Advice for a New Alexander Technique Teacher

Brooke Lieb, ACAT ’89

Remember to refer back to your student’s head/neck/back relationship frequently during the lesson. Help her understand that as she explores or attends to an activity, or observes more details about her specific habits, she can observe how this influences her head/neck/back. Conversely, as she returns to attend to her head/neck/back, she can observe how this influences the activity or pattern she was working with.

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From Our ACAT Faculty: My First Contact with the Alexander Technique, by Joan Frost

Joan Frostby Joan Frost Due to my mother’s lack of understanding regarding nutrition, as an infant I was fed boiled condensed (pet) milk to grow on. It didn’t work so well. I didn’t get to my feet until 18 months old and when I finally did, my legs buckled so that my knees and ankles caved in. In Ireland, they called this the “green stick syndrome”. I don’t know what they called it in America, but it was not uncommon in the ‘50’s. To remedy this, I had to sleep on my back every night wearing a brace – two shoes turned out 180 degrees from each other with a bar between. This put my legs into a frog position. I wore the brace every night from about 18 months to 3 years old. I have no memory of this time, but I do remember for years going to the doctor for walking exercises to deal with my very pronated ankles.

There was a problem with this mechanistic remedy: I was very pigeon-toed. The brace forced total outward rotation. Since my hip-joints couldn’t structurally accommodate that, where did the adjustment go? To the next level up – my lower back. I became extremely swaybacked. Standing equaled pain.

I must have had a weak back. When I was nine, while on my hands and knees playing with my sister, she jumped on my back and something “went”. It was my upper back. From that time forward, I couldn’t sit unsupported for more than 20 minutes before my back became hot, then numb. I gave up my piano lessons.

I couldn’t stand, I couldn’t sit. Any length of time with either and I was in significant pain. My mother took me to chiropractor after doctor. Nothing helped. I was a stoic girl – I dealt.

In college, typing papers was agony. But when I moved, I felt better. I enrolled in the dance program at the University of California at Santa Cruz and started learning about my body. I discovered my psoas muscle and my lower back lost some of its exaggerated curve. My lower back pain diminished. My upper back? It didn’t change much at all. I was always in pain behind my right shoulder blade and every few weeks it got acute.

I graduated from college and moved to New York City to immerse myself in the modern dance scene. A California friend discovered the Alexander Technique and told me I should take some lessons. She said my neck was very forward. I reached back to feel my neck and discovered she was right! I resisted studying, though. Why should I? I could have five dance classes for the price of one of those lessons. She persisted. Finally, after about six months of urging, I agreed. I called Missy Vineyard and made an appointment.

I don’t know what happened in my first lesson. I just remember taking a floor barre class afterwards and not being able to lift my head off the floor. I did return for another lesson. Again, I didn’t understand what was going on, but it seemed as if Missy knew something true about my body that I didn’t yet know. The closest I could liken to my experience was readings I had done in Zen and eastern philosophy.

Not far into the lessons, I started sticking out my elbows. Missy set me straight. I was confusing elbow width with upper back width. Amazingly, my upper back began to change! My pain started to lessen! I had started studying the Technique to keep my friend quiet. It had not occurred to me that it would affect the way I felt. By the time I was in my 20’s, back pain was a fact of my life and I took it for granted that that’s the way it was going to be.

I had ten lessons with Missy, then she moved to Baltimore for her husband’s medical residency. The effects of those lessons lasted about nine months, then I felt I had lost the sense of it. I asked around for and found another teacher and continued my Alexander journey.

[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.acatnyc.org/main/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Joan-Frost.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Joan Frost was certified to teach the Alexander Technique by ACAT in 1983, joined ACAT’s faculty in 1984, and was Director of Teacher Certification from 2001-2008. Joan has also taught the Technique at The Juilliard School, The New School, the Diller Quaile School of Music, and at Sarah Lawrence College. For years she was a lecturer for The Arthritis Foundation. Currently, in addition to training teachers at ACAT, Joan maintains a private practice in Manhattan, in Rockland County, in White Plains, and in Stratford, Connecticut. Find her at her website: joanfrost.com.[/author_info] [/author]