I Interview Berkeley Alexander Teacher Amira Alvarez

I love Amira’s website – AmiraAlvarez.com.

It’s quick and clean and fun. I particularly like the Before and After photos.

I talk to Amira for an hour Monday afternoon.

Luke: “When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?”

Amira: “I do remember being at an ACLU shindig with my father [Rodolfo Alvarez] and being about eight, nine or ten, and someone asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I said I wanted to marry rich, just to annoy my father and to shock everyone around me.”

Luke: “What led you to study Anthropology at Berkeley?”

Amira: “The love of people.”

“My father is a professor of Sociology. I’m showing myself to be a rebel. I just couldn’t follow in his footsteps.”

“After I became an Alexander Technique teacher, in the midst of a lesson someone asked me about my family and it dawned on me that both of my grandmothers were healers.”

“As the daughter of a professor, in my upbringing, everything was about learning. Combined with the genetic background in the healing profession…”

Luke: “How did you become interested in the Alexander Technique?”

Amira: “Pain. I had a great job. I was a high level project manager in a corporation. I got to fly all over the world running different projects.”

“I approached it like I approach everything in life with this incredible drive and will and determination. And doing that at a computer for 10-12 hours a day created a lot of pain.”

“I ignored the pain for the first two years until it became unbearable.”

“I was determined to do well in my job and that took precedence over my own health.”

“I happened to come across an Alexander Technique teacher who was also a physical therapist [Antonio Tudisco]. I had been sent through the worker’s comp program at the corporation.”

“He did this magic with his hands and I was like, whoa, what is this? I came home and described it to my husband. I hadn’t gotten the name of what he was doing but I remembered what he said to me — ‘Let your neck be free. Let your head go forward and up. Let your back lengthen and widen.’ And my husband said, ‘Oh, that’s the Alexander Technique.'”

“He had come across it in an acting-movement-improv-dance world.”

“I went online and found an Alexander Technique teacher [Constance Clare-Newman.] I studied with her for a year.”

“I wasn’t a good student. I think I would’ve fired me. I liked my teacher but when I came in, I wasn’t really paying attention. I didn’t really notice things. I would try hard to do what she said to do but not by applying the Technique but simply by trying hard.”

“And now I don’t have pain. I work at the computer. I do my life. Sports. Hanging out. Walking, talking. Without any pain.”

“I met Giora Pinkas before I trained. He’s just a mentch. He had this joyful personality and quality that was so seductive. Not him, but the idea of being happy like that was incredibly attractive. I’d never met someone who was so comfortable with themselves. I think that pushed me over the edge [to train to teach the Technique].”

“I didn’t have a lot of darkness in my training. I had a lot of frustration, feeling like I wasn’t getting it and that I wasn’t good enough… I wanted it to be clearer. More straight-forward. Here are the keys to the kingdom.”

“Training wasn’t the key to the kingdom. It didn’t say do this, do this, do this. Subsequent to training, to make it easier for my students, it doesn’t have to take a lifetime to get the basics down, I’ve tried to figure out different ways of talking about the Technique… I’ve come up with a lot of different teaching tools. I did that to make it easier for myself. How can I re-conceive of this so it is easier for me to implement and to teach? The Alexander Technique is a fabulous base but it wasn’t the end-all and be-all for me. I had to do a lot of other things to make it work for me.”

Luke: “The Alexander Technique isn’t the only thing in your life?”

Amira: “In the beginning, it was. I approached it as, if I just do this, everything will be fabulous. It’s seductive to work that way… The principles are true. You can make great changes, but the changes you get in a lesson come in part because the teacher has done a lot of work on himself. When you’re on your own, it’s more challenging.”

“When I graduated from Alexander Technique school, my husband said, ‘OK, I’m quitting my job.’ It was time. He was burnt out.

“I had the fire in my belly. We had just bought a big house. I wanted to be an Alexander Technique teacher. I don’t want to go back to corporate cubicle land. I was going to do whatever it took to make it work. I worked my patootie off that first year to get my website up…

“I looked at a lot of Alexander Technique teacher websites and I realized that they were not attractive to me if I put myself in a potential student’s shoes.”

“I started thinking about what kind of image I want to present. I wanted it to be professional. I didn’t want it to be airy fairy. I didn’t want it to be too woo-woo. This work is practical. Implementable. I was a professional and worthy of being paid professional wages.

“I realized that if I had a homespun website that didn’t look professional, it would be harder to get paid what I wanted to get paid.”

“I have lots of thoughts on this. You can ask me anything.”

“The Alexander Technique culture has seemed to set up this rule…that talking about the Alexander Technique has to be hard and you can’t use any of these words over here like ‘It helps your body’ or ‘It reduces pain.’ There are all these rules that if we say ‘self-managed pain relief’, that’s bad. That’s wrong. But so many of us got attracted to it because it did help us relieve our pain. It did it through education, not pills or surgery or physical therapy. So I feel like there are a lot of rules that keep us from speaking easily about the work.”

