The Evolution of Bloch Healing
As a child I was, by nature, always endeavouring to make a stronger and deeper connection with those people with whom I was surrounded; but such Meetings* were not often available to me at the level that I needed in order to be Healthy*. It is clear to me now, from the perspective of maturity, that almost every action and relationship that I have entered into in the intervening years, from my ‘wise choices’ to my ‘serious errors’, have been my best attempts to right this early deficit.
A facility for academic study and an interest in philosophy and history led to seven years at university in preparation for an academic career. An interest in classical singing led to lessons in the Alexander Technique (AT) that offered a means of escape from the continual musculo-skeletal pain with which I was afflicted, and which was based on a practical philosophy so intriguing that I abandoned my academic studies in order to train as a teacher of the Technique.
After my training in London with Walter Carrington (who had trained with Alexander himself in the 1930s and had continued Alexander’s training course for teachers of his Technique after his death in 1955) I quickly set up a busy teaching practice. I was impressed by the results that my students obtained for improvement in pain, and for skilled musicianship in the young professional artists that I taught during my years at the Royal Northern College of Music, and my intellectual enthusiasm for the philosophical principles upon which the AT is based continued to grow. Many of my students went on to train as teachers of the Technique and for several years I worked as the assistant director of a training course for teachers.
There are a number of skills that combine in order to make a skilful teacher of any discipline, and the Alexander Technique is no exception to this rule. As with any teacher, it was my experience that some of these skills took a long time to develop, whereas others came to me very easily. AT lessons are given in a format in which the teacher puts their hands on the student in order to feel what it is that they are doing before and during movement, as well as being used to offer gentle guidance in movement. For myself, the most readily acquired of skills was the ability to feel what was happening in my students and, from my earliest experiences of teaching, I found myself able to feel how my pupil was responding to my approach in the most subtle way.
During these years of teaching, my understanding of the principles of the Technique grew, as did my understanding of the conditions in which a person was more likely to be able to learn something new. About 18 years ago, after an encounter with a malign teacher of another discipline, it occurred to me in a moment of the greatest clarity that it was of more concern to me in my teaching that I treat my students with respect, than that I teach them skilfully as might be defined in other ways. For me this way of relating quickly became a matter of first importance, so that all other considerations were very much secondary to this; that is, that it was my first priority, my primary goal, and of greater significance to me in my work than any other consideration, with the exception of basic physical safety.
As time went by, two things happened. Firstly, my conception of what it was that I meant by “treating my student with respect” deepened and widened. I came to realise that, in order to respect someone, you have to notice them as a full person in order that you may dignify them as they are. You must meet with them honestly, or you are undermining them with deception and untrustworthiness, and who can really learn from such a person? You need to communicate to them somehow that you have this sense of them as a person, that you have their best interests at all times at heart, and that you actually care about them. I found myself more warmly and fully involved with the progress of my students, and developed a deeper trust that they had within themselves the solution to their problems.
And secondly (probably as a consequence of the first, because it is difficult fully to respect a person unless you are noticing and acknowledging who they are) and with more years of hands-on experience, I became more able to feel my student as a person. To clarify this last point, I was able to feel with my hands who the person was, and the extent to which they were open to being contacted as a person by me, in rather the same way that any sensitive person, after a period of contact with another person, comes to have a sense of the nature of that person, and of the degree to which they are open to a deeper relating. It came, over time, to seem to me to be more and more important that I notice all this in order that I would be better able to relate with my student as it seemed to me that I ought to do.
One of Alexander’s remarkable discoveries when working with his hands was that the process of noticing what a student was thinking and doing was, by itself, very often sufficient to bring about change. There seems to be some mechanism whereby being observed supportively whilst carrying out a new and unfamiliar task makes it easier for a student to notice what is happening and to make positive changes. I expect that this is what happens in the skilled one-to-one teaching of any activity, such as academic study or the learning of a practical skill.
As I was able more to notice who my students were as persons, I observed that if I attended to this (in addition to how the student was thinking and moving, as is the usual method of teaching the Alexander Technique) then it, too, began to change in a positive direction. By this, I mean that the student became more able to connect with themselves and with me, both in terms of depth and of intensity. I found this process very rewarding, and some of my students made comments about the effects of lessons upon them that suggested that they had some sense of what I was able to offer, and that it was appreciated.
Up to this point, I was including these principles in my AT teaching, and that was working very well. However, as my understanding of these principles developed, I began to wonder whether they could “stand on their own”. That is, I began to wonder whether I could work with somebody with my hands, applying these new principles, without attending to what they were thinking and doing (as one would in AT lessons) but attending only to whom they were as persons, and to the connection that it was possible to make with them.
