“Take a gambling chance”

That’s a phrase the late Marjorie Barstow used a lot.  When she was 90 years old, someone she had never met called and asked if she’d fly – by herself – across the country, to a city where she’d never been, to teach an Alexander Technique workshop.  She agreed and when we talked about it later she told me “Well, I thought I’d just take a gambling chance and go.”

Her inclination was always to say “yes” to anything new.  When she was only in her 70s, she was asked to spend two months in Texas teaching the Alexander Technique to groups.  As she writes in her preface to the Centerline edition of Use of the Self, “This (invitation) delighted me as I had wondered for some time if the Technique could be taught successfully to groups of students.  This gave me the chance to explore this idea and I started off alone driving to Texas, eager to be in a new situation (italics mine). My first class in Texas and my subsequent teaching have proven that the Technique can be taught successfully to groups of students and I have found my students excited and happy with their experiences with Alexander’s discovery.”

Actually F. Matthias Alexander, the developer of the Alexander Technique, had had a similar experience nearly eighty years earlier.  As he recounts in his Autobiographical Sketch (Published in Articles and Letters), while in Melbourne, he was approached by the secretary of a theological college asking if he would take a number of his students in class.  He told the secretary that he had “…never attempted to teach a number of pupils together” and that he doubted in would prove successful.  “Nonetheless”, he wrote, “if he and the students were prepared to take a risk on this (italics mine) I was quite prepared to undertake the experiment.”

Reflecting back on the experience he said, “At the end of a couple of months I had reason to be thankful that I had consented to take the students in class…”

Of course, it might be said that Alexander’s biggest gamble was leaving Australia.  In 1904 he boarded an ocean liner bound for England to seek fame and glory in London.  Quite a leap of faith on his part and, fittingly, the trip was financed by a long-shot bet on a racehorse!

Clearly this willingness to “take a gambling chance” seems to be a feature of the Alexander Technique community.

I would even say that it’s an integral part of the Alexander Technique teaching and learning process.  Whenever students experiment with an Alexander direction, or teachers with a new way to convey Alexander’s discoveries to their students, they are “taking a gambling chance”.

It might work.  It might not. Either way, something useful can be learned.

I’d love to hear about some “gambling chances” you’ve taken in your Alexander Technique journey.

Image: dan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


“Take a gambling chance” — 9 Comments

  1. The Alexander Technique has definitely helped me take risks – or things that felt like risks to me, for instance speaking out in public, saying “no” on occasion, etc. This is still a work in progress. I love that Marjorie Barstow’s inclination was to say “yes” to anything new. I am most definitely not there yet. My strong habit is to think “I can’t do that” first, and I have to consciously work with myself to overcome this at times… The Alexander Technique most definitely helps me see this more clearly, and not necessarily be stuck in the “I can’t…”

  2. Hi Robert,
    I like this idea a lot. I like the idea that by using the Alexander Technique, we are moving further and further from the startle response. Maybe that could help us take healthy gambles. And what better way to take a chance than to see if we could move the Alexander Technique to unexplored places, or present it in unique ways? This post definitely has me thinking. Thanks!

  3. Thanks for an informative post.
    The instinct for self preservation is strong, so I guess for most of us, the immediate response to an unfamiliar situation is,”No way I can do that!”, or at least,”Well…”. It’s beautifully ironical that inhibition enables us to counter this response and take a leap of faith!

  4. Great post, thank you Robert. I’m taking a chance on becoming a teacher and heading into the totally unknown tomorrow. A a first, I’m reciting something rather special in front of an unknown gathering of wonderful teachers and students, my mother and friends, and I don’t need to get it ‘right’ at all….

  5. Thanks for all the wonderful comments.

    Padmini, I love: “…for most of us, the immediate response to an unfamiliar situation is,”No way I can do that!”, or at least,”Well…”. It’s beautifully ironical that inhibition enables us to counter this response and take a leap of faith!”

    Mark, you make a great point about taking the AT into new places. I do feel a lot of AT teachers are stuck in old paradigms that Alexander would have ditched decades ago if he walked among us.

    Imogen and Stella, keep on pushing the envelope!

  6. Lovely post, Robert, and so true to my own experiences with AT! Here are some pivotal moments in my AT history which I’m reminded of: (1) considering my AT teacher after one of my very first lessons, I thought: “What a beautiful profession! I could NEVER do THAT!”…and here I am; (2) seeing exquisitely gorgeous Japanese temari balls in a library windowcase during my teacher training, thinking, “I could NEVER make one of those!”, so I did… (3) imagining that my worst nightmare would be to try to explain AT to a boardroom of surgeons… and then having that actually happen to me, as one of the best experiences of my life. AT never ceases to amaze me, as I take gamble after gamble, and the impossible materializes in the most unexpected and beautiful ways….

  7. Pingback: Alexander Technique tip from a Card Shark | Body Learning Blog

  8. When I was younger I was terribly shy and the very idea of standing up in front of people and talking was horrifying. I was often sick at college rather than do a presentation. I now do 4 hour workshops and talks in business. The Alexander Technique has certainly let me take a few more gambles. I figure “What is the worst thing that could happen” and free my neck!

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