The other day while shopping in the supermarket, I happened to overhear part of a conversation between two middle-aged women. One said something like: “You’ll learn to carry yourself with greater ease, you’ll have greater self-esteem and your breathing will be fuller and freer. You’ll feel better and have lots more energy.” The second woman asked how she could find out more.
Call me naive, but I was certain the first lady was talking about the Alexander Technique. I was just about to chime in and introduce myself when the it turned out that the method they were talking about was Pilates!
Of course it could just have easily been yoga, the Feldenkrais method, Rolfing or any number of other methods that have a reputation for helping people improve the way they function. And of course it could have been the Alexander Technique. But the odds of that are pretty low.
That conversation did get me thinking about two questions:
1. What is it that draws people to take a first lesson in the Technique when there are so many other options available that seem to offer the same sorts of benefits?
And perhaps even more important:
2. What causes them to continue with the Alexander Technique teaching process beyond the first few lessons?
Think back to your own early experiences with the Technique: What motivated you to go for your first lesson? What kept you going?
In my own case, the answer to the first question was an article in Toronto Life Magazine about the Technique, and the one teacher in all of Canada at the time. I can remember reading and re-reading it, thinking to myself, “Wow, this seems like a great way to improve the way I look and feel without having to exercise!” I also had a colleague at work who was taking lessons who looked better in ways I couldn’t articulate, and whose back pain all but disappeared after a few weeks of lessons.
As for the second question, the Alexander Technique turned out to be exactly as I had imagined: an amazingly effective way to improve my physical being without doing any exercise. I never noticed changes during a lesson – or even well into my teacher training course. But that didn’t matter to me because all sorts of amazing changes were taking place outside of lessons. Perhaps most dramatic was a gain in height of about 3/4 of an inch and the need to replace most of my pants within a month of starting lessons.
I was hooked pretty much from the start and found it very surprising when Paul Collins, one of the Directors of my Alexander Technique training course, said in class one day that it’s when a new student makes a significant change, and knows it, that he or she is most likely to stop taking lessons. As for why this would be the case, he speculated that it could because of fear of more, unpredictable, changes. Or perhaps, at some unconscious level, not wanting to face having been the cause, at least in part, for their past misuse and not wanting to take responsibility for themselves in the future.
When I started teaching, my second student did precisely this. On her third lesson she went on and on about how much better she felt, how her friends noticed that she looked so much better, and that her neck pain had all but disappeared. She cancelled her fourth lesson, and that’s the last I heard from her!
For me, lessons always had just the opposite effect – the more I changed, the more I wanted more lessons. In my case, greed for more of a good thing always overcame any hidden fears of the unknown, or regrets about my earlier misuse of myself.
I have to confess that these were trickier questions to answer than they seemed at first glance. They forced me to go back in time and try to see things from my perspective of over 35 years ago.
So, once again: What were you thinking when you first decided to take Alexander Technique lessons? And why did you continue taking lessons?
I’d love to hear your responses to these questions – and I’m sure other Alexander students and teachers would as well.
Here’s a podcast interview I did with Mark Josefsberg, an Alexander Technique teacher in New York City, titled: “Why do some students take one or two lessons and then quit even though they – and others – have noticed major benefits?”