An Approach to Training Teachers: start with Alexander's means-whereby


This week, a student on the ACAT training course (trainee) commented that there didn't seem to be specific instruction on the nuts and bolts of teaching: where to put hands, what to say, and the sequence in which to do things.

Within the ACAT curriculum, those types of specifics do get covered, in a fair bit of detail, as the terms progress. However, before that level of specificity is introduced, I want to give the trainee an understanding of Alexander's means-whereby for using the hands. It is much harder to change the way I do something than to learn it in a better state.

In his book "Freedom to Change", Frank Pierce Jones wrote "'Non-Endgaining' is a basic principle of the Alexander Technique. As the Alexander brother applied the principle, it often seemed to mean: wait; stick to the means-whereby; the right solution to the problem will emerge.... F. M. told me that in 1914 he was just beginning to find a new way of using his hands in teaching. By applying the inhibitory control (which had proved so effective in breathing and speaking) to the use of his hands he was learning to make changes in a pupil that were different from ordinary manipulation or postural adjustment."

Putting hands on in the Alexander Technique is approached in a different way from most of the ways we use our hands in the activities of daily living.  I don't seek to immediately or directly change my student with my hands locally, with foreceful manipulation or re-positioning.  Changes in position, alignment or coordination may happen, but they will come about in a less direct way. First, I want to help my student give up the impulse or inclination to move out of her habitual patterns of postural support and movement by directly adjusting how she feels, or taking a position by imposing a shape or alignment. 

The first step is to begin with what is happening in me. I want to reduce my own inclination to do all the things I am teaching my student to do less of. I want to recognize my habitual approach to using my hands so that I can apply Alexander's means-whereby instead.

Example: I use my hands to adjust the relationship of my student's skull to her neck/spine/back. (See my blog Alexander Skills Sets: Easing Resistance I don't just move my student's head to a more efficient angle relative to her neck. I reduce what is interfering with the balance of my own head, and continue with a framework for redistributing tone and effort in my whole system, including the quality of my thinking, so that my hands are more sensitive to subtle changes in my student's alignment and overall tone for upright balance. I am also seeing changes, and even hearing changes, in my student. By first establishing a more poised state in me, I can pick up subtler levels of information about how my student organizes herself for activities, and can use my hands and words to teach her the same skill I am using to teach her.

The Alexander means-whereby is not specific to putting hands on. I use it in any activity I choose, and I am teaching my student to use it in any activity she chooses. The process can provide a roadmap for how to perform acts in a different way, with more poise, efficiency and ease.

In my experience, it's much easier to learn various "moves" for teaching once I know how to apply the means-whereby, thus learning the moves with my enhanced state, rather than trying to change how I carry out a teaching task that was learned and established in a less advantageous state.

Some examples of activities that were learned along with whatever my habits were and take longer to change:  handwriting, typing, playing the piano, playing a piece I already know on the piano, singing a song, walking, getting in and out of a chair and speaking.

(This post originally appeared on

N. BROOKE LIEB, Director of Teacher Certification since 2008, received her certification from ACAT in 1989, joined the faculty in 1992. Brooke has presented to 100s of people at numerous conferences, has taught at C. W. Post College, St. Rose College, Kutztown University, Pace University, The Actors Institute, The National Theatre Conservatory at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, Dennison University, and Wagner College; and has made presentations for the Hospital for Special Surgery, the Scoliosis Foundation, and the Arthritis Foundation; Mercy College and Touro College, Departments of Physical Therapy; and Northern Westchester Hospital. Brooke maintains a teaching practice in NYC, specializing in working with people dealing with pain, back injuries and scoliosis; and performing artists.