Marjorie Barstow (Marj) did some of her very best Alexander Technique teaching during the last 25 years of her life. Starting at around 70 years of age, she became quite well known in Alexander circles and for over 20 years she taught workshops in Lincoln, Nebraska and around the world. At times, the size of groups she taught exceeded 100 students!
As she got into her mid 90s, her teaching changed dramatically. She no longer had the physical or mental stamina to work with groups, or to clearly articulate her thoughts and observations. Instead, she worked almost exclusively a student or two at a time, spending long periods using her hands with almost no speaking. I consider myself very fortunate to have been living a couple of blocks from Marj’s house and to regularly have 2 or 3 lessons of that kind every week for more than a year, lessons that often lasted well over 2 hours.
I’m not sure, but I may have had the last Alexander Technique lesson Marj taught.
It was kinesthetic re-education of a very profound kind – somewhat reminiscent of cranio-sacral work, but primarily in a chair, not lying down.
By that time Marj was suffering from severe osteoporosis and her balance began to suffer. There was a very real danger that she would fall over backwards when she was standing. Because of that, her home health aides, who now were in her house around the clock, stood behind her whenever she was on her feet.
Some of those aides, mostly young women in their late teens and early 20s, became very fond of Marj. One in particular, Kami, often spent 16 hours a day in Marj’s home. Kami was devoted to Marj. She would take Marj out for a rides in the country, sometimes stopping for a visit at Marj’s favorite steakhouse, Parker’s, in Denton.
When Marj was sitting down while she was teaching , Kami would always be in the room watching over her, quietly taking in the proceedings.
One day, after Marj had taught for a couple of hours, Kami told me she always felt lighter and easier just by being the the room with Marj. “It seems like I’m getting help too” she said.
This was before the discovery of mirror neurons, a special class of brain cells that fire not only when an individual performs an action, but also when the individual observes someone else making an action. But I remember at the time that Kami’s observation made sense to me. Just being around Marj was a kind of Alexander lesson
Today, mirror neurons have radically altered the way we think about our brains and ourselves, particularly our social selves:
Before the discovery of mirror neurons, scientists generally believed that our brains use logical thought processes to interpret and predict other people’s actions. Now, however, many have come to believe that we understand others not by thinking, but by feeling. For mirror neurons appear to let us “simulate” not just other people’s actions, but the intentions and emotions behind those actions. When you see someone smile, for example, your mirror neurons for smiling fire up, too, creating a sensation in your own mind of the feeling associated with smiling. You don’t have to think about what the other person intends by smiling. You experience the meaning immediately and effortlessly. – The Society for Neuroscience
You can learn more about mirror neurons here: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-mirror-neuron-revolut/
I don’t know where Kami is today, but I’m pretty sure Marj’s work still has a profound on her, as it has for all of us lucky enough to have spent time with this remarkable teacher.
If you’ve had experiences like Kami’s, I’d love to hear about them – please post below and/or on Facebook.