4 Alexander Technique tips for learning new skills


If your New Year’s Resolution involved learning a new skill or hobby, you might want to consider FM Alexander’s advice for learning something new.

It’s a fairly classic New Year’s resolution, isn’t it? “This year I’m going to learn…” And the skill could be anything: knitting, pottery, scuba diving, extreme ironing… And people have any number of reasons for wanting to learn new things. One of my favourite blog writers, piano teacher Elissa Milne, on a recent blog post even recommended learning a new skill to help teachers understand their students’ struggles better. And whether the activity is knitting or potholing, the Alexander Technique can help you to learn faster and more effectively (as Mark Josefsberg, a New York-based teacher, recently wrote about).

Me and FM on bicycles

FM wrote about bicycles. He said, “I have personal knowledge of a person who, by employing the principles of conscious control which I advocate, mounted and rode a bicycle down-hill without mishap on the first attempt, and on the second day rode 30 miles out and 30 miles back through normal traffic.” * An impressive feat.

Last year I learned to ride a bicycle. My parents tried to teach me to ride a bike when I was young, but for a mixture of practical reasons it never really worked out (gravel path, sloping ground, creek at bottom of slope…). But it has always felt like unfinished business, and even more so when my husband and son started going out on cycle rides and leaving me behind!

So I got some lessons. While I wasn’t as quick off the mark as FM’s friend (in my defence, the traffic is heavier now than in 1912!), it was the experience of my teacher that I was progressing faster than her students normally did, and that I was pre-empting her next teaching point by my questions at the end of each exercise she gave me.

The secret?

How did I and FM’s friend achieve what we did? Here is what FM wrote:

“the principles involved were explained to him and he carefully watched an exhibition, first analysing the actions and the “means-whereby,” then reproducing them on a clearly apprehended plan.” **

So these are FM’s steps to learning something new:

  1. listen to the teacher explaining the principles involved in the activity
  2. watch carefully
  3. analyse the actions and the protocols involved. In bike-riding, for example, which joints are involved in the peddling action? Which parts move first?
  4. make a plan for how YOU are going to do that protocol, and only then give it a go.

If you try these steps, you will discover that your ability to learn is increased, and your fears and worries about learning decreased in equal measure. And me? Well, I’m not the world’s best cyclist by any means, but I can do it without falling off, and I have a lot of fun. And that, surely, is the whole point!

What new skills are you going to learn this year?

*FM Alexander, Man’s Supreme Inheritance in the Irdeat Complete edition, p.130f.
** ibid., p.131.
Image by Roland Gardiner, stock.xchng

How long does it take to learn the Alexander Technique?


“How long does it take to learn the Alexander Technique?”

This was one of the questions that I was asked at the beginning of my group class at Bristol Folk House last night. I love my Folk House students for many reasons. One of them is that they aren’t afraid to ask the questions that I know every student is thinking, but few are game enough to put into words.

It’s a great question, but it needed some clarification. “What do you mean?” I asked.

My student replied that he felt he was having some success in applying what he was learning in class to his everyday life, but he wanted to know how long it would take to be able to do the Alexander Technique really well, and do it all by himself.

Now, my student is expecting a certain type of answer to this question, probably either a time-related answer (x number of months) or an answer about application (depends on how much you practice). Instead, I asked a question in return, and asked the class to answer it. How about you have a go, too!


How long does it take to learn the violin?


I’ll give you a moment to think of your answer.


Got one? Great! We’ll continue. 🙂

My Folk House students gave answers like these:

·        It depends on how good you want to be

·        That’s relative, depending on how much you practice

·        Learning is a constantly evolving process, so you’re always learning

And all of these answers are, on one level, true. How quickly you progress in anything does depend on the quality and frequency of your practice. And learning is indeed a constantly evolving process. But if we settle for these answers, when will be finished learning how to play the violin?


My Folk House students didn’t look happy with this answer, and neither am I. Never is an unhappy word.

So what if we turned this on its head? Try this for size. As soon as we know that if we pluck or draw a bow across the string of the violin, and that we can change the note by changing the length of the string, we can play the violin. Everything else is refinement.

Can you see that this way of looking at the issue is instantly empowering? A couple of basic facts, and we have the basic tools to go away and work the rest out entirely by ourselves, if we choose to. How fantastic!

The Alexander Technique is no different. In fact, FM Alexander believed that we need to do this stuff for ourselves. Many sources quote him as saying “You can do what I do, if you do what I did.” And what FM did was to work it all out for himself.

As soon as we know that a change in the relationship between our head and our body can make a difference to our freedom and ease of motion; once we understand the power and effectiveness that lies in stopping the unnecessary stuff that is getting in our way; then we have enough basic knowledge to go away and do the Alexander Technique for ourselves.

Everything else is refinement.

Image by Bethany Carlson, stock.xchng