-bringing ideas to life







"Suit the action to the word, the word to the action."

(Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 2)

An evening with Anne Battye: Friends Meeting House, London, 13th October 2010


By Hiranya Jayasinghe


My first encounter with the Alexander Technique was attending the weekend City Lit course, led by Brita Forsstrom, in January 2009.  I had no specific motivation for attending, just a realisation that the technique is not something that can be book-learnt, it has to be experienced.  Watching the "use" of other attendees -walking, sitting and standing -I became aware of the different "masks" they had on; the defence mechanisms that the technique could unveil, in order to reveal their "authentic selves".  By contrast, the teachers leading the weekend had a presence, a sense of poise and physical confidence which looked a lot like freedom. 


Intrigued by the invisible iceberg beyond the surface, I embarked on an Alexander journey.  Since then, after around 50 lessons, I have witnessed an increase in confidence, a "freeing" of my voice and have "grown" a full inch!  This has given me a desire to train as an Alexander teacher, and it was with this mindset that I attended that AT Friends event on Tuesday 13th October.


The guest speaker, Anne Battye, had trained with Marjory Barlow, qualifying in 1964, and, unsurprisingly, possessed a wealth of experience and thinking which she generously poured out upon us.  The evening was structured as a talk, followed by "hands-on" work, concluding with summing up discussion.


In her talk, Anne addressed the meaning of the phrases "to order" and "to give directions".  For her, "orders" are perceived as a command, an intention arising from a chaotic state and a choice to inhibit old habits.  The "directions", on the other hand, are like a recipe, a process towards an ordered state and a kind of centre-ing.  She explained how, when she first started training, she had to give herself the "orders" without any expectation that anything would happen.  Gradually, however, the words began to link up with her physical experience. 


This reminds me of the three stages we go through when learning to ride a bicycle.  First, our parent (the teacher) says the instructions "keep peddling" etc as we wobble along without stabilisers; later, we say the words to ourselves as reminders; eventually, the words become so internalised that our bodies respond to our intention to ride.  We need, no longer, say the words out loud; the thought and the experience are one.


Following a "hands on" experimentation with these ideas, Anne led an interesting discussion on the "mean-ends" paradox.  She explained that, "we must have ends, without ends we have no stimulus."  Nonetheless, our focus is on the "means", those "directions" -to "free our necks", "head to go forward and up", and "back to lengthen and widen" -as steps, used almost like a mantra, which can bring us into a meditative (or ordered) state. 


It is this philosophy which so fascinates me about the technique.  During the "hands on" work, Anne reiterated, over and over, that we are always "going into the unknown", rather than harkening back to an old or habitual experience of what those "directions" might bring about.  A child-like state.  The idea of experimenting, indeed playing, within a safe environment; of exploring the "infinite abyss" without fear of "getting it wrong."  In my opinion, it is in maintaining this "state of being" that the Alexander Technique truly has a gift to offer the world. 



  Hiranya Jayasinghe 2009



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