I recently spent a week at the 10th International Alexander Technique Congress in Limerick Ireland. It happens only once every 3 years in different locations across the globe. Seven hundred Alexander technique teachers whose life’s work is the study and practice of poise and physical openness. It felt a bit strange at first – everyone around you moving gracefully with ease, tall and poised, enjoying the scenery, smiling and greeting you authentically. But soon it became completely natural to just smile right back and lengthen up with everyone else.
The congress is ingeniously diverse in means for exchange of knowledge: Plenary lectures, with the big shots speaking to everyone; continuous learning sessions, with master teachers sharing their secrets; individual workshops given by teachers of all levels of experience, and last but certainly not least a dawn-to-dusk exchange hall, with teachers working hands-on one-on-one with each other.
Amongst the presentations, I was particularly inspired by the work with kids. Take Gal Ben-Or for example who works with kids of all ages, from infants to teens. He described years observing and working with kids at work and play. Gal’s tip: “never, never, never tell your kids to sit up straight.” (the alternative I will leave for another blog). Also inspiring was Jeando Masoero from France, who has improved school kids posture in weeks with a few simple cues to learn despite the fact that it is against the law to touch kids therapeutically in French schools (!) His trick? Take the time to present good posture as a formidable, compelling challenge for the child to embrace rather than as something they “should do”. In the end, teachers agreed that the largest problem is with the adults, who not only stick kids in chairs all day, but also inadvertently demonstrate bad posture for kids to imitate.
There was also talk of scientific developments. Like many whole body methods (Pilates, Feldenkrais, Tai chi, to name a few), Alexander technique challenges the limits of scientific understanding. Scientists are still struggling to understand whole body movement and postural patterns, let alone prescribe specific methods for improvement. And yet some scientists are making headway – such as Tim Cacciatore who has measured and suggested explanations for the fundamentally different patterns of postural coordination in Alexander teachers. His concept of “dynamic tone” to explain good postural support is fascinating (and will require another blog to explore). Check out his article here .
Such a congress also highlights the fact that Alexander teachers are a pretty well educated bunch. Galen Kranz, Alexander teacher and professor at the Berkely school of environmental design shared her vision of bringing “the unified self back into the classroom and workplace.” (Her classic book “The Chair: Rethinking Culture, Body, and Design” is a great read. ) Meanwhile, Ted Dimon, Alexander teacher, Harvard PhD., and lecturer at Columbia teachers college took the stage in an impassioned call for a new model of the psychophysical self. It seemed that everywhere I turned I was bumping into another PhD.
But what most inspired me was the diversity in the Alexander technique world both in methodology and concepts. In my first workshop, with Canadian teacher David Goreman, we played simple games that almost miraculously make standing taller and moving easier happen “by itself”. No straining exercises, no magic hands of a therapist. Just simple movements and simple thinking resulting in seemingly effortless length and ease. (I will present these games in my upcoming workshop “Effortless Alignment”.) In contrast, my last workshop with English Alexander master Peter Ribeaux (50 years teaching and going stronger than ever) we forcefully pulled, pushed, massaged, and otherwise inflicted pain on each other in search of better integrated spines. Believe or not, that works too. (I’ll show you what I mean if you catch me in the studio). Goreman and Ribeaux may each strongly disagree with each other and yet it is fascinating to notice the unifying threads in their work – poise, efficiency, and liveliness in posture and support.
Ultimately, the congress renewed my belief in Alexander technique as a rich and effective mix of ideas and methodologies for improving overall postural health, liveliness, and alertness. A pity to have to wait another 3 years to do get together with my colleagues again.