freedom for life

The Edinburgh Alexander and Therapy Centre has been offering Alexander lessons and workshops since 1994.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Being Alive

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Women’s Hour on BBC Radio 4 this week featured Elizabeth Walker, who at 97 is still teaching the Alexander Technique. She is the last living teacher trained by Alexander and has been teaching for seventy years. The interview contained a number of gems, the importance of taking the work seriously without being serious, the importance of the inhibition and keeping things free.

Perhaps the most inspiring thing is, that Elizabeth is still working, not many 97 years old can say that. She is also still getting better at what she does, again how many people can say that at 97. The sceptically minded, who manage to listen, may think this is eulogising on the part of her student, who has come back for lessons. Yet anyone with any experience of Alexander Technique Teacher’s as they age, will recognise not just that it is plausible but it is truthful. Older teachers if they are any good, develop a clarity of intention, by stripping away all the unnecessary elements, to leave only what is necessary.

It is one of the attractive features of being a teacher, you get better as you age, that’s what allows teacher to keep going through their eighties, often until ninety, doing what by any standards is a physical job. The secret of course is knowing how to use yourself, keeping yourself free, not tightening unnecessarily – this is not just true for teaching but any skilled activity. Elizabeth also made the case for her continuing to teach. It helps both her and her pupils feel alive. This is as good a reason for doing anything that I know, and it is one that George Kelly recognised as being an indication of successful therapy.

Feeling alive, a meaningful life, comes in many forms not just Alexander work – it comes from having something meaningful to do. The item following Elizabeth Walker on Women’s Hour rather reinforced this for me. It featured Rachel Wotton an Australian sex worker, who works with disabled people. It is a subject that outrages some but then I do not think they really consider the alienation and rejection that people who are disabled have when they find it difficult or impossible to find a partner. I suspect that this come in part from not wanting to think that the disabled get horny and want to have sex - just as much as the next person.

If you want to think about this more, then a good place to start is the very funny, entertaining and touching French film Nationale 7.  I saw it a few years back and a working both as a Alexander Technique Teacher and a psychotherapist has confirmed the need for an open discussion and meaningful action here. Rachel Wotton made an intelligent case for this on Women’s Hour. Like Elizabeth Walker, her work is obviously meaningful for her and helps her feel alive; while again like Elizabeth she helps others to a better quality of life. Both women demonstrate in their lives what is existentially important, meaning, helping others and feeling alive and should be respected accordingly.

No blog for two weeks as I am away at conferences and training days. Women’s Hour is available on BBC I-Player until Tuesday 19th June. Elizabeth Walker starts at 11mins and 55 secs, Rachel Wotton at  19mins and 20 secs. Elizabeth Walker is on You Tube here, while the website for a documentary on Rachel Wotton is here.

Richard Casebow

Back in the mid-1980s, I started to suffer from severe sciatica that often made walking and working difficult. At the time, I was training in London to become a Chartered Accountant and I left, as I was spending increasing amounts of time off waiting for the pain to subside. Around this time, I also became depressed, as my prospects seemed to darken with little hope of a normal life. In seeking help I found my way both to a psychotherapist and then to an Alexander Technique teacher, both of which helped enormously. The therapy with forming a life plan and understanding myself, encouraged me to dream of the life I have now. The Alexander Technique gave me the practical tool to help realise it and to allow me to rehabilitate myself to lead a full normal life.

The link between Alexander Technique, Psychotherapy and the art of living intelligently became something that has fascinated me ever since and is something I have continued to explore myself and with pupils and clients since. This blog is my attempt to elucidate the links, as well as to talk about Alexander Technique pure and simple and the benefits of therapy.

I founded the Edinburgh Alexander and Therapy Centre in 1994, Counselling Conversations came later after I became a practising therapist in 2003. Professionally I act as the Treasurer of the Personal Construct Psychology Association and sit on the board of the UKCP’s house magazine The Psychotherapist. When I am not to be found working, there is nothing better I like to be doing than spending time on a Scottish hillside, exploring the arts or just spending time with friends and family, including the family cat.