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February 16, 2016

Alexander Technique CincinnatiI had an interesting experience last week that I’d like to share with you.

I had just taught a great lesson, and what was so great about it was that I was teaching my student how to be her own best teacher; and while teaching her that, I was teaching myself and getting really inspired.

But the really interesting thing occurred to me right AFTER the lesson, when I started wondering why I don’t work with myself – teaching myself the Alexander Technique – in the same way that I teach my students, and with the same kind of disciplined regularity.

That’s when I realized with more clarity than ever that there is a crucial distinction between learning with someone else teaching you, and working alone without a teacher.

So, why is it usually so much harder to teach oneself? Why is it so much easier to do this work with someone else?

The primary reason it’s more difficult is that we need to assume complete responsibility for ourselves when we’re alone. We need to muster up the courage, the desire, and the self-discipline to be both teacher AND “disciple” (student) of oneself.  The student in us craves having a teacher telling us what to do and needs that; and the teacher within us needs to accept the directorship of the student, gently guiding the student-self with compassion, understanding, clarity, and strength.  

The “self-teacher” needs to take responsibility for the “self-student”, and this is not an easy thing to master! To begin with, the desire and motivation to take on the task of self-teaching-learning needs to be extremely high. This is why people in pain or with major issues can sometimes make the most progress by themselves; they are highly motivated to change.

But what if the motivation to change is not very strong? Then the “self-student” becomes complacent and lazy, and doesn’t make the time to do the work. That’s not good news for the student who has no external teacher, because habit will always be around, waiting to catch us in a moment of mindlessness so that it can take us down where we do not want to go. This is why it’s best to have someone else teach you until you’re really fully “weaned” and ready to take on the big responsibility of all aspects of your own life. (Of course, how often your teacher teaches you is usually up to you.)

Happily, after today’s lesson, I realized that I can make it easier for myself. I realized that in a lesson, the teacher focuses on just a few things at a time, and the student then goes home with just a few things to keep in mind.

Why not do that for myself? Why not do that for YOURself?  Why do we think we need to tackle everything at once, and improve everything all together?

In fact, making only one small change DOES change everything else, because everything is connected. Everything else WILL adjust itself. So… I think I can become a better teacher for myself if I only ask one or two things of myself each day… or even every few days… or every week.

What ONE thing can I focus on today, that would be easy for me to remember?

What ONE thing can you teach yourself today? Tell us in the comments box!

*Image courtesy of Supertrooper at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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Alexander Technique, education, learning, self-help, students, teaching

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  1. You actually have two separate ideas here. a) Why is it hard to teach yourself? b) The need for self-discipline to focus on few enough things so that you can practice consistently. I agree with the 2nd, which is your main point, btw – it is important.

    Having been in a situation of not having a teacher most of my life in regards to music, and finding a good teacher in recent years, I’ll answer “Why is it hard to teach yourself?” much differently. You can, in fact, go quite far, but esp. at the earlier stages you often do not have the experience and eye and ear to recognize things. You may not hear what is off, and so can’t correct it. You may not be able to identify the simple cause and solution to a problem and so spin in circles. Or you may aim for the right thing, think you are doing it, but can’t tell that you’re not. Before you can practice that small simple thing, you have to know what it is, and whether you’re doing it. The teacher must be a good, competent one, however. Otherwise trial and error in total independence is still the safer road.

    1. I agree with you completely. It’s very important to have a teacher of a new skill in the beginning – whether one is attempting to learn the Alexander Technique or the cello. In fact, I’d go so far as saying it’s nearly impossible to learn AT without a teacher.

      However, it’s important to recognize that Alexander himself didn’t have a teacher. What he had, though, was an extremely high level of motivation to experiment in order to discover a solution to his problem (getting hoarse while performing). He said, “Anyone can do what I did – if they would only do what I did. But nobody wants the discipline”.

      Thankfully, those of us who came after Alexander DO have teachers available to teach us. However, the deepest, most successful work will always require a high degree of self-discipline. And in the end, I do think the ideal is to become one’s own best teacher.

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment!

  2. I have been playing fiddle for about 10 years and had lessons for the first 4 or 5 years. After I left my first teacher, I think I realised that what I really needed to learn was to how to learn. I finished with my second teacher when I felt compelled to stand on my own two feet and take responsibility for my own path. Both teachers gave me valuable lessons, but it was time to move on. I needed to learn how to teach myself.

    One of the hardest things is to be able to look at yourself with some objectivity and know where you need to improve. Mindfulness is extremely useful. Self awareness is the aim. Relentless curiosty helps.

    Working out how to improve (i.e overcome the problems you have identified) is also a challenge. It requires exploration, analysis and experimentation. Sometimes you just want to ask someone for the quick answer. But when you do find your own solution, the one that works for you, it is immensely satisfying.

    I keep a list of items to focus on when I feel I’m getting stale – and pick a couple to work on. I like your comment that everything is connected though. I may start with a focus on controlling the left litle finger and become engrossed with intonation. Being open to those connections is important and gives depth to my understanding of playing.

    Lots of commitment, motivation and determination are required, Lots of focussed practice too! But don’t forget compassion – be kind to yourself. The journey takes a lifetime, make sure you enjoy it.

    1. Hi Paul,

      What a beautiful journey! Thanks so much for sharing your process. I really respect your decision to learn how to learn, along with your curiosity and determination to experiment! That’s exactly what F.M. Alexander did, which led him to make his extremely life-changing and influential discoveries. Thank you, also, for the reminder to always have self-compassion. SO important! Let’s be kind self-teachers, not task-masters. 🙂 Thank you!

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