An Interview with Alexander Technique Teacher Pamela Anderson

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.

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Thoughts on Doing and Non-Doing

chair balancingby Ezra Bershatsky It is almost irresistible to become fascinated with the philosophies that are so perfectly compatible with the Alexander Technique; to revel in the Zen-like mysticism it inspires: “The chair lifts; I don’t lift it," or "I am breathed." For some, this is confirmation of what they already believe. However, I think this only serves to obscure for others and even ourselves what is actually happening.

This topic is of especial interest to me as I have found a wealth of knowledge in the Tao Te Ching: “Wei wu wei,” or “doing without doing,” is a prevalent theme throughout the text, and it offers considerable insight into various implications of The Alexander Technique. As pointed out by Walter Carrington, we cannot lead a life of non-doing, as we would inevitably starve to death. Carrington says that muscular activity in the body is obviously doing; however, to me this is anything but obvious. Would anyone say, “I’m doing my heartbeat?” Another way to define “doing” is as any volitional or potentially volitional muscular response. I say potentially, as the vast majority of muscular responses and coordinations are allocated unconsciously by the brain through the stimulus of a desired outcome.

Doing without doing is a way of accomplishing an end while avoiding an habitual means to obtain it. This might be achieved by changing one's immediate intention, thus delaying the ultimate outcome. For instance, if my goal is to sit in a chair, I can decide merely to sit, which would trigger a complex muscular coordination involving hundreds of muscles contracting and releasing simultaneously and sequentially. My desire to quickly carry out the action of sitting might allow for little new input into achieving the action, so that if the chair is lower than the average chair, I will probably fall into it, expecting to have been sitting sooner. If I wanted to employ a "non-doing" approach, I could first try to have my desire to sit become the outcome of another intention: my knees bending. If I continuously bend my knees, eventually I will make contact with the chair. Such an exercise would begin to reeducate me from my habitual way of sitting, so that when next I go to sit in a "doing" or habitual manner, it might happen more efficiently. It should be said that this improvement will most likely revert quickly to my more habitual behavior shortly thereafter, unless this type of work continues.

It is our goal to accomplish any end by finding a way to allow a spontaneous coordination instead of imposing one; to consider how this action will be achieved instead of predetermining it; to avoid habitual response patterns and allow for spontaneous ones, even if the latter are at first clumsy or less efficient. Once we have established clarity about this goal, the implications for similar or seemingly related philosophies and mystical ideas can be safely considered, and will not be conflated with the principles and workings of the Alexander Technique.

Nonetheless, Carrington is ultimately correct in saying that “doing” is any muscular response, because this definition furthers the understanding of the interdependence of mind and body. We needn’t be aware of what we are doing to be doing it. Even unconscious processes that we could never hope to control directly are happening in us. If they are happening we can say we are doing them; for we are these involuntary processes just as we are our awareness.
When placing hands on the back of the chair and increasing the intensity of the dynamic opposition between the elbows, we are distally initiating movement in our arms, which is a valuable tool for facilitating a spontaneous muscular coordination, thus bypassing habitual patterns, which may ultimately result in the lifting of the chair. To then assert, “I did not lift the chair,” serves no constructive purpose. What it clarifies is that because we were consciously choosing to initiate movement elsewhere without lifting the chair, we avoided habitual response patterns associated with it; and since we identify so strongly with these habitual patterns, when we do achieve the (conscious or unconscious) goal of lifting the chair, it doesn’t feel very gratifying or familiar, and thus has no personal significance for us. In other words, we don’t identify with having lifted the chair. However, the chair did not levitate, and so what must have happened is, “I lifted the chair, even though it was not my intention,” rather than, “the chair lifted.”
I think it is of paramount importance to avoid attaching mystical concepts to this work as it alienates more scientific-minded professionals and clientele, and as teachers we are disparate in our beliefs and world views. Spiritually, mystically and psychologically inclined individuals will have no problem finding these implicit philosophies, some of which tie into the fields of astrology, homeopathy, reiki and crystal healing, classified as pseudoscience—which is not to say that these have no validity. But the Alexander Technique seems so often to find itself conflated with non-scientifically verifiable disciplines, when it was developed through the use of the scientific method, is scientifically substantiated to the degree that it has been formally studied, and would withstand the rigors of thorough scientific testing and peer review. Ideas unrelated directly to AT serve only to obscure our concept of a unified human organism, in which the mind and body are inseparable. Hence, “non-doing” should be taught and discussed with its originally intended implications only, making it safe for any of us to consider its possible implications for other areas of inquiry.

