Q&A with Debi Adams

Conservatory faculty member Debi Adams explains what the Alexander Technique is, why she was drawn to it, and what students can expect to learn in the Conservatory's Alexander Teacher Training Course.

Debi Adams joined the Conservatory faculty in 2002 and guides hundreds of students each year in learning the Alexander Technique. She also directs the Conservatory’s Alexander Teacher Training Course, which allows graduate students to earn an Alexander teaching certificate while they complete their degrees, as well as the Alexander Technique Summer Intensive. Adams explains what the Alexander Technique is, why she was drawn to it, and what students can expect to learn in her teacher-training program.

Describe the basic concepts of the technique to someone who’s never encountered it.

The Alexander Technique is about how we react to stimuli. Once we recognize our reactions, we have a chance to change them, so we cultivate an awareness that leads to our ability to make choices. Alexander referred to this as endgaining and inhibition. Endgaining is our propensity to move toward our goal without proper attention to the process of getting there. Inhibition is used, not in the Freudian sense, but rather as the scientific process of intercepting a habitual pattern. It puts emphasis on the non-doingness of action (yes, I make up words all the time!). I suppose the simplest activity would be to explore how you are reading this Q&A. Can you allow the words to come to you rather than reaching forward to grab them? Can your eyes rest easily in their sockets? Can you allow yourself to see the space between the words? Humans are suggestable beings. I imagine that those few ideas may already have changed the way you are relating to the screen, if only a little bit.

You came to Alexander Technique in the process of dealing with tendonitis in your hand. What drew you to Alexander Technique as opposed to other approaches?

I had tried a lot of modalities to heal from my hand injury before I turned to the Alexander Technique. The Alexander Technique was the first one that included me in the process. No one before had considered what I may have been doing that was part of the problem. It felt empowering to be an active part of that process of discovery.

What made you decide to teach the technique?

While healing from my hand injury, I wasn’t playing much. I was mostly teaching piano, and I wanted to be able to use my hands with my students the way my Alexander teacher used them with me. That was really all there was to it. Now, when I think about why I teach, it has greater meaning for me. Living through two world wars, F.M. Alexander saw that people’s habitual ways of responding to the world were not working and were instead creating conflict. We are still in that same conundrum. My hope is to contribute to healing the world by freeing one neck at a time—and training other teachers to do the same.

What can someone expect to learn from your Alexander Technique Teacher Training course at Boston Conservatory at Berklee? What have graduates of the program gone on to do?

Simply put, you learn to teach the Alexander Technique. Some graduates have landed orchestra jobs, some have private Alexander Technique practices, and some are incorporating Alexander Technique into their teaching here at the Conservatory.

What are some reasons Conservatory students seek out Alexander Technique?

Most seek a reduction in the tension they use to play. There are also many students looking for a more comfortable performing experience. Addressing performance anxiety has become an important piece of my Alexander Technique for Musicians classes.

Is there anything new you’ve learned recently about the relationship between the brain and the body that you’ve incorporated into your teaching?

I have completed the Actor’s Secret training with Betsy Polatin, which combines the Alexander Technique with the breath work of Carl Stough and the somatic experiencing/trauma work of Peter Levine. I now spend two or three classes on performance as trauma because many seem to respond to performing in the same way we respond to trauma: fight, flight, freeze, or fold. I use the skills acquired in the Actor’s Secret training to help students find solutions to their own performance anxiety. Another way the teaching has changed is that many Alexander Technique teachers do Skype lessons. While the hands-on component is useful, there is so much students can learn without touch. I am starting to incorporate this method of teaching into my teacher training course.

Learn more about Boston Conservatory at Berklee’s Alexander Technique Teacher Training Course and Alexander Technique Summer Intensive.