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 (

Big questions: how hard will I have to work between Alexander Technique lessons?

This is my audio download album image - a great way to guide your work between Alexander Technique lessons.

Today I’m once more returning to my occasional series on the Big Questions that beginning students very often ask me. Last time I addressed the issue of exercises. We learned that if you come to me for lessons (either in person or by Skype), I won’t necessarily give you exercises to do between lessons in the way that we normally think of them. I do, however, give people things to do. So what constitutes work between Alexander Technique lessons, and how hard will it be?

Work between Alexander Technique lessons is physical AND mental

Last time I wrote that:

Alexander Technique, because it is about the mental as well as the physical, is really not going to be a best-fit with ‘move some limbs around while checking social media’ types of movement. Some mental focus is likely to be needed![1]

We always need to remember that the Alexander Technique is a psycho-physical process. As FM Alexander wrote in 1923,

We all think and act (except when forced to do otherwise) in accordance with the peculiarities of our particular psycho-physical make-up.[2]

This means that if we want to make a change to what we are doing physically, it is a good idea to work on improving the mental as well as the physical aspects of the activity. Indeed, we are unable to change the physical without changing the mental! This being so, working on what and how we think is a vital part of the way we improve.

This means that even the more apparently physical things that I give my students to do between lessons are actually not purely physical – you have to put in (a little bit of) mental focus. However, because I also know that a little bit of focus goes a long way, I always say to my beginning students that I’m only asking for a maximum of two minutes a day – and they don’t even need to be sequential!

Examples of work between Alexander lessons: what do my students do?

The following are examples of some of the things that I may give my students to work on between lessons. Some of them are games. Some are experiments. One or two are designed to be done regularly and may surprise people who think of me as a very non-traditional Alexander Technique teacher. Everything that I give a student to do, however, is given because it is relevant to that student’s present situation and their learning goals. All experiments, games, practices and homework are tailored to the individual.

With that idea in mind, here are some of the favourites:

The 50% less game

Can you do a particular activity with half the effort? One that works well with pens, shopping trolleys, buggies and toothbrushes (no death grip, please!). It is to be used with caution in the kitchen, and with extreme caution when behind the wheel of the car.

Movements to play with

I will often run through the different types of motion possible in certain joints. I then encourage my student to work on isolating each movement. This not only helps with disciplining thinking – it can be surprising tricky to move just one joint in one particular plane – but also gives practice for when students go into activity. For example, a violin student who has worked on the difference between their acromio-clavicular joint and their gleno-humeral joint is going to find it far easier to raise their violin to a playing position.

Giving directions without attempting to do them

I will often suggest that my students follow Alexander’s example, and try giving directions without attempting to do them. This mental practice gives you a more thorough knowledge of the protocol you’ve designed, so that it will be easier to take into activity.

Constructive Rest

This one might surprise some people. I do sometimes recommend a version of the traditional AT semi-supine, in which you lie on your back, with your knees in the air and your feet flat on the floor. I don’t recommend it for the rest – although I’m sure all of us feel like we could do with a rest occasionally – so much as for the thinking you can do while you’re there. Many of my students find it’s a great place to experiment with their shoulder muscles or their breathing.

Ideas and notions

A vague title for the collection of concepts and little things that come up that I suggest students might want to think about between lessons. This might be anything from ‘put the instrument down mentally as well as physically if you’re not playing it’ through to, ‘jaws go flappy-flappy’ (and yes, that is a direct quote from a recent class!).

As you can see, my students are not left without something to do after a lesson! But I always try to make the work between Alexander Technique lessons fun. After all, if something is fun, we’re more likely to want to do it.

Tools to help – my audio download series

If you’re between lessons or working on your own and you feel like you’d benefit from a little more guidance as you work, you could try out my audio download collection. It’s a series of tracks that talk you through some basic movements, such as going from sitting to standing, walking, and using a keyboard/mouse. It’s available from Bandcamp.


[2] Alexander, F.M., Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual, NY, Irdeat, 1997, p.304.