[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.acatnyc.org/main/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Ezra-Bershatsky-by-Sandro-Lamberti-Photography-23.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]EZRA BERSHATSKY—A graduate of The Juilliard School Pre-College Division, Ezra has two Bachelor degrees of Music from Mannes College The New School for Music, in vocal performance and musical composition. He is currently training to be a teacher of the Alexander Technique. He has been singing and performing since childhood, and early in his training he discovered that he has a passion not only for making music, but for teaching others. Ezra teaches voice in New York City on the upper west side. [/author_info] [/author]

ACAT's Alexander Technique Teacher Certification Program: Supervised Teaching Component

IMG_0630-1by Brooke Lieb, ACAT Training Director ACAT’s Teacher Certification Program follows a developmental curriculum, which has been refined over the last 49 years. Our program is designed so that our graduates are prepared, and more importantly, are confident about their ability to teach, by the time they receive their teaching certification.

Throughout the course, students are being taught hands on skills, sometimes being guided through activities with the assistance of the teacher, and sometimes putting hands on the faculty to receive specific and customized instruction. At the core of effective hands on skills is always our own application of the principles to ourselves. Students come to understand and develop proficiency in applying Alexander Technique principles to all their activities, including the hands on and verbal components of teaching. How we are each applying those skills is at the heart of everything that we do in life, including providing instruction to another. Graduates have typically taught a minimum of 58 sessions under supervision by the time they graduate. I trained at ACAT  from 1987 to 1989, and I, too, felt fully prepared and confident about my abilities to work with students by the time I completed my training.

Here's what Karen Krueger, who graduated in December 2010 and who has served on ACAT's board of directors, had to say about the experience:

"Supervised teaching in the third year was a vital bridge from working with my trainers and fellow trainees to teaching on my own.

"Like ACAT's entire curriculum, the supervised teaching class follows a clear sequential structure. Although it was always challenging, it never seemed impossible. Week by week, throughout the year, my skills grew gradually, until I was able to teach an entire lesson to a beginning student. This was perfect training for becoming a teacher in private practice, since at the beginning, most of my students were also beginners.

"In the first term of our third year, our supervisory students had significant previous experience with the Alexander Technique. We then moved on to less experienced students, and we worked with beginners in our last term. As the experience level of our students decreased, the expectations of us as teachers-in-training increased: starting with 10- or 15-minute segments of teaching specific elements of the technique, and building up to teaching 45-minute lessons. Throughout the process, our trainers were in the room with us, helping as needed. At the end of each teaching session, we had the opportunity to discuss what had happened with our classmates and the supervising teacher.

"Throughout the year, I got to try out different approaches to teaching, and to experience many real-world challenges, in a safe and supportive environment, in which both my students and my trainers were there to contribute to my learning. I also took advantage of the opportunity to teach a few private students outside class during my 9th term, and this, too, played an important role in my development as a teacher.

"The Alexander Technique teaches us to set aside undue focus on a goal, and to give attention instead to the "means whereby" -- the way in which we go about the activities involved in reaching the goal. This approach to learning is exemplified in the third-year supervised teaching curriculum at ACAT. And it works: when I graduated from ACAT, I felt fully confident in my ability to teach from day one."

