Background

I met Ann on the training course at the Constructive Teaching Centre when she was assigned to me as my private pupil. It was the custom on the training course for pupils in their first year, to have private lessons with one of the teachers. Ann was mine, and we got on so well that she stayed with me for a second term. As she said in her graduation speech I was just “the right teacher at the right time” for her. But she was also a fantastic pupil for me. Ann had had her first AT lesson at Lansdowne Road before I was born!

She had had a few lessons over the years, and then in later life had decided to train. Not only was she the oldest trainee I had worked with, but she had had physical difficulties for years, and was challenging to work with. I am so grateful to her because I learnt so much from our work together and it was a real pleasure to see her years weigh less heavily on her as she went through her training so that she emerged at the end of it with a youthful spring in her step and an upright and lively demeanour which absolutely belied her age. And beyond this, her mind was so very alive, and our discussions so acute and engaged that I think we sharpened each others understanding. This, for me, is teaching as it should be.


Pupil's testimonial

‘“Old men should be explorers”, says the poet. That’s all right then since I, in my eighties, am exploring in a big way. I’m learning the Alexander Technique.

At my sort of age a new undertaking has to provide quite a lot of satisfaction at each stage of the journey. I’m not going to make myself exhausted and hopeless in a quest for something I might never reach; nor have I a strong physique, a shore of physical energy, so a tough regime is “out” as far as I’m concerned.

Any exploration has a mental component, but the Alexander enterprise is light on memory, which in my case is a diminishing faculty. It requires a lot of attention and awareness and thought but it’s the kind of thinking I can still manage.

And of course, as I age, I need real interest and care from those journeying with me, showing the way, teaching me. It is good to be reminded that change and growth in body, mind and spirit remain a possibility until death takes over.

So, for me, to explore the Alexander way of life is ideal. There is no ultimate goal so possible lack of years is not a problem; with this technique one learns to live in the present, an increasingly fruitful present.

I had one lesson in my early twenties, and much later in my fifties several more, before, for various reasons, I had to give them up. The Alexander Technique was at those times a priority on neither my time nor my purse. And perhaps I felt that I knew enough about it to continue on my own. Then, the motivation was to improve posture, to straighten and flatten a rather crooked and rounded back. In my late seventies it had become quite simply a necessity if I were to avoid becoming one of those old women whose chin rest on her chest, eyes peering up from a collapsed torso. I have neither osteoporosis nor an arthritic spine; it was rather that by this time I totally lacked the energy to make myself stay upright. At every opportunity I’d make a bee-line for the nearest chair upon which to slump.

The first lesson when I was 78 showed me a way out of the impasse and I knew at once that it was my only, but very real hope.

I was required to stop trying, forget my goal, never mind the outcome; just to leave myself alone and let the teacher, as it seemed, do all the work. I came way feeling taller, light and optimistic. During the last three or so years of regular lessons I am gradually losing the life-long habits of tightening my muscles, pulling my front down and hunching my poor back – a very tiring way of using ones body.

As time goes on I find myself feeling stronger, years younger, more agile, and able to climb up and down stairs without hurting my knees, to do gardening with no back pain and to stand happily. Not to mention becoming less critical, more open and poised.

I think what happens is that during lessons teachers give one the experience of lightness, freedom and balance in such a way that the nervous system is able gradually to adopt it “as standard”. It is “man’s supreme inheritance” to quote the title of one of Alexander’s books; my inheritance that I am bit by bit appropriating. I shall not die having totally missed out on it.

Here is something that we can begin to learn at any age, and thankful I am that I came across it in time. Old men can be explorers!’

Ann Smith