Why is the Alexander Technique not better known?

A report from the special interest interpersonal group. By Nicola Hanefeld, PhD.

Group members: Polly Waterfield, MSAT, David Harrowes, MSTAT, Richard Casebow, MSTAT, Doris Prügel-Bennett, MSTAT, Penny Spawforth, Nicola Hanefeld, overseas MSTAT.

On 5 November 2021 members of the group met to discuss why the Alexander Technique is not better known. Each person shared in this meeting five points why they think this is the case. This was the third time we had addressed the topic; the following is therefore a summary of 4 ½ hours discussion to summarise these points and pinpoint common ground.

a) Communication issues

The first commonality that we all shared was the inkling that we do not, as teachers of the Alexander Technique, always develop skills to address people’s needs and treat (potential) clients as (potential) customers. We suggested that it can be easy to expect (potential) customers/clients to align with us instead of us respecting ‘where people are coming from’. Due to the broad nature of our work which addresses how people do what they do (or as one member of the group said ‘the Alexander Technique is a means whereby for everything…‘) it is difficult to succinctly name the benefits of taking lessons. Everyone has different needs and, as another group member shared, within a few days he had helped a person to avoid sciatica while putting on a coat and another deal with bereavement. These two issues are miles apart and yet applying the principles of the Alexander Technique to both situations was appropriate. We know and understand that (as insiders) but how do we convey that to outsiders? Our competitors do publicity better than we do! On the topic of how we communicate our work, there was consensus within the group that it would be important to be able to share with people who are interested in taking lessons how it also relates to what is happening in the world. Especially a world that appears to many of us as being out of kilter at present.

b) The past

There was furthermore consensus within the group that we relate more than necessary to Alexander as a person and to the past, which involves getting tangled with FM’s (outdated) value system and associated issues. This we felt might have to do with teacher training culture which can possibly sometimes include authoritarian structures. Doubt was expressed that all people emerging from training to become a teacher of the Alexander Technique feel confident and well-equipped to become part of the profession. Might there be a case to review some aspects of how teachers are trained?

c) We’re not part of the mainstream narrative

Regarding the society we live in… we agreed that the Technique runs counter to the current line and is ‘radical’. It’s not a quick fix, we don’t give people things to do; it’s a different way of thinking and being. Psycho-physical education crosses boundaries and is not mainstream. We don’t fit into the societal compartments that are readily available and are established within our society. We are not exercise, we are not mindfulness, we are not treatment. This also makes marketing a challenging issue. Psycho-physical re-education does not split the mind from the body, but we struggle with that because it is a distinction otherwise familiar to outsiders although this separation does not exist in real life. Our culture and health care systems suggest otherwise (eg. psychotherapy, physical exercise, mindfulness, bodywork, somatic practice, psycho-somatic illnesses, etc.) This is a philosophical, cultural and language issue silently permeating our work making it difficult to understand and articulate the holistic realm we address.

d) Marketing issues

Regarding marketing: each teacher is important and how s/he presents her/himself as part of the current (and not past) zeitgeist. AT teachers often have websites that are not search-engine optimised and are not using a ‘solving problems language’ - not defining what people can buy and ‘get’ through their website and by taking lessons. That is not a customer-friendly approach. We are part of a patchwork family (CAM – complementary and alternative methods) potentially solving certain problems that mainstream healthcare does not address. Historically, we’ve tended to side-line ourselves to ‘somewhere else‘ –

The questions we had were:

-       how do we find the ‘unlocked doors’ to people who are potentially ready and open for the work?

-       do we need to become humbler and part of the CAM team?

-       Are we networking enough with other groups and societies, for example, as is happening with the society for hypermobility?

We need to help people to move towards what the AT has on offer… We have historically focused on the education content of AT which has not been conducive financially to establishing the Technique as a profession and attracting people to train. Learning the Technique needs work, time, effort and money on part of the individual. The AT is expensive and mostly non-refundable. Contrast Switzerland, and maybe other countries as well, where health insurers will pay. A suggestion as to what we are: LifeCoaches using an embodied approach. Occupying niches helps to sell lessons and get new customers… that is why AT in the drama and music world is successful and an acknowledged approach. We agree that 1:1 teaching is the most effective, but group work can spread the message more.

e) The challenge of change

The change that taking lessons can initiate in people’s lives can be a challenge to people learning the AT. Change can be threatening, ‘coming back to ourselves’ and the vulnerability of being human can be uncomfortable. People sense they ‘should’ change their habits (see the climate catastrophe) but unconscious guilt about not changing could be a hindrance to deciding to take lessons.

Why don’t we talk (more) to our friends and relatives about the work we do, our professions? We devoted a further final 1.5-hour session in December 2021 to discussing why the Alexander Technique is not better known by asking ourselves that single question.

Again, the difficulties about communicating what the Alexander Technique is about was something group members had in common. One member of the group shared that a short, powerful introduction to the AT is missing; he’d like a lucid, brief description rooted in relatable experience. His observation is that when people hear the words ‘Alexander Technique’ friends tend to adjust their posture and sit up straight. This behaviour seems to echo the (one-sided) physical emphasis with which the AT has become associated in society. Additionally, any efforts towards friends regarding speaking about the nature of psycho-physical education runs the risk of criticising them. There are challenges to verbalising the holistic nature of our work.

Another member of the group shared that she has the assumption that people are looking for ‘quick fixes’ but the AT is, as we know, a long-term approach. If people are looking for quick fixes (symptom reduction) offering a friend AT lessons might lead to disappointment. Because the AT is a whole system approach it addresses the larger context of someone’s life but that is a fine line to walk with friends and family. Two members of the group shared that they hesitate to speak about the AT because of the financial side of taking lessons. Sales pitches to friends are inappropriate.

An alternative approach here is embodying and living the work in the hope that that will create interest especially among friends who are already on paths of personal change and development. Avoiding being on a mission to spread the ‘Alexander word’ with humility and acknowledging that the AT is only one method among many and respecting other disciplines seems important. An offer when and where appropriate‚‘I think I can help with that‘ is nevertheless one way of getting friends and acquaintances interested in taking lessons.

Not wanting to impose upon friends is also a reason one group member shared about why they don’t speak about the AT more often. If an attempt is made to share what this work is about but people don’t ‘get it‘ - that is a reason to let go and stop trying to clarify. That little language is available for explaining about ‘meeting people where they are’ summarises the conundrum group members have regarding speaking about the AT with friends and family. A conflict of interest was also mentioned. That is, the psychological and social roles between us as a family member or friend would change if working with family or friends. We as friends would shift to being teachers and the friend or family member into a pupil. That would require a psychological shift for both parties, which in turn would prompt a variety of consequences on the work, such as a different kind of relationship with a hierarchy of teacher and pupil.

A final approach was shared by a member of the group is akin to ‘planting seeds of interest‘ when appropriate. This means being aware, listening carefully to what people share about themselves and their lives and taking opportunities for ‘seed planting’. This sometimes leads to ‘germination’ and someone will ask to take lessons sometime later.

The gist of these six hours of discussion is: there is much work to be done around how we communicate the benefits of taking lessons in the Alexander Technique.

When you stop doing the wrong thing, the right thing does itself.

F.M. Alexander

We must be the change we wish to see in the world.

Mahatma Gandhi

Just as you have the impulse to do something, stop.

Early Zen scripture

No problem can ever be solved by the same consciousness that created it.

Albert Einstein

Practice non-doing, and everything will fall into place.

Lao-tzu

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