As you can see my preoccupations are all around the psychophysical activities involved in touch and I’m using various presentations to explore these. Of course this is all a bit of a red herring. What I’m really interested in is my own use. I always employed a pretty physical approach to this. I suppose for me the Technique was initially a way of getting rid of pain but became an antidote to the life of an academic, which role was never really my thing. So I’ve always been intrigued by the sheer question of knack in teaching others and in using oneself. Alexander’s insistence on reason always worried me. It was obviously not reason in the sense of logical reasoning. To a degree it was deductive reasoning, i.e., the work consisted in a process of elimination. As Sherlock Holmes said, ““How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”.
This goes a bit with Alexander’s aphorism, “the right thing does itself”. Unfortunately, I question this. In my experience you have to give the right thing a pretty good helping hand, particularly if you have a body which likes to subside. The aphorism works for the case where release of tension is sufficient to free up the use. But where lack of tone is the problem, quite a lot of activity, possibly together with accompanying discomfort, is needed to restore it. I really feel this issue needs opening up. I am not being dogmatic about it because, after all, we are talking about subjective experience and I cannot tell you how something should feel. Just how it feels to me.
How does one convey this stuff verbally? I sympathise with Alexander in his attempt to get his ideas across. Also with his exasperation and pessimism about his successors really taking his work on board. And as for a professional society…………..
The issue of the modalities of touch resolves itself into a number of interacting variables. Who is touching and being touched? What is the purpose of the touching? How experienced is the teacher, how experienced AT-wise is the pupil? Are they colleagues exchanging work? What is the purpose of the lesson? What is the Alexander ideology of each? What are the preferences of each? And a pile of other ones.
These interact with each other to produce a mix which may or may not turn out to be productive, which may or may not lead to dissension. They are just a few of the issues which need to be resolved in the process of an exchange of work. It’s therefore important to negotiate them as one goes along by regularly obtaining consent and feedback. Above all the process should not be rushed as it will often determine whether the ‘good use‘ of the teacher gets transmitted to the pupil.
If you want to explore this process in a practical situation, then come along to the workshop (frivolously entitled “Mindlessness”) at HITE, 10 Harley Street, London W1G 9PF on Saturday 7th May at 1.30. You don’t have to be an Alexander Teacher to attend.
Touch is one of the points of contact between teacher and pupil. The others form the rest of the interaction between them mediated by the remaining senses. Alexander chose to use touch it seems almost by accident as a result of his own failure to carry out his own instructions to his body. If he could not do what he was instructing himself to do, how could he expect others to. So he took to touch. At the same time he monitored his own touch to ensure that it was of the quality he desired to give the right stimulus to his pupils. He evolved a highly developed quality of use of his own body with the result that his ensuing touch gave the appropriate stimulus to his pupils. The touch was either accurate or suffered from varying degrees of inaccuracy. There is a margin of error here and what is satisfactory with one pupil will not be appropriate for another. Personal preference on the part of the pupil and teacher play a part her but that does not detract from the existence of some kind of absolute accuracy which needs to be aspired to.
The variations in touch, hard vs soft, invasive vs non-invasive, manipulative vs non-manipulative are not what is being talked about here. It is the underlying balance and coordination (the use in Alexander language) that is the crucial factor. This is difficult to convey verbally and even experientially, though the latter is infinitely easier. So if you are interested, come to the workshop on May 7th. See News & Dates.
More on the variations of touch later….
Ah yes, three themes……
Of course there’s only one really. The use of the self. Whatever that means. I’m not being silly, or at least trying not to be. There can be so many versions of what it is depending on which part of the psychophysical lens one looks through. “Use affects functioning”. The “universal constant in living”. However that doesn’t mean we can’t look at different aspects of the “use of the self”.
So why not these three themes? Varieties of touch, Alexander thinking and teaching musicians.
Let’s take touch first. To touch or not to touch? It is clearly possible to influence a person’s use for the better by verbal instruction even though words may be open to misinterpretation. Some of Glenna Batson’s work with old people shows this to good effect. So the question is not really to touch or not to touch but rather to touch as well as talk. That is obviously best unless one gets the words hopelessly wrong.
Touch can be classified in an infinite number of ways. In the Alexander world we are inclined to use dichotomies like hard vs soft, invasive vs non-invasive, manipulative vs non-manipulative, doing vs non-doing. The problem is that without the practical demonstration of what we mean by these terms we can immediately get into all sorts of misunderstandings. This blog stuff is harder than I thought. It would be nice to get together and really exchange. But let’s keep going for a bit longer. But the trouble is that it is possible to work quite invasively as a teacher without “doing” in the bad sense of distorting one’s own use. And then the question is do we mean physically invasive or psychologically?
As I’ve always thought this material is best dealt with experientially or it risks becoming a dreadful head trip. But how else can one communicate in writing except by means of words?
Well that’s enough for now. More soon……..
After many years regretting not writing down my daily musings about the Alexander Technique, I decided to see if I could jot them down, no matter how trivial. And here seemed a good place. I kind of hope no one replies as that would mean that I would have to reply in turn – or maybe not….
This year I’ve also decided to go to a few conferences and present workshops on topics which interest me and on which I’ve formulated a few ideas. I’ve decided to offer them up as follows:
1.“The Nature of the Alexander Thinking Process”, mischievously advertised as “Mindlessness” at HITE in Harley Street, London, 7th May at 1.30pm
2.“Varieties of Touch” at the AMMAS Conference in Spain, 23-30 July.
3. “What can a Non-musician Alexander Teacher offer Musicians ?” at the International Conference for Alexander Technique in Music Education, 30-31 July in London.
4.“Varieties of Touch” (again) at the ATI Conference in October. I doubt I will have sorted this one out after one airing!
So here we have it, three themes: Alexander thinking, varieties of touch and teaching musicians. Yes, they seem to be some of the most common things that preoccupy me as a teacher at the moment…….