A series of reflections on 30 years of Alexander practice
Part 1: On the Verge
I had my first Alexander Technique (AT) lesson 30 years ago. I had been hearing about AT from my friend Eric, who was an actor at the time. His voice coach recommended he take lessons to help with his vocal difficulties, and for months he kept insisting that I meet with his teacher and try it for myself. He knew I was looking for a supplement to the Jungian therapy I was doing, something like the yoga I also practiced, but not in a group. I don’t recall if I was able to articulate this, but I had a nagging feeling that I was not as in touch with my body as I could be. More and more, I felt that I was somehow disconnected from my body. When I thought about it (which was almost never), I viewed my body as either an inconvenience (keeping it fed, rested, looking a certain way) or a means to experience sensual pleasure (eating and drinking, sex, travel). I certainly didn’t like my body very much. On bad days it was a battleground, on good days it was merely tolerable. Other people’s bodies were “better” than mine, I thought.
When Eric first told me about his experiences in Alexander lessons, I was intrigued and agreed that it sounded like something to try. I was in the middle of planning my wedding, however, which was just a few months away, so I said I’d look into it after the honeymoon. Eric made me promise, and I did.
I kept that promise and called Alan Katz to schedule a lesson. He sounded nice enough, and the studio was in a building I knew well, near NYU where I’d been a grad student. After cancelling my first appointment (saying I had to work overtime, but honestly, I was just afraid), I arrived with a belly full of butterflies and a head full of curiosity. Even then, I was aware enough to recognize the feeling of being on the verge of something significant, the sensation of being carried along by a flow not of my own making.
The details of what Alan and I did in that first lesson are not precise, although certain memories stand out. I’m sure we followed Alan’s typical order: some standing, a little walking, and then table work. Possibly I sat in a chair while he worked with me, but it’s more likely that was in another lesson. I liked the way he touched me, using his hands to help me let go of bracing and tension. I had never been touched like that before: strong, clear, directed, and yet undemanding. I remember feeling totally inadequate whenever we went into movement; I may even have said things like, “I’m not coordinated and kind of bad at moving.” Lying on the table was a relief and also rather alarming. I was willing to let myself be touched and to have my body parts be held and moved around, yet it was so strange. It felt simultaneously freeing and mildly upsetting. I was asked to pay attention in an unfamiliar way which I didn’t understand, to be connected without trying to control the experience.
Sitting on the table afterwards, Alan asked me how I felt. “Weird,” was my answer. He laughed. “What does weird feel like?” he replied. When I said it was hard to describe, he just nodded. When I stood up, I felt like I had lost weight yet at the same time I was more stable on my feet. And a little taller! For this 5’2” woman, feeling taller is golden. There was an overall “buzz” throughout my body too, a pleasant, buoyant sensation, which I reported to my teacher. He informed me that this feeling would pass in “5 minutes or 5 hours. If it lasts 5 days, please let me know.” We laughed. The important thing was not to try and hold onto any feeling but remember to cooperate with the body as I moved through my day. The fact that I truly didn’t know how to do that was not a problem. Whatever curiosity I walked in with had grown into a gigantic motivating force that made me want to know more. I was hooked.
Afterwards, I recall walking out onto Broadway and being almost assaulted by the hustle and noise on the street. My senses had opened up and it was like walking inside a kaleidoscope. I had a vague thought: How dead have I been inside? What have I been missing? This was immediately followed by a strong, clear thought: Oh shit!
To be continued…