Picture this Alexander Technique workshop scene:
About 30 people of widely varying ages and experience with the Technique are seated in a circle in a basement classroom of a university music department.
Standing in the center of the group is the teacher, a small frail looking woman in her 80s.
The workshop lasts for 14 days, 6 hours a day, and it’s about halfway finished. It’s now the start of a new day.
One of the participants is a very tall and athletic young man, probably a student at the university, who has come to the workshop for a the past couple of days.
The woman running the workshop starts by asking if there any questions.
The young man stands up: “This is my third day here! Why haven’t I mastered this Technique you’re teaching? Why haven’t I got it yet?
The rest of the group perks up – very curious to hear how the teacher will respond. Many have been coming to her workshops for years and have a finely-tuned sense of when something really interesting is about to happen.
There is a long, long pause. Maybe 30 seconds or more. You can almost see wheels turning in the teacher’s head as she considers her response.
Finally, she looks up at him, directly into his eyes, and very slowly says: “I don’t think your body could take it.”
The whole class, including the questioner, erupts into laughter.
The teacher was Marjorie Barstow and this is a wonderful example of her teaching brilliance. When she was asked a question in class, she was always aware that the whole class was listening. Her answer had to be helpful to the person asking it, and to everyone else.
It’s also a reminder that although the Alexander Technique is simple (“too simple” as Marj used to say), it’s not always easy to learn at first. And when you do start to really understand it, and get good at applying it, it takes awhile for your body to adjust – even if you’re young and any harmful habits you’ve developed haven’t been around for a long time.
It’s true, as F. Matthias Alexander the developer of the Technique said: “We can throw away the habit of a lifetime in just a few minutes if we use or brains.” But he didn’t say they wouldn’t sneak up on us again – and again!
Nor that changing our habits would fully work it’s way through to the way we function on a physical level “in just a few minutes.”
As Marj said, our bodies just couldn’t take that.
If you’ve been an Alexander student, does this resonate with you? Were you ever impatient to “get it?” What advice would you give to new Alexander Technique students, based on your experiences with the work?
Here’s a short video clip of Marjorie answering a related question – also about impatience – this one from an experienced Alexander Technique student:
And here’s an interview I did with Michael Frederick, another Alexander Technique teacher who studied extensively with Marj, about her teaching:
Image courtesy of digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net