[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.acatnyc.org/main/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Brooke1web.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]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[/author_info] [/author]

From the ACAT Faculty: “What is my Alexander Teacher doing with her hands? It’s not like anything I’ve experienced before…” by Brooke Lieb

FindaTeacherby Brooke Lieb When I was taking private lessons, I had no idea how my teacher was facilitating changes in my sense of ease and freedom, I just knew it was different from anything I had ever experienced. I recognized some of it was what what she told me to think and wish for, but it seemed most of the changes were the result of some mysterious and magical quality in her hands.

I decided to give the man I was dating at the time, an Alexander “lesson." I had him lay on the floor and I copied what I thought my teacher was doing. Afterwards, all he noticed was that his shoulders weren’t pulled up around his ears anymore. Other than that, nothing much happened and I realized I had no idea what my teacher was doing with her hands. I began to take private lessons with other teachers as well, and it became clear they had all been trained to use their hands in a specific way. There were differences in the quality of their hands, but the ideas and thought process was the same and I recognized the changes that I experienced with different teachers.

When I started teacher training, I was relieved and delighted to discover that teaching would be an extension of the same skills I had been learning as a private student, and these skills would be applied in a practical, step-by-step process, to the use of hands and all the activities of teaching.

I have now been training teachers on the ACAT Faculty since 1992 and while each graduate has a unique quality to their touch, they are also able to facilitate the same response in my system when they have hands on me as my other teachers. The use of the hands is a skill that can be taught.

A Skill That Can Be Taught

In his book Freedom to Change, Frank Pierce Jones writes:

"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."

Throughout my training at ACAT, I was taken through a series of activities where I was touching objects, including a hat maker's head form, balls, cups, common objects, a phone book, and a stool. These activities were preparing me to use the same inhibitory control Alexander referred to when using his hands to teach.

My task was to practice my skills of inhibition and directing during these highly stimulating activities, while the teacher lifted or moved the object with her or his hands over mine. I learned how to avoid unneeded (but very habitual) tension in my hands, wrists, arms, legs and back as I allowed the teacher to do the work. I became increasingly able to allow myself to remain empty of intention and habitual tension as the teacher acted upon the object. I was merely the observer.

As I mastered this ability to follow the leader, I was given more and more responsibility for taking over lifting and moving these objects myself. I continued to override my habit of excess effort and tension and the objects felt lighter and easier to move.

This was the model I was taught to use my hands in teaching: recognize my habit of stiffening or tensing throughout my body to use my hands; pause to give myself time to reduce the level of effort I bring to the task; and use my intentional thinking to carry out the task in a more easeful way, with tone and effort distributed more easily throughout my body.

I use this step-by-step method throughout a lesson, and it is how I train teachers to develop their own step-by-step methods for themselves.

Lifting A Head

A practical example: Adjusting the height of books under a student's head during a table lesson.

This task involves lifting and supporting the weight of a student's head with one hand while adding or removing books with the other.

My first strategy is to spend as little time as possible weight bearing while still accomplishing the task. At strategic moments along the way, I give myself time to pause and release the bracing and effort that arises from anticipating and then actually lifting.

  1. I roll my student's head to one side or the other. The books are still supporting the weight of the student's head.
  2. I rest the hand that will lift her or his head on the books and let the back of that hand release onto the book. This helps me interrupt my tendency to grasp the student's head with tension.
  3. I roll the student's head onto my hand, and give myself time to refrain from lifting. Instead, I keep resting my hand on the books with the stimulus of my student's head on that hand. This moment of inhibition is valuable for me and for the student.
  4. I consider lifting the student's head and observe where I want to brace in anticipation of lifting. I undo the preparation I have observed, since I am not yet lifting. This allows me to actually lift with less anticipatory and wasted tension.
  5. As I lift, I continue to think in ways that allow me to minimize effort and tension as I support the weight of my student's head.
  6. I change the height of the books with the other hands as I continue the thinking process described in step 5.
  7. I return my hand to rest on the new book height, and take time to let my student's head rest in my hand, letting go the effort of weight bearing.
  8. I use my available hand to gently roll the student's head off the hand that did the lifting.
  9. I roll the student's head back to center.

