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When the Alexander Yanai books first started coming out, I was very
excited — new lessons to teach! But my excitement turned to
frustration pretty quickly. I found most of the lessons just too
hard to do, and certainly too hard to teach. My students, carefully
weaned away from their lifetime habits of over-efforting, would be
cheerfully straining and holding their breath again by the second
step of most of these lessons. So I ended up just putting the Yanai
books away. In fact, I put them away for several years.
The change came when I started assisting on trainings. A trainer threw me AY such-and-such, and said “Can you teach this the day after tomorrow?” I couldn’t exactly answer “Sorry, I don’t do Yanai.” Necessity pushed, and something in me yielded. I came back home feeling suddenly able to teach from those fearful books. I was so elated that I made it my special challenge to start working my way through the AY lessons in my public classes. At the same time, though, I had a nagging question. Necessity had pushed, but what had changed? What was I doing differently from before?
Sometimes it was a matter of simple confidence, or of knowing where I was going (or at least thinking that I did!). But sometimes I was making actual changes to the lessons themselves. I should emphasise that the primary reason for doing this is always to improve the quality with which the students move through the lesson.
My first clue was a comment of Larry Goldfarb’s. Speaking of Trainer X, he said “If you look at the way X teaches, the steps are really different. She’ll take a lot of little tiny steps, and then suddenly take a few giant steps.” However true this may have been of Trainer X, it set me to thinking about how I taught and, more importantly, how I might teach. How big were the steps in the lessons I liked to do, or to teach? In the lessons that I found difficult, or couldn’t get a handle on? How could I make the steps smaller?
Surely we’ve all had the opposite experience, of asking a class to do something so difficult or complex that they lose the quality, or even the sense of what they’re doing. Then we have to go back, build up the pieces again, put a couple of movements together this way or that way, until the students are secure enough in what they’re doing that we can try the step that had been too difficult before. Isn’t this process one of the hallmarks of our Method? So, in dealing with the Yanai lessons, I find that I often interpolate one or more steps between each of the steps that is set out in the lesson.
Indirectness in the Body
When I compare Yanai lessons to ATM’s from later sources, I find a real difference in the directness. In fact, it seems to me that there are two different aspects of this. We could call the first one bodily directness: if Moshe wants us to include the chest as we move our shoulder, he will say “And include the chest.” What could be simpler? But in later lessons, he is often much more roundabout in his instructions. A sequence of instructions that I find works for this situation goes like this. If you want people to include their chest, for instance:
And is your chest moving?
Forbid your chest to move.
Now allow your chest to do what it wants, but don’t make it move.
Is there a difference? (There usually is!)
Compare these again.
If the chest moves, where does it go? And how?
Which way seems easier now, forbid or allow?
When I (for example) look downwards, where does my nose go?
Where does my right eye go?
My left eye?
The back of my head?
And so on.