A couple of weeks ago in my Alexander Technique for Performing Artists class at Tulsa Community College, I had students set a goal for the semester – the only rule is that it has to be a goal that is under their own control and doesn’t require the help of anyone else to complete. So, “I want to perform in a student recital while being aware of my breathing!” is a perfectly manageable goal, while “I want to get cast in every show I audition for!” is completely out of their hands and therefore…not recommended.
Therefore, I’ve been thinking about goals. So much advice (at least most of what I see online) is focused on dreaming big, giving it all you’ve got, living your passion, ‘shoot for the moon, if you miss, you’ll land among the stars’, and so on. And…I just can’t manage to think on that scale right now. My goals these days are very, very small: finding some space during the full-to-capacity Class Piano class that I teach on Mon/Wed to stop and breathe and drink some water. Sending an email that is short and to the point instead of spending hours drafting and re-drafting a series of explanations, justifications, or apologies. Listening instead of impatiently waiting my turn to talk. Letting the small moments be what they are instead of being in a rush. I don’t claim to be achieving all of these on any kind of a regular basis but sometimes they come through, and I notice, and I’m grateful.
One of the reasons that I was drawn to Alexander Technique in the first place was the absolute (and deceptive) simplicity of what I was learning. I have learned more about myself by getting in and out of chairs than I could ever have believed was possible. It’s one of the reasons it’s so hard to explain to other people: what did you do in class today? we…uh…lay down? and breathed? …okayyyyyyyyyy then. On the other hand, you get to be excited about sitting down and standing up, and what’s not to like about that? As you probably know if you’re reading this, all of those little silly things add up and one day your back suddenly starts to make sense to you and you’re not sure how it happened but it’s pretty darn cool. If you haven’t experienced this yet, well, I would be absolutely delighted to help you start that process.
When we talk about the Alexander Technique, we often use words like “freedom”, “ease”, “softening”, “releasing”, and so on. All of those are certainly part of the Technique and something that we can explore at every lesson! However, this website is full of pictures of rocks…not exactly what comes to mind when thinking “soft” or “release”. Why?
I like rocks – I have quite a lot of small ones in my collection and I am fortunate enough to be able to travel to some large ones (usually in the Utah desert) about once a year. I used rocks as a general theme for this AT site because it’s helpful to remember that while our bodies welcome ease and freedom, they also need support and balance. Rocks stand up for themselves and generally don’t need special tending, and most of them can withstand almost everything that the world throws at them. All of these are good qualities and ones that we can recognize and cultivate in ourselves.
At the 11th International Alexander Technique Congress in Chicago last month, I was extremely moved by the keynote speech that Roshi Joan Halifax gave. One of her key messages for years has been “strong back, soft front” – and we need both. It’s not enough to only have rigidity or only have releasing. Rocks can remind us that we are structural as well as soft, and the Alexander Technique can teach us to let both aspects coexist.
This article was published in the AmSAT Journal in Spring 2012. Copyright 2012 – Angeline LeLeux, all rights reserved, please ask me for permission to use quotes or excerpts.
Alexander Technique and New Music
If you’re interested in the Alexander Technique and would like to read more about it…
The Use of the Self, by F. M. Alexander: A short book by Alexander himself, in which he explains the Technique and the process he went through to discover his method. Alexander’s writing is thought-provoking and his explanations are thorough, but his writing style is fairly dense and generally requires a few re-reads.
Body Learning: An Introduction to the Alexander Technique, by Michael Gelb: A good balance between a history of the Technique and the author’s experiences with its application to his own life, including learning archery, juggling, and running.
How You Stand, How You Move, How You Live, by Missy Vineyard: A book that is equally valuable for beginning students and experienced teachers; the ideas behind the Technique are explained through case studies of various students and the progress of their lessons.
Body, Breath, and Being: A New Guide to the Alexander Technique, by Carolyn Nicholls
What Every Musician Needs To Know About The Body and How To Learn The Alexander Technique: A Manual For Students, by Barbara Conable