The importance (and terror) of the first lesson

During my teacher training (at the South Bank Alexander Technique Centre, operated by Peter Nobes) we would have a guest teacher every month. This has been intensely valuable, because it means that all of us trainees have had access to a multiplicity of approaches and ways of thinking about the Alexander Technique.

It was very common for someone in the training cohort to ask the guest teacher to 'demonstrate a first lesson', i.e. how do you teach a totally new person who's never experienced Alexander Technique before? Bear in mind this is because us trainees largely (though fortunately not exclusively) worked on each other.

Why is this so important that we'd ask most guest teachers to demonstrate it? Surely conveying the basics is easy, and the skill is required as things get more advanced?

No! Not even a little bit.

Advanced stuff with an experienced student is so much easier and more comfortable for both teacher and student, because everyone already knows the lay of the land. The 'terror' comes from the actually quite rational thought of "what if they don't get it? They'll look at me like I'm crazy and/or inept!"

Understanding why that is so is crucial to the success of my online course.

The first lesson requires that the new student 'gets it'. That there is this other way of being, of experiencing themselves and the world, and until that thing has been 'got', nothing will work. Some teachers have well-rehearsed first lessons that they've developed over years, because these routines work most of the time. I suspect that the best teachers use a routine as a basis, but are very willing to deviate (play) to accommodate the specific context of the new student.

The challenge of the first lesson is akin to showing someone who is colour blind what red is like, or to show a two-dimensional creature that 'up' exists (this one is actually pretty close to what it's like, subjectively). This is also, of course, the age old challenge involved in most contemplative practices — "There's this thing you're not seeing, just look and you will see!".

The advantage that in-person lessons have is that this new way of being, which corresponds to a subjective experience of expanded awareness, can usually be brought about through touch, thanks to the fact that we are a single 'psychophysical' system (not purely mental, not purely physical).

This means that an online course — which is likely to be targeting brand new people — needs to perform this same feat, only with the extra challenge of not having access to touch. My most important job is to show you that there's a there there, and only then can we start to explore what there is like.

Fortunately, I'm increasingly convinced that this is not only possible, but has a number of advantages that in-person lessons cannot provide, or perhaps simply do not, provide.

Michael Ashcroft

Michael Ashcroft


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