interview with Paul Cook, Alexander Technique teacher John Nichols says: “There’s just one huge obvious challenge [facing Alexander teachers today] that dwarfs every other challenge — the majority of Alexander teachers around the world do not have enough work. I hear this again and again. It’s so hard to make a living. It’s so hard to get enough of a clientele. How do we get this work out there? We love this work. It’s powerful and deep. Why are we not connecting with more of the public?”
“Osteopaths and chiropractors and voice teachers are wonderful sources of referrals.”
“Why are we not getting enough work?
“Point one. People are willing to spend time, money and energy on practices that they think will improve their health such as yoga and pilates. I started practicing yoga in London in 1968 and if I even mentioned it to people, I was thought to be weird. Now yoga is an industry. In 1968 in the UK, yoga was no more popular than the Alexander Technique. Where did we miss out?
“One point is that yoga is a group activity. People willing to spend time and money to increase their health equate learning with joining a group. People like a shared experience. There’s the yoga community. The tai chi community. They go to summer camps together. They love that sense of a shared community.
“So many people who’ve taken Alexander lessons say to me, it’s a solitary thing. You go to a lesson and you talk to your teacher. And there may be nobody else you know in your life with whom you can discuss it.”
“In yoga, tai chi and pilates, people feel that they go home and practice the exercises. We’re fuzzy around that thing. There are no exercises. It’s not about doing, it’s about non-doing.
“With group classes, the cost is shared by the class. It seems to be cheaper.
“When people hear that to learn the Alexander Technique you come to a one-on-one session and the teacher puts his hands on you, people associate that with therapy or chiropractic. The one exception to this are performing artists who are accustomed to going to your voice coach, your instrumental teacher, one-on-one.”
“Point two relating to those eastern disciplines. How did yoga become such a massive industry? Yoga, tai chi, qi gong, meditation, martial arts, they come with a ready-made millenia old philosophical and spiritual framework. When you get into yoga or tai chi, you absorb that Eastern worldview. You may have gotten into it because you have a bad back, but you find it has psychological effects and can even become a spiritual discipline.
“The western world does not have a commonly accepted philosophical framework any more [to allow Alexander Technique to be as easily accessible psychologically and spiritually as yoga, tai chi, etc].”
“I had the pleasure of an interview many years ago with one of the leading Tibetan Buddhist teachers. Jimmy Rimpoche. He asked me about my work. I said it’s called the Alexander Technique. He smiled and said, ‘Very good meditation in activity for western people.'”
“Third point. The language we use when presenting ourselves.”
“People say to me, ‘I’ve looked at some books on the Alexander Technique and some websites and honestly, John, it seems old-fashioned, a bit stiff and rigid and boring.’
“When you look at the jargon we use — constructive conscious control, use, primary control, inhibition, stop and say no — it has a rigid off-putting boring stiffness about it and a refusal on our part to go out and meet our audience and try to express things in a way that catches their attention and communicates something more alive, more energized, more positive. We get stuck on the dogma.
“I remember giving a talk in London. Another experienced Alexander teacher came. I try to avoid jargon. I said the musculature of your body, an animal’s body, has three main functions to perform — support you against gravity, move you around, and breathe you. Breathing is largely muscular. These should be harmonized. Most small children handle that synergy well but with adults, patterns develop that distort that harmony. Habits of postural support interfere with breathing. Habits of movement interfere with breath and postural support. Habits of breathing interfere with postural support and movement.”
“At the end of it all, this senior teacher came up and said, ‘But John, you didn’t speak about primary control!’ Well, so what? I talked about things that are primary control but I didn’t use that phrase. We get stuck on this dogma that we have to use these terms. We must insist that it’s not just about the body, it’s about consciousness. We must insist that it’s all about learning to stop.”
“We can help you be more fully expansive and open and this is energizing and it feels good. Dare we say that? We get afraid to say that. What are we doing it for if it does not feel good? Why do we have to be frightened of saying that?”
“In his books, Alexander says that lessons help make our sensory perception more accurate. Somehow, we forget about this and we go around saying, ‘Never trust your feelings. Never trust your feelings.’ That’s alienating to me as is this harping on about consciousness.”
“I like that you have Direction Journal. Could you imagine putting something on the market called Inhibition Journal?”
“The word ‘posture.’ When we pussyfoot around and say this has nothing to do with posture, we’re just confusing people.”
“How can you be fully erect without being stiff and rigid and still fully able to breathe? We have contributions to make but we need to be willing to talk the language that connects to people instead of insisting on our alienating jargon.”
“There are four major groups [of potential Alexander students]. There are people with specific physical, usually muscular aches and pains, lower back issues, neck issues, hypertension or breathing issues, the quasi-medical clientele. Making contact with doctors, chiropractors, physical therapists, acupuncturists. Anyone who might be dealing with these problems. Passing around summaries of the BMJ report with other literature that helps them to see how the Technique could help their patients.
“Then there are the professional performing artists.”
“Then there are people who are interested in growth of consciousness, be it via meditation or other Eastern disciplines or psycho-therapy. More and more people are aware of the mind-body connection. That your inner turmoil is not unconnected with your musculature.”
“Then there are the baby boomers who want to stay in good health in their long retirement.”