by Brooke Lieb
Pamela Anderson was my second Alexander Teacher. I studied with her for about 2 years before entering ACAT’s Teacher Certification Program in 1987, when she began serving as Director of Training. I see her signature on my teaching certificate daily. Pamela just celebrated her 40th anniversary of teaching. Coincidentally, in a “six degrees of separation” fashion, I have been in dance class since this past summer with Pamela’s first teacher’s (Maya Clemes) daughter, who also knows Pamela. I had the chance to interview Pamela on this milestone anniversary.
Lieb: How did you learn about the Alexander Technique?
Anderson: I graduated from college with a degree in modern dance and psychology. Although I was aware of the technique and had attended an introductory workshop, it wasn’t until one of my former dance classmates walked in for a drink at the restaurant where I worked and I saw her transformation, that the idea of studying the Technique became an imperative for me. Her pronounced lordosis was gone as well as radiating from her was this easeful presence. To me this was astounding, I said, “You look wonderful, what have you been doing with yourself?” She said, “I’m in my second year of training to be an Alexander Teacher in San Francisco…” I think I said to both myself as well as her, “Whatever this is, I want this way of being for myself as well…” The next day I called the local Alexander Teacher, Maya Clemes, and started taking lessons. The funny thing about this experience, I was ashamed to be even thinking I wanted to train before my first lesson, but once I’d had it, it felt even more right to pursue…
Lieb: What were your first lessons like?
Anderson: At my first lesson, I was touched and taught in a way I had never felt before. Instead of manipulating my body into some contorted form to be able to “dance,” I was gently coaxed to discover my own unique structure and mechanics. I felt who I was inside, which I had been tightening and trying to force into some distortion of the right way to be and move. Plus I was learning how structurally I was designed to function. It felt so good!!! The knee pain and trauma I had suffered since childhood started to loosen. Driving home from this experience I felt for the first time comfortable and comfortably whole in my own skin. My mind was completely, easily present. Neither had I ever experienced before. For a brief period of time I had escaped from the racing mind and fragile physical balance I normally lived in. The lessons continued, and within the year, the continued experience of balance, and the longing for mental ease led me to move to New York and enter the three-year training program to become an Alexander teacher.
Lieb: Why did you decide to train?
Anderson: At some deep level, it wasn’t so much me deciding to train, as much as this was a calling as to where I needed to go next in discovering my own wholeness.
Lieb: What do you recall about your experience in training?
It was incredibly difficult as well as feeling like I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing. The phrase I often used to describe my experience of training was something like this… “I was entering a psycho-physical Laundromat…. sometimes I understood something, and many times I didn’t, sometimes I felt good, and many times I left class more in a muddle. Many times I didn’t know what way I’d come out of the classroom, metaphorically speaking standing right-side up, or up-side-down. The training for me was learning to tolerate these ups and downs, knowns and unknowns, as the process and understanding grew experientially inside. At the time I trained, we had six co-directors of training. The two teachers whose work is still alive and resonates with me all these years later are Judith Leibowitz and Rachel Zahn.
Lieb: Tell us about your career as an Alexander Teacher.
Anderson: I have been teaching the work 40 years now. I started my practice teaching in my last semester of training, and then once I graduated, I came back and volunteered in the ACAT program. A year or so later I joined the junior faculty, some years later, the senior faculty, and finally as its Director of Training for four years, after Barbara Kent’s first retirement. Until I had two children and we moved beyond a comfortable commuting distance, I taught one to two classes per week in the program as well as taking private lessons, studying with visiting teachers and doing exchanges with various colleagues.
What drew me to the work was the conjunction of Mind-Body-Spirit that I experienced in my first lesson in Santa Cruz Ca. Judith Liebowitz and Rachel Zahn in the teacher training continued to allow and support this interest and curiosity of mine. Over the years, I have come to understand and name what I am teaching and/or working on myself on is the notion of Whole-ness. (One day I was looking out my office window at this 60+ foot oak tree outside… A student was there and I said to him… "look at that oak tree…it is hard-wired to grow into its full being given enough sun and water... It doesn’t stand there overly rigid or collapsed…it just is..!! We are wired to grow into our own fullness and rightness of being in the same way if we can understand and work on the interferences…” Not sure if I have drifted from the topic…)
Academically, Mr. Alexander’s notion that we are a psycho-physical totality, fit right in with this passion, yet I felt he never really addressed the psychological, well-being, and spiritual parts of his statement. The biomechanical-affective-spiritual experiences we have are all housed in the same container, yet how they interact in health and dysfunction I don’t feel I understood… This has been the question driving my lifelong learning and how I best work in my practice and private studies. Over the years of teaching, I received a Master’s in Psychology, I trained for 8 years at the CG Jung Institute in their analytic training program working with clients in the therapeutic setting, deepening my psycho-spiritual understandings. In 2012 I entered the Center for Intentional Living three-year professional enrichment program, combining academic and experiential learning in attachment studies, the emotional body, neuroscience, and spirituality. My private practice, whether on the Alexander Technique spectrum or the more therapeutic side, has been exploring how the emotional and psychosomatic gets played out in postural dysfunction.
I also want to thank my students over all these years of teaching and doing therapy. Even more rewarding than the continuing education and additional studies I have done, it has been the work with people and their particular form of distress that has been so deeply rewarding over all these years of work.
In addition to my teaching work, I have developed and written an experiential manual on Embodiment Dreamwork. In it, I bring together the symbolic language of dreams with the Alexander Technique’s functional approach to psychophysical dysfunction. A dream is, in many ways telling us, in symbolic form, we are out of balance. By trying on and enacting the various dream images in a postural form, with our highly refined kinesthetic intelligence that is one of the hallmarks of lifelong AT work, I am finding a whole new way of understanding “psycho-physical” balance.
Finally, in 2018 I am trying on “retirement” for a bit of time. I gave up my practice of 27 years in NJ and have moved to Boston while my husband finishes the last year of his scientific career. I’ve taken a break from private lessons and have been enjoying being a student again and re-discovering my joy in exercise and movement classes.
Lieb: How has the Alexander Technique benefited you in your life?
Anderson: I wouldn’t be where I am in my life had I not been drawn to what I saw in someone else and wanting that for myself 43, years ago. Pain, be it psychological, biomechanical, emotional, energetic, or spiritual has been my soul’s way of getting my attention, wanting to talk… If I can take the time and listen, I find there is a story, much like a dream, a back pain, that is waiting to be told. In learning to listen, in being with, I keep discovering where I am interfering. In this ongoing reflective process, I find an inner balance and joy return, similar to what I experienced in my first AT lesson all those years ago.
PAMELA ANDERSON, M. A., CSW, M.AmSAT, D.A.P.A., has been in practice since 1977. A former Director of ACAT’s Teacher Certification Program (1987-91), Pamela was a psychoanalytic candidate at the C G Jung Institute of New York from 2004-12. A recent graduate of the Center for Intentional Living Professional Program, a three-year study of psycho-spiritual development across the lifespan, she has named her work Integrative Therapeutics, which combines The Alexander Technique, Jungian psychotherapy, findings in attachment theory and neuroscience research with Mindfulness Practices. She is the author of a soon to be released document entitled The Embodiment Dreamwork Manual, combining attachment theory, Jung’s depth work and the Alexander Technique’s functional approach to dream understanding.