I’m a very lucky person in many ways, and one of the areas of my life in which I am most fortunate is my work. I love my job. I believe that teaching the Alexander Technique, helping people to improve their thinking, their movement, and their lives generally, is just the best job in the world.
One of the aspects of my job that I love most is meeting new students. Because I teach courses at a couple of different locations on a termly basis, I see groups of new students fairly regularly. In the past week, for example, I’ve met and worked with three new groups of people. Two of them were at the Folk House in Bristol, and the third was a group of students from the Young Actors Studio at Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.
One of the questions that I (and many of my colleagues) typically ask a new student when working with them for the first time is: “Is it okay if you change?” The range and variety of answers I hear to this question never fails to excite me. “Yes!” says one student. “NO,” says another in a decisive tone. “What?!” exclaims another. “What, my clothes?” asks another. “Hm, maybe…” says another. Lots of different answers.
In my class at Royal Welsh College last Sunday, one of my nw students countered my question with another question. The exchnge went like this:
Me: “Is it okay if you change?”
Student: “Ye- … Hang on. Why are you asking me that?! What’s that got to do with the Alexander Technique?”
Me: “That’s a brilliant question.” I turned to the group. “Why am I asking that question? And what’s it got to do with the Alexander Technique?”
And now I’m asking you: why do I ask if it’s okay if you change? I’ll give you a minute to think of an answer.
There. How did you go? There are all sorts of good reasons why I use the question. But the one that most intrigued my Cardiff students is the one I’m going to talk about today.
So why do I ask about change? Well, it all comes back to what my job is about. Most, if not all, teachers in the Interactive Teaching Method give a standard definition of the Alexander Technique as a part of the introductory class. We say that the Alexander Technique is the study of the relationship between thinking and movement. We talk about the fact that, physiologically speaking, thinking precedes and controls movement – you can’t have a movement without some sort of thinking happening first. Put very simply, this means that, if you want to change the way you move, you need to change the way you think.
If the Alexander Technique is about thinking and movement, and my students (on the whole) want to change something about the way they move, what’s my job? Well, my job in some sense is to help my students change, by encouraging them to change the way they think (or, as my Cardiff students would have it, to ‘mess with their heads’!).
This is what I try to do with that opening question ‘is it okay if you change?’ I want to start the process of change by prodding their thinking – their thinking about change.
My teenage students in Cardiff, I realised, on the whole don’t have a problem recognising change happens. Their lives are full of change: exams, fashion, music, college, university… Everything in their lives is constantly, and visibly, on the move. For the rest of us, change can be a far more slippery concept. We get up, we go to work. We come home. We eat, we sleep. We have hobbies or evening classes we like to go to. We watch the TV programmes we like. Our lives follow a broadly similar patterm. Change, if we think of it at all, becomes something almost to be feared.
When I explained this to my teenage students, their faces became very sad and serious. “But that’s terrible,” they said. “How could anyone live their life like that?”
The thing is – change happens. It happens to all of us. It is in the nature of life that things change. We can deny it, hide from it, dull our perception until we can’t see it any more, but it is still there. Change will happen. Either it happens with our passive consent, or with our active involvement. So why not open our eyes, use our minds, and work on what Alexander calls “the never-ending intellectual problem of constructive control, which, instead of destroying, develops the interest and general intellectual pleasure in even…ordinary acts”?*
So… Is it okay if you change?
*FM Alexander, Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual in the Irdeat collection edition, p.308.