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Not to “Do”

Updated: Jan 21, 2023

As I enjoyed my Christmas break in snowy, COLD western Iowa, I read a diary of Fiona Robb called Not to “Do”. She trained as an Alexander Technique teacher with the Carringtons who carried on F. M. Alexander’s teaching studio, but also took lessons from Alexander’s long-time assistant Margaret Goldie. Known as Miss Goldie, she never started a teacher training program, but taught many notable teachers over the years. According to this book (written about lessons when Miss Goldie was in her early nineties, her main message was to let the body “be quiet” and “not doing”. It sounds so easy! At the same time the body should not collapse, but the mind should be alert, and the structure should be able to function. That sounds less easy!

Every year my husband and I play preservice music for our Christmas morning service (I on recorder, he on keyboard). This year was very interesting for me. As I’ve worked this past term on arm directions (which encourage space in the shoulders, especially on the front), I’ve noticed that fingering my recorders is easier. My forearms often tensed in the past as I held the instrument, but that has released somewhat as well. The most surprising thing was the performance anxiety part of the equation. Usually we play from the balcony behind the congregation, but our church got a new piano that is in front. So this year everyone could see me! I noticed how much less movement I used and how the musical flow was more internal this year. I also noticed how much more control I had over my thoughts, especially when I wanted to be nervous. Somehow I could just tell it to stop and give more focus to what I was actually doing. Don’t get me wrong, I made my share of errors—I just didn’t let them bother me in the same way I used to. I can only attribute that to my Alexander Technique training, since we didn’t practice much before playing.

I followed that book with one by Sean Carey who interviewed Marjorie Barlow (wife to Dr. William Barlow, both trained by F. M. Alexander) who assisted Alexander for years and carried on his work after he died. What an incredible record we have of these early teachers and the way they worked!

For a long time I’ve struggled to keep track of myself while I work on a student, letting that go to autopilot. It’s been a struggle to get to the point of stopping while I teach to check in with myself WHILE I work on a student AND keep tabs on how their body is working. It’s a lot to keep track of! Early AT scientist Frank Pierce Jones called it the “unified field of attention”, and it’s a major concept of the Alexander Technique is to be able to focus on something inside the body at the same time as you pay attention to what’s going on around you.

It's starting to run together . . . my training, Fiona Robb’s comments about not “doing”, and Marjorie Barlow’s ways of working with students. But after a couple weeks back into training, I feel like I’m starting to get it. Thought has power in the body, and I feel like I’m beginning to be able to use it constructively both in my work at home and in my teaching.

Photo credit: John Panning

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