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November 20, 2015

A very respected teacher of mine once said, “I need my students.”

At the time, I thought that was a rather odd statement, but I’m starting to understand it better these days.

Over the last week, I’ve noticed myself feeling progressively more and more “down” on a daily basis. I’ve speculated about possible reasons, including my son’s mystery illness that just won’t go away…or maybe I’m tired from starting a new exercise program this week…or perhaps my system is reacting to eating more sugar and grains and drinking coffee again after a period of not having them.

Of course, all of those things are likely contributing factors, but they cannot be the ROOT CAUSE of my sinking mood. The proof that they are not the cause is that I’ve just finished teaching two of my Alexander Technique students and I’m feeling quite high at the moment – even after having had some coffee with sugar in it, while remembering my son’s illness, and feeling sore from exercising yesterday. I feel so happy right now!

Paying attention to my nourishment, my activities, and my surroundings is very important, of course. But the MOST IMPORTANT thing is how I choose to respond to the various circumstances in my life.  Do I let my circumstances get me DOWN? Or do I use my circumstances as an opportunity to pay attention to the present moment, as a stimulus to wake UP and RISE to the occasion?

It’s 100% up to me how I respond.

So… I’m thinking back to my lessons with my students this morning. What exactly was happening that lifted my mood so dramatically, considering that I was feeling tired and down immediately before I began teaching this morning? What changed? What did I do and think differently that catapulted me up and out of the dumps?

Alexander Technique teacher music

Here is some of what happened in my lessons:

  • Right before I opened the door, I inwardly set my ego aside to make way for the inner wisdom within me to help my student through me, in whatever way would be best. I chose to give up control, and let go into trust.
  • I never really know what's going to happen in a lesson, which keeps it spontaneous and exciting. Every lesson is different because every person is different, and we all change from day to day, bringing different issues to work with in the lesson. Stepping into this mysterious “unknown” – “The Land of I-Don't-Know” – made me feel motivated, interested, and curious to see what would happen.
  • I listened and paid attention to my students, and paid attention to my relationship with them – first as between two human beings, and then as between teacher and student – finding a balance between paying attention to my own well-being and also taking the student's into account.
  • I transmitted the ideas, principles, and practice of the Alexander Technique (AT), and helped my students apply those ideas to their music-making and circumstances in their lives. In order to do this well, I needed to be practicing these things for myself in the moment, applying AT to my own activity of teaching.
  • I helped my students notice the connections between things, centering themselves in physical space and in the mind-body-self.  As I helped them pay attention with true concentration, I also paid attention and concentrated. When we are truly concentrating, free of excess tension, time flies and the lesson flows. 
  • Together, my students and I practiced inhibition and direction, and we opened up to creativity, exploration, and experimentation. We took our time without hurry, letting ourselves be free in the moment, without pressure, compulsion, or judgment.
  • As I reminded my students how to stop pulling down to let themselves go up, this is what I was simultaneously reminding myself.

So, as you can see, as I taught my students, I also taught myself.

The effect on me after just two hours of teaching – and then again after four – was that my mood lifted and I became much lighter and happier.  The act of teaching provided the space, the circumstance, and the opportunity for me to experience this change, and I enjoyed every moment.

Without the presence of my students, this may not have happened today.

When a student knocks on the door, I wake up to a need to rise to the occasion – both for the student and for myself. In our meeting, I meet the student being student and I meet myself being teacher. I welcome and appreciate the moment in which we can step into these roles, realizing that both of these roles belong to both of us. Both of us are learning, and both of us are teaching. As I teach the student, I teach myself, and as the student learns, the student learns to teach himself.

Without a student, there is no teacher; without a teacher there is no student. In that sense, we need each other in order to play these roles. 

So, today, I feel especially grateful to my students. When I identify with myself as “teacher”, I now understand that “I need my students”, although my best student may truly be myself; just as I am truly my own best teacher. The most important thing that I am teaching my students is how to teach themselves.

So ultimately, when I identify myself simply as a human being I don't “need my students” – but what a joy to have them, so that we can share in this wondrous experience of learning together!

The sincere student, open and willing to learn, is the greatest blessing for a teacher.  And I am so blessed to have only students such as this. Thank you all!!

I would love to hear your comments! You can comment on this post by clicking on the comments bubble Alexander technique teacher musicat the top right of this post, or in the comments box below (depending on the view in your browser).

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  1. Wow…thanks Jennifer for this wonderful write-up. Great things to think about for me as I am a teacher and a student…both.
    I’m a retired RN as well. Be a “squeaky wheel” with your son’s MD, keep asking for a diagnosis and don’t leave any stone unturned…ask for specialist’s that can maybe unlock what is going on with your son.NO ONE MD is going to possibly find the problem. Research his symptoms and keep digging…this will give you energy to press on.
    A sincere wish that you find out the problem so you and he can heal.
    Happy Thanksgiving and thanks so much for your wonderful blog.
    Stay tuned. Diane in SoCal Do you know Karen Loving?…she is a good friend of mine.

  2. Thanks for the good advice, Diane. We’ve taken our son to numerous specialists and the search continues. Thanks for your well-wishes, and I’m glad you enjoy my blog! I know who Karen Loving is, but I don’t really know her yet. Small world! 🙂

  3. Thanks, great article. I’ve also had that experience of waking up and coming out of my habitual worries while teaching.

    I sense something similar happening when you write, your ideas come across as very clear and down to earth.

    1. Thanks, Kevin. I do love to write, so writing about AT is a similar experience to teaching in person for me. I’m very glad to hear that the ideas come across as clear and down to earth – thanks very much for this feedback! 🙂

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