Should You Open the Can?

Last week I wrote about relaxation; and why it is such a can of worms I avoid the word like the plague.

I got back this from one of my students:(*)

I can see why you want to avoid words that have ‘baggage’ but in doing so don’t you risk leaving it all in place and even have people associate a new term with the same understandings?

What a great question for a teacher!  If you see a can of worms, should you lift the lid(**)?
My answer: “Usually I don’t have to”.

In any Alexander lesson, there is a kind of simultaneous translation going on in the mind of the student.  They take what you say, link it up to what they already know, and rewrite it in terms they are slightly more comfortable with.  Even before you’ve finished what you are saying(***).

If the student has translated ‘stopping’ into ‘relaxing’, they will say so.  They will rephrase a point, ask a question, or answer a question and The Dreadful Word will pop up.  That’s my cue to explain that “I avoid the word relaxation, because…”(****).  Put another way, the student will open the can themselves.

The teacher’s job is to create the kind of environment where the student is happy to ask, comment, and say what they are thinking.  And then to listen carefully.

And on the occasions where the student doesn’t open the can themselves?  Well, if they have created unhelpful associations it will show up further down the line.  It may take longer, but somewhere in what they say, how they move, how they respond to hands-on or how fast they progress it will become obvious that they are caught on a snag.  At that point a bit of closer questioning will uncover the association, and then we’re moving again.

(*) with many thanks to Sonia for making me think really hard about this.
(**) for my US readers with raised eyebrows, in the UK a can is a receptacle for food or drink.  Not a toilet.
(***)”It invariably follows that by the time the teacher has concluded his statement, the pupil will have formed his own conception (often diametrically the reverse of his teacher’s) of the facts disclosed, and unless he is a very unusual person, he will already have come to a decision in accordance with his preconceived ideas”, FM Alexander, Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual, p.295 IRDEAT edition.
(****) See ‘Avoiding Relaxation’ for my reasons; plus an excellent extra worm from Adrian in the comments.

photo courtesy of

CNHC and ITM registered Alexander Technique teacher.

Tagged with: , , ,
Posted in asking questions, everyday life, progress
2 comments on “Should You Open the Can?
  1. geetha.d says:

    wonderful karen,
    what you told is absolutely right…
    here, i want to define what is EXPERIENCE?
    the statements like
    1. morning at 10 am the traffic is very heavy and we feel more tension while driving the car.
    2. the rose flower smell is sweet.
    3. the TAJ MAHAL in india is very beautiful.
    4. FM directions reduces the tension in activities.

    really when we say about the traffic making me tension… if we say these words they really wont feel that experience.
    they should really drive at 10 am to feel that experience.
    the experience for both the persons may vary.

    smelling the rose flower is an experience.
    when we see the TAJMAHAL in a photo or vedio , that is a little bit of experience.
    but when we see it with our eyes really , then that is a huge experience.

    FM directions studying is a little bit experience. but practicing Analyzing the present conditions of use a satisfactory use can be brought about , DAILY’. is a big big big experience to experience at the same take the help Of ‘ANATOMY’, for the knowledge .

    in the same way the student not thinks like teacher, i think some difference will be there in experiencing the activity.

    karen, how you define an experience??????

    • Geetha, this is a wonderful and very difficult question. I think I would start with ‘how a student takes on board an event, or piece of information, and assimilates it to fit iin with their view of the world’. It’s not a dictionary definition, more of a practical teaching definition. It reminds me very strongly of the passage in Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual where Alexander writes “the pupil’s conception of what his teacher is trying to convey to him by words will be in accordance with his (the pupil’s) psycho-physical make-up.” He was very alive to the problems of how we all take in the same event in different ways, and how a teacher could work with those problems. Karen

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: