Let’s Talk About You
You found your way here.
Let’s talk about you for a second.
I invite you to take a moment… and notice the way you’re sitting.
Are you sitting on your sitting bones?
What’s going on in your lower back? Your upper back?
What’s happening in your shoulders?
How does your neck feel?
What are your feet doing?
Are you clenching your jaw?
These questions are inviting you to check in with your body – with your muscular-skeletal system – and your kinesthetic sense of yourself.
Why Is Developing A Kinesthetic Sense Of Myself Important?
You know that pain you feel in your shoulder, the ache in your lower back, the tightness in your neck? Well those things (and more) have their roots in unconscious habits that you’ve developed over time. In order to address them, you first need to become aware of them. Often it is HOW we do something that creates the problem, not the activity itself.
We interfere with our natural functioning, and we don’t even know it. Often, people are surprised to find that they don’t bend their knees, that they always bend their back, that they stick their neck out,… that they’ve been doing things so long that the feedback system doesn’t enter into their consciousness any more; they just muscle through things. These conditions don’t just happen; they develop over time: like a train coming around a bend, you can’t see it at first, but it’s coming.
When we don’t know what our bodies are doing or what our habits are, that’s when we develop pain, stress, and lose our natural balance. And we find ourselves working harder than we have to, physically, muscularly, just to be upright. And that’s a lot of extra energy being spent on things that could better be spent elsewhere.
We feel pain in one part, and we think that’s the part we need to fix… In fact, we actually need to build the entire support system in order to find balance and healing. As Plato said, “The part can never be well unless the whole is well.”
That’s where the Alexander Technique comes in.
What’s The Alexander Technique?
The Alexander Technique is a psycho-physical technique for self-care. It is mind-body re-education. It’s re-learning the most efficient, effortless way to move, to stand, to sit, to be in one’s body. This is not physical therapy – although it does have therapeutic value. This is really about learning how to use yourself more efficiently and more effectively. How to live in neither a collapsed nor a held posture. How to let go of excess tensions in the body. How to coordinate all the individual parts of your body into a balanced whole, in which the breath supports your spine which balances your head and mobilizes your ribs which float your shoulders which support your arms as your lower back releases which frees your hips and legs which releases your knees so you can walk with ease and groundedness, all without pulling down, clenching, muscling, constricting, bracing, or otherwise impairing the natural design of what can be a healthy muscular-skeletal system.
Most problems stem from overusing some muscles and neglecting others. The technique teaches people to move and coordinate their bodies by using forgotten muscles to support movement and avoid poor posture and overuse. Alexander work doesn’t ask you to take time out of your day or “do” any exercises. Rather, it asks you to think WITHIN the activities you’re normally doing. As students change their individual habits, they develop poise and ease when standing and walking, and sitting becomes more comfortable, reducing the desire to slouch.
People are delighted to find that they can make lasting changes which improve the way they carry out their daily activities, thus eliminating their pain and discomfort and giving them newly found freedom of mind and body. They learn how dynamic and changeable the body really is.
Why Is It Called The Alexander Technique?
F.M. Alexander was an actor at the turn of the century who lost his voice onstage, and discovered that it was the way he was using himself – breathing, standing, moving – that was causing the problem. His unconscious physical habits were hindering his instrument, his professional craft, and his physical (and emotional) well-being.
So he took it upon himself to identify what those habits were, and how he could change them. He re-educated himself through self- observation and conscious learning, until he found that his voice returned, his mobility improved, and his physical, professional, and emotional well-being was restored.
His system of observations and techniques have since become internationally renowned as an effective method for physical change and renewed freedom. The Alexander Technique is used by people all over the world to deal with issues like muscular-skeletal pain, neurological problems (such as Parkinson’s and M.S.), respiratory problems (like asthma), vocal fatigue, headaches, and gastrointestinal disorders, among others.
Intermission…. A Quick Return To Kinesthetic Awareness
I invite you to check back in with yourself.
Notice how you’re feeling.
How are you sitting now? Have you changed position? Are you holding tension anywhere?
Take a moment to give a very gentle nod of your head (a small gesture of “yes”) to lead your spine upward and incline your torso forward. You may feel the rolling of your sitting bones on the chair. By doing this, you are preventing yourself from rounding your back and collapsing through your chest. Notice that there’s less downward pressure on your neck.
When you want to come back to sitting upright, let your head again lead the movement, and your spine follow upward as you feel your sitting bones roll back.
Now, just let a breath out.
And now notice that a new breath returned, and you didn’t have to “do” anything for that to happen.
What Happens In An Alexander Lesson?
Well, that was a little taste of it. Except that a teacher would be there with hands-on guidance: imagine a teacher infusing this knowledge into your body with their hands. You will experience a release of tension like you’ve never experienced before. Light bulbs will go off!
Lessons in the Alexander Technique are about re-education– which is why we refer to ourselves as teachers of students, rather than as therapists treating patients.
The first step is to help a student develop an awareness of his/her unique thinking, movement, and breathing patterns. Together we explore basic activities such as sitting, walking, bending, lifting, and speaking. Once the principles of the technique are understood, lessons are then geared to the individual needs of the student. We simulate your daily activities – playing a piano, typing on a laptop, chopping vegetables in the kitchen, running on a trail, driving to work, talking on the phone, you name it.
Over time, a student learns how to identify places of unnecessary muscle tension and how to address them with improved coordination and ease. S/he also begins to redevelop healthy breathing patterns as an internal support for the whole body. Gradually, harmful patterns are replaced with new ones that allow the student to carry out her/his daily activities with less pain, increased mobility, and healthy breathing patterns.
Alexander lessons usually last 45 minutes.
To experience lasting benefits, it’s best to study once a week for at least 6 months.
Final Act, Or, What Do I Do Now?
Here are some options:
- Go to www.AmSAT.com. Find an Alexander teacher. Try a class. See how it goes, and what it does for you.
- Visit www.JessicaWolf.net. Read a little more about the Alexander Technique, and The Art of Breathing.
- Know that you can make choices; you’re not a prisoner of your habits. You can find renewed physical freedom by developing your kinesthetic awareness and learning how to improve the way you move.
- Allow your breath out and effortlessly, let a new breath to return.