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

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

by Brooke Lieb

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.

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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]

Continuing Community at ACAT

WorkshopImageA_03by Karen Krueger In my last blog post, I wrote about why I chose to enroll in the teacher training program at the American Center for the Alexander Technique ("ACAT"), and described the unique strengths of the program. Graduating from that program was a bittersweet moment for me, as it seemed I would lose my connection to the community that I was a part of as a trainee.

Luckily, as I soon discovered, ACAT gives its graduates many ways to remain part of the community. To begin with, there is the opportunity to serve as a volunteer faculty member. This meant that I could continue to participate in the training course at a level appropriate to my experience. Working with trainees was an ideal way to hone my hands-on skills, as ACAT trainees are expert at giving constructive verbal and nonverbal feedback. Participating in a training class also allowed me to observe and experience what the trainers were teaching, and to contribute with questions and observations from my own growing teaching practice.

In addition, I learned that ACAT is not just a training program. It is a not-for-profit membership organization, offering free and paid continuing education programs for teaching members and free and paid programming in the Alexander Technique for associate members and the general public. A majority of ACAT's Board of Directors are ACAT graduates.

ACAT teaching members offer monthly free introductions to the Alexander Technique. Volunteering to present or assist in these "Hands-On Demonstrations" is a great way for recent graduates to get valuable experience working with groups on the Alexander Technique. ACAT also sponsors low-cost drop-in group classes in the Alexander Technique, staffed by teaching members who have been active volunteers at the Hands-On Demonstrations.

In addition to these formal connections, ACAT graduates have their own more spontaneous ways of nurturing the ACAT community. Many of the people I trained with remain friends, have exchanges with each other to work on their skills, and refer students to each other. As I become a more experienced teacher, I find that my most valued form of continuing education is exchanging work with the ACAT people I met during my three years in the training course.

If you love the Alexander Technique, you can be a part of the ACAT community, even if you did not graduate from ACAT, by joining as a teaching member (if you are an AmSAT-certified teacher) or an associate member.

To learn more about the benefits of membership, go here.

To learn more about ACAT's teacher training program, go here.

[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.acatnyc.org/main/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/karen-headshot-67.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]KAREN G. KRUEGER became a teacher of the Alexander Technique after 25 years of practicing law at two major New York law firms, receiving her teaching certificate from the American Center for the Alexander Technique in December 2010. Her students include lawyers, business executives, IT professionals and others interested in living with greater ease and skill. Find her at her website: http://kgk-llc.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]

Over 40 Years of Experience: Barbara Kent, Senior Teacher at ACAT

barbarakentby Judy Stern

Barbara has taught me many skills on many levels—too many to list in this article. The "hands on" skill that stands out today, was learning to maintain the energetic space between my hands, my arms and my student while maintaining full contact. This allows students to sense the space for them to change (to move up and out). The energetic space makes it easy for students to discover and address habits without feeling imposed upon, or pressured to change. This is one of many skills that Barbara teaches our trainees today, just as I learned it when I trained at ACAT in 1987. Of course, now I also teach our trainees about the energetic space. It's an incredibly valuable and necessary skill that helps maximize teaching and learning.

Barbara has also taught me many psychodynamic skills. In addition to being an Alexander Technique teacher, Barbara is a trained Rubenfeld Synergist. This means she has particular interpersonal skills that enhance a students' ability to learn and the teachers’ ability to impart information. For example, let's say a student has a very slight limp that was due to a recent injury. Barbara wouldn't say, "Do you know you're limping?" Rather than pointing out the limp directly, which might make the student self-conscious (i.e.: startled), she would use an indirect approach. She would encourage lengthening of the torso on the opposite side of the limp, and eventually, the limp may decrease, even disappear, if it is due to habit.

50 Years of ACAT!

Barbara has brought so much to the ACAT community. She is THE Senior teacher/trainer in NYC and perhaps on the East Coast. To be called a senior teacher, one must have 20 years of teaching the Alexander Technique. Barbara has over forty years of experience! She carries the ACAT legacy passed on to her from Judy Leibowitz and Debby Caplan (both took lessons from F. M. Alexander) and Frank Ottiwell, as well as her mentors, Walter and Dilys Carrington and Elisabeth Walker, who were trained to be teachers by F. M. Alexander. It is an amazing experience to work with her, because she embodies all that she learned those teachers.

Barbara's many roles at ACAT since she trained in 1971 speak to what a remarkable asset she is to the ACAT Training Course and to the Alexander community at large. She has headed the ACAT training twice, first when Judy Liebowitz, our first and founding director, stepped down from the position in 1982. Then a second time, in 1996, when called upon by the faculty to lead once again.

I highly recommend the Alexander Technique Lesson at Home, a digital download in which Barbara narrates a compilation of the procedures Judy Leibowitz taught that are very helpful for practicing the Technique on your own. You also get an interview with Barbara, in which she talks about Judy (Leibowitz') influence at ACAT and on her own teaching. You can get the Lesson at Home by making a donation to ACAT.

Barbara is a treasure in our community, having touched so many of us with her gifts.

ACAT’s 50th Anniversary – Matching Challenge Grant

ACAT has received a matching grant of up to $10,000. Donate in honor of Barbara Kent and Jessica Wolf, and have your donation matched dollar-for-dollar. Whatever you give, your donation will be doubled. To thank you for your donation, we will send you a link to download an MP3 of ACAT's Alexander Technique Lesson at Home, based on Judith Leibowitz’s teaching and narrated by Barbara Kent. Go to acat50.org to donate and find out more. All donations to ACAT are tax deductible.

[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.acatnyc.org/main/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Judy-Stern-headshot.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]JUDY STERN is a senior faculty member at the American Center for the Alexander Technique (ACAT). She has been teaching the Alexander Technique for almost 30 years. She has a post-graduate certificate in Physical Therapy and a Master of Arts in Health Education from the University of Florida/Gainesville. She was a member of the faculty at the University of Pennsylvania School of Physical Therapy early in her career, and worked for 19 years as a traditional physical therapist. Judy has a special interest in the neurophysiology of the Technique. She has a private practice at her studio in Rye, NY, and specializes in working with people in pain. Connect with Judy at her website. www.judithcstern.com [/author_info] [/author]