I’ve been to visit Stephen Dunn, the first Alexander Technique teacher to qualify, in 2016, from the school where I’m training. He worked for 35 years in the art world as an exhibitions and collections registrar. Now he has the letters MSTAT after his name, meaning he’s a member of the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique.
Learning the Alexander Technique
We met in his sunny living room, and I asked what got him interested in the Technique. He explained he’d had one lesson many years ago, couldn’t see the point and didn’t go back. But some time later he became irritated by his round shoulders, decided to give the Technique another chance and came by recommendation in the mid-1990s to Lynn Neal (then Lynn Azerappa).
“My first lesson was like a road to Damascus moment. She was realigning my head, neck and back relationship. She had her hands on my head. She was taking me up. I felt my back melt away from my neck. It was a divine experience. I thought this was amazing. I felt so light. It made me think about how I used myself and how I could do things differently.”
He had lessons with Lynn for over a year, and subsequently with a number of other people, including Walter Carrington, one of the first generation Alexander teachers, who had worked for many years with FM Alexander and died in 2005. “I had 5 or 6 lessons with him. You felt completely inspired and safe and stimulated by what he said, his ideas, and his ways of thinking about things. The energy from his hands felt very special. I felt incredibly safe and energised by him.”
Training as an Alexander Technique teacher
He continued having lessons, but as he came close to retirement decided to change tack and train as a teacher himself. “I’d run my course with the art world. Over the years I’d often thought about training to be an Alexander teacher, as I’d got so much out of it.” I asked him about his experience of the training course, which lasted nine terms over three years. “I feel so much better. I feel more enlivened and people remark how different I look. There’s an encouraging physical reward. The training in itself – the intensity of training – has been incredibly worthwhile for me as a person and has changed me. I now have the ability to stand back from things before I react. One of the really liberating elements to it is understanding the joy of being open to learning something new about yourself.”
Getting into his stride, he went on: “I also enjoyed being exposed to a non-linear way of learning. Learning as a jigsaw and fitting pieces of that jigsaw together. It’s not what we’re conditioned to want. That in itself was very stimulating and challenging, to have your conventional ways of learning challenged. It completely breaks the mould. You gradually come to understand more deeply things which you thought you fully understood before. You think you’ve got it then you discover another layer of treasures. It’s like having a box of chocolates and then you find you have another layer. ”
Teaching the Alexander Technique
I asked him how he explains his work to his pupils: “We explore the way we do things, and the comfortable habits we have. We demonstrate how it can be to do things differently, and transmit a different experience. Because everything is interconnected, mind and the whole body, it’s fascinating to see how dealing with the primary control (the dynamic relationship between the head, neck and back) can work its way out to everything we do.”