9th International Congress of the F. M. Alexander Technique
August 7-13, 2011
The Congress Papers, p. 193-196
STAT Books, UK
TOUCH AND FEELING
The aim of this workshop was to explore the hands on relationship, with particular attention to the way we obtain information from the pupil. We can all enhance the sensitivity of our touch and develop a greater perception of the inner muscular pulls of the pupil. The way we react to this feeling may facilitate the undoing process in the pupil and consequently a greater general expansion. The approach is based on the intention of merging the teacher’s hands with the pupil’s body and allowing the hands to follow any tendency that may help the release of excessive tension. It comes from my personal experience of craniosacral therapy and it integrates perfectly with the principles of inhibition and direction as a means of allowing the right thing to do itself.
We began the workshop with a fundamental question which we can always come back to and investigate in our work: what do we teach to our pupils or students? We teach our pupils to inhibit their habitual behaviour and to direct the use of themselves in any activity. Quite simple. How do we teach it? This is a big question. We use verbal instructions, hands-on work, movements, self-guided directed activities, self-observation, games in groups, spontaneous imitation, pictures, drawings, anatomical models, video feedback, reading, writing about the self and the Technique, etc. The first reply from the workshop participants was: we use our hands. In my view the use of our hands comes as a result of the use of our entire self. Although this should always be the central core of our work, in the workshop we focused on one aspect of the use of our hands on the pupil.
The next question was: how do we use our hands? In other words, you organise yourself with your best directions, put your hands on your pupil, and then what? The participants gave the following answers: go back to oneself, listen with the hands, observe with the eyes, direct, support, inhibit, feel, choose what to do, sense, connect. The next step was to have a go with all these activities, one after the other. I asked people to split into pairs, one in the role of a teacher and one in that of a pupil, as if they were about to do some chair work. The teachers would organise themselves and put their hands on their pupil in their customary way. I would ask them to go through the above activities, saying them loudly and leaving enough time between each activity, in order to make sense of the experience. Some of them were more familiar than others to the different people present. Each time I asked participants to have the intention to go back to oneself, listen, observe, etc., whatever that meant to each person, and to notice what happens. The pupils were also asked to notice what happened in themselves. No judgements on either side were required. After swapping their roles, the members of each pair shared their comments with one another. Question: in the role of teacher, have you recognised your preferential behaviour with your hands-on work?
We all tend to develop habits in the way we use our hands on our pupils. We often tend to do something, often the same thing, with every pupil. It may be a good thing. The question is: do you do it consciously and purposely? Is it the best thing to do for your pupil?
I took the next step, saying to the participants: whatever your habitual way of using your hands, I ask you to inhibit it, in order to allow for something new to happen, a new experience of touch. The next time you put your hands on your partner I want you to have the intention of merging your hands with the pupil’s body, as if your hands become part of your pupil’s bodily tissues. The border between skins disappears, there is no separation, it is one thing. Inside your pupil there is movement, a movement determined by the myofascial system in constant search for balance. Do you want to feel this movement? Well, you need to allow your hands to move in accordance with it. It is a very subtle movement. You need to be very gentle. Your contact has to be firm and delicate. The inner movement of your pupil can take any direction, unpredictable directions. You need to free your hands and allow them to go anywhere with that movement. It may not be what you consider lengthening and widening, but please, inhibit your reaction and go with it. Your pupil is going to show you something that you would not see in any other way. Are you available for this new perception?
In the next experiment, again performed in pairs, each pupil lay semi-supine on the table. Each teacher, standing at the head of the table, placed their hands underneath the pupil’s neck, merging them with the pupil’s body and following the inner movement. Then they moved their hands to the sides of the shoulders, with the same intention. Next they took one arm, supported it, merged with it, allowing it to move and going with it. Each pair then swapped around. Once you have established this kind of contact, the inner movement of your pupil can take the form of a real, outer movement of the body or part of it. You are called upon to give enough support to make the movement possible, which can go from a light touch to the full support of a limb. Follow the movement until it stops, direct yourself and wait for signs of release with expansion. Then move your hands away.
We went back to chair work. I asked the participants to go through the activities we had listed at the beginning again, one after the other, but this time they would all be preceded by the intention of merging their hands with the pupil and allowing them to move in accordance with the pupil’s inner movement. So: go back to oneself, listen, observe, etc. After the practical experience, the questions were: do these activities have the same meaning as before? What change have you noticed? The feedback was generally positive. Most of the people present seemed to be more conscious of the possibility of feeling through their hands, and how this fits into their use of the hands in teaching, sometimes discovering that poor use of the hands is what prevents the feeling.
This is not a new way of using your hands on a pupil. It is an approach that incorporates the wish for feeling through the hands. It helps to inhibit any attempt to do something in the first place and brings you back repeatedly to your inhibition and direction process, which is what we try to teach all the time. The feeling approach reduces the development of habits in the use of our hands. The more we feel, the less we need to do. A “feeling touch” makes your hands-on work more accurate and helps your pupil to inhibit and direct more appropriately. Let me repeat that this approach would be of no value for Alexander teaching purposes if the use of our hands was not supported by a general conscious directed use of our entire self, which represents the basis of our work.