The American Center for the Alexander Technique (ACAT) runs the oldest Teacher Certification Program in the United States and is proud to have trained more than a third of the country’s Alexander Technique teachers, taught by our world-class faculty. ACAT also serves as a membership organization for Alexander Teachers and students. To find out more about the program click here or come to our Open House May 2, 7:00pm to 9:00pm.

[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.acatnyc.org/main/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Brooke1web.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]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[/author_info] [/author]

From Our ACAT Faculty: My First Contact With The Alexander Technique, by Marta Curbelo

Marta.Curbeloby Marta Curbelo I always loved movement and dance. I became a “star” in my brand new elementary school when I danced in front of my father’s Latin band at a school assembly. As a stay-at-home mom, I missed dance. When Nicole was eight, I decided to get active again: I joined The Nickolaus Technique exercise classes. After a few years of taking classes, I became an instructor and gave classes. One of the franchise owners was training at ACAT and asked me to volunteer as his student. At the time, I was about to buy a Nickolaus franchise. After volunteering at ACAT and experiencing a lightness I had never before felt, I started The Alexander Technique lessons with Sarnie Ogus and my life changed. Forget about the Nickolaus franchise, this was for me. My then-husband was going to be assigned to London and I knew I could find a home in England with The Alexander Technique. We never made it to London, but I have been able to teach The Alexander Technique wherever I found myself: New York City, Stamford CT or Santa Fe NM; even being invited to give annual workshops in Italy and Switzerland over a six-year period.

I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis a few years after graduating in 1987 from ACAT. At the time, I had a private practice in Stamford and was an assistant ACAT faculty member. My symptoms were (and are) fatigue and paresthesia, or nerve-ending pain, and spasticity on my left side. I found early on that I could quiet my nervous system by applying the principles of The Alexander Technique. This has enabled me to minimize the debilitating effects of the disease. I am in the process of working with my neurologist on a case study to show the potential of using The Alexander Technique in the management of MS symptoms.

[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.acatnyc.org/main/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Marta.Curbelo.png[/author_image] [author_info] MARTA CURBELO was certified by ACAT to teach The Alexander Technique in 1987, immediately volunteered as an assistant teacher and then became an associate teacher and finally a member of the Senior Faculty in 1989. Marta has taught at The Juilliard School and has had private practices in New York City, Norwalk CT and Santa Fe NM. She has conducted workshops in New York City, Switzerland and Italy and taught in a physical therapy facility in Mt. Kisco, NY.  Marta also has been certified, after a one-year course of study in the Art of Breathing, to teach breathing coordination in conjunction with The Alexander Technique. See her website: MartaCurbelo.com.[/author_info] [/author]

From Our ACAT Faculty: My First Contact With The Alexander Technique, by Brooke Lieb

Brooke headshotsby Brooke Lieb I first heard about the Alexander Technique when I was researching theater training. Alexander was part of the curriculum at The Juilliard School, Carnegie Mellon University, ACT in San Francisco, and many of the acting programs in London. I was planning to study for theater as an undergraduate, though I honestly didn't think I had the talent or constitution to manage the business side of the profession. Since I always liked to communicate through touch, I thought the Alexander Technique would be a profession that would place me within the performing arts world as a teacher, without dealing with the stress and rejection of auditioning and relying on being the right type to get to practice my craft as an actor. I knew on some level that I was going to train to teach the Alexander Technique even before I had a lesson.

I was 20 when I took my first lesson, with Nancy Wanich Romita during her last term of her teacher training at ACAT, on the campus of SUNY Purchase. After that first lesson, floating out of the dance building, I remember how excited I was having finally experienced the work that I had intuitively known was my life's work! It was more amazing then I could have imagined. I studied privately for 4 years, and had over 120 lessons at the time I applied to train at ACAT. I was on the course from 1987-1989, and feel so fortunate that I found my life's work so early. I also feel fortunate that I have had this work as part of my life resources since such a young age. I continue to learn and grow as both a student and a teacher. My enthusiasm and passion for the work has only deepened with time.

