The Alexander Technique

Chapter Four - An Alexander Lesson

by Jeremy Chance

Part I

(Please note: This is a slightly longer version of Chapter Four)

"You can’t tell a person what to do,
because the thing you have to do is a sensation." - FM Alexander

There are three main reasons people take lessons. Firstly, and by far the most common, is the need to heal: it may be because of a bad back, or a repetitive strain injury of some kind or just plain stress and tension. Secondly, you may have professional reasons: musicians, actors, singers, athletes and others pursuing excellence have found Alexander lessons an invaluable aid to their craft. The third and final reason people come is for self-improvement: they are aware that they lack poise, they feel clumsy and awkward with their bodies and they want to improve their understanding, their sense of confidence.

Your clarity of purpose and strength of motivation are key factors that determine the success or otherwise of your lessons. That, and the teacher you choose to go to. Whatever reasons you have for taking lessons, it is extremely important that you find the right teacher. Not every teacher suits every person for the simple reason that we are all different–can everyone be your friend?

In a later chapter (see CH 6 "Teachers") I have outlined some of the various teaching lineages that now exist in the world–this will help you a little in making your decision but in the end what really matters is the person, not the lineage.

A second important point to consider is that many Alexander teachers came to the work later in life and already have another professional skill. For example, many musicians get into trouble, find Alexander work and end up training as teachers. If you are also a musician, then it makes sense to go to a teacher who speaks your language. I was an actor before I trained, so I "specialise" in the unique problems actors must face in characterisation. Other teacher are also horse riders, athletes, counsellors etc. so it’s always worth asking if a teacher has any "specialty", especially when faced with a choice.

Alexander teachers will give you a first lesson with no further commitment–if they don’t, I wouldn’t go. During that first lesson you will have an opportunity to discuss your situation, determine costs, frequency of and overall number of lessons and possible outcomes. You also have a chance to assess whether you feel comfortable with the teacher and their work. Let’s look in more detail at each of these points.

The Teacher’s Work

Alexander work is very personal, even intimate.

The teacher will learn a great deal about you while you won’t learn much about them at all. Not that you are going to be asked to talk about personal things–Alexander teachers aren’t counsellors, their educators–but the nature of a lesson goes to the essence of your outlook and approach to life. You’re there to change the habits of a lifetime, so it has to. It isn’t so much the content of your life experiences that becomes revealed–as it would therapy–it’s your modus operandi towards life: how you go about things, how you deal with success and failure, what makes you anxious and fearful, how you deal with a challenge.

I’ve experienced the work of hundreds of different teachers. Some of them helped me to create an experience of feeling more myself, some of them made me feel how they looked. Some of them had almost no effect at all, while others induced deep emotional feelings normally tucked away from my daily consciousness. How a teacher effects you is dependant upon three factors:

1. Their skill as a teacher;

2. Your receptivity as a student;

3. The chemistry of both your personalities.

The Teacher’s Skill

It’s worth studying the Chapter on "Teachers" to gain a further insight into the different kinds of lessons you might encounter, but here the simple question is: did I learn anything?

Alexander work is an educational process so it’s not asking too much that you learn something, even in your first lesson. Some teachers will insist that Alexander work is too complicated, too experientially based and it is naive to think anyone can learn anything in just one lesson. I don’t agree with that–I take the radical position, thanks to my teacher Marj, that the Alexander work is simple. It’s our old habits that are complicated!

However, your ‘learning’ may not be intellectual–it could be ontological. Alexander ‘hands-on’ works affects your ‘being’ your ‘sense of self’. As Tommy Thompson, a teacher in Boston, puts it: you cease being who you imagine yourself to be and become more who you are. It’s a paradigm shift that defies our ordinary concept of ‘learning’.

Of course, not every lesson will be as profound as that. You may just learn a simple thing–like how you pull your head back all the time and that’s why your neck gets stiff. In some ways, that can be of more practical value than the ‘big experience’ approach some teachers take. Either way, your teacher should be able to get something across to you and not leave you completely mystified, as I know some pupils can be after their first lesson.

Your Receptivity As A Student

This is more important than you think it is, because the success of Alexander work is in a direct ratio to your own receptivity to it. Although it sure looks like it from the outside, a good Alexander teacher doesn’t ‘do’ anything to you. As I will explain in more detail further on, a teacher is inducing your nervous system to behave in a particular way. For that to succeed, you need to co-operate. If your cynical, looking for fault and wanting to gain evidence for a negative outcome you will probably find it.

Alexander work is so sensitive that some people at first think nothing’s happening and it’s all one great big sham. Because their minds are closed they feel nothing in their bodies and because they feel nothing in their bodies they don’t understand all this talk and ‘new experiences’ and ‘inhibiting old patterns’ and ‘giving directions’. It’s just sounds like so much psychobabble.

I have also had the misfortune to work with pupils who came, not at their bidding, but because some insurance company or office manager insisted they take lessons. Not a good idea–these pupils were the toughest I ever had because they simple didn’t want to know. You’d think, because many of them were in great pain, that they’d be desperate for any help they could get. At least, that’s what I naively thought when I took on such a project many years ago.

There was a great lesson there for me and now I make a point of helping my pupils sort out exactly what they want from their lessons. It’s differs a lot and it affects the way I teach them, so it is important. I strongly suggest you think through that simple little step before you approach a teacher and communicate it to them the first time you meet.

"An Alexander Lesson" - Part I

"An Alexander Lesson" - Part II

"An Alexander Lesson" - Part III

"An Alexander Lesson" - Part IV


The Alexander Technique by Jeremy Chance is available from the Alexander Technique Bookstore(USA) in Association with AMAZON.COM and the Alexander Technique Bookshop(UK) in Association with AMAZON.CO.UK as both a book and an audio cassette book. (The later is called Thorsens Principles of the Alexander Technique and differs slightly from the book.) In both stores it is listed under "Introductory Books about the Alexander Technique"

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