How do you measure progress as a student of the Alexander Technique? In a previous post I mentioned the moving dot. But it’s long overdue time for another sort of measurement.
So let me unroll a scenario:-
A new student begins Alexander lessons. The teacher introduces a big, central Alexander idea, it could well be ‘stopping unnecessary muscle tension’(*) . The student is perplexed, but they keep thinking about it. The teacher does more hands-on work, over a few more lessons. Then the student has a lightning flash of understanding:-
“That’s what stopping unnecessary muscle tension is!!!!”
Happy teacher, happy student.
The weeks pass, and lessons move on to other big, central Alexander ideas. The student keeps thinking, keeps working, and keeps improving. Then, one day, ‘stopping unnecessary muscle tension’ comes up again. The student has a lightning flash of understanding:-
“That’s what stopping unnecessary muscle tension is!!!!!!!!!”
Like the first time. But with even more exclamation marks. Because what the student has just discovered is not the same as the first time. It is like the first time BUT EVEN MORE SO. Even more loose and free. Even more simple to carry out. Even more different from their usual way of working. Even bigger. Even emptier. Even weirder.
If you are wondering what the muffled thumping noise is in the background, that’s the sound of the student beating themselves up.
“how could I have been so stupid!”
“I’ve learnt nothing!”
“I thought I HAD stopped the unnecessary muscle tension!”
Happy teacher, unhappy student. Because the student has taken this as a sign of failure, while the teacher knows it to be a sign of progress.
The important shape for this sort of progress is a helix. You go around a loop of the helix. It brings you back to the first point, but at a higher level. The newness and strangeness of the same old idea is your reward for all the hard work you’ve put in since you last considered it.
SAME IDEA + NEW UNDERSTANDING = PROGRESS
If you don’t believe me, believe Alexander. He writes, “our psycho-physical plan of development must be fundamentally one of continuous growth and of new experiences, and consequently we never reach the point when we may be said to finish learning.”(**) Nowhere does he say that the new experiences have to be about new things. The central ideas of the Technique are central for a reason, because we keep coming back to them. And each time it will be different.
(*) but it could be any of the central ideas
(**) FM Alexander, Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual, IRDEAT edition p.391