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Quote of the Month: May 2014

by Ellen on May 2nd, 2014

“[Alexander] fundamentally discovered a way of imparting a new experience and it can no more be described than a kiss can be posted.” ~Jeremy Chance, Principles of the Alexander Technique

I came across this quote in the book Principles of the Alexander Technique, which I plan to write a full review of later this month. I love the idea of trying to send a kiss through the mail, and I think it’s a great way of illustrating the problem many teachers face when trying to explain the Technique. After all, how would you send a kiss through the mail? You could write a paragraph describing the sensation or experience of a kiss, or you could put on lipstick and kiss a piece of paper, but neither of those could communicate the experience itself. At its core the Alexander Technique is a physical, mental, and emotional experience, much like the experience of a kiss, and it’s incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to articulate an experience in words.

I’ve often heard it compared to explaining yellow to a blind person, or describing music to someone who has never heard it. How would you explain a color to a blind person – color exists only in the visual plane! You could describe the feeling you get when you look at the color, or some common items that are that color, but none of that would actually inform them of what that color looks like. Alexander Technique is much the same, but in the physical, mental, and emotional plane instead of the visual. By definition, the student has no context for the new experience they are being given. This is in fact the point of the work. With no context you are less likely to fall into your old habits, so a teacher can give you the experience itself and then give you the context to go with it, generally in the form of new vocabulary and verbal directions.

I often warn my new students that the verbal directions I’ll be giving may not make a whole lot of sense – and let them know that that is by design. As teachers, we try to select verbal phrases that you won’t already have a physical association with, so that we can give you a completely new experience rather than trying to replace the old one. It’s easier to simply let go of the idea of “sitting up” and think about something new instead than it is to try to connect the idea of “sitting up” with a new physical experience. It’s not “sitting up” anymore; it’s this other thing now – and the vocabulary to communicate that new thing will usually be supplied by the teacher. People who haven’t experienced the Technique before probably have no idea what “a gentle pull from the wrist to the elbow” would really feel like, since they’ve never really thought about it. A teacher will give that direction and immediately follow it up with a physical experience of what that direction actually means, using her hands to communicate what her brain has no words for.

Forward and Up! is a Pittsburgh-based private practice offering quality instruction in the Alexander Technique in a positive and supportive environment.

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