This is the third in my series of interviews with Alexander Technique students – different people who’ve taken Alexander Technique lessons/classes for a variety of different reasons. This week I’m interviewing Rena Anya Devéza, who I’ve gotten to know online through our mutual interest in the Alexander Technique (AT). Rena is very passionate about the Technique and has a fascinating story to tell. I’m delighted she agreed to be interviewed for my blog – enjoy!
Me: Thanks so much for doing this interview, Rena. To start off, I’d love you to tell me and my readers a bit about yourself, and about your background in general.
Rena: I am a native New Yorker and have only lived in NYC and in Paris. I have worked at various things in my life: pastry chef, professor of French language and literature at Columbia and Fordham Universities, at the Metropolitan Opera in the E-Marketing department, and now I am ensconced at Apple Upper West Side. I am a flutist. As well as playing flute, I adore listening to all great music–any genre. I love to cook and bake, and look forward to tending my little garden of herbs and flowers every summer. Oh yeah…I guess I have to admit of being somewhat of a tech nerd. I love baseball (Let’s go Mets!) and I love walking and riding my bike around town. I can’t live without reading…especially fiction…but lately I am reading a huge amount of AT related material.
Me: Me, too, I can’t stand the thought of being without a book. Always have a few lined up – lots of novels, but I also read about the Alexander Technique, and even have a reading group for my students who are interested!
So how did you first hear about the Alexander Technique?
Rena: I first heard about AT as an undergraduate student but at that time I did not investigate it. I’m afraid I had a lot of misinformation and misconceptions about the technique. More recently, it was suggested to me by two surgeons and a flutist acquaintance that I take lessons in order to alleviate neck pain, and for better use of myself in general.
Me: Interesting! I too, started Alexander in my search for a solution for neck pain and tension. Can you tell us more about your situation?
Rena: Seven years ago it was found, by accident, that I was walking around with a severe cervical spinal stenosis. I could have easily become paralyzed if nothing had been done about it. In my case this condition was not caused by an accident. I was born this way. I underwent a long and serious neurosurgery on cervical 3-7 called a laminoplasty. My spinal column is being kept open now with titanium rods and clips so that my spine cannot ever be crushed again. The whole area was fused. The surgery was a complete success but I had a very lengthy recuperation and was left with chronic, severe pain in that area. A few years of physical therapy could not stop the pain, so, as suggested to me, I started AT lessons in the fall of 2010.
Me: Wow – that’s pretty serious stuff! So what was your first encounter or experience with the Alexander Technique like? And after that experience, what made you decide to continue?
Rena: My first teacher was Bill Connington. From the very first lesson I knew that I would continue for a very long time, as I felt a lightness and a sense of well being immediately. After about a month of lessons, my chronic pain disappeared! After a few months more of working with Bill, I regained the inch of height I had lost from the surgery! As I am quite slight and petite, I was quite pleased to be 5 feet tall again!
I used to have onsets of debilitating lower back pain. Since starting lessons, this, for the most part has disappeared. But the growing sense of well being, of feeling “good in my skin” (bien dans ma peau) was what really made me want to continue. I have other more personal reasons…
Me: Has Bill been your only Alexander Technique teacher, or have you had others?
Rena: My second teacher has been, and is, Tom Vasiliades, of ATCPD (Alexander Technique Center for Performance and Development). Tom is also on the teaching faculty of Alexander Technique NYC, run by John Nicholls and Nanette Walsh, where I am now training to be a teacher myself. I continue to take private lessons with Tom in tandem with my training. I want and need all the AT I can get!
Me: It’s always interesting to hear what different people do in their AT lessons, so I’d love hear a about yours. Is there a typical formula to your lessons, or do you do something different each time?
Rena: A typical lesson with Tom consists of chair work, then table work, and then back to chair work. Tom teaches in the Carrington methodology. (ATNYC is a Carrington school). [Walter Carrington (1915-2005) – who trained with the Alexander Technique’s founder, FM Alexander – was a leading figure in the teaching and development of the Technique.] I bring my flute in as well. Now that I am in AT teacher training, my lessons have somewhat enlarged in scope to include various, specific things that I am working with on the training course and that I wish to work on further.
Me: You’ve already told us about many benefits you gained from studying the Alexander Technique – are there any others you haven’t mentioned yet?
Rena: I’ll add that I feel that my jangly nervous system of a lifetime is finally calming down. I am feeling a quiet within. I know that I am coping better with the vicissitudes of life. I am way more relaxed. When I first started working with Tom, I noticed a huge change in my psycho-physical self. I am much happier now. I feel that I am in a state of metamorphosis…and that has been going on since my very first Alexander lessons. Now with the training, I feel that I am changing on a daily basis. I am learning to take my time and “inhibit,” to use some AT jargon, before talking or taking action. All this is an ongoing learning process, and I feel that I am just at the beginning of it all. Of course, as a flutist, I am playing in a more relaxed way, with more confidence, less fear, and much, much more joy!
Me: That’s fabulous! Can you tell us a bit more about your decision to start training as an Alexander Technique teacher. After all that’s quite a commitment – 3 years and over 1600 hours, not to mention the expense!
Rena: I started training in the end of April. I found that I kept wanting more and more Alexander lessons. Also, I happened to see ATNYC in action the very first time I had a lesson with Tom and I was quite impressed. I wanted to train primarily for myself. I knew that with training, one works on oneself in an ongoing manner. This is my modus vivendi now…so the desire to train just sort of happened organically. I cannot imagine arranging a better present for myself than deciding to do the training. It is sheer pleasure to be in class. I know that the 3 years will evaporate in a flash. I feel very grateful and privileged to be part of the ATNYC family.
Me: I was pretty much the same way – I just wanted as much Alexander as I could get, and training to teach it was one way to get it! It’s a wonderful bonus that you then get to share this work with others! You will cherish every minute. My time on my training course was in many ways the most fulfilling time in my life.
Before we finish up, is there anything else you would like to share with us?
Rena: I urge everyone to try a few Alexander lessons, either private or in group, whether you are coming to AT to manage pain, play an instrument with more ease, want to manage stress better, or whatever. Try it…you’ll like it! In fact, you just might be totally amazed by your new self! And for all out there who are thinking of taking the step further to train to become an Alexander teacher, I urge you to take the leap and do it!
Me: Well, I couldn’t agree more! On that note, I’d like to thank you once again for doing the interview with me. It’s been fascinating. And I wish you all the best as you continue with the training course.
You can learn more about Rena’s experiences with the Alexander Technique in this interview she did with Robert Rickover for the Body Learning podcast:
Rena will also soon be writing about her experiences with the Technique at her new blog, Rena in NYC: The Alexander Technique Report. Check it out!
And if you have questions or observations for either me or Rena, please let us know in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you.