But That’s Not The Alexander Technique!

The most infuriating phrase I hear these days is, “But that’s not the Alexander Technique!”

I remember hearing it first about 18-months ago from a fellow trainee who told me, “But good use is not the Alexander Technique.”

So why does this phrase infuriate me? I guess I have to take ownership of my anger. I think I get triggered by this phrase because I tend to be sloppy about respecting boundaries.

I remember during my years of blogging, journalists would look at what I was doing and say, “But is it journalism? Is blogging journalism?”

I admit that infuriated me because I did not think that was an important question. Blogging is just the act of using a particular type of computer software to communicate. Would anyone say about faxing, “That is not journalism!”?

So I used to get mad at the mainstream news media’s strict ethics codes and condemnation of anything that smacked of journalism but did not abide by journalistic norms.

I don’t like the word “journalism.” I think it is pretentious. I believe in “reporting”. Journalism gives its practicioners the right to put the facts in context with more opinion than is allowed to the reporter.

As a blogger, I’ve done a lot of reporting and a lot of opinion writing. Some of it would qualify as journalism but that was not a big concern to me. What mattered to me was whether or not the work had merit.

Yet I grudgingly respect those who guard the practice of journalism. They are standing for something. They hold to a code. Anyone who holds to a code is going to look self-righteous and judgmental when compared to those who don’t have an objective code. Those who stand for something will always attract the ire of those who stand for less.

The same goes for the guardians of the Alexander Technique (principally those who operate training schools). Most training schools teach a classical version of Alexander Technique with a focus on one-on-one hands-on teaching of observation, inhibition and direction through chair work, table work, and such procedures as the whispered ahh, hands-on-back-of-chair, and lunges. The classical Alexander teacher emphasize process rather than end-gaining.

Training schools discourage their trainees from promising potential students results such as freedom from pain, increased energy, joy, happiness, sexiness and the like.

Graduates of these training schools go out into the world and find there’s little demand for their services. For this reason and for other reasons, those who want to make their living teaching the Technique often start giving “Alexander plus” in the words of one successful teacher. They teach the Technique and they teach other things (such as life coaching) in addition to the classical way of presenting the Technique.

The Alexander Technique training schools are conservative in orientation. They want to conserve the work that was handed down from F.M. Alexander to his followers.

The great classical teachers of Alexander Technique get concerned and even angry when they see the new teachers adding stuff to the classical Alexander repertoire. They get particularly concerned by anything “doing.”

From the classical perspective, Alexander Technique is all about undoing habits of interfering tension patterns.

A particularly innovative teacher who intrigues me is Sharon Jakubecy. She went from graduating to a thriving practice in a couple of years. While most Alexander teachers can’t market the Technique to save their lives, Sharon is killer at it. And she’s developed new ways of teaching the Technique through such technology as Skype.

Can you teach Alexander Technique through Skype? I think you can. Many Alexander teachers offer this service.

If you disagree with me, I would ask you, “What parts of the Technique can not be taught through Skype?”

The classical Alexander teacher would say that the teacher needs to be able to put his hands on the pupil to guide him into easier and more efficient ways of doing things.

On the other hand, many classical Alexander teachers would also argue that the first thing you try to reach in a pupil is his thinking. While the English-style teachers usually like to start their teaching by putting hands-on, the Marj Barstow crowd will argue that you should first get the pupil’s thinking going.

Marj would teach groups and only do a little hands-on work. Primarily she’d try to transform their thinking about their use of themselves. Many people in her classes would get no hands-on from her. And yet they would be learning the Alexander Technique (though not in the view of some classical teachers, particularly those from the Patrick MacDonald school).

In some Alexander lessons by classical teachers, particularly introductory lessons, the teacher might spend more time talking with the pupil than putting hands on.

Therefore, it seems to me that you can make a strong argument that you can teach the Technique without putting hands on.

Following on from that, it seems to me that you can therefore supplement in-person lessons with the occasional Skype lesson and this can still be Alexander Technique.

For instance, when I first took lessons, I realized that my use of my computer keyboard was hurting me. So I took video of how I type and I put it on Youtube and I asked my teacher for feedback. She gave me that feedback via email and I think that was Alexander Technique. She could’ve given all this over to me via Skype and charged me for her time and it would’ve been as valuable to me as those same minutes spent getting in and out of a chair with her hands on me.

I can see Skyping with my teacher while I am typing these controversial blog posts and asking her to observe my use, particularly when I’m writing things that could get me in trouble, and see if I’m pulling down. When I talk about occasionally feeling angry about the use of the phrase, “But that’s not the Alexander Technique!”, my Alexander teacher could give me feedback about what my use was like while I was experiencing that anger.

She could guide me into freeing my neck, freeing my breath, letting go of the inevitable contraction and pulling down that causes and accompanies anger and then asking me how I now felt about the phrase, “But that’s not the Alexander Technique!”

She could engage me in conversation and keep using the phrase until I no longer compress and pull down when I hear it.

Via Skype, my teacher could ask me where I feel like I’m tightening and compressing and tensing. She could ask me if I could release my shoulder blades, let go of the needless compression in my brow and around my mouth and my eyes, and then prompt me to free my neck and to think up.

Hell, I feel like I’m getting an Alexander Technique lesson just writing out these last portions of this blog post.

So, yes, the ideal Alexander lesson occurs one-on-one in person, but there may be much of the Technique that can be conveyed through Skype, even if AMSAT doesn’t approve (I don’t know if they do or don’t).

That’s one thing that makes me leery of joining AMSAT. It just gives people a weapon to rein you in when you try creative ways of teaching.

Oh well, every group has rules. Even a stamp club. Even an Alexander club.

About Luke Ford

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