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