The Vault

The Alexander Technique: 2094

Catherine Kettrick

 

The Fourth International Congress, coming in 1994, gave us an opportunity to celebrate the centenary of F.M. Alexander's beginning to teach to others the discoveries he had made while working with himself.

When we look back over the past 100 years, we can see how the Technique has grown—from a few teachers, to the establishment of the first teacher training program, to now, when we have many training programs all over the world, most of which are run by "second generation teachers"—in other words, people who trained with people who trained with F.M. Alexander and his brother. We also have numerous professional societies, most of them modelled on the first society, STAT.

The Question of a Profession

I believe that we as teachers, collectively and perhaps individually, are currently facing many challenges, most especially with regard to the questions "Are we a profession?", "What makes us a profession" and "What are our professional standards?" Thus far we have gotten by pretty well by following a guild or craft model: a person trains with a master, and after a certain usually pre-determined amount of time, qualifies in their craft under the master's guidance, and with their master's recommendation is allowed to join the society of that craft. We have gotten by with accepting the word of training directors, and have not as yet developed shared, community wide qualitative and performance based standards for evaluating teachers. However, many countries and states are beginning to look more closely at what we do. They question where we belong: are we "body workers?" Do we do therapy? Are we more like physical therapists, massage therapists or movement educators? If we touch people and they benefit therapeutically, should we be licensed?

Even if we were not coming under closer scrutiny by governmental agencies, I believe it is imperative that we as a community begin to address these and other questions. We are, after all, moving farther and farther away from the original source of the Technique; by opening a dialogue and questioning who we are, what we do and how we do it, we will grow tremendously both individually and as a profession. In fact I believe that we all have a very good idea about how to answer these questions, but I have also observed that these good ideas are often not shared publicly (in part because we often lack the opportunity to do so) and that when a group of teachers does meet to discuss seemingly abstract questions such as—"What is the Alexander Technique?" or "What are our standards that we use to evaluate the competencies of teachers?"—it often seems that we don't quite know how to begin constructively.

The format of this workshop is one way to begin this type of dialogue. It is based on the 'perfect life' exercise where a person is asked to imagine what their life would be like if it were perfect in every way: perfect job, perfect living arrangements, perfect relationships, perfect everything. The idea is to let yourself go completely and imagine the best of all possible worlds and then imagine how you got there. The advantages of this type of exercise are that we are not limited by present conditions, and that once we visualize what we want, it is much easier to realize it.

A 'Perfect Life' Exercise

To facilitate this workshop I posed as a reporter from an international magazine. It is the year 2094, and I am interviewing several master teachers who are assembled for an International Congress. Listed below are the questions I asked them, followed by their replies—during the workshop I wrote out verbatim on a large paper pad what the participants said, and later transcribed it.

Unfortunately our time was limited, and we were not able to imagine all of the details of how we got to our "perfect Alexander Technique life." We did have a lot of fun, and came up with some surprising future events. I would encourage anyone who is interested to do their own Alexander Technique perfect life scenario, especially if you can do it with others, as ideas seem to flow much more readily in a group. If you do think you would like to try this experiment, I have one suggestion and one request: write your own responses before reading what the participants of this workshop came up with, and when you are finished, please send them to me. I will gladly—with your permission—share them with the original participants, and with anyone else who responds. I will also gladly share the work being done by the Professional Development Committee of Alexander Technique International. We have been working for almost three years on questions like— "What is the Technique?", "How do we distinguish it from other methods which improve human use and functioning?" and "How do we evaluate the competencies of teachers?" We have made considerable progress.

I truly believe that if the Technique is to survive that we must, as a community, find ways to articulate and share our knowledge and experience. If we want to be regarded as a profession we must be able to demonstrate to people who are unfamiliar with the Technique the standards of our profession, and the theory and body of knowledge on which those standards are based. We must in fact have standards that are standard and consistent, and they must be qualitative and performance based. It will take work to accomplish these goals, but once we begin applying the best means whereby to this task, successfully completing it is only a matter of time.

The Questions and Answers

1) What is the history of the development of the Technique as a profession? What was the breakthrough that really opened you up? I understand there was a lot of controversy over certification and licensure at the end of the 20th century, especially in Europe with the EU and in some of the states in the United States which were trying to regulate teaching. I understand there was some controversy within the profession as well over certification and professional standards. Obviously this was all resolved because you are certainly thriving now. How did that happen? What specific event or events triggered the profession's development?

2) There is now one international Alexander Technique organization, but I understand that there used to be several national organizations. How did it happen that all of your organizations came under one umbrella? How does this organization function now? What are its functions and responsibilities?

