The perfect girl
There was a faint knock on the door of my workroom. Opening the door, I found a young woman standing before me. Behind her on the stairs leading down to my room stood a young girl, leaning on crutches. She stood there, just organizing herself to descend the stairs, her hair dark and smooth, her eyes dark and large behind glasses, and a smile. I could continue a long while, describing that smile, but it is enough to say that it was a smile reserved for young noble girls whenever they are caught for an instant unprepared, as if at that instant their slightly awkward, down-to-earth nature is revealed .
I smiled back at her without saying a word. At that same moment it was clear to both of us that she was the center of matters and that the connection between us would be direct, simple, and open. No intervention of the mother would be needed as is normal when young children come to me for the first time.
Haddass handed her crutches to her mother, and, leaning on the banister, jumped down the stairs on one leg. At the bottom, she took back the crutches and proceeded on her own steam to my workroom. If I had had a thought of helping her, it vanished immediately when I saw how she managed. Despite the slight awkwardness of using crutches, she held firmly to her nobility and I had no intention of taking that from her.
Haddass was seven years old. She had suffered for the last year from recurrent inflammations of the Achilles tendon of her right ankle. The remission between her first and second attacks had been four months long, but subsequently the time between attacks had shortened and their severity increased.
In my workroom Haddass sat down heavily on the chair in the center of the room. She asked if she should take off her shoes so that I could examine her. She had had, undoubtedly, much experience with examinations. I checked the leg superficially, asked a few questions about the pain and its position, but noted to myself that it was not by focusing on the ‘problem’ that I would find the solution.
I stopped the conversation by suggesting to Haddass, ‘Come. Let’s leave the leg for a while . Here are some games on the table. Which one would you like to play?’ She accepted the idea happily and chose a game in which the players had to build a tower of plastic clowns. One clown is the base and the others are placed on it, one above the other. Not only is the game interesting and amusing, it also reveals several traits of the child’s character, for example, his daring and readiness to take risks, and tests his hand and eye coordination. Before we began, I explained to Haddass that, while she was playing, I would direct her with my hands, if she did not object to this. She agreed with ease and naturalness. Her mother had told me that she had no special problems in her studies. She loved activity and sport and often played outside.
The main purpose of my directing was to guide Haddass’s movements so that they would flow without unnecessary tension and effort. I also examined the quality of her movements. I received the impression of a strong and stable back. She sat beside me, upright, smiling and happy. She played excellently, controlled the clowns easily, and interacted with me freely.
Nevertheless she had severe tendonitis. I judged that something in the way she used herself was causing the inflammations but as this stage I was groping in the dark.
After the game, I asked Haddass to lie down on my worktable. She jumped to the table about two meters away and lay down on her back. I stood behind her head and gently placed my hands under her head, near the joint between head and neck. Within a few seconds, a subtle, quiet movement began, invisible to the eye but extending down to her heels and the tips of her toes. I understood that I had grasped the thread leading to the solution of Haddass’s problem. She, herself, because of her strong desire to excel and the effort she invested in being perfect, had caused the interior flow, the movement of life in her body, to stop. Her muscles had hardened in the effort to be ‘o.k.’, to be ‘right’, to be a ‘good girl.’
After a minute or two during which Haddass rested, I started working on her right leg. As I did this, I began explaining what I was doing. Immediately her nose crinkled up in the attempt to understand my words and to show me that she was listening. I told her simply, ‘There’s no need to work so hard to understand. You can just lay there, rest and do nothing. You don’t have to understand; you don’t have to react. And there’s no need at all to remember what I say. Actually, it’s better for you simply to rest.’ She smiled in relief and, as I worked, life began once more to flow through her body.
After a few minutes I took her off the bed and told her not to try to do alone what she had learned with me. It would even be better to forget everything and to continue as normal—certainly, there was no homework.
All this time her mother sat and watched. Not once had she intervened. She simply sat and watched, permitting the impressions to reach her consciousness. Now I was free to speak also with her. Haddass found a puzzle and occupied herself.
I explained to the mother the way I worked, explained the principles of the Alexander technique and answered her many questions. We parted and agreed that, if she decided to continue treatment, she should call and arrange an appointment.