Monday, 20 June 2011

AT in the Modern World

Oh dear! One of my worst fears about the Internet's effect on AT is coming true! I have today followed a link tweeted by Robert Rickover (@bodylearning) which took me to a YouTube video in which Pop music backing singer Chyna Whyne was demonstrating to a bunch of eager "thirty-somethings" how to Walk in Stilettos.

(Youtube link updated August 2012)
If one of my pupils asked me for advice on how to walk in stilettos it would be very simple: DON'T!

Chyna is a STAT-registered AT teacher and, searching the Web for references to her AT work, it appears she runs a successful business "educating" women on how to use stilettos in a way that slightly mitigates their crippling effect on the wearer.

Now I can hear some of my readers shouting at the screen "Get real Jeff, this is the MODERN world. Women wear fashionable shoes: period!" OK fair enough BUT should the label "Alexander Technique" be included in the online promotion of this seemingly end-gaining way of teaching it? Maybe a 20 minute video doesn't do justice to the way Ms Whyne runs her workshop but I'm guessing that not much mention of inhibition and semi-supine are made! I know that if I donned a pair of said fashion accessory and wiggled my booty in a style demonstrated at the end of the video, not only would my onlookers not be wowed but they would probably laugh me all the way out of the fracture clinic.

So what else is the Internet being (mis)used for in relation to AT?

How about remote AT lessons ON SKYPE!! I kid you not. This seems to be be a growing trend in the USA and I'm dismayed to see Leland Vall (@freeyourneck) offering this dubious (or should I say ludicrous) service - see I understand that there is a growing lobby of AmSAT teachers forming a group opposed to this "development".

Now I admire Leland and I regularly follow his blog and we are Twitter buddies BUT COME ON MATE... where is the hands-on in a Skype lesson? How can you tell if a pupil has actually understood a word that you've said? In my experience most novice AT pupils are very good at holding themselves in an "alexandriod" position and fooling themselves they are thereby "doing AT".. WRONG! How do you manage a Skype session to ensure this isn't happening...?

Now Charlotte I want you to release your neck higher than you can feel. Send me a text message when you've released your neck.

All joking aside, I have nothing against AT teachers finding new and innovative ways of teaching the technique and using all the modern wonders of social networking and mass-communication to promote it. I equally admire those who have the business acumen to make a few extra shekels using new media. BUT... its virtually impossible to regulate the content of online promotional material so when a respected (ie qualified and licensed) AT professional presents a cut-down, half-baked AT solution on the Net, what other choice has a member of the public got other than to think "Ah, so that's what the Alexander Technique is about!

Views expressed in this post are MY personal opinions and do not necessarily represent the views of ANY official Alexander Technique organisation. If you disagree with me or have your own views then please add a comment below. To reduce spam I am personally authorising all comments prior to publication but rest assured that I am happy to publish all relevant comments.


  1. Hello Jeff,
    I agree that NOT wearing high heels would be better, in every way. Looks better, not the least.
    But I think Miss Whyne gives one important true message about the Alexander Technique - it can help improve any situation and can be used to face any challenge.

    Halvard Heggdal

  2. In general, I agree with that point Halvard. In fact one of my "soap box" campaigns with AT is that it HAS to be adaptable to the REAL world or else its totally USELESS. (capitals intentional).

    However, what worries me about AT being used to promote the wearing of stilettos is that they are the absolute antipathy of what we are about.

  3. Jeff,
    I find myself agreeing with both you and Halvard. Frankly, I am struggling to find a way of combining working to principle with making a decent living. Something in me is very reluctant to go down the route of aggressive marketing. Another voice inside my head suggests that I might just be too lazy to promote the business. On the other hand, I offer free taster sessions to a charity, and record weekly 5-minute Audioboos on Alexander Technique related observations, as a way of introducing people to the ideas and principles without using jargon. Both of these things require commitment and take time which does not fit with laziness.

    In short, my initial reaction to Chayna and to Leland was exactly like yours, but then I started to think that I might just be narrow minded. I don't know the answer!

  4. Let me try to help to relieve you of your doubts, Magdalena :-)

    You are doing the right thing by promoting AT using social networking media. I suspect you may be being a bit too hard on yourself for describing yourself as lazy.

    Those who know me as a bit of an AT maverick may be surprised to hear me talking about preserving the purity of the Technique but I am sympathetic to the potential problem that social media could present. What I mean by that is the fact that social media is the realm of the "sound byte" or "headline": getting into the details isn't part of its culture.

    Now there are some fundamentals about delivering AT and they include HANDS-ON experiential teaching and the principles of inhibition, direction, unreliable sensory appreciation and "use affects functioning". Leave out any of these and you are delivering a watered-down version of the Technique. If the public comes to accept AT in its diluted form then this opens the door to charlatans and "part-trained" teachers and before long the reputation of AT is damaged and maybe the subtleties (and hence the immense power of AT) would be lost.

    You may argue that a people buy books on AT and whats the difference between that and the two things I cited in this post. The answer is that books on AT tend to present the whole picture and not just an out of context snapshot.

    There's nothing wrong with discussing AT in a forum such as this as long as it isn't being used to pretend to teach AT in any meaningful way.

