Thinking Out Loud No. 23

Alexander Technique online, my experience with COVID-19 and the interconnectedness of world religions

Hi friends,

I’m just coming out of a likely case of COVID-19 (more below). I’m still recovering and don’t appear to be able to word good yet, so please forgive any clunkiness. I hope you are all staying safe and healthy during these exceptional times.

This week I talk about:

  • working out how to teach Alexander Technique online

  • my recent experience of what was probably COVID-19

  • the interconnectedness of world religions

Until next time!


Working out how to teach Alexander Technique online

One of the impacts of COVID-19 – and its associated social distancing – has been the great shift of businesses moving online.

I've been watching this play out in the world of Alexander Technique, which is conventionally taught as a hands-on practice. You go to see a teacher, they guide you into new ways of being, and then work with you regularly for a few months while you learn to do it for yourself. Alexander Technique teachers are now scrambling to figure out how to do this without being in the same room as their students.

Although I am a certified Alexander Technique teacher, I don't do it professionally (I work in energy infrastructure advisory at KPMG – surprise!), which means I don't have a physical practice that I need to shift online. In fact, I have very little interest in setting up as a conventional Alexander Technique teacher, where that is my main gig and source of income.

That said, having attracted a fair amount of interest on Twitter around Alexander Technique, I am increasingly convinced that there is something of real value here. So while I don't want to become a full time Alexander Technique teacher, I do want to teach Alexander Technique – I just want to do it my way.

What is my way? That remains to be seen, but it will involve a first-principles approach and it will not be in person, because in person is extremely difficult to scale and access. This constraint will force me to go deep into all the principles of Alexander Technique, take them apart and reassemble them in ways that can be communicated in new ways and that can resonate with new audiences.

I’ve seen some Alexander Technique teachers suggest that this isn’t possible – that the use of hands is required. I beg to differ: F.M. Alexander himself didn’t have anyone else teaching him - he figured it out for himself with no guidance, a system of mirrors and a lot of patience. That gives me confidence that while the use of trained hands is a very helpful teaching tool, it’s not essential.

I also want to find and make connections between Alexander Technique and other practices. I have a strong sense that lots of different disciplines are describing the same thing, just using different jargon and frameworks. Where Alexander Technique is my own particular portal, I want to explore and make sense of the substrate from which it all grows. It’s that substrate that really interests me, and I suspect that’s also true for most of the people who have been following my writing on this so far.

I've been moving in this direction for a while, but I'm hereby making an active decision and commitment: I want to teach Alexander Technique online and in so doing figure out what it’s really all about. I can see a combination of more writing, live 1:1 and group sessions and perhaps the structure of online courses.

If you're interested in working with me as a guinea pig then please hit reply to this email and let me know. I’m going to be working out how to do all this as I do it, but hey, Thinking Out Loud, remember?

My likely experience with COVID-19

Context: I live in London, UK, where we have been locked down since the evening of Monday 23rd March. We expect this to go on for at least another two weeks, but I expect it will be extended all through April. I’m 32 years old and have no underlying conditions relevant to COVID-19.

On Friday 20th March I had a fever that turned into intense fatigue, which lasted until yesterday (Saturday 28th) and was accompanied by dizziness and a general sense of being spaced out, making it almost impossible to concentrate or stay particularly alert. I also had a very mild dry cough, noticed myself slightly gasping for breath and I lost my sense of smell and taste (these are still recovering).

If it weren’t for the loss of smell (anosmia), which is actually a common symptom, I might have questioned whether it was COVID-19, but given that, the fever and the timing it seems likely. Unfortunately the UK isn’t testing mild cases so I will have no way of knowing until immunity tests become available.

I never felt like I was at risk of complications, but at the same time it wasn’t fun and I wasn’t able to work last week. I’m sharing this in the hope that this experience will help you identify if you have any of these symptoms so you can take appropriate action – it didn’t feel like flu for me, but like it’s own class of illness, where the defining feature was probably fatigue with a couple of other things thrown in.

Meanwhile, I will continue to self-isolate and thereafter maintain social distancing. I’d like to know whether I’m immune and if that means I can be useful in my community. I hope that becomes clearer soon.

Media of the week

I came across this map on Twitter showing how world religions are connected. While I can’t comment on its accuracy, I love the idea that all all religions share some kind of common root.

As part of my non-religious practice of Zen Buddhism, the senior teachers at the Buddhist Society here in London often describe different religions as ‘fingers on a hand’. At the fingertips they may seem different, but if you go commit to one and go into the depths, you start to see how they are all part of the same ‘hand’ structure.

In this way the teachers encourage us to pick a single practice and stick with it rather than jump around and explore multiple practices superficially. Ultimately, they all lead to the same place anyway. I’ve never been one for religion, but the idea that all religions are different attempts to describe an indescribable yet shared human experience really appeals to me. Like models, they’re all wrong, but they’re wrong in potentially useful ways.

This also reminds me of my discussion of Alexander Technique above. The language, methods and entire of framework of Alexander Technique might be but one ‘finger’. I want to go deep and explore the hand, but I also want to identify what the other fingers are. By doing so I can talk to practitioners who have explored their own depths, which might allow us all to learn something new.

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