About Gordon McCaffrey

Gordon McCaffrey

S.T.A.T.

Gordon has been teaching the Alexander Technique since 1987. Currently Gordon teaches at the ATGlasgow centre in Fitzroy Place, situated in the West End of Glasgow, roughly between Charing Cross and the Kelvin Hall.

SUITABLE FOR EVERYBODY

I never thought that I ought to specialise in one client base. The Technique is for all: young, old, healthy, unhealthy, the fit or unfit, the rich and the poor, the calm and the worriers.

This attitude of optimism and willingness to promote the Technique to all is in modern terminology my ‘mission statement.’ The Technique is the most amazing discovery and is so badly needed in this ever-changing, fast-paced stressful world. Restoring the body’s proper use is something everyone ought to know about and to practice. I will say it again; it is my belief that anyone can get great benefits from learning it. I have always been confident in its principles.

I would never discourage people from giving it a go, and I have never turned anyone away who genuinely had money problems. A way can always be found.

For what is more discouraging to a sick person in need of help than being turned away? It is for this reason that I also do home visits for people who are unable to travel to my office.

Some teachers feel happier and more confident when working with what they know, whether that be with musicians, singers, or people from their own social class or age group. As a result, they often steer clear of taking on what they find difficult. This was never F.M. Alexander’s way or approach. All were welcome to share his original insights into mankind’s health problems and lack of adaptability to personal circumstances. Thinking and learning are what man is about, so naturally this Technique should be available to all, without exception.

This outlook has rewarded me with a wealth of experience in dealing with different pupils. It is often said that a teacher should continue to learn; each new pupil allows them the opportunity to learn more. I have taught for twenty-five years; not ‘I have taught one year, twenty-five times.’

MY JOURNEY SO FAR

The following is a small summary of my journey so far, since 1987.

I set up my teaching practice initially near Helensburgh where my first pupils were friends, old acquaintances and family members. My professional teaching career took off when I moved to Glasgow in early 1989 to pursue the Technique full-time in a rented West End office. Although most of the pupils lived locally, some travelled from afar; from Ayrshire, Dumfriesshire, and even Perth.

There was such an overwhelming interest in Dumfries that I travelled down there for two days on a weekly basis to give lessons. I was staying overnight in Dumfries when the Lockerbie disaster happened. One of my pupil’s houses missed being demolished by just a few feet; she still came for her lesson that Friday and was able to use the Technique to cope with the trauma. It was a wonderful insight into the power of the Technique under such circumstances.

After nearly three years of travelling down to the borders, I was more than happy to pass on my pupil list to a local person who qualified as a teacher and moved back to the area. I was now free to concentrate fully on Glasgow—or so I thought. Fate intervened when I started teaching a successful businessman who had personally derived huge benefits from the Technique. He made lessons available free to all of his staff, in the Vale of Leven, believing that a person with good use would find enormous business benefits. He remains one of my best friends and still promotes the Technique to all. He ought to have trained to be a teacher but found that it was impossible to make the time. If he had trained, the Alexander Technique in Scotland would have had a real charismatic spokesman. He is still young enough to do so even now. Others did, however, commit themselves to the training.

Soon after this, in the 1990s I began a long association with the Dental Hospital. This consisted of running courses for dentists, teaching them about the Technique’s benefits for professionals who work all day sitting or bending over patients. It proved a very worthwhile experiment which mirrored the lessons given to R.S.A.M.D students. Although not involved with students, I have always enjoyed working with musicians, dancers and singers. It was often said that if only dancers had the breathing ability of singers, and singers the backs of dancers, it would make a huge difference to both. In a sense the Technique can make this happen.

In 1992 I delivered a series of workshops and lectures to people who suffer from Parkinson’s disease. Many of the local self-help groups received lottery funds, which enabled as many as ten members to go for ten individual lessons each. With their permission, the before and after videos of these pupils became the forerunners of Chloe Stallibrass’s report on A.T.’s scientifically measured impact on people with P.D.

At this time I worked on the Glasgow Alexander Technique Teachers Training Course for three years and was thrilled when the nine students qualified. Training teachers on that full-time course and seeing them go from such raw beginners to graduation was very satisfying. The skills developed in this process put your own teaching up another level.

On a personal front, I have always been keen on sport—especially golf and running. Unlike most people who come for lessons because of back pain, stress, posture, breathing problems, etc., I came to try to improve my swing. Self-study, a comprehensive reading of golf articles, and thousands of hours practicing took me to a point where no further improvement seemed possible. The one encouraging thing was that Alexander had written quite a lot about golf; an entire chapter was devoted to the sport in his 1932 book The Use of the Self. Although he had never played golf himself, the insights he brought to the teaching lesson were profound. To be helped by a non-golfer where all other experts in the field had failed was significant. It was one of the happiest days of my life when I was able to apply the Technique to my own golf.

My experiments with applying the A.T to running continue today. I first ran seriously in 1978 to improve my fitness and found it wonderfully relaxing activity. The most difficult problem to overcome when I applied the A.T. to running from 1982 was ceasing mouth breathing. This was a habit I had developed and one that most runners find difficult to stop. And yet getting control of the breathing mechanism is so essential in improving your overall coordination. The runners I teach are all encouraged to gain this skill, for sucking breath through the mouth in the everyday activities of life causes much harm. (See the special section on breathing on my website.)

My enthusiasm for running has never dwindled, and since 2006 I have ran every day using the principles of the Technique without incurring any injuries, very few aches or pains, and without mouth breathing. I have always said that hill-runners must stay in the moment due to the terrain and speed of descent. They must able to think quickly and employ good use as well as good decision-making. If only they could be so attentive when not running. With the A.T. they can be equally coordinated sitting at a desk or when bending or squatting. What a pity sports people live in this dual world, and what a pity well-coordinated people over time lose this natural skill through a lack of knowledge of what is required to maintain fitness, health and balance.

This then is the role of an Alexander Teacher; being able to help people apply it to their own problem area, whether physical or mental. If you can use A.T. in one area it will be applied to all others; then you begin to see ‘problems’ with a new insight. This is the insight I take to my teaching. It is one I can share with you, something you will be able to learn when you come for lessons. It will change your life. It changed Alexander’s life. It changed my life and continues to do so.

One elderly pupil said to me recently, “This Technique will help you so much when you reach old age. You’ll know how to deal with all the problems age brings. You are in a very fortunate position.” She is right, but I said in reply, “It helps us at any age.” Why wait till problems happen? Many of us are just waiting for the straw to break the camel’s back. Most of us wait too long before seeking help, even though we know inside that ‘all is not well.’

I often wondered if I had never heard of the Technique all those years ago whether bad back would have stopped me playing golf, or damaged knees prevent me from running hills. What I do know is that knowing the Technique has allowed me to remain fit, pain-free and healthy. What more can you ask for? It has been worth all the effort, and it can help you, too.

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