How I teach

See how I teach Sit-to-Stand

See how I teach habits of walking

Watch the process of breath work

 



   
left: a Lesson from Elisabeth right: Elisabeth mentors Judy

 

My new focus on mentoring Alexander teachers

After 30 years as a Senior Faculty member at ACAT-NYC, where my focus was training future teachers of the Alexander Technique, I have decided to expand my practice to mentoring newly trained AT teachers. 3 years of intensive AT training prepare a person to launch a practice, but there is an ongoing need for in depth training as teachers encounter the challenges of private practice. My forte has been mentoring teachers informally for many years. I enjoy helping less experienced teachers solve teaching problems and increase their hands on and verbal skills.

The information you are about to read applies at every level of learning, to students, teachers in training, and especially experienced teachers looking for new ways to engage their students and enrich their teaching skills. My mentoring style is reflected in the concepts described below.


The Challenge of Teaching Directional Thought

Many students, even more advanced students, are confused about the meaning of .. "allow the head to move forward and up". Taken literally, this direction suggests putting one’s head in a place or position. It’s almost like a command. Better language to use includes what not to do, and is best provided initially by the teacher’s hands on the student and the student’s consent to do less. There are many directional thoughts like this that are open to misinterpretation.

 

The phrases I use to impart directional thinking include:

  • "allow me to move you ..."
  • "soften your knees"
  • “lead with your fingertips”
  • “balance your head delicately on the top of your spine”

Such phrases bring the student’s attention to habit and a new possibility: a new kinaesthetic awareness.


Metaphor and Imagery

I often find that imagery and metaphor are clearer and more precise when teaching than literal language.

For example:

  • On the table: "attach marionette strings to your forehead, cheek bones, and chin allow your face to float to the ceiling"
  • Standing: "allow your arms to move away from the torso as if floating in water"
  • Standing: “imagine your head as a helium-filled balloon floating in the air with your spine dangling like a string with curves"
  • On the table: "allow your torso to melt onto the table like pancake batter spreading out in a frying pan"

Using such expressions, engaging the imagination, encourages the student to pause and not give an immediate muscular response to my verbal directions. Imagery and metaphor seem to engage the whole person, to engage the whole organism and create an authentic physiological response. Of course, appropriate choice of imagery is essential and individual to each student.

Teaching is an interactive process

The brilliance of the AT is that it requires shared responsibility between teacher and student.  The model is in essence non-didactic and self-exploratory. I believe that exploring one’s habits is always delicate and that asking students to describe their experience is more effective than telling them how they should or do feel. A policy of open inquiry is vital to the self-exploratory model. For example:

  • "What do you notice?"
  • "Do you notice a difference in your two legs?"
  • “Has your breath quieted?”

These phrases indicate the dynamic aspects of the teaching relationship. The student’s responses guide the lesson as the kinaesthetic learning progresses. The same question at a more advanced stage of learning can elicit a new response and lead to deeper understanding and the ability to use the AT for oneself. The answers lead us into the lesson in a fuller way; “what do you notice?” is an open question but “what is the quality of the musculature?” is more specific and can lead to a discussion of excess muscle tension vs. appropriate muscle tone. The result is a change in the resting lengths of muscles. Muscles have two very important roles. The first and most obvious is that they move us about the planet. The second is more subtle-- muscles store our emotions. Therefore when our muscles lengthen and ease in a lesson, our emotions often emerge unexpected and rich with meaning. It can be laughter or tears, a recollection or a visual memory; all of these experiences are evidence of the profound link between the mind and the body.

The student’s curiosity is sparked by the teacher’s questions inside the experiential activity. Being spontaneous as a teacher can enable me to use the teaching moment as a jumping off point to a deeper more meaningful experience. The rare moment when the learning becomes more universal and matches the student’s interests in other realms is the most exciting time in a lesson. These moments occur at the most unexpected times. They are precious and memorable to the student, and as a teacher these moments are remarkable to witness.

I believe in the self-exploratory model of teaching. If students discover habits and make changes themselves, the lesson is sustainable in daily life.


How a Lesson Begins

I usually begin the lesson by asking an open ended question like “how was your week?” There is no lesson plan - no agenda other than to find the link in the moment to what is alive for the student. I then weave that alive interest into the day’s learning. The learning is relevant and the student's immediate concerns are addressed. Again it is clear that the lessons are a dialogue between student and teacher. Because every student is unique the teacher must develop the ability to be a keen observer and to seize the moment where the learning can begin. I call this the “teaching moment ".

 
The Mind-Body Relationship

I believe the concept of the integrated mind/body  is now an accepted fact, and is the basis of  all health and well-being. The AT is a method for addressing the inevitable “dis”integration that occurs over a lifetime of poor “use”. It’s rare that a thought happens without some muscular manifestation, often below our level of awareness. My knowledge of anatomy and physiology helps me clarify for the student the subtle connections between our thinking and our physical selves:

  • I make the connections between excess muscular tension and pain.
  • I touch the bony structures of the skeleton, e.g., the shoulder girdle, using anatomy as a kinaesthetic learning device.

How I use myself in the lesson

My ability to stay with my own directional thinking is an ongoing process in my life. Once we are engaged in the teaching process, the student’s new experience of direction is completely dependent upon my ability to think with direction. Direction is a renewable resource, and is the reason we teachers continue to study the AT. Ideally, "you give one, you get one". After the lesson the teacher should feel as renewed as the student.

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Teaching Sit-to-Standooooooooooooooooooooo Teachinig habits of walkingoooooooooooooooooo Teaching breath work

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