Learning the language of the Alexander Technique

A spiral of German chocolate in Berlin’s main station

A spiral of German chocolate in Berlin’s main station

I’ve been back in the classroom recently brushing up my rusty German. I began to learn German aged 13 and later lived and studied as a student in Germany. For many years keeping up the language was not a priority, but a couple of holidays cycling through German countryside and a need to feel connected to Europe have enthused me again.

Now I’m back as a student to listen, learn and speak. I’ve been surprised how much I remember. Much of what I learned decades ago is still there, accessible, dormant and ready to spring into life again.

It’s made me think of my experience with the Alexander Technique. In Alexander lessons we don’t learn new skills. Instead we unlearn – doing less rather than more, and uncovering ways of moving that our bodies already know. I already speak German, I just have to allow myself to rediscover what I once knew.

For me the Alexander Technique is like a new language which I can use to enable others to become more fluent in movement. I’ve listed below four things I’ve learned through the Alexander Technique that I find of value in my daily life. It’s not all I’ve learned, but it’s enough for now:

1.       Understanding how my body moves

I’ve learned the grammar of the body - where the major joints are, how everything interconnects and how I can best use my body to move through space.  Knowing how I fit together inside - my body map - has helped me to find easy and fluid movement on the outside.

2.       Refined awareness  

I’ve developed a more refined awareness of what’s going on within me as I move.  My proprioceptive sense - where I am in space - is more accurate. As I launch into movement I’m more able to calibrate the level of effort I need, so I use just enough and no more (and certainly much less than I used to).

As a student in Germany I remember the exhaustion that came after a night out speaking German. I had to try hard just to keep up and follow what was being said.  After a couple of months I became better at understanding what other people were saying and could express my own thoughts with greater ease.  I stopped trying so hard and became less tired.  

3.       It’s ok to be wrong

I’ve learned it’s ok to be wrong. The idea of ‘getting it right’ isn’t helpful in changing longstanding and ingrained habits of movement or in learning a language.  A deeper and richer quality of learning comes from getting it wrong. I’ve learned to let go of old patterns of movement and posture and move in a new way. Mastery of any skill requires taking risks and not worrying about mistakes.

4.        Learning how to learn

I’ve learned to be more flexible and less rigid in my movement and thinking so I’m more open to learning new things.  I feel more in charge of my own learning and motivated by curiosity and experiment.  It feels like cycling through the German countryside - I’m enjoying the scenery and the plums on offer by the wayside and not worrying about the hills ahead or how far I still have to travel.