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Ojectively Delineate The Practice Of
The Alexander Technique

ATI Professional Development Committee Report (Task B)

Click here for  * Part A


Introduction

Task A of the Professional Development Committee, which was completed and sent to the ATI membership in August 1998, asked us to "define the distinct theory and body of knowledge that constitutes the F. Matthias Alexander Technique and distinguish it from other means of improving human use and functioning."

Task B challenges us to:

"objectively delineate the practice of the Alexander Technique as defined in section IX.5.1.1 including
    - the use of the technique by individuals,
    - the teaching of the technique
    - and the training of teachers."


The Use of the Technique by Individuals

Individuals begin the study of the Alexander Technique because of a desire for change. Sometimes they wish to improve the quality of their life in general; sometimes they are experiencing pain or stress, or have injured themselves, and are seeking relief; or they may be performers or athletes who wish to enhance the quality of their performance.

When F.M. Alexander first began experiencing vocal problems as an actor, he sought help from medical professionals and voice trainers. The relief he found was temporary, however, and his vocal difficulties continued and worsened. Because he observed that he only experienced these difficulties while performing, and not in everyday speaking, he suspected that he was doing something different when he performed that caused his vocal problems.

With this first observation to go on, he began to experiment, trying to improve his voice. These experiments led him to fundamental discoveries about human coordination, which in turn allowed him to develop a process which eliminated his vocal problems, and which he could also use at any time to continuously improve the quality of his functioning in any activity he chose. This process is the essence of the Alexander Technique, and can be used by anyone, with or without a teacher. [1] It is a means of consciously attending to how one performs any given activity, consciously inhibiting one's habitual way of doing that activity, and then consciously directing oneself in a more coordinated way.

When individuals study the Technique today, they recapitulate for themselves the journey that Alexander made in developing his Technique. However, they have the advantage of being able to work with a teacher. Over a course of lessons, students[2] acquire skills they can use any time, any where and any place to improve how they do any activity.[3] Clear and consistent practice of the Technique, either alone or with a teacher, enables individuals

  • to observe more keenly how they are doing any activity;

  • to decide if they want to change how they are doing the activity;

  • to decide in what way they want to change, and

  • to consciously direct themselves in this new way.

Employing the Technique typically allows the individual to respond in a fluid and continually adaptive way to any situation, with an increasing alertness, awareness, ease and poise.

The Teaching of the Technique

Teachers vary in their approach to teaching the Technique depending on their own training and subsequent experience, and the needs of their students at any given moment. A wide variety of teaching practices, ranging from traditional to improvisational, can be used to teach the Technique, and
teachers are encouraged to be creative and flexible in their responses to each student's unique needs. Regardless of teaching style, however, teaching the Technique always involves helping students improve their observation and awareness, and helping them learn the skills of conscious inhibition and direction.

The Alexander Technique can be taught privately, in groups, or in workshop formats. Most students want, and most teachers offer, a series of lessons over an extended period of time. Private and group lessons vary in length. Workshops can be of any combination of private or group lessons.

Most teachers use some combination of verbal explanations and instructions, and their hands when teaching. They use their hands to clarify their verbal instructions, and to help students continue inhibiting their habitual response to a stimulus, by helping them continue to consciously direct themselves in a new way as they begin and ultimately accomplish any activity.

Although many people report great physical and mental benefits from studying the Alexander Technique, the Technique is not a medical or psychotherapeutic treatment rendered by a practitioner to a patient or client for the purpose of restoring that person to mental or physical health. Rather, it is an educational process whereby people can learn how they are interfering with their natural coordination, and learn how to stop that interfering. It is only as a result of learning how to stop this interference, and learning how to consistently apply the principles of the Technique in their daily lives, that people experience any longterm benefits from studying the Technique.

It is also important to note that the use of hands by Alexander Technique teachers differs in intent, character and result from that of practitioners of "Body work" or Massage, and should not be confused with either of these methods. Alexander Technique teachers use their hands to assess kinesthetically what their students are doing, to demonstrate directly a quality of easy, unforced movement, and to bring the student's attention to areas that may be habitually out of the student's awareness. A teacher's hands are used to educate the student, and are not used to effect a direct change on the condition of body tissues or range of motion. While at times a teacher's touch may be more subtle or more definite as required by the particulars of the moment, it at all times remains educative, non-invasive, and respectful.

The Training of Teachers

F.M. Alexander first began recruiting people to teach his method while he was still in Australia. His brother, A.R. Alexander, his sister Amy Alexander, and Miss Lilian Twycross were all early teachers of the work. Ethel Webb, Irene Tasker and Margaret Goldie all became teachers in London, after Alexander moved there in 1904. The training these teachers received might best be described as an apprenticeship.

In 1931 Alexander began a more formal teacher training program. He writes that "would-be teachers of my work must be trained to put the principles and procedures of its technique into practice in the use of themselves in their daily activities before they attempt to teach others to do likewise." (The Use of the Self, p.132) Thus teachers of the Technique must

  • have a clear understanding of its concepts and principles;

  • be able to clearly and consistently apply those principles in their daily lives;

  • be able to apply those principles while teaching, and

  • be able to clearly communicate those concepts and principles to their students.

Gaining this knowledge will allow trainees to be a model for their own students, and have a sympathetic understanding of some of the difficulties those students will face. Knowledge of the principles and vocabulary of the Technique will allow trainees to exchange ideas and experiences with other teachers, both during their training, and after its completion.

In addition to knowledge of the Technique and its history, trainees must acquire a sufficient knowledge of pedagogy, ethical issues and safety issues to allow them to teach effectively, ethically and safely. They must understand the boundaries of professional and ethical practice of the Technique, and understand when a referral is required.

