Big questions: are Alexander Technique lessons expensive? Why not?

Are Alexander Technique lessons expensive?

I noticed a conversation on Twitter recently where two friends were discussing Alexander Technique lessons. One had just been for a lesson and enjoyed it, but was not likely to go back. They both agreed that it was ‘too expensive’.

This got me thinking: are Alexander Technique lessons expensive, and if so, why? And are they really ‘too expensive’? I’ve got three reasons why lessons cost money, and I’ve got a challenge to your thinking. Are you ready?! Read on…

Alexander Technique teachers are professionals

Good Alexander Technique teachers are professionals who have worked very hard to be qualified, and who continue to work hard to improve their skills.

I trained for four years part time. Others from different training schools train for three years part time, but under a different scheduling structure. That’s a lot of time. I learned FM Alexander’s books inside out. I gained a good grounding in basic anatomy and psychology. I learned hands-on techniques and many other vital teaching skills. I had to pass a slew of exams, including a practical exam, and log a large number of training lessons.

I hold public liability insurance and professional indemnity insurance. I am the member of a professional teachers’ association, and I have registered under the voluntary regulator the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), because this ensures that my students know that I keep to high publicly-available standards. I am also a member of a union (Equity) and am a registered practitioner with the British Association of Performing Arts Medicine (BAPAM). I am required by both my professional association and CNHC (voluntary regulator) to do Continuing Professional Development every year.

Most teachers charge much the same rate per hour as a music teacher. I admit to charging a little more, but I have a fair few years of teaching experience behind me, as well as professional theatre training and music training. When it comes to working with performers or dealing with performance nerves, I really know what I’m talking about.

Most wouldn’t think twice about paying the same to a chiropractor, a massage therapist or an osteopath. When FM Alexander moved to England from Australia in 1904, he charged the same as a Harley Street professional, because he wanted his clients to take his lessons seriously. Some people pay significantly more on a regular basis to have their hair cut or their nails done! When you consider the training and expertise that you recruit when you come to a teacher, Alexander Technique lessons start to look like pretty good value for money.

We are in the business of improvement.

We’re not in the business of making people feel good. We also aren’t concerned with dealing with the structural after-effects of injury or trauma. I can’t necessarily speak for others, but as an AT teacher I help people to learn how to use themselves more effectively. I help them be more efficient so that their minds and bodies are better integrated, their movement easier, and their wellbeing greater. In short, I help people stop pulling themselves around in all the little ways that don’t cause any pain or harm in themselves, but when added together and done consistently over time can lead to a whole bunch of trouble.

I just don’t know of any other discipline that can help you learn to use your body more efficiently no matter what situation you find yourself in. It might be tempting to spend the money on a new pair of high heels; it’s a professional like me who can help you to walk in heels so that you look stunningly elegant.

We want you to be independent.

And I do this in a series of lessons. If you have clear goals and apply yourself between lessons, you can learn quickly and the number of lessons you need will likely be few. It’s part of my job to get you to be able to reason your own way through any situation you find yourself in, so that you can succeed with style and panache. Some of my students come, learn what they need, and then go away and apply it. Others come more regularly, or over a longer period, because they find value in continued self improvement. As with any other service, you take what you need.

My challenge to you.

In short, I’m a professional, trained and under (voluntary) regulation. I work hard to help my students prevent the poor physical use that leads to strain injuries and other related nastiness. I help them succeed and feel free to be more creative, whether on a stage or at their office desk. And I help them feel more in control of themselves and their lives. Some of my students have 1:1 Alexander Technique lessons; some come to groups; some learn via Skype. All of them improve and grow.

But only you can decide if you value your wellbeing, your daily activities, and your beloved pastimes enough to bear the expense.

It’s up to you.

The ‘me’ problem – why people start Alexander Technique

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Last week I told you how the beginnings of the Alexander Technique were to be found in threatened passion. FM had a passion for acting and reciting, and when he was threatened with the loss of the career that he loved, he decided to take the bold step of solving his problems for himself.

I was pretty similar to FM, in that the thing that got me started on my Alexander Technique journey was threatened passion.

I was 22, newly married, starting a postgrad degree in a new country, discovering cooking and new groups of recorder enthusiasts to play with, and finding a whole new world of knitting yarns and patterns. I was also a long way from home and everything that had been familiar and supportive, and trying to make the best of the tremendous career opportunities I had been given. Life was both incredibly exciting and astonishingly stressful.

When my arms and wrists started hurting when I used the computer or knitted, at first I ignored it. But when the discomfort increased, I went to the doctor for help. That was the beginning of my journey to doctors, specialists, physiotherapists, osteopaths and goodness knows how many other health practitioners. None of them solved the issue. Sometimes I got some temporary relief, but then I’d do more research on the computer, or play another concert, and it would be back worse than ever.

I stopped playing recorder. It hurt too much. Then I stopped knitting. Same reason. Then I got told to rest my arms completely for six weeks. No computer (while writing a thesis!) and no cooking. Not even tying shoelaces was allowed.

My life was getting smaller and smaller. And somehow I knew that the reason why medical solutions weren’t helping me was because I didn’t have a medical problem. I had a Me problem. There was something about the way I was doing the things I was doing that was causing my problems.

And that was where FM Alexander began. He asked exactly that question of his doctor:

 

‘Is it not fair, then,’ I asked him, ‘to conclude that it was something I was doing that evening in using my voice that was the cause of the trouble?’ *

 

FM suspected that there was something about the way he was using his voice that was problematic. I suspected there was something about the way I was using my arms that was problematic. He studied himself in a mirror to work out what he was doing and how to stop it. I found an Alexander Technique teacher and started having lessons.

