For Alexander Teachers: Perfection Not Required

My great joy is training Alexander Teachers. I had the honor of serving as Director of Training at The American Center for the Alexander Technique from 2008 through 2018, at which time we closed our doors. In my tenure on the faculty, from 1992 until 2018, I had a chance to participate in training over 130 teachers. I have also had a chance to serve as guest faculty on other courses and offer post-graduate training to colleagues from all over the world.

Hands-on teaching

Hands-on teaching

I have been profoundly impressed with all my colleagues’ commitment to excellence, regardless of their “Alexander lineage” or style of teaching.

Sometimes that commitment to excellence manifests as an aspiration for perfection, and that can generate anxiety.

I had the good fortune to train at ACAT while Judy Leibowitz was alive, and had a weekly class with her almost every semester. Her teaching and words have been captured in a lovely book, edited by Katherine Miranda, called “Dare To Be Wrong”. I found Judy’s style of training teachers fully embodied that exploratory attitude. Judy taught my by emphasizing what was going well, and how I was exploring with her, even as she taught me the highly technical skills of hands on work. She taught me how to match what I said in words with what my hands-on work was communicating.

Judy had a way of guiding me into the exploratory and playful side of the work, even as I was going through some emotionally challenging situations in my personal life. Her attitude was that I was more than adequate in my ability to be present, try something out, observe the outcome and celebrate what worked or adjust my ideas and try something else.

For me, inhibition - taking time, slowing down, calming my nervous system, having more space, putting the result on “pause”, releasing over-exertion - is the most helpful aspect of Alexander’s method.

Don’t worry about you don’t want, put your attention on what you do want

I have watched new teachers work with students, and 99% of the time, change happens, the change we are after when we teach. Students invariable benefit, even if it isn’t clear moment to moment what is happening.

When I am working with teachers and teachers-in-training, I invite them not to worry about how perfect their use is, and not to be afraid of going wrong. The more I am worried about whether I am using myself well, the less I am applying the tools.

Instead, remember that if we are inhibiting and directing for ourselves and our student, that intention is present in our manner,our words and the quality of our hands. We may be pulling down a bit, or stiffening our necks here and there, but what is novel about our touch, words and being is that we are ALSO working deeply and skillfully in our nervous systems with the tools of inhibition, awareness and direction. That added dynamic will register on our student’s system. It’s different enough from their baseline state, that on some level, they will experience the possibility for change.

I don’t think the Alexander Technique is about perfection, I think it’s about supporting ourselves, making choices and dealing with the constant demands of life. As teachers, we can offer our students our own example, and be perfectly imperfect, and more than good enough.

© 2019 N. Brooke Lieb