The Vault

The Dynamics of Communication

By Lizzie Atkinson

When Sue asked me to be a part of her team on 'Making Our Links with Children's Education I was amazed. I don't have any children, I don't teach in a school, and apart from a very few exceptions, I don't give Alexander lessons to children. So I felt it to be fraudulent at the very least to have anything to do with the project.

However she then went on to explain that she thought the work I had been doing for seven or eight years on teaching the Alexander Technique to groups of adults and the studying of group energy would be relevant and gradually I saw that maybe I could have something to offer. I do hope that you who are parents, or are working with children, find something useful in what I am going to say—as well as those of you who will have children.

First of all I would like to make it clear that I believe in the deep value of one-to-one teaching, that in no way do I see groups replacing the intense personal experience of the private lesson. No, I see groups not as a replacement of one to one work, but as an extension.

I see them as an extension, because obviously group work does not allow the individual such a powerfully new kinaesthetic experience of using him/herself differently—obviously that can't be the case, as there will not be the opportunity for the Alexander teacher to give much 'hands on' work to each individual. Nevertheless I believe that there are several areas which can be explored in a group setting which either do not appear in the private teaching situation, or appear only in a very limited way.

I'd like to list them—there are more but these are the ones that seem most important to me at the moment.

Understanding Other Viewpoints

Groups offer a chance to understand other's points of view and difficulties. This is fairly self-explanatory, but it is very important to observe other people's struggle with working with the Alexander Technique. In one-to-one work it can often seem that the Alexander teacher has got it all taped, 'sussed' rather than seeing that each individual has ongoing difficulties and blank spots, that there's no magic, that there are a multitude of different experiences and ways of becoming more self-aware.

Competitiveness

Its a bogey word in the Alexander world—"We're not competitive, we're all individuals developing our own potential..."

Well unfortunately, nice as that might seem, I don't believe it. I think that competitiveness is a fact of human life all around us and can be harnessed productively if it is acknowledged—and one of the easiest ways it can be identified is in a group of people all learning a new skill. When I am leading groups I openly refer to people's feelings of rivalry/competitiveness, bringing them out into the open so that nobody feels ashamed or tries to pretend that he or she hasn't got these feelings. This is a marvellous opportunity for inhibition and direction to be used, to acknowledge the competitiveness rather than just reacting in a habitual way. People who stop, acknowledge feeling competitive, and then choose how to be constructive with that energy, are using the Technique to relate very differently, rather than the person who doesn't consciously acknowledge his/her competitiveness but whose every action is coloured by it, and is likely to be mean and not readily liked by others in the group.

Fear/Excitement

They go hand in hand. Where does one begin and the other end? I'm sure most of us here at this Congress have experienced ricocheting from one to the other as we look around at the enormity of all this. Certainly I am switching with lightning speed from one to the other as I stand here. But yet most of the time I welcome it, uncomfortable it may be, but I certainly feel alive and present, not dead and out of contact with you.

Sometimes I feel that Alexander teachers think that fear and also maybe excitement is bad, that we are aiming never to get frightened in life again, that the Alexander Technique will insulate us from those feelings, that we should be blandly calm.

As I have gone on with the Technique I have consciously felt more frightened and more excited in life than I ever did before. Releasing chronically held musculature allows these feelings to surface, but again, as with the competitiveness I mentioned before, being more conscious of our emotional/physical patterns enables us to make more choices. So that instead of the fear/excitement pervading our behaviour in covert and inappropriate ways these feelings are more tangible and more available to our conscious direction and decision making.

I believe that it is the repression of fear/excitement which goes a long way to hindering true deep contact between people. Which brings me to my 4th point concerning the value of group learning.

Contact

I believe that deep inside every 'loner' is somebody wanting contact with other human beings, even if it is buried quite deep down. That's not to say that private time on our own isn't valuable and essential, our private Alexander work also gives us immensely valuable experiences in thinking and structural change, but man is a social animal and it seems to me a missed opportunity to only learn the Technique in relation to oneself or to skills such as playing a musical instrument, riding a horse or whatever, valuable as they are, and not to use it in any way to develop the most amazing skill of all—making satisfying and appropriate contact with the people around us.

This is all very well, I can hear you say, but groups can go wrong.

Leading groups is a perilous thing. Some of you will have run groups, and been disappointed that they didn't gel, that there was something hollow about them.

I believe this happens because the leader—teacher—does not acknowledge herself/himself enough. It is her ability to keep her inhibition and direction going that is of prime importance, her contact with herself—it is so very easy as teacher to get drawn into the members of the group, their responses, wishes, mis-use—in other words, pulled out of contact with herself. Of course the more you are able to establish your own primary control, the more accurate your perceptions of the group members' needs and difficulties are, even the overall atmosphere in the room. These perceptions inform your decision-making as to the content of the work.

Practical Work

Too often Alexander teachers stick too rigidly to a timetable—if it's 11.20am then we should be going on to monkeys, that sort of thing—rather than trusting to what it is happening in the present in the room with everybody and choosing a procedure which is appropriate to that energy.

It's no good getting everybody to lie down if they are already heavy and sleepy. Similarly, instigating too many discussions would be disastrous if there is a roomful of people whose habitual mode is one of abstract thinking, losing all contact with their bodies.

This is all common sense, but all too often I have seen group leaders fall back on how they were taught at school or university, rather than continuing and trusting the radical nature of the Technique. Trusting that thinking can be communicated merely through the way the teacher is using himself/his voice/the way he makes contact with the people in the room, rather than always through his hands in a classical Alexander way.

It truly is not what you do but the way that you do it!

ABOUT THE WRITER

Lizzie Atkinson was trained as an Alexander teacher thirteen years ago after a background of theatre and voice training. For the last nine years, she has been actively involved in the training of Alexander teachers, including the post of Director of A.T.A. for two and a half years. Increasingly, she has been following interests in energy, both in individual character structures leading to psychotherapy, and in group interactions. She was on a Bioenergetic training course for four years led by Tricia Scott. She is at present looking at how to deepen her understanding of the Alexander Technique by observing individual energy patterns.

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