© Declan Quigley
The Alexander Technique
From 1980 to 2002 I worked as a social anthropologist, first living in Nepal for four years in the 1980s, and then teaching in three universities in the U.K. for sixteen years. Thoroughly disillusioned with the way in which universities had become like factories and anthropology was increasingly becoming a sterile form of navel-gazing rather than an attempt to understand the distinctiveness of human beings, I decided to take a risk and make some fundamental changes.
In 2001 I had started taking private classes in the Alexander Technique in Edinburgh with a very good teacher called Robin St. Clair. I had been suffering from intractable and very painful migraines for almost twenty years and had been turned inside out by a variety of medical specialists without producing any result at all—except a dependency on strong painkilling drugs.
Working very quietly, Robin taught me that—like all human beings—I had certain unhelpful habits and that I needed to let go of them. They might feel normal to me because they had been part of my way of doing things for so long, but they weren't doing me any good at all. In particular Robin urged me to let my neck be free to allow my head go 'forward and up', rather than continually pulling it back and down as if I were permanently in startled mode.
Changing deeply ingrained habits is not an easy business but after only three or four classes I noticed a small change in my neck. Instinctively I knew that this was connected to my headaches and I continued with the classes. Within three months I was able to stop taking the coctail of pharmaceutical drugs I had been dependent on for years. This wasn't quite the end of my migraines. It was all too easy for me to slip back into my old habits—my way of using myself, as Alexander put it. But at last I could see something that had simply been invisible to me before.
In 2002 I resigned my university post and started on a three-year training programme under the direction of Misha Magidov in London to become a teacher of the Alexander Technique. Misha retired half-way through my training and I finished the course with Anthony Kingsley, who runs the Alexander Teacher Training School in the centre of London. I will always be very grateful to both and to my fellow students: training to be a teacher of the Alexander Technique is as good an exercise in co-operative learning as you might hope to find.
Almost immediately after finishing my training I moved to Spain, where I joined the Barcelona Alexander Technique School run by Nica Gimeno for five months. Nica is another inspirational director and my short time at her school was a wonderful opportunity to work with a different group of trainee teachers, and to listen to the technique being taught in Spanish and Catalan. At the same time I set up my own practice and have been working in the centre of Barcelona since then. I continue to work with other teachers when I can, both in Spain and in the UK.