Walter Vaughan-Jones was trained by first-generation Master Teachers Peter Scott and Marjory and Wilfred Barlow and worked for some time with Patrick MacDonald, all teachers who were trained by FM Alexander himself. The training I attended was moderated by Irma Rellstab, a Master Teacher from Switzerland.
I started my practice in 2003, as soon as I qualified, and have continued to teach ever since. I relocate to Johannesburg at the beginning of 2013. I am passionate about the Alexander Technique, having experienced for myself the immense benefits it offers.
I was also privileged to attend the 2004 International Alexander Technique Congress held in Oxford, which celebrated the 100-year anniversary of the Technique in England. At that Congress I was exposed to a wealth of skills, knowledge and experience from a variety of Teachers and Master Teachers from around the world, which has also influenced me in my approach to the work.
I continue to attend teacher-enrichment sessions at every opportunity, always keen to expand my knowledge of the Technique.
My Teaching Style
I am first and foremost and educationalist, strongly committed to ensuring that my pupils are enabled to start taking better care of themselves as quickly as possible.
For that reason, I believe in educating the whole person. When working with my clients, I use my hands to bring awareness and gently re-educate their body, while using body mapping as well as verbal guidance to help them become conscious of how to improve their use. I spend considerable time explaining the Alexander principle of non-doing, constantly reminding my pupils that you “can’t fix a strain by straining differently!” I am convinced that it is this combination that brings the most effective results.
Rooi Rose article – pg 90 of the January 2015 issue:
I was approached by the author of the article, a writer for the magazine, to find out more about the technique and how it works.
This was motivated by her seeing a significant difference in a family friend – she had become curious about what had enabled such a substantial change in this woman’s posture, mindset and general well-being. When she asked how this had come about, she was told by her friend that it was Alexander Technique lessons that had resulted in the change, and her friend gave her my contact details.
In the interview, I explained how the technique works and gave her a first lesson so that she could have the experience and would be able to draw on that for the article. In addition, as I am not fluent in Afrikaans, I referred her to an Afrikaans-speaking colleague, who she also subsequently interviewed for the article.
Dance Student pupil – Matric Project on the Alexander Technique:
Some years ago I was interviewed by one of my pupils, who had decided to do her matric project on the Alexander Technique. This is the transcript of that interview:
Q: How would you describe your job as an Alexander Technique teacher?
A: The simplest way I can describe it is that I give ‘remedial driving lessons’, except the vehicle that a person is ‘driving’ is their body. Most people are doing the equivalent of driving from the back seat, using their feet to steer, pressing the pedals with their hands, and changing gears with their teeth, and then complaining that it is very hard work. I see my role as teaching them that a more effective way is to get into the front seat, use their feet on the pedals and their hands on the wheel and gear lever. Suddenly, what has been hard work becomes comparatively simple and effortless. At a more subtle level, the Alexander Technique is a tool to change habits, and can be applied beyond the purely physical, once the technique has been learned.
Q: How did you first come across the Alexander Technique?
A: I first read an article about the technique over 25 years ago. However, I only went for my first lesson about a decade later, when I had got fed up with endless visits to chiropractors, massage therapists, Body Stress Release practitioners, and various other therapies that I had looked to for relief from ongoing physical pain. I realised that I was walking away from the therapist feeling fine but, a few days later, I would be back in the same sorry state and needing more therapy. It finally dawned on me that I was the cause of the problem – something I was doing was obviously getting me back into trouble almost as fast as the therapists were ‘fixing’ it. So I decided to look for an Alexander Technique teacher and figure out what I was doing to cause my misery and then how to stop whatever it was.
Q: What effects did the technique have on you?
A: Quite simply, it changed my life. If you look at photographs of me before I started lessons, and compare those with how I look now, you will see that I look younger and healthier and more alive nowadays, even though I am more than twenty years older. I no longer need chiropractors, physiotherapists, massage therapists, body stress release, etc. to keep me functional! I am fitter, happier, calmer, and feel more energised and vital, and pain is no longer a constant companion. I have also grown several centimetres in height, and my body shape has changed considerably for the better – my waist and neck are longer, my back straighter, my wrinkles fewer, and even my breathing is easier. And, above all, life is much more enjoyable and effortless.