  5. Jeff, I am with you on Skype lessons; I have never understood how one can teach without hands, without presence to the person. I (strange to say) don't use my hands as much as I used to, because I talk, and ask, and answer questions about a student's life and thinking and beliefs, BUT, all that is always backed up with hands-on. It's just that I don't talk and touch at the same time, even if I use some words when my hands are on. No, without hands, how else could I know if what was being thought was bringing about the changes we'd been talking about, and how could I convey to them the new integration, and that 'that odd feeling' is actually an improvement; don't worry, stick with it! (Bit convoluted, but I hope you get my meaning.)

    I actually find I have kept my long-standing wariness of books too! People read them, look at the pictures, 'hold positions they (sort of) copy', and things worsen or certainly don't improve, and that's how they perceive the AT. Not a good way of people wanting to come along for lessons. I think both Skype (possibly) and books (some) have their place with our existing students (not another teacher's students), but I've never tried Skype, so I don't really know. However, I did come to the AT from Wilfred Barlow's book, although also from the recommendation (and cheque) from an aunt, to whom I will always be grateful.

  6. I also read Bill Barlow book as an introduction to AT. Leland was not happy with this post and asked me to retract it, which I refused to do. He did make a good point however: how could I say on the one hand that I admired his videos and in the next breath disagree with Skype since Skype allows interaction and feedback that videos don't.

    I am still considering my response :-)

    1. It is an interesting conundrum; I'm even finding I make sure I don't 'sit up straight' as much as I used to, and am comfortable with. e.g. I use the back of the chair more etc. People look at me like they look in a book - copy me, find it hell, then decide the AT isn't for them and/or they wouldn't even be as 'noble and disciplined as Annie'….(which I have head too many times for comfort.) Oh dear… Hands, hands, hands, yes. It's what FM did whenever he could; he gave an experience rather than talking about it.

    2. My style of working is to "put in" to the pupil and idea using my hands and words. I then step back and continue talking - not necessarily about AT - while I wait to see how they reacted to my input. If necessary I will use "heavy hands" to put them into a new space - then see how they revert back to habit. I could NOT teach effectively without hands.

      My main worry is fake AT teachers who earned their "diploma" by distance learning who then start to dominate the Skype teaching process which has been legitimised by proper teachers misusing it.

  7. Thank you Jeff, I agree with you. The AT can probably slightly mitigate the damage women do to themselves by squeezing their feet into stilettos, but capitalising on a slavishness to painful fashions strikes me as unethical. As for the interaction on Skype, for completely new pupils it seems to me to be illusory. People will report what they *think* they are doing.

    1. Absolutely! Thanks for your input.

      Did you know I got kicked out of Robert Rickover's new FB group for publishing this blog in his group? Clearly he is very sensitive to being told he is making a mistake by using Skype to teach AT

  8. I've got students who beg me to teach them with Skype, (but I haven't figured out how to do so yet, I've been in agreement with you there.) But what can you do with a student when they cannot have access to an A.T. teacher any other way. Pakistan, Alaska, Slovenia - what teacher would move there to teach A.T. eh?
    But why not teach those who don't have access to a teacher using principles? Certainly, you can convey some very interesting discoveries by "remote learning" by orchestrating situations where discoveries happen. I've been collecting many "perceptual anomalies" that help illustrate how self-perception works. My students where I am giving lessons seem to catch on much quicker than the usual 20-4- lessons. Most people 'get it' in less than twenty lessons to be able to use it for themselves...of course, practicing extends a person's tolerance for what is unfamiliar... So, I'm not against Skype - nothing is impossible. It's just a challenge yet to be met.
    In a way I don't think it's much different than an A.T. teacher who sells short the potential of A.T. by categorizing it as only related to their favorite application.
    IMHO, who cares if A.T. helps women cope with being in high heels? Being able to tolerate heels without pain made a big difference in Whyne's life since she had to work in heels - so why should she not pass on her experience? Just because most A.T. teachers advocate certain choices as being "wise" or "preferable" doesn't mean we should be in charge of deciding what values our students possess.
    Hey - wearing my other hat, I teach graffiti illegals how to make real money painting holiday signs...which makes 'em better taggers. It's up to them if they will prefer making money as a sign writer to having to deal with jail fines for tagging. I don't pass judgment on them either.

  9. Thanks for your comments Fran. To be fair, my real concern about walking in heels is whether the label AT should be associated with it.My criticism was meant to be humorous. We DO have to accept that if AT can't adapt to the way people actually live, its not much use to anyone :-)

    Like you, I wondered how I might actually be able to teach AT without my hands. Maybe it's a sign of my own inability that I feel I could not teach in the absence of hands. Mind you, as anyone who has lessons with me will know, I talk a LOT! I invite my pupils to reflect on their Use in an existential way - as well as explaining to them the anatomical and physical principles behind so called positions of mechanical advantage. So I guess I would have few pregnant pauses where I had nothing to say over the Skype link :-)

    But as you will have read during my brief time in the FB AT Group, I'm concerned about the bigger picture of fake teachers with distance learning "Diplomas" in AT and the effects this will have on AT when they start to dominate the social media teaching scene.