Big questions: will I ever be able to do Alexander Technique myself?

"Can I ever do Alexander Technique myself?" Can I have the independence of this flying white ibis?

Today’s post is another instalment in my occasional series on the Big Questions that beginning students very often ask me. Last time I talked about the sorts of homework I give students to do between Alexander Technique lessons. We learned that, yes, there is homework, and that what I typically give people to do are tasks that blend the physical and mental aspects of the Technique.

This week I want to talk about the question that every student wants to ask me, but that few have the courage to put into words: will I ever be able to do Alexander Technique myself? Will I ever be good enough that I won’t need lessons any more?

The creator’s view

FM Alexander, the creator of what we now call the Alexander Technique, was very clear on this point. In the preface of his very first book he wrote:

I wish to do away with such teachers as I am myself. My place in the present economy is due to a misunderstanding of the causes of our present physical disability, and when this disability is finally eliminated the specialized practitioner will have no place, no uses. [1]

Alexander wanted to be so successful in getting people thinking and moving more efficiently that he wanted to remove the need for his own profession! This means that you – and your teacher – should be aiming for independence. You really should be aiming to be able to carry on the processes that enable you to change your thinking and movement by yourself. Alexander couldn’t be more clear.

How far do you want to go? Levels of proficiency.

While Alexander is clear that he wants us all to be able to do this for ourselves, as a teacher I also have to be mindful of what the student wants. When a student says to me, “I want to be able to do Alexander Technique myself,” they could mean a number of things. One student might consider themselves satisfied at a point where another student feels they are just beginning their journey. Let’s think of it in terms of ‘levels of proficiency’.

I once had a student who came for lessons for constant back pain. After six lessons she decided she was better and didn’t need more lessons. She was happy; she only got back pain if she hoovered, and she could get her boyfriend to do that. That particular student had reached a sufficient level of proficiency for her own purposes.

By contrast, I have also had students who have decided they wanted to train to become Alexander Technique teachers. They felt that in order to really be able to ‘do’ Alexander Technique at the level they desired, they needed the in-depth study that teacher training provides.

Which students were doing it right? They all were. They made a decision about what being able to ‘do Alexander Technique myself’ meant, and then stuck with it. This means that you too may need to decide if you have a specific stopping place in mind. At what point will you be satisfied?

Continuing development

Even students who feel that they have progressed to a high level of independence and proficiency sometimes come back for occasional lessons. In the music world this is considered completely normal. Even top-flight soloists will see a teacher occasionally, just for a bit of external input.

I have more than one student who will come back every few months when they get stuck, or just feel they could use some extra input. And some students don’t come back for a physical lesson: one student tweeted me out of the blue after a gap of several years, to ask me a very specific question. I tweeted a reply; they replied that it was exactly the help they needed, and went away happy!

Independence to interdependence

This work is designed to promote, as FM Alexander put it, “continuous individual cultivation of fundamental, constructive conscious control of the human psycho-physical organism and its potentialities.” [2] I would suggest that recognition of the interdependence of people is a fundamental part of this cultivation of our conscious control. No person is an island. It is absolutely true that you can do this work for yourself – that’s how Alexander designed it. But don’t forget that there is a power and strength in recognising if/when you need an extra pair of eyes and a different viewpoint to help you out. When you’re at that point, I’m ready and waiting to help.

[1] Alexander, F.M., Man’s Supreme Inheritance, NY, Irdeat, 1997, p.5.

[2] Alexander, F.M., Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual, NY, Ireat, 1997, p.391.

Image by Charles J Sharp / CC BY-SA (