How to Do Things Better

by Robert Rickover

Have you ever taken lessons from an expert and been frustrated at your failure to master the skills being taught? Perhaps from a golf pro who was unable to help you improve your swing? Or a dance teacher whose own talents were obvious but who just couldn't seem to help you move gracefully across the floor?

Often these disappointments are caused by the teacher’s inability to help you achieve the level of coordination and balance necessary to perform well.

There is a crucial distinction between the ability to teach you a specific skill and the ability to teach you to use your body effectively and efficiently while practicing that skill..

Realistically, you cannot expect the same person to be an expert in teaching a specific subject and in teaching physical coordination and balance. It can happen sometimes, but it is not something to be counted on.

Of course, people who are very skilled in performing a particular activity are often well coordinated themselves. However that doesn’t mean they know how to teach that coordination to others. Moreover, there are many skills that don’t require good coordination on the part of the teacher.

For example you would hardly expect someone showing you how to use a computer to also be able to teach you how to sit for hours in front of a monitor and keyboard without experiencing back of shoulder pain, or developing repetitive strain injuries or carpal tunnel syndrome.

This is just as true for activities we normally associate with performance. Your piano instructor may have the talent of a Van Cliburn but if you habitually tense your neck, shoulders and arms when you play, the results will almost certainly be disappointing. Your child’s baseball coach could be a skilled player, but if your child's performance is restricted by unconscious muscle tension, his batting and fielding skills will still suffer.

Where then can we find experts in teaching efficient body functioning?

Teachers of the Alexander Technique are trained in precisely this skill. The Alexander Technique is all about performance - the way in which we carry out the activities of our lives. Alexander teachers are not so much concerned about what activities you do as how you do them - and how you can learn to do them better.

Some Alexander teachers have backgrounds in fields such as music, dance, and athletics and this can help them communicate with their students in the same field. But it is not necessary for an Alexander Technique teacher to know a lot about the specific skill you wish to master in order to help you.

The ability to teach good balance and efficient movement is not something that is easily or quickly mastered. Alexander Technique teachers typically complete a three-year full-time training course to become certified, and for many that’s just the start of their training.

It's not surprising that people we normally think of as “performers” are among the most enthusiastic proponents of the Alexander Technique - people like Paul Newman, Robin Williams, Paul McCartney and Yehudi Menuhin, to name but a few.

The Technique has been yet more extensively used by people to improve their “performance” of activities ranging from sitting, standing and walking to driving their car, caring for their children, and making presentations at work.

If there is anything you want to be able to do more skillfully, safely and efficiently Alexander Technique lessons or group classes could be a big help in achieving that goal.


Robert Rickover is an Alexander Technique teacher living in Lincoln, Nebraska. He also teaches regularly in Toronto, Canada.
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Click here to go to The Performance Page, a website devoted to ways in which the Alexander Technique can enhance performance quality in a variety of activities

Click here to go to The Complete Guide to the Alexander Technique website, the most comprehensive source of information about the Alexander Technique on the web