“Is it hard for you to talk to people about [the Alexander Technique]?”

Luke: “I’m not sure because I’m not sure if anyone has gotten a lesson from what I’ve said.”

“What was the biggest challenge you faced in starting a practice?”

Amira: “Feeling comfortable with charging enough.”

Luke: “What has been the biggest challenge transmitting Alexander Technique to your students?”

Amira: “[Finding] where to start. There’s so much base knowledge you need to be effective, I wanted to get people up to speed the fastest. In the beginning, I taught in a traditional way. Now I do a much more holistic [approach]. I add in other concepts that help. I know a lot of other teachers would say, ‘You’re not teaching the Alexander Technique because you’re not going strictly by the book.'”

“So the challenge was — am I a renegade? Am I not teaching the Alexander Technique? The neurotic thinking, the internal critic thing saying, what are you doing? That is not how you were taught to teach. I do teach traditionally but I add stuff to it to make it more effective.”

“I write notes out for my students after every lesson. That is something I wish I had had in my training and in my lessons. The notes are just little reminders such as where the top of your spine is and where the bottom of your spine is.”

“I tell my students upfront that I teach the Alexander Technique plus. I integrate a lot of my own teaching tools. I’ve taken my work further where I do a lot of coaching and strategy work with people. I discovered it was hard for me to effectively implement the principles of the Alexander Technique when I was in complete overwhelm in my life.”

“Let’s say one of my students is having an issue with her boyfriend who doesn’t want to be in the relationship with her anymore. And that’s causing her to physically come in on herself. So we strategize. What’s the trigger? What could you do? Say, not open your emails from him. Or, before you open your email, take a moment, stop, inhibit, think your directions and how you would like to respond and then open your email.”

“I tell my students I do life coaching in conjunction with the Alexander Technique to make it more effective. And they love it.”

“In the beginning, I did packages of lessons where if you buy ten, you get two free. Now I do packages of all the things I work on with people. I don’t teach just one lesson at a time. You have to buy a package to work with me.

“Often times people say to me, ‘I just want to come for lessons.’ And I say, ‘That’s not how I work. I don’t find it as effective.'”

“I teach people how to create the life they want, not just how to get out of pain.”

“When we help people get out of habits that are no longer serving them, we are helping them create the life they want. That’s how the title of my website came to be. I felt like that spoke to my niche market — people who have pain, feel pressure, and want to do something about it.”

“When I looked at the people I loved to work with, I realized that they were people like me — driven, over-achiever types that thought if they worked hard at something, they would get it. They needed the paradigm shift that working easy can propel you forward.”

“I thought about who my ideal peeps are, who I love working with.”

“A couple of tips. Speak benefits, not features. Don’t talk about what you do, talk about what they’re going to get when they work with you. One of the rules we have in the Alexander Technique world is that we can’t talk about what people are going to get out of it because we can’t guarantee it. Well, surgery doesn’t guarantee anything.”

“What are they going to get from working with you? They’re going to feel great. Speak to the experiences that you’ve had that you think people will get from working with you.”

“Another thing that evolved was giving people something [an ebook] who came to my website in exchange for signing up for my newsletter.”

“It positions me as an expert and gives people wonderful information that they can implement immediately.”

“With my newsletter, people get to know me, like me, trust me, and eventually they call me up for a lesson.”

“People would come to my website and then leave. Then the next thing would catch their eye and they would not think to come back. Now I am in their in-box with valuable information. Seems to be working.”

“I’d love to run a three-hour workshop for Alexander teachers on marketing. I have done so much thinking about it and research and investing in learning from business coaches. I would love to share it.”

“There’s a cultural mores in the Alexander world that it is really hard to get clients. It is really hard to start a practice. I would encourage you to throw that out because all that’s doing is pulling you down. How do you feel when you think that?”

Luke: “I was going down.”

Amira: “Yes! So why think that? Somebody else might say, ‘That’s the reality of the situation.’ But is it helping you? Does that help you take action or does it throw you into a fear reflex? I would say it is the latter. Framing it as, ‘I have to learn how to get clients’ is a much better way of stating the problem. Or, ‘I am learning to get clients.’ Does that pull you down?”

Luke: “That’s an easier thought on me.”

Amira: “I teach people how to recognize when they are going into patterns that are causing them pain and how to shift out of that. When you start recognizing these patterns and start making these shifts, you stop creating the pain. Some people will feel great immediately. For others, it will take some time. If you participate in the educational process, it’s possible to feel great.”

After the interview, I post to Amira’s Facebook wall: “Thank you for being such a great interview! What made you great? You were very much in the moment. You didn’t give canned responses. You thought through every question I asked and you answered in the moment, rather than reciting practiced lines. You’re an interviewer’s dream.”

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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