When I think back to my childhood I can easily recall the young me who loved school. I particularly loved math-- to this day, I still have the calculator I received as a prize from my 3rd grade math teacher, Mrs. Owens. Although I was born in the US, English, was a bit more challenging for me. We moved to Israel when I was 4 years old and having returned to the US when I was 8, well, English didn't feel native anymore. Getting acclimated took a while and most of the words I heard were new to me; I couldn't even read in English. Yet, I found comfort in the structure of the language. It was logical, which was a lot like math. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that I would become an English teacher in Israel, 20 years later.
Fast forward to today and I'm another kind of teacher-- an Alexander Technique teacher. I help people identify habits that are harmful to their health and consequently lead to pain and excessive tension in their bodies. How in the world did I become an Alexander Technique teacher, anyway? And what does it have to do with learning and teaching English?
I believe that every path, opportunity, and lesson lead us to something else that we need to learn, and subsequently, learn to teach. My friend and mentor, Wendy, sums it up pretty well by saying, "We Teach What We Need to Learn." On the surface that makes a lot of sense. Didn't I need to learn English so that I could became an English teacher and then pay it forward to others? Yes, I did. And my students and I both benefited from that experience. Still, I believe lessons go even deeper than that. I don't think we ever stop needing to learn lessons, nor do we stop becoming teachers.
When I discovered the Alexander Technique 17 years ago, I didn't have a grasp on what posture was, let alone what musculoskeletal health meant. When I thought of a skeleton, I just thought of an anatomy book; I never even thought to draw a connection with the very bones in my own body. And linking my musculoskeletal system with my thoughts? Huh? Weren't they separate entities?
In my world, I only noticed my thoughts. Yet I was so disconnected from clear thinking. My thoughts were patterns, that often repeated themselves and led me to getting in my own way, on literally every level. I couldn't identify what I was doing because I regarded the outcome as something outside of my body. In my mind, stress and tension were caused by something external. Little did I know that my thoughts were causing me to tense in ways that were manifested in my neck and back and made me feel constantly on the verge of stress. What I didn't realize was my part in all of this. I also didn't understand that I didn't have to engage or react to every stimulus I was exposed to.
I needed to learn the Alexander Technique, not so that I could teach it to others, but because I needed to teach my 'self'. I continue to teach my 'self' everyday. I am happy that I can share some of the tools that I have learned to help others, but ultimately, this gift that I have discovered with the Alexander Technique is the gift that keeps on giving--to me. How can I possibly be of service to others if I don't help my self first? Through this technique, I am reminded that if I don't recognize where my thoughts are or aren't taking me, I will respond with or without tension accordingly. Having a say in where my thoughts and responses go is incredibly empowering; it is also quite liberating.
Tonight is the Eve of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. On this day of repentance, we ask for forgiveness for any of our wrongdoing over the past year. While the focus is usually on the wrongdoing we do to others, I can't help but think of the countless, unconscious and unbeknownst wrongdoing we do unto our self. The unhelpful thoughts that lead to stress in our bodies, and subsequent undesired reactions. Like the times we tell our self that we aren't good enough, strong enough, smart enough, attractive enough, successful enough. Do these thoughts lift us up or bring us down? Does this thinking make our bodies feel light and free, or heavy and imprisoned?
Undesired habitual thoughts only breed more unhelpful thoughts that begin to affect relationships with others. What happens to our interactions with others if we think we aren't a good enough partner, parent, child, sister, brother, friend, student, employee, employer... human? Do we try to do too much to rectify, or collapse in defeat? How does our own thinking about our self affect the way we think of and treat others?
Furthermore, how can we ask forgiveness of others, if we can't forgive our self? And how can we forgive our self if we don't even know why we think these thoughts, which lead to undesired behaviors? How can we be better versions of our self, so that we can be kind to our self and to others, if we don't learn to recognize our thoughts or behaviors? These are important questions.
Of course, I don't have the answers. I'm just like every body else, learning as I go along. I can ask the child within me if she forgives me, and I think she does. For all she knows, I taught her a lot. But hopefully, the most important thing that I taught her is that I still have a lot to learn.