Two of my favorite topics over the past few years are attachment theory and the Alexander Technique.
Many of Alexander’s concepts have corollaries in attachment theory. First, the Alexander Technique is, in part, a method of movement regulation. The teacher assists the student to use inhibition to interrupt old habits in response to a stimulus and to allow for more choice; the student is then taught to direct himself to move with reduced muscle tension in new and more functional ways. Mental health professionals talk of emotional regulation, the ability to have reflective awareness of the feelings associated with painful triggers to our past and to respond to them by substituting other ways of thinking and behaving so that new patterns can be created. Sound familiar? The long-term effect of both movement and emotional regulation is to lower reactivity and induce a greater calm in response to a stimulus. Importantly, movement and emotional regulation occur in relationship with the therapist or Alexander teacher, who is required to have done extensive personal work so as to serve as a model and to have greater regulatory capacity.
Second, both Alexander Technique lessons and psychotherapy sessions positively rewire brain patterning by building new neuronal pathways. Research in neuroscience has informed us that the brain is plastic and that it is capable of new learning due to new experiences even in adulthood. We know that healthy mother/infant bonding is critical for brain development, but that adult brains are also flexible. A trusting, safe, and empathically attuned relationship with an Alexander teacher or a psychotherapist can positively change neural circuitry.
Third, psychotherapists and Alexander Technique teachers are interested in the reciprocal influences of patient/therapist and student/teacher dyads. Contemporary models of psychotherapy have debunked traditional notions that any impact the therapist makes on the client is the client’s transference. Instead, they see the patient/therapist relationship as co-created with each inevitably impacting the other; the therapist must be open to acknowledging either openly or in supervision his/her participation in conflicts and enactments and to see them as part of the ongoing treatment.
In the Alexander Technique, there is a similar phenomenon: When we experience the student not responsive to our touch and direction, we look to our own use to find greater freedom in ourselves, which inevitably results in release in the student. When working with a student with challenging patterns, we are likely to become disorganized, which then negatively impacts the student in a dysfunctional loop. Our job is to find our good use again. Alternatively, when working with experienced students, we facilitate their freedom and openness, which then flows back to use so that as teachers we can feel that we are both giving and receiving a lesson.
The concept of mutual impact is reminiscent of mother/infact interactions… When the interaction between a mother and infant is attuned, the baby is expansive, relaxed and bright. If the interaction is going poorly, the infant is tense and cries often. Ideally, the mother uses her skills to soothe, absorb, and modulate the infant’s distress. One of [Beatrice] Beebe’s most exciting findings is that mother/baby attunement is not immediate, but rather cycles through a pattern of match, mismatch, and then rematch. Similarly, in Alexander Technique lessons, the teacher and student are continually moving through a pattern of good use, tension, and then renewal of good use in an effort to calm the student’s response to the stimulus.