If we are considering having lessons in the Alexander Technique it may often be because we have a bad back, stiff neck, poor posture, poor breathing or some other aspect of our postural health that we'd like improved. Also, many professionals in sport, performing arts or in business will come to enhance their abilities in their field because they've heard that the Alexander Technique can help. Actually, what the technique does is help us make the most of ourselves.
But what does all this mean? What does the Alexander Technique actually do? How does it work? Well firstly, the Alexander Technique is something that we learn to apply for ourselves. It is not therapy or treatment. Professionals like myself are called 'teachers' and not therapists. The Alexander Technique is educational and by having a short course of 'lessons' we learn how to apply the technique so we can avoid any harmful postural habits that may be affecting us while also helping us make the most of ourselves, physically and mentally. Although we may have specific symptoms that brought us to the idea of having sessions, we do not focus much on these, but we address the underlying causes of these symptoms. But while the technique is not therapy, there are very clear therapeutic benefits for many people and their painful symptoms can just disappear as we refine our balance and restore the natural poise we had as young children. It's never too late; I've worked with some clients well over 100 years old and they have improved their poise, become more upright, taller, breathing better and more stable on their feet. So how do we go about it?
In principle it’s all very simple. We are bipeds standing on two feet, and being upright creatures and living with gravity, it is important that we are in balance. Not only must we be in balance, but free of unnecessary tension. We need to be loose, tall and broad….all at the same time. At first, this sounds like a contradiction in terms because as adults we have come to think of when we’re loose, we collapse in a heap on the sofa, and when we want to be tall, we need to try hard to hold ourselves up and make a lot of effort. But this effort is both unnatural and unsustainable, so we’re likely to collapse again; we fluctuate between these two extremes depending on our guilt or fatigue! But life isn’t meant to be like that. We’re all ‘designed’ to be upright and free, just as a young child, and how we once were. We still have the capability for it now. The Alexander Technique is a method that will help us regain this free and expansive quality that we used to have when we were young.
If we’re not in balance we will either fall over, or more likely we will stiffen our muscles throughout our body to compensate. The extra tension we use to keep ourselves upright despite being off balance can become a habit that will affect everything we do. These tensions interfere with our natural co-ordination so that we don’t function efficiently. Using the Technique helps us rid ourselves of unwanted habits and regain our natural poise that we need to function at our best. Our body will work perfectly well if we let it. Our job is to primarily stop the harmful things we may be doing to ourselves that are preventing us from functioning efficiently. It requires us therefore to take control of our bodies more consciously. This is achieved by thinking and by bringing our attention to the situation we are in at this present moment. We are constantly being bombarded by various stimuli around us, but in order to help ourselves we need to be able to keep our attention and awareness on ourselves and to apply some conscious control. We will therefore be thinking much more about how we are doing things. In this manner we can retrain our muscles to co-ordinate better and will become more instinctive as we progress.
Ultimately we want to achieve a quality of poise that is in balance, where we are free of unnecessary tension, and are expansive. We want to be loose, tall and broad and in balance… all at the same time. This is a big concept to grasp, so in order to regain this natural quality, Alexander broke it down into simple steps. If we go through these steps one after the other, they can combine together to bring about the overall quality that we want. But firstly we need to be aware of two main aspects of using the Technique that will govern how we use the sequence of steps.
The Alexander Technique involves firstly using a process called ‘Inhibition’, which is not Freudian in any way, but more a process of preventing the wrong habitual use from occurring. And secondly we use ‘Directions’, which are mental instructions to bring about the required freeing up, ‘lengthening’ and ‘widening’. These are ways of using our mind in a simple but powerful way and we use these two main processes to change our co-ordination and improve our poise.
The Alexander Technique is taught on a one-to-one basis because we are all individuals with our own patterns of tension and habits. We get hands-on guidance from a teacher who can give us a new experience of what it feels like to be in better balance, more expansive and moving more freely. By repeating positive experiences where we are moving and 'holding ourselves' better, this gets into our muscle memory; we are retraining our muscles to co-ordinate better together. Most importantly we learn how to use the Alexander Technique for ourselves so we become self-sufficient. It's a simple but powerful method that can stand us in good stead for the rest of our lives and help prevent problems in the future.
I always recommend to anyone interested to have a one off Introductory Session with a properly qualified teacher who has completed their 3 year full-time teacher training course at a registered teacher training centre. If we have a one off session, we get to talk to the teacher about our own personal situation and they can advise us. We also get a demonstration of how the Technique may help us. We will do things like walking, sitting, standing, bending and everyday movements that we take for granted, but we get to experience doing them differently, in better balance, more freely and avoiding strain. It can feel just great and with repeated lessons it becomes a way of life. It really can be quite simple.
A list of qualified teachers can be found on the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique website. www.stat.org.uk or read more about the technique and its benefits on my website www.alexander-technique.com