Good Touch/Bad Touch
I’ve noted before that Alexander Technique takes touch very seriously. In the training it is a skill that is introduced slowly and carefully. As a 1st semester student, whenever I’ve been allowed to work with the placing of hands on a table, a chair or a person, it’s either within highly structured parameters or under supervision. It’s not enough just to put a hand on someone. As you’re doing it, you have to remain aware of what’s going on around you and within you as well as the way in which you are touching the subject. The whole process might go something like this:
- Take a moment to become aware of what’s going on inside you while still maintaining a connection to the environment around you so as not to get lost in the sensations of your body.
- Establish, or re-establish, the four main directions: neck free, head forward and up, back long and wide, knees forward and away. In addition, as you are about to use your arms, you might check in with the secondary directions that apply to the arms: shoulders widening, chest and back broadening, elbows moving out and away, fingertips lengthening.
- Take a moment to say “no” to the act of placing the hands on another person. This gives the nervous system a chance to gear down from the potential stress and pressures of laying hands on another.
- Maintaining what is called your “primary control”—the directions neck free, head forward and up—leading with the fingertips, reach the arms out of the back and place the hand on the other person.
This is just what is involved in the initial act of establishing contact. As you continue to work, you must maintain a balance of inward awareness, of your primary control and other directions within yourself, of what’s going on in your subject and that ever-important awareness of your environment so as not to get lost in the work. Eventually, all this happens instinctively and instantaneously, so they tell me.
As a yoga teacher, I have to lay hands on people as part of my work all the time, guiding and adjusting my students thoughtfully and delicately to better organization within their poses. Some yoga teachers are quite forceful in their adjustments, pushing and leaning on their students to deepen stretches and open joints. I’m not one of those. Having been injured quite badly myself by a teacher in a yoga class, I exercise a very light touch. My philosophy is that I am there to facilitate the student’s self-directed exploration, not to manipulate them into a particular shape. When I touch, it’s to bring awareness to a particular area or to suggest direction. If I am doing more than that it’s to support and expand, not to push further or compress.
As I’ve started to be introduced to the art of laying hands on people in AT school, I’ve been more aware of what I’m doing in my yoga classes. It’s made giving adjustments a very different experience. I’ve been conscious of my habits and I’ve been trying to maintain my directions as I adjust people, but this has only made me aware of how crude and clumsy my adjustments are from an Alexander perspective. I have a sense of openness and freedom inside myself, but that freedom doesn’t currently extend to my hands or to the person I’m working with. It’s as if the freedom is bound within a hard shell that is knocking up against the student. At the beginning of the week, it made giving adjustments quite an unpleasant experience. I’ve been very sparing about laying on hands since then.