It was whilst in conversation on this matter with my wife, an academic social psychologist, that she suggested to me that this seemed rather similar to a question asked by Carl Rogers, widely considered to be one of the most influential psychologists of the twentieth century, and probably the most influential psychotherapist since Freud. Rogers, having discovered that the nature of the relationship between therapist and client was the most important determining factor in the success of psychotherapy had come to the conclusion, based upon his own experience and considerable scientific research, that conditions in the psychotherapeutic relationship much the same as those that I had come to mean by “treating my students with respect” and “noticing them as persons”, when perceived by the client, were not only necessary, but were also sufficient for healing to take place. He had even gone so far as to say that the ability of the therapist to trust that a client would be able to make use of these conditions in order to solve their problems, without the need for any specific corrective direction, was itself a vital part of the healing process. This ‘person-centred’ approach empowers the client to discover and make use of the only really satisfactory source for the answers to their problems, themselves, in relation with another person. A careful reading of most of Rogers’ considerable bibliography, and much of those of other academics in the humanistic philosophical and psychological tradition, encouraged me in my convictions, that were growing stronger each day, that what I was discovering was of importance and value in and of itself, and not only as a means to the provision of better conditions for learning something else.
After inviting some of my Alexander Technique students to work with me in this new way alone, we discovered that the changes in physical co-ordination that characterise lessons in the AT occurred much as before, but seemed to arise from a place deeper within. Movement became an opportunity to carry a fuller sense of oneself into action, rather than an opportunity to initiate an action without some aspect reasoned out to be disadvantageous (as in the AT), a reversal of priority. Longstanding students, whose physical distortions had resisted my previous approach, began to change in a new and rewarding way, and they reported many other benefits, both physical and mental. Freed now, with these new ‘Clients’, from the need to address other agendas in our time together, I was able to turn all of my attention to discovering the most effective way in which to offer a Meeting to them with my hands, in order that they might find themselves more readily able to accept the offer that was being made.
It is part of the theory of the Alexander Technique that the conscious prevention of unwanted responses will liberate the healthiest, innermost person, and this clearly does happen. Where inefficient patterns of thought and movement are mostly a “bad habit”, the technique of consciously isolating errors and inhibiting them, when sympathetically taught, can be remarkably beneficial. However, as is often the case, where these patterns are the outer representation of powerful inner meanings, there is the risk that prevention may contain suppression and that liberation may not be of the full person but only changes in superficial patterns of response: and that this may come to overwhelm the fragile sense of the complete person, causing a separation between the inner person and their outer expression of themselves.
It had by now become clear to me that what I sought when someone made contact with me was not guidance as to how I should or should not be but, rather, respect, acknowledgement and, if possible, love, for who I am. I found that, under these conditions, my sense of my own nature and values was revived and that what I thought and did was profoundly altered, and in a direction that was clearly positive. The trust in myself that this engendered released in me the source of the creative solutions to the problems that I faced in my life. I became convinced that, rather than preventing outer ‘errors’ in order to improve inner conditions, that I wished instead that my outer expressions be the most faithful possible reflection of my fullest self, and that this alone would be sufficient to create the best conditions in which I might solve my problems. I was reassured to discover that the changes that came about in me and in my Clients as a result of these conditions were more ‘three-dimensional’ than those that had been happening before. They originated deep within, and carried with them the whole person, reviving, regenerating and reunifying. They addressed the causes of many mental and physical distortions, and not the results of them.
Alexander, a successful professional actor, developed his Technique in order to solve his vocal problems, and Rogers’ biographer believes that Rogers developed person-centred therapy “because he himself needed the kind of healing it offered” (Thorne, Brian, ‘Carl Rogers’, 1992, p.14). I have little doubt that most of my difficulties in life are as a direct consequence of a childhood with insufficient opportunities for Meetings and that BH, including its form of communication through touch, is the Healing that I have always sought for myself. As a Healer it is hardly possible to relate with another as a full and complete person without embracing this for oneself also. In discovering the humanity of my Clients, I was discovering my own, and in this way I came to understand that to offer Healing to another is to offer it to oneself also.
As my openness to Meetings* with my Clients grew, and as the Moments of Clarity that followed these began to blend into a steady Clarity about what was of importance to me and what was not, I found that my own Health began to improve, both in ways that I had long hoped for but that had always eluded me, and in ways that I could not previously have imagined. Although the AT had been of enormous assistance to me in overcoming my own chronic physical pain, yet this new way of working was transformative to me, changing my whole sense of myself as a person and my sense of the nature of my relationship with others, and through this a degree of physical and mental ease that went far beyond that which I had previously experienced.
Of perhaps the greatest significance for my own well-being, as a dedicated vocational teacher and Healer, is that working in this way has made my hands-on work more effective, and in every way more rewarding and complete.
*A number of key words are used in a particular way when Capitalised and are defined in the Glossary. As a general guide, these words include the usual meanings, but go beyond them. For example, Health includes the usual meaning of physical soundness but also includes other, broader, markers of wellness, including the freedom to be oneself and to enter into genuine relationships with others.
Peter Bloch, July 2010