Q: What inspired you to train in the technique and finally teach it?
A: I became so passionate about the difference it was making for me that I wanted to deepen my knowledge and then share it with the world.
Q: What personal touches have you added to the way in which you teach the technique?
A: I personally am firmly convinced of the importance of my pupils understanding the way their body works, and having a structural framework within which to understand the Technique, so I teach this as part of my lessons.
Q: What do you enjoy most about teaching?
A: The fact that it is a win/win job – both my pupil and I benefit from the lesson. This is because I have to live what I teach – I cannot give what I have not got.
Q: After how long does one generally begin to feel the effects?
A: This is a hard question to answer because, although most people start to benefit immediately, they may only ‘feel’ the effects weeks or even months later. This is because the changes are subtle and incremental, and often escape notice for some time. Often they will experience an increased wellbeing, but will not immediately make the connection.
Q: Has a client ever failed to respond to the sessions?
A: Yes. This is because I am a teacher, not a therapist. I can offer the information, but if a person does not apply what they have been taught, no real progress will be made. I personally have never had a pupil who has not been able to improve their use during the lesson, but if they leave it all behind as they walk out the door, there will be little or no improvement on an ongoing basis, and I have had one pupil who persistently did this. However, usually these people don’t take long before they realise that I am not going to make them better, and go looking for someone to ‘therapize’ them i.e. take responsibility for making them better.
Q: I understand you have done specialised work with musicians, particularly violinists. How is it different working with them?
A: I have worked with a number of musicians, such as pianists, singers and violinists. The lessons are no different, as the essence of the technique is to work to the best functioning of the whole, rather than to focus on specifics. The difference is that most musicians understand that their body is part of their instrument, and recognise the need to keep their physical functioning at optimum, and so are quite motivated. But they can also be a very challenging to work with if they have poor use when playing their instrument, as they have usually been practicing their bad habits for a very long time, and are generally very nervous to change their patterns because their livelihood depends on it.
Q: Is there ever a point when one can stop going to lessons and still live their life applying the Alexander Technique?
A: Definitely, yes. If a pupil practices what they have been taught, it becomes a way of life. A good Alexander Technique teacher works themselves out of a job if they do their job properly and the pupil practices what they have been taught. That said, there is always the potential for more refinement of one’s physical functioning, so the point of termination is in the hands of the pupil. Some people are happy with simple pain relief, others want much greater levels of functioning.
Q: Have you ever given group sessions? And if so, why?
A: Lessons are one-on-one. Our SASTAT constitution (and good common sense) requires it so, as each person’s particular habits are unique and require dedicated focus. Also, we are actually moving a person’s body, so in the same way as one cannot do group massage therapy or group physiotherapy, one cannot do group AT lessons. I do, however, do group ‘introductory’ sessions, but these are generally just an explanation and a few minor demonstrations.
Q: What do most of your clients look for when they approach you for Alexander Technique lessons?
A: Quite simply, relief from pain is the general motivator, although I have had a few pupils who just want to improve their use – these have mainly been athletes, dancers or musicians.
Q: Do you ever get medical referrals?
A: I, personally, have never had one. But I do know of doctors who do not believe that drugs and surgery are the answer to all things, and even know of one doctor who himself goes for lessons with another teacher.
Q: How often is one recommended to go?
A: I generally recommended that you start with a minimum of 12 lessons. Initially, 2 or 3 times per week is ideal, progressively tapering off to once a week and eventually just a reminder session at 3 or even 6 month intervals.
Q: Do you think it is a growing field?
A: Sadly, no. The cultural desire for immediate quick fixes and the (unconscious) wish to keep the habit and just change the outcome, combined with the ever-expanding exploitation of these aspects has meant a growing ‘alternative health’ industry which makes glowing promises of quick, effort-free solutions that the Alexander Technique cannot compete with. I have found, however, that when the illusion of the quick-fix concept wears off, people do become willing to do whatever it takes, and at that point the Alexander Technique becomes an option. Unfortunately, many people take decades to get to this stage.