by Barbara McCrane
Boy, is my answer to this question tired!! As a 20-year teacher of the Alexander Technique, I have some stock answers to common questions. While it’s great to discover trusted ways to explain Alexander concepts and stick with them, sometimes our tried and true responses can become uninspired. To inspire myself (and you), I asked some experienced colleagues how they answer this very typical Alexander question.
“My answer to this question is most often a conversation about awareness and the challenge of remaining self aware day to day, hour to hour, moment to moment.
I ask students to choose an activity that occurs at least 5 times daily. (sit to stand, drinking, eating, using the cell phone…). Then I challenge them to simply pause 5 times before executing the activity. If they find that too difficult, I ask them to stop once they notice they have done it and pause and do it again.
I spend time reflecting on my own difficulty with this and emphasizing that this is the very core concept of the AT.”
“I teach all my students the A.T. directions (in the first lesson) and repeat them as I teach. I also give out a piece of paper with the directions on them. Then, if a student asks about doing the work outside the lesson, we pick an activity that will serve as homework in which to use his/her awareness, inhibition, and direction. It could be something like getting the dishes out of the cupboard for a meal, or brushing teeth, or tying shoes, etc. What we pick depends upon the person and what would seem useful and doable. The next lesson I check up on how it went. Sometimes people totally forget, of course, so I may ask them to try again, or we’ll pick something they think they can succeed at. All this varies according to the student, but you get the idea. It can also be helpful to work with the chosen activity in the lesson, as the student often remembers by association.”
“I may have a way of explaining things that encourages a student to do for themselves.
Here are some of things I say that may hedge the question.
I recommend constructive rest from the get-go. I follow up with questions in the next week and the next and the next. I’ve learned to be a gentle nudger.
I describe awareness, inhibition and direction as conscious skills that we practice.
I recommend that the student pick one activity that is their “Alexander activity” and practice thinking during that. Many use walking, some use sit/stand.
I describe the nature of habit and mind wandering as the default mode of the brain, and in contrast a mindful approach to life brings freshness and focus to daily life.
I describe skin and touch as enhancers of mindfulness and I encourage students to use that sense to bring themselves back and help them focus.
I assign homework sometimes, if the lesson lands on something specific about a student’s use, I ask them to focus on that during the week.
I encourage other sources of learning: youtube, podcasts and of course, books.”
“I encourage my students to reflect on their daily routine to see when and how they might ease up on themselves and find brief moments to shed the effort of habits.
These are just a few of the things I might suggest:
1. First, spend time doing lie downs on your own. Be sure to keep your eyes open and practice just thinking the directions, with the intention that you are in NO way trying to do anything muscular to carry out the directions.
2. I work with walking early on in lessons and will have you identify a time each day when you are walking and can think about the work. It could be the walk home from the work day, after arriving near your home when you get off the subway or bus; it could be when going to the restroom at work; it could be taking the dog out for a walk; it could be when going out for coffee in the morning or going to get the mail.
3. Put post-it notes around your home with the message “I have time”. I have this note on my intercom, so when a student arrives, as I go to press the button to let her in, I am reminded to take time. You could put a post-it on your bathroom mirror, computer screen, refrigerator, inside your door to see before you leave home.
4. Use your time standing, whether it’s waiting in line, waiting for a subway or bus, waiting for the walk light to change. Think your head easing away from your body and observe what it’s like when you are not in forward motion. Find ease and buoyancy in your legs as you stand. Allow yourself inner movement.”
My current suggestion to new students: during daily activities, observe times when you find yourself working too hard. Think of turning up the volume on your own awareness of how you do what you do. This awareness of ourselves in even mundane activities holds the key to improving our coordination. Since I work with a lot of musicians, I keep the focus on simple tasks of daily life before tackling habits while making music.
How do you encourage students to work on themselves during the week?
BARBARA MCCRANE graduated from ACAT in 1997. She completed postgraduate Alexander work at the Constructive Teaching Centre in London. While in England, Barbara was very fortunate to study with Glynn MacDonald, Lucia Walker, Elisabeth Walker, and Walter Carrington. Ms. McCrane has been a faculty member at the Manhattan School of Music since 2005. She has taught at the Actors Studio Drama School, the Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey, the Diller-Quaille School of Music and the Juilliard School Evening Division. Barbara has taught workshops with The U.S. Marine Band, Manhattanville College Music Dept., Barnard Music Dept. and Hofstra University Music Dept.