It all began at the 1994 Sydney Congress, with an exchange among the teachers there, and a meeting of the affiliated societies, something started to move. Teachers began going to other countries even more, and they exchanged both political and practical information. They were able to come up with the common denominators of the Technique, they agreed on these principles, they broke the Technique down to its simple form. They were able to operate with unity of purpose and diversity of practice. It was able to begin at that Congress because 1994 was the centenary of Alexander's beginning to teach, and the Tasmanian landscape with its spiritual connections allowed for this breakthrough. The open spaces in Tasmania allowed people to be open in themselves, to go beyond rightness and wrongness. Michael Frederick mentioned in his opening address meeting in an open field, which is what Table Cape came to represent. A momentum was generated for the next Congress in Israel, so that the spiritual openness and awakening that began at the 4th Congress continued on to the next Congress in Israel, which is a cradle of civilization. People began to see that we should be looking at similarities rather than differences. In Israel that became even more poignant, with over 1000 people attending.

Training schools became more open. Alexander Technique teachers as professionals made connections with other groups: medical doctors and others. Now in 2094 people respect each other more, and doctors are better educated, they respect people and are open to what people need. There is less violence and children are treated better. Now children have access to the influence of the Alexander Technique. State based educational systems adopted the Alexander Technique work. Children can grow up healthy and happy and maintain their health and ease.

Professional societies developed committees to lobby education departments. They used advertising well, using athletes and actors, working with what the masses needed. Research was done on the Technique, especially into energy flow systems, into the "mind" and with Chinese medicine, and parallels were seen with other work.

The Alexander work helped change society because it was like a mirror of society which became freer with a lot fewer rules. Humans are complex and can make achievements in groups. Society became more cooperative than competitive.

Around the year 2000 many people were ill. The health departments couldn't pay or deal with them and so people began to realize that each one had to take responsibility for their own use, and take responsibility for themselves, to redirect themselves so children both grew up with this influence and also were influenced by the adults who changed.

Doctors began to be paid on the basis of health, that is, they were paid if their patients remained healthy and not paid if they were ill. There was initially a big resistance from the medical profession to this change.

There was a severe economic crisis at the end of the century, but some Alexander Technique teachers had been doing training with the managers of some companies, and these people helped bring the whole economy up again. In addition people began to work with office workers, so they could have personal regeneration during the day.

3) We expect to have a lot of interest in the Technique generated by this article, and expect that many people will want to become teachers. Can you give me some idea of what is required to become a teacher? Is there a "typical" training program? What does the curriculum of this program look like? What course work do you do? How long does it take? What are the job opportunities for trained teachers?

Back at the turn of the century, trainings thought they had to apply lots of other modalities; they went into those and forgot about our principles. We entered a "mini dark age." But we found out we had to go back and be simple with the principles of the Technique. A philosopher emerged saying that the principles of the Alexander Technique could become leading principles of society, and he became so famous all over the world he created with some teachers a model of society. It was at the Israeli Congress that they worked it all out. At that Congress the idea started to grow and was employed as a global model for health. People saw it as the only model to save the world.

Now with training programs, since peoples' use is so much better to begin with, there is not a lot to unlearn. People are trained much more quickly in hands on, plus there is some medical and psychological training. People are working in a preventive capacity.

In 1994 Alexander Technique societies were split with rules, were being stiff, and some other teachers had more freedom to be experimental. But societies built contacts in common and became responsible for what happens in the profession. Common standards were agreed upon, trainers conformed to protocols and a trust developed that if people stuck to principles and applied them there was a built-in regulation process. Now the basic tenets of the Technique are so simple everyone knows them and they are like a second language to people.

Societies have a monitoring system. People who are monitors go round the world giving a friendly nod to acknowledge that principles are maintained and there is a commitment to quality upheld, and watching new ways of putting the principles into practice. The different rules no longer matter because people look at how principles were put into life in doing a training course. Tolerance and encouragement of experimentation became common.

4) Describe for me a typical Alexander Technique teacher's day. I've seen the old video tapes of people teaching from way back in the 20th century, and I've even seen some that are supposed to be of Alexander himself. They're very quaint and different. What do teachers do now? Where do they teach?

Lessons begin in everyday life. Children are allowed to be children, they grow up very differently, and now when people touch each other they touch differently. Now people go for lessons once or twice every couple of weeks. Lessons are not as formal as they were 100 years ago, they are more of a social visit. A teacher will touch you from time to time, and you will chat.

BIOGRAPHY

Catherine Kettrick began studying with Marjorie Barstow in 1973. She has a PhD in Linguistics, and is an American Sign Language/English interpreter. She is the author of a text book on American Sign Language, and of "What a Piece of Work..." A Study Guide to the Major Writings of F.M. Alexander. In 1986 she co-founded The Performance School, a center for the study of the Alexander Technique in Seattle, Washington. She has taught the Technique privately and in groups in both the US and Europe, working extensively with performers. She has also served in the chair of the Professional Development Committee of Alexander Technique International.

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