Being a trainer of teachers of the Technique requires a thorough and experienced understanding of the principles and history of the Technique, significant experience teaching the Technique, and skill in teaching trainees how to teach the Technique to others. To successfully guide a trainee in acquiring teaching skills, a teacher trainer must also be able to recognize when a trainee is ready to begin teaching others, allow the trainee to assume the responsibility for teaching, and provide any necessary support and guidance as the trainee develops their skills and a personal teaching style.

Today training programs are offered in a variety of formats. Regardless of format, sufficient time and attention must be allowed for the trainee to develop knowledge and skill in all of the above areas. It is generally accepted that the training of teachers should extend over a period of three to four years of regular training in a class or apprentice situation. Excellent teachers may be developed in a variety of training formats, including interrupted and long term apprenticeship programs, provided sufficient time and effective teaching are dedicated to the process.

Graduation or certification from an Alexander Technique training program or apprenticeship implies fitness and readiness to begin teaching. All trainees should go through regular on-going assessment, and a cumulative evaluation at the end of training to validate a minimal level of knowledge and skill if they intend to teach. While the particulars of this assessment are left to individual schools and apprenticing trainers to determine, it is understood that trainees are not certified or graduated merely for hours completed or tuition or effort expended, regardless of how extensive such accumulated hours or classes may be. Instead, graduation or certification indicates that the trainee has attained satisfactory skills and the knowledge required for a beginning teacher of the Alexander Technique, as generally described above. This assessment and cumulative evaluation assures the trainee, the training program and the public that the training has had its expected result.


Endnotes:

1. For a more complete description of Alexander's experimentation and his Technique, see Appendix 1.

2. In this document we will follow the American practice of designating one who has come to an Alexander Technique teacher for lessons as a "student" (British "pupil") and one who is studying to become a teacher as a "trainee" (British "teacher-trainee").

3. The word "how" in this context may have two meanings. One is "the steps involved doing an activity." For example, "how" to draw a tree might involve getting drawing paper, putting it on a drawing board, choosing a pencil, looking at the tree, etc. The second meaning for "how" is the quality with
which one does the activity. How much effort are you using to grip the pencil? Are you tightening muscles in your neck trying to see the tree? Are you only aware of the drawing paper and the tree, or are you aware of the whole of you and all your surroundings?

References:

Alexander, F.M. The Use of the Self. Centerline Press, 1984.

McLeod, Rosslyn. Up From Down Under: The Australian Origins of Frederick Matthias Alexander and the Alexander Technique. Council of Adult Education, Melbourne, 1994.

Weed, Don. "For a Darn Good Reason" in Marjorie Barstow, Her Teaching and Training. Barbara Conable, Editor. Andover Road Press, 1988.

Appendix 1

A Description of F.M. Alexander's Technique

F.M. Alexander, in endeavoring to solve his vocal problems, made some fundamental discoveries about human coordination and functioning. After much experimentation he realized that he had been relying on what he called "instinct"[1] to direct himself in how to move. He also realized that to get the improvement in his voice that he wanted, he must stop relying on what he called "instinctive direction" and instead consciously direct himself. He developed a plan he thought he could use. He describes the plan as follows:

  1. ...analyse the conditions of use present;

  2. ...select (reason out) the means whereby a more satisfactory use could be brought about;

  3. ...project consciously the directions required for putting these means into effect." (The Use of the Self, p. 25)

When it came time to put this plan into practice, however, he found he could not do so. He had to develop a technique for ensuring that he actually used the new "means-whereby" he had decided upon. The technique Alexander finally did devise which enabled him to employ his new "means-whereby" and ensured his improved use and functioning, thus eliminating his vocal troubles, he describes in five steps. The steps are as follows:

After he has decided on a goal, or end, to attain, he first

  1. inhibits any immediate response to the stimulus to speak the sentence.

    He has already experimented and reasoned out the best means-whereby he can use to attain his end. These means-whereby are the ones which affect his primary control, and thus bring about the best use of himself, and so his second step is to

  2. project in their sequence the directions for the primary control which [he] had reasoned out as being best for the purpose of bringing about the new and improved use of [himself] in speaking.

    He had also discovered that he typically did not give himself enough time to practice giving his directions, before attempting to use them while speaking and so his third step is to

  3. continue to project these directions until [he] believed [he] was sufficiently au fait with them to employ them for the purpose of gaining my end and speaking the sentence....
       
    He now makes a major change in his work thus far. In the past, he would always attempt to speak, while trying to continue to project his directions. Because he failed "far more often than [he] succeeded", he now changed his plan and reconsiders his first decision. Instead of just going on to speak the sentence, he makes a fresh decision to either speak the sentence, do something else, or simply continue to project his directions. He writes:

  4. While still continuing to project the directions for the new use I would stop and consciously reconsider my first decision, and ask myself "Shall I after all go on to gain the end I have decided upon and speak the sentence? Or shall I not? Or shall I go on to gain some other end altogether?"--and then and there make a fresh decision

  5. either not to gain my original end, in which case I would continue to project the directions for maintaining the new use and not go on to speak the sentence;
        or
    to change my end and do something different, say, lift my hand
    instead of speaking the sentence, in which case I would continue to project the directions for maintaining the new use to carry out this last decision and lift my hand;
         or
    to go on after all and gain my original end, in which case I would continue to project the directions for maintaining the new use to speak the sentence." (The Use of the Self, p. 33-34)

Alexander, working on his own, practiced this technique "for a considerable time...." and finally became "...free from [his] tendency to revert to [his] wrong habitual use in reciting...," and eventually he was able to go back to his original three step plan and employ it whenever he chose.

 


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