Early on in my teacher training a family member was trying very hard to understand what I was studying. We had a conversation that went something like this.
“So, you’re training in Alexander Technique. What is that? I feel like I should know because I’ve heard the name but I couldn’t tell someone else what it is.”
I said something which clearly demonstrated that I could not explain it either! This then prompted a string of interesting questions.
“Is it like Pilates? No. Is it like yoga? No.
Is it like meditation? No. Is it like mindfulness? No…
Feldenkrais… or Swedish Massage… (Desperation in tone)? No (apology in tone)
Well, what is it like?”
I still get asked this question sometimes. Quite often when I tell people I’ve just met that I teach the Alexander Technique they ask me what it is. Sometimes my answer brings to mind something else they have experienced and so they ask me if it is like that thing. So far I’ve been asked if it’s like NLP, physiotherapy, postural training and PTSD.
I don’t know enough about those things to say if they are like the Alexander Technique.
I do know that the Alexander Technique is a thing unto itself.
So, what makes it different?
Thinking is what sets it apart from these other disciplines.
It is about how you use yourself – your whole thinking and moving self in your activities.
The teacher and author Frank Pierce Jones* described it like this:
“The Alexander Technique doesn’t teach you something new to do. It teaches you how to bring more practical intelligence into what you are already doing; how to eliminate stereotyped responses; how to deal with habit and change.”
How do we achieve these things?
By using our conscious reasoning mind to select and design our movements and activities. We spend time thinking about the ‘how’ as opposed to the ‘what’. We start by thinking about how we are going to do something before we begin. Then put our attention on the process we have chosen to carry out to achieve our intended goal instead of only thinking of the goal. For instance, we might think about which part of our body needs to move and how we are going to move it – which joints? where are they? How much effort is needed?
You can apply the Alexander Technique to the things mentioned in the lists above because it’s separate from them.
That might sound like a large claim but it is still not as big as the way Alexander himself is said to have viewed this work. He didn’t name the Alexander Technique, he called it ‘the work’ saying ‘how can one name something which is so comprehensive’.**
What is it like?
It’s like the Alexander Technique. It’s something completely different.
*Frank Pierce Jones studied with Albert Redden Alexander, FM Alexander’s brother and trained as a teacher with FM Alexander in the 1940’S. He writes of his experiences in his book ‘Freedom to Change‘.
**Attributed to Marjory Barlow, FM’s niece who trained with him on his first teacher training course in the 1920’s.