[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.acatnyc.org/main/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Brooke1web.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]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[/author_info] [/author]

Transform your Career: One Woman’s Path to Becoming an Alexander Technique Teacher

by Rebecca Tuffey http://youtu.be/WQWzyU1B5cM

As a student of the Alexander Technique, I thought my teacher was a magician. She said some thought-provoking words, put her hands on me, and - voila!- I grew taller, lighter, and more free. One day, she said, “You would make a good Alexander Technique teacher. Why don’t you consider training?” I thought the idea was preposterous. She was the magic-maker; me? I was an actress. I pushed the idea away, fully contented with my weekly lessons. Like most skilled Alexander teachers, she wasn’t forceful or pushy, but kept presenting the idea as a perfectly viable possibility. She had already been teaching for twenty years. “I’ve never been bored. Each lesson is something different”. Hmmm, that intrigued me.

Then, the day came, when I realized that life as an actress was not what I had imagined it to be. I needed to figure out what I was going to do for the next twenty-some years. Six years of Alexander Technique lessons had taught me not to rush impulsively into transition. So I gave myself time and permission to consider what might come next. It was a year before I had “career clarity.” I wanted to work with bodies, be able to make real connections with individual people, and contribute something practical and helpful. A list of potential careers was made. At the bottom—but the one that sang to me—was “Alexander Technique Teacher.”

Discovering the American Center for the Alexander Technique

My teacher had trained at ACAT (the American Center for the Alexander Technique). She gave me a list of training programs, and I visited some courses. The day I visited the ACAT TCP (Teacher Certification Program), I found two skilled teachers leading a three hour class about “monkey”. The room was dynamic and quiet at the same time. There was some group discussion, and then the group separated for “turns”. I noticed that the teachers were both very engaged with the students and the process, and yet were working quite uniquely. There were no “cookie cutter” lessons being offered. This must have been what my teacher meant when she said “each lesson is something different”. I was inspired.

Life as an Alexander Technique Teacher

I was certified by ACAT to teach the Alexander Technique three years later, along with three others who began training at the same time as me. I have been teaching for almost eleven years now, and I consider my time on the ACAT TCP to be one of the most formative of my life. I found a rich community, a dedicated faculty of highly skilled teachers, an intimate environment to explore myself within, a loving and meticulous connection to the legacy of F.M. Alexander, and (most days) a lot of fun.

Teaching speaks to the creative spirit in me. Occasionally people ask if I miss acting. I don’t. As an actress, I enjoyed exploring different characters and their stories. As an Alexander Technique teacher, I get to explore human patterns (of body, mind, and spirit) from the unique point-of-view of each student who walks in my door. And…we don’t need to audition. We don’t need an audience. We show up for each other and explore doing something different with our lives.

Teachers: let’s inspire the next generation of Alexander Technique teachers. Tell your story in the comments section.

Want to meet ACAT’s Training Course Director, Faculty, Students, and Alumni working in the profession? Attend the Open House – Monday, May 4, 2015, 7-9pm Q&A, conversation, and light refreshments. R.S.V.P. to office@acatnyc.org. Please write “May 4 Open House” in the subject line.

Ready to visit the training course? Email tcp@acatnyc.org to make an appointment.

[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.acatnyc.org/main/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/tuffey.jpeg[/author_image] [author_info]REBECCA TUFFEY graduated from the American Center for the Alexander Technique in June 2004. She is an Art of Breathing Instructor (2010) and holds a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College. Rebecca has a multi-dimensional private practice, teaching the Alexander Technique to students ages 9 to 102. She currently serves as an Associate Faculty member on the ACAT TCP and as an Adjunct at Pace University in the B.F.A. for Acting in Film, Television, Voice-overs & Commercials. She can be found online at RebeccaTuffey.net.[/author_info] [/author]