Sunday, June 10, 2012

Alexander Technique and Life-Threatening Illness

Today, I will be teaching my first student with cancer.  He has just been diagnosed with lung cancer, and will begin chemotherapy on Tuesday.

This gives me pause.

There are so many things I would like to tell people with a life-threatening disease, people who are afraid, people who are suffering.  To share all of my thoughts would take much more than the 45-60 minutes I'm likely to spend with my new student today, so I wonder what might be the most important things to share.  Teaching the Alexander Technique, one can never be sure if a new student will resonate with this practice enough to come back for more lessons.  Today may be the only lesson I teach this man.  How can I help him the most in such a short period of time?

Well, as with any student, regardless of the conditions and circumstances, my primary role is to "practice what I preach".  That means:

1. observe, notice, be aware of what comes to me through my senses, including my proprioceptive sense within, and including my thoughts and feelings
2. inhibit my reactions to these stimuli that come my way--from within myself and from without
3. "stick to principle", as Alexander said, and be clear of my own direction and the direction I wish for my student
4. do not endgain, focus on results, or care too much about outcomes; instead, enjoy the process
5. wait and allow and trust; let the right thing "do itself"

There are so many specific things I would like to share; I have a wealth of facts and information and thoughts that I would like my student to become aware of, which I know would help him.  I need to inhibit my desire to share too much in one lesson, and trust that the right information will be transmitted in the best way, in the moment.  Planning with too much detail never works for me; the circumstances always dictate what is needed, and I cannot predict the circumstances.

That said, I have plenty of specific ideas I'd like to share.  For instance:
- how our fearful reactions to pain and suffering contribute to the cycle
- how our thoughts, emotions, and body are interconnected and inseparable
- how our essential being is Freedom, no matter what it feels like
- how if we remember and believe in this essential Freedom, our True Nature, we can use our thoughts constructively to create positive changes in our body, releasing us from the cage we put ourselves in with fearful thinking
- how important it is to release the muscles that are connected to the ribs, to allow for free breathing
- how essential the head-neck-torso relationship is to all other muscles, and therefore our breathing
- how important it is to accept--and LOVE--what is, for only in allowing and loving can we realize our true Freedom and find Joy, despite our circumstances

I am very much looking forward to witnessing my adventure today.  I wonder where it will take me, and I wonder where it will take my student!

If you are an AT teacher reading this, I wonder how you might approach a first lesson with someone who has a life-threatening illness?  And, if you're not a teacher, I wonder if you might have anything to add from your own experience and perspective?


  1. thank you Jennifer for this opportunity to explore this aspect. My husband had heart surgery four weeks ago and therefore has a different relationship to his body. I have been watching his relationship with his body change as he heals from both the surgery and the shock that his body is not invulnerable. There is a holding that is protection from both...

    I hope that you will share your adventure. Where will your student take you?

  2. Thank you very much for sharing this. I felt that the lesson today was positive, and am very grateful for having had the opportunity to work with this student. I do see that there is self-protective holding when we experience shock or trauma, and I believe that one of the greatest gifts we can give to someone in this situation is a reassuring, confident, loving presence. My student's wife was present and asked me if she could put her hands on her husband like I was doing when he was on the table. I explained that what I was doing was a technique that took three years of training to learn (and more!), but that there was nothing stopping her from putting her hands on with the intention to love and not do anything, and that this could only be good! I wish your husband all the very best.

  3. What an awesome responsibility -- and what an amazing gift -- to be with this man as he deals with his diagnosis. I am grateful to read that the experience was a positive one. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  4. Yes, I feel very priveleged to be a part of his (and his wife's) process. It was very rewarding to see the change in breathing, flexibility, and calmer state of mind at the end of the lesson, as compared to the beginning of it. Thank you, Beth!


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