Teaching with an Injury

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on March 14, 2009 in Uncategorized

Following upon my previous posts about use with a compromised elastic structure, I have further observations based on my experience of teaching, now to my full schedule, since March 5.  Although this post is primarily directed for the use of my Alexander colleagues, it will hopefully also benefit anyone intending to return to activities while recovering from injury.

Since my surgeon doesn’t understand what I do or how I do what I do (I plan to offer him a lesson, by the way), he was not at all enthusiastic about my plan to return to work.  Despite his reluctance, I knew that teaching would enhance my recovery, as I would be required, in teaching, to be newly refined in my entire use of self.

Monkey, in a usual interpretation, is not an option for me.  One knee absolutely cannot bend, not even slightly.  But a “possible monkey”, meaning that I direct head going up and forward, whole back lengthening and widening, arms undoing out of whole back, and knees directed forward of  whole back, allows solutions for coordinated movement.  If my student becomes “heavy” (pulls him/her self down), I can accept that weight to enhance my own elastic response through my entire self.  I spring up with their weight, and the student gets a new message for response.  All proceeds well, despite my stiffened leg. I end up in some version of lunge or “one legged monkey” with ease. Any weight goes through me to the ground.  All effort becomes invisible as the available elastic response becomes balanced and available in the moment.

My students have not reported (although perhaps they are being kind!) any reduced direction or support from my hands.  In fact, most have been pleased and surprised to report an actual improvement in the clarity of direction that they are getting.  I credit this to the increased necessity for awareness that I must bring to the activity of teaching in order to take good care of myself.  This is a real demonstration that the skill of teaching the Alexander Technique requires, first, foremost and continuously, the teacher’s refined use of the instrument of self.

This is not to suggest that I don’t get tired.  My structure and functioning are hugely compromised, and despite my good use, I am compensating for my fully extended leg in ways I can’t begin to know.  I need to do a lie-down between lessons,  and do my Gyrokinesis “rehab” routine at my lunch break,  just to reduce swelling in my knee and to re-energize my entire self.  My back aches from lifting my injured leg to walk, and my neck is not free.  None of this means I can’t teach well!  My job as an Alexander teacher is not to be perfect, not to end-gain to a specific form, but to consciously choose the best possible response in the moment, with whatever structure and function I have available.

This is all a huge lesson for me, and I hope a beneficial lesson for my students.  Injury can potentially enhance good use, as thinking with the whole self takes on a different resonance and necessity.  We can make  the best possible outcome of whatever condition of self we are currently experiencing.