Over the past few months I’ve been filming Alexander lessons with a student of mine. I then edit the recordings down to 7 minutes to share them on YouTube.
Eric is a professional musician finishing his master’s degree at the Conservatoire Nationale Supérieur de Paris. For the first two lessons we worked on playing his two instruments: the baroque cello and the viola da gamba.
For the third lesson, we went outdoors and worked on something completely different: skateboarding!
For each lesson, he’d play a little music or skate, we’d do some classic Alexander work at the chair, and then we’d go back to his instrument or skateboard. Each time, he noticed after the chairwork that his practice had suddenly become “easier” to do.
Playing an instrument and skateboarding are completely different skills. So how can it be that work on “getting in and out of a chair” can lead to immediate improvement in both skills? This always seems mysterious, even miraculous, to people coming to the Alexander Technique for the first time.
The first part of the answer is that there is a common element in all the different skills you practice: you!
How you conceive your movements, and how you organize your body to carry them out, will be immediately reflected in the quality of the sound or the movement you produce.
Beginners, in their enthusiasm to get it right, or in their fear of getting it wrong, usually end up using too much effort. Playing with effortful arms will produce a screechy sound, while skateboarding with effortful legs will lead to postural brittleness and more falls.
When you play the cello your fingers, wrists, elbows and shoulders need to be free and available to conform to the demands of the ever-changing notes in the score.
Similarly, when you skateboard, your ankles, knees and hips have to be free and available to adapt to the ever-shifting gradient of the path.
And this leads to the second part of the answer: It might not appear so to the outside observer, but what we are working on at the chair is precisely this quality of being free and available.
Your habitual patterns of strain are so ingrained that they’ve become simply invisible to you, but with the help of an Alexander teacher, you will be able to perceive them, and then to stop doing them. Your habitual patterns are so ingrained that you bring them to everything you do, including sitting and standing. So the simple setting of the chair can become a rich laboratory for coming to know, and eventually to transform, yourself. (It’s kind of like how genius directors can stage epic sagas with just a table, two chairs and pair of actors!).
The progression from beginner to proficiency, and finally mastery, largely involves involves paring away excess effort. We associate busy, broad, ineffective movements (also known as “flailing”) with beginners, while masters in any domain have a zen-like calm and an economy of effort.
Perceiving your habitual patterns of strain, and then learning how to stop doing them, will allow you to become fully present. It will feel like there’s suddenly more “you” there to attend to the task at hand. Naturally, organically, your performance will then improve, whether it be at a sport, an art or any skill.
If you have seven minutes, check out one of the videos:
Here’s the lesson on viola da gamba:
Here’s the lesson on skateboarding:
Here’s the lesson on cello:
Ulysses Chuang a musician and Alexander Teacher based in Paris, France. He has taken up my Parade of “P”s – Take Your Pick challenge. Thank you Ulysses – and I hope there will be many more! You can contact me through this Contact Page if you wish to contribute.
image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net