Difficult, non-feeling students
This was written in response to a teacher asking for advice dealing with a student who says they never feel anything change either during or after a lesson.
The first thing I’d say about this is that when I began having lessons I didn’t feel anything during or after a lesson until my 17th lesson. Nonetheless I did OK in the end. 🙂 Luckily for my teacher I was intellectually convinced from things I’d read about the Technique that it was what I needed, and also motivated by the fact that I’d already tried a number of other things and hadn’t gotten the benefit I’d hoped for.
I think motivation is an important factor: what has made this student decide to take lessons? If someone is coming rather reluctantly because someone else has been pressurising them to take lessons that can make the teacher’s job much more difficult initially. There can be a web of conflicted emotions going on, but if the teacher can show some empathy and sensitivity to that then teacher and student together can agree to make the best of the student’s investment of time and money and give it a fair go.
It might also be interesting and helpful to clarify if there some misconceptions, for example about posture, about relaxation, about back muscle strengthening etc., that could be getting in their way. Sometimes people don’t recognise experiences because what’s happening doesn’t match up to their expectations of what should happen.
It’s worth asking someone who says they don’t feel anything if they notice anything different in their movements and regular activities after a lesson. Is there anything they regularly do that seems easier in any way after a lesson? I often recommend students to go for a walk immediately after the lesson, especially if they would otherwise be getting straight into a car and driving for 30-60 minutes. I would explain that the simple natural rhythmic movement of walking is a perfect opportunity to notice if anything seems different – even if it’s only a 10-15 minute walk.
But above all I’m a great believer in observation of breathing as the royal road to kinaesthetic refinement. Students might initially tell you they can’t feel their breathing, but almost everyone knows with a moment’s self observation whether they’re breathing in or out. It’s a small step from there to observing movement in the torso when breathing in or out. At the very least there’ll be abdominal movement which the student can feel by placing their own hand on that area and if necessary increasing the movement by choosing to make fuller, longer outbreaths, which of course will also automatically increase the consequent inbreath. I would move on from there to pointing out that basic anatomy tells us that the ribs should move in the back and sides with every breath, but in many adults that no longer happens because the back muscles, in trying too hard to maintain upright posture, grip the back of the rib cage. (Note: it’s not supposed to be a cage in the literal sense of something totally rigid. 🙂
I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by how many students can begin to feel a little bit of movement of the ribs spreading at the sides of the lower back if you (the teacher) put your well directed hands there and ask them to think of, or imagine, each inbreath filling that area of the torso rather than filling just the abdomen. It’s allowing and encouraging even a tiny bit of movement there that begins to free chronically held back muscles in the rigid posture type. That’s really what the back widening is all about. Sometimes the neck and back don’t respond at all until there’s some rib movement, and encouraging someone to pay attention to their own breathing movements might be the way in.
And if none of this works, I might be inclined to give up, myself. We can’t win ’em all, and that happens sometimes to all teachers, no matter how experienced. 🙂