On Teaching: "Speaking without words"

Brooke: During our work together on the ACAT Teacher Certification Program, I remember you repeatedly sharing with me that you found lectures and the verbal component of hands-on turns virtually un-intelligible, and stressful. I was able to appreciate that auditory learning wasn’t particularly useful to you, but in retrospect, I know I didn’t have a meaningful understanding or appreciation of how unique sensory processing is from one person to another. I was also fascinated because I know how much you read and comprehend, and that you studied much more complex subjects than I ever have and are articulate and versed in those topics.


You shared many stories of your brother, who has autism and also had a brain injury in a car accident. The way you talked about him, and your comments that you felt you had some sensory processing similarities with your brother, opened up my curiosity. I began and continue to educate myself about sensory processing, neuroscience, trauma, brain plasticity and other topics that would help me understand and respond more effectively to the different ways my students relate to themselves, the world and the Alexander Technique. I am starting to be able to perceive my own implicit biases. This awareness has helped my improve my relationships to family and friends, and to understand myself better.

It was sometime in your third year that I finally really heard your experience that my talking during turns was unproductive, disintegrating, and perhaps even dis-regulating, for you. I had the sense that you were not angry at me, perhaps frustrated, and that we had a productive working relationship in spite of my blind spot/tone deafness to the ways you kept trying to educate me about you. Anyway, the penny dropped for me one day and I decided not to use language but still to use my voice and sounds. I love your description of that turn. I remember your face lit up, you became light and free under my hands, and I think we both felt delighted.

Well after the fact, you commented on how effective that turn was for you. Your feedback encouraged my curiosity with all my students and inspired me to explore innovations in how I teach, and how I do relationship in all areas of my life.

As I read your description just now, I imagine we found a way to bypass the crazy making loop of semantics and had good communication.

Aviv: I loved that turn. I felt like we finally understood each other! I could hear all the dynamics you were using in your voice and touch and thinking without having to piece together a "solution" to the problem of good use. I remember your voice being very expressive, and the sounds being like an infant learning how to use its voice: joyful, curious, exploratory. Those feelings were then inside of me and I felt myself move up. For me, I suppose, it always feels like the discovery of direction is what I need. You taking that leap of faith (into wordlessness) probably helped me do the same, and to trust that my body would find the right expression. By going through that with me, you really did help me rediscover my relationship with words.

I am so glad that you are continuing to explore along these lines. I hope I am too. I work with an autistic woman at the moment who has motor and sensory differences that make certain things difficult. To initiate a movement with ease can be very hard. But how I use my my speech when I am with her has an enormous effect on her experience. The question I ask myself is how do I provide the organization she needs to thrive (it is a very Alexander question). When we accompany others through the world (as an Alexander teacher, friend, support person) we go into a deep study of the other person. It is so hard to unlearn one's own styles of thinking and communication. It's even harder to be convinced that I can't convert everyone to my own style. Similarity of thought does make things more manageable, but its also deadening. But I do feel that we don't need to think of all of our different styles as just being differences. There is something we all hold in common that words like curiosity, inspiration, joy and trust do a much better job at capturing. The trick is finding a route into them.

The crucial moment for me in Alexander's "Evolution of a Technique" is the moment he says that he had a choice: to do something, to not do that something, or to do something else entirely different. To me that's our freedom in learning and teaching. When we swerve we find out something new.

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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. www.brookelieb.com