Chatting with an Alexander pupil yesterday, he told me that he is recommencing doing Yoga in the evenings after a few years break. I asked him of he was doing this in a group class or individually and he confirmed that it would be at home and the instructor would visit. I was rather pleased to hear this as to receive individual attention is by far the best way of learning.
Understandably we cannot all manage to have individual instructors, either for financially or practical reasons, but where it is possible then this is what would be best for us. In a group situation, it just is not possible for the instructor to give adequate attention to each person. And as everyone is likely to interpret and apply their own version of the instructions, it’s quite possible for some to get into terrible problems. Only in the one-to-one situation can we be reasonably assured (and not always even then!) that we are avoiding making harmful mistakes in learning a technique or activity.
Twenty years ago I used to run group adult education evening classes for the Alexander Technique in various areas around London. I did this several times a week in different locations, as well as giving one-to-one lessons during the day. The classes were for two hours weekly over five weeks and comprised of 10 – 20 people. In such circumstances it wasn’t possible for each person to receive anything like an ideal amount of attention, each only receiving a few minutes of hands-on guidance from me. And although they would generally do their best to apply the guidelines I might offer, they would inevitably do an interpretation, characterised by their own tensional habits and what ‘felt right’ to them. But of course, without any previous experience they would not know what was ‘right’. And going on feelings that are inevitably unreliable given their habits and faulty sensory perception their senses would not necessarily be the best guidance for them.
The ‘right’ thing feels ‘wrong’ at first.
Faulty proprioception (sense of feeling) is brought about by a lifetime of habits that become normalised into our systems and therefore constantly misguide us. Anything new….even if it’s better for us will feel wrong at first. This is why it’s important wherever possible to receive hands-on guidance from an expert who can help give the correct experience. This will fine-tune the accuracy of our senses and ingrain the correct and healthy way of functioning into our subconscious and nervous system. Over time, the new experiences of doing things differently will feel less wrong and indeed eventually feel ‘right’ and become the norm as a new improved co-ordination is established.
Group classes can be a lot of fun though; they can be an economical way of beginning in an activity and we can meet other like-minded individuals, socialise and also learn a few tips. We must remember though that with such a course, we must be aware of the short-comings and that we have only touched the surface of what is possible. Such an Introductory course no matter how good it is does not represent the full potential of what is possible. I am disappointed when I hear that someone ‘has done the Alexander Technique’ and all they did was a few weeks at a group evening class. There is no way they can have experienced all the technique has to offer. Group classes can be of benefit But they can only ever serve as an introduction…..particularly with the Alexander Technique. It is essential to have some one-to-one sessions if we are to progress beyond the beginning and avoid problems developing in the process. Some terrible habits and even physical harm can happen when we are not properly supervised.
I’m so pleased my pupil will be getting individual attention with yoga. If you are attending group classes…in yoga, tai chi, horse riding, Alexander Technique or anything else, please be aware of the possible shortcomings and endeavour to have the teacher come to help you as often as possible. If unsure about something, stay behind after the class and ask him/her to show you again……personally.