As an Alexander Technique teacher I particularly love to explore being in a different medium, and in a different relationship with gravity. There’s something about swimming that, for me at least, encourages a smooth flowing movement that I can carry over into the rest of my day.
Years ago I shared a pool with a water aerobics class held in the portion of the pool not set aside for lap swimming. There were 2 women who led the class on different days and as I emerged from the changing room headed towards the pool area, I could tell right away which one was teaching.
One woman had a very calm demeanor and even when she got the class participants moving quite vigorously, never raised her voice to do so. When she introduced a new movement, she was careful to describe and demonstrate it a few times. She alternated between standing on the edge of the pool and being in the water with everyone else.
The other woman always stood on the edge of the pool and shouted out her directions. As she did this, she demonstrated the exercise moves using with a rapid, jerky motion, typically tensing her body by pulling her head back onto her neck and arching her lower back.
The most interesting difference is how the class members reacted to these very different teaching styles.
During the first instructor’s classes, participants moved pretty gracefully and seemed to be enjoying themselves. When the class is over, many stayed to gossip a bit before leaving the pool.
With the second instructor, it was quite a different story. Every time she tensed herself, you could see a little ripple of tension spreading across the class. Participants retracted their heads down onto their spines, unconsciously mimicking what they see the instructor doing.
Their exercise movements were generally less fluid and they often seemed to be struggling to keep up. Some left early. When the class was over, everybody remaining left the pool right away, with very little conversation.
I doubt of most of the class members were consciously aware of these differences. Certainly I never heard anybody make a comment.
Still, the differences were quite striking and I think it illustrates an important point for teachers, speakers and performers: the quality of how you organize you own body – which is what the Alexander Technique is all about – has an immediate and direct effect on your class or audience.
It may be a subtle effect, people may not be consciously aware of it, but it is almost certainly affecting their ability to take in what you have to offer.
We’ve all been to talks or performances where we’ve felt a bit uncomfortable. Chances are that discomfort was due at least in part to the state of the person on stage.
We’ve also been to events were we’ve immediately felt at ease – again probably reflecting to some extent the ease we see and hear demonstrated by the presenter.
And of course this kind of transfer of one persons’ state of being to those around him or her is at work all the time in all our personal interactions.
I’d love to hear about experiences you’ve had with speaking, teaching and performing.