Is there something about the way that you are going about the activities you love that is causing you problems? What one step can you take today to begin change?

* FM Alexander, The Use of the Self in the Irdeat Complete Edition, p.412.
Image by Steve Ford

The final straw – Why have Alexander Technique lessons?

Last week I wrote about how we could all learn from FM Alexander’s childhood trait of being incorrigibly inquisitive. One thing I mentioned was that the trait that got him excused from school for being disruptive in class, was in adult life the key to him doing the work that led to his creation of what we now call the Alexander Technique.

But why did FM develop his work? What was it that caused him to use that questioning nature?

Most people, if they have heard of FM at all, will probably know that he was an actor, and that he suffered from vocal troubles so severe that they threatened his career. When conventional treatment didn’t work, he began exploring and experimenting to try to solve the problems for himself.

So far, so good. We have the facts. But there is something missing.

Passion.

When FM wrote in 1932 about the creation of his work some 40 years previously, he began:

 

“From my early youth I took a delight in poetry and it was one of my chief pleasures to study the plays of Shakespeare, reading them aloud and endeavouring to interpret the characters.” *

 

For FM, acting and reciting wasn’t just a job. In fact, he gave up a well-paid and promising clerking career to tread the boards. Acting was his love.

And when his vocal troubles became severe, how did FM feel?

“My disappointment was greater than I can express, for it now seemed … that I should thus be forced to give up a career in which I had become deeply interested and believed I could be successful.” **

FM had a passion for acting, and his passion was threatened. That’s why he worked so hard, I think, to find a solution to his problems.

And it should strike a chord with us, because so often this is the reason why we become interested in Alexander’s work. I was prepared to put up with pain in my wrists, until I couldn’t knit or cook any more. One of my students put up with her difficulties – until it stopped her swimming.

Typically, we will put up with discomfort and things that block us from performing at our best, we will keep going in the face of limitation, we will soldier on… until our passion is threatened.

What is the one thing that you are not prepared to give up? At what point will you stop accepting limitations, and decide to begin the process of change and renewal?

* FM Alexander, The Use of the Self in the Irdeat Complete Edition, p.411.
** ibid., p.412.
Image by dan from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Alexander Technique and Singing: Process, not Product

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This is the story of my most recent singing lesson, where I learned once again the vital importance of the Alexander Technique’s emphasis on process, not product. It mirrors very neatly the experience of a delightful colleague of mine, Bill Plake, playing his saxophone. When you finish my article, swing on by and read his.

I have been having singing lessons for a few years now. I am lucky that my teacher, Gerald, has had Alexander Technique lessons, and knows the books of FM Alexander fairly well.

At my most recent lesson, we began, as always, with some exercises. Gerald played the notes that he wished me to sing. I sang them. We did this, going up the scale a little way. Then Gerald paused, and thought for a moment. He didn’t tell me that what I had done was wrong. Gerald almost never does this. Rather, he asked me to do the exercise again, but with one vital difference. He asked me to sing the notes with my fingers in my ears.

At first, I didn’t want to do it. A stubborn streak in me resisted, whether from vanity or a deep-seated suspicion of trickery. But I trust Gerald, so I sighed, put my fingers in my ears as requested, listened hard to hear the notes from the piano, and then sang.

It was weird.

The sound I could hear inside my head was bizarre. I could barely hear the piano.  I couldn’t hear anything else at all – none of the sound of my own voice that I was used to hearing bouncing off the walls of Gerald’s teaching room. I had no idea at all if it sounded good, bad, indifferent, or downright awful. I didn’t even have feedback as to whether I was hitting the right notes. So I just sang.

The experience was completely discombobulating and yet strangely clarifying all at the same time. The sound feedback I was getting from inside my own head was thoroughly unfamiliar and it was tempting to be carried away by the shock of it.

At the same time, though, I realised that the removal of all my usual markers for how I was singing was freeing me. There was nothing pretty to listen to. So all I could do was think about the process of what I was trying to do. I was thinking just about the note, the vowel, and the breath. It was astonishingly, daringly simple. It couldn’t possibly sound any good. Could it?

Then I looked at Gerald. He was smiling. This is a good sign.

I still don’t really know how it actually sounded. Gerald was pleased, though, and that’s good enough for me. But that isn’t the point.

The point of the story: complete commitment, total detachment

What I learned last singing lesson was a practical demonstration of what I talked about in my blog Banishing Stage Fright with the Jazzmen, part 2. I learned about the primary importance of process over product.

You can’t directly control product. It just doesn’t work. Product is of its very nature the outcome of some sort of process. So if you want to make the product as good as possible, the only real choice you’ve got is to work on the process.

FM Alexander put it this way: “where the ‘means-whereby’ are right for the purpose, desired ends will come. They are inevitable… We should reserve all thought, energy and concern for the means whereby we may command the manner of their coming.”*

What FM Alexander asks for is no less than this: complete commitment to the process, and total detachment from the outcome.

Of course, it is easy to say this in theory. But it quite another to experience it in practice.

So I have a challenge for you: can you find one situation this week where you can make an attempt at complete commitment to process, and total detachment from the outcome? Tell me what it is in the comments!

FM Alexander, The Universal Constant in Living, in the IRDEAT edition, p.587.