I was having an Alexander Technique lesson with the late Walter Carrington, a well-known and highly respected teacher in London in the early 1980s and somehow the subject of the civil war then raging in Lebanon came up.
I had recently become certified to teach the Technique and having been immersed for three years on my Alexander training course, I naively believed that pretty much everybody should avail themselves of this wonderful method. I said to Walter, “Well it’s too bad they don’t have any Alexander teachers there. They could certainly use it.”
There was a long pause, and then Walter said something I’ll never forget. This is not an exact quote, but essentially he said: “Well, you know Robert, we have it pretty easy here in London compared to what’s going on in Beirut.” Another long pause, and then: “The real test of one’s mastery of the Technique is: Can you apply it when your house is burning down?”
Walter had an elliptical – to put it mildly! – manner of speaking and it wasn’t until I was on the Tube (the subway in American) going home that I realized he was gently chastising me for having such an arrogant view of something I still knew so little about.
A couple of times since then, I’ve had the opportunity to experience first-hand my own limitations in using the Technique for myself when the going got rough. Both involved severe pain and in both cases, particularly the first, that pain overwhelmed me to the extent that I was unable to mobilize my Alexander constructive thinking to help myself until the pain subsided to a more tolerable level.
I suspect many other Alexander Technique teachers have had this sort of experience themselves and have seen it with their students. Often the work-around is to simply lie in the Constructive Rest position, or in the case of students, work with them on the table for all or most of the lesson.
In my own experience, continual practice of Alexander Technique self-directing over a period of many years has enabled me to make better use of the work in stressful circumstances. I think in large part because self-directing has become second nature and over time I’m better able to let go of my tendency to subtly and unconsciously do the directions. I would also credit new developments in Alexander Technique directions that are easier to use and more effective than earlier ones – you can learn about them here: New Directions in Alexander Technique Directing
Still, unexpected stress remains a challenge and so I was particularly impressed by Gary Ramsey’s account of his sudden, and totally unexpected, brush with death and how he was able to use the Technique almost right away when his doctor unexpectedly told him he had an extremely serious condition and that he could die at any moment. And how he continued to use it as he explored alternatives and eventually had a full recovery.
You read his account in his book, available at Amazon: Bliss: One Hero’s Journey.
You can also listen to his account, “How the Alexander Technique Helped Overcome a Deadly Predicament” here:
Have you, as an Alexander teacher or student, had experience of successfully using Alexander’s principles in a dangerous or particularly stressful situation? Please post your story below and/or on Facebook.
Country Music has always been at the cutting edge of danger and heartbreak – imminent death by execution, spousal betrayal, car wrecks, the sinking of the Titanic – the list goes on and on. This song by Carl Rutherford is a prime example – and was featured in a recent episode of Better Call Saul!
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