Most of us know that for overall health and wellbeing we should eat right, exercise regularly, have adequate sleep and find time to relax. But even people who do all these things experience stress, pain and tension. Something seems to be missing.
The Alexander Technique provides that vital missing something—and that something is how we do all the activities we do every day. This includes how our posture is while eating [are you in a collapsed position squashing your digestive organs?], how we exercise [are you scrunching and tensing your neck as you do your daily run?], how we sleep [are you tense or calm?], and how we relax [do you collapse in a heap on the couch in a way that compresses the spine and makes it harder to breathe?]. The Alexander Technique addresses the way we coordinate our body in all our activities, teaching us to maximise efficiency and minimise tension.
So, what is the Alexander Technique?
The Alexander Technique is a way of learning to identify and change harmful habits of movement, tension and reaction. This gradual ‘unlearning’ of lifetime postural habits leads to improved coordination, balance and body awareness. It provides an intelligent way to relieve the pain and stress caused by everyday misuse of your body, from the way we sit at the computer, to the way we present ourselves at a business meeting. It recognises that the relationship between the head, neck and back is of paramount importance, and that we can change our patterns of movement by changing the way we think.
How and where is this technique practised?
The Alexander Technique is most commonly taught in one-to-one lessons but sometimes also in group classes. Along with verbal and visual cues, an Alexander Technique teacher uses a gentle, guiding touch as part of the teaching process. You learn to prevent harmful habits of tension, bringing ease and coordination to everyday activities, such as sitting, standing, walking, bending, reaching, and lying down, as well as to activities such as playing a musical instrument, working at the computer, gardening or public speaking. You learn how to use your awareness and thinking to help release tension and guide movement.
Rather than having specific exercises to do, you can practise what you learn at any time, while doing anything. Many, however, incorporate Constructive Rest into their daily practice. Constructive Rest is a way of lying down that promotes good spinal alignment. [Refer to the box on the left to learn how to do it]. It can be invaluable for anyone suffering from neck or back pain. It
also gives The Alexander Technique students a place to practise their new awareness
and thinking skills.
What are the benefits of the Alexander Technique?
Because learning the Alexander Technique improves your entire coordination, the benefits are
many and varied. They include:
- prevention of and relief from, pain
- reduction in strain and muscular tension
- injury prevention
- improvement in posture
- enhanced performance [e.g. in the performing arts, sports or the workplace]
- effective stress management
- increased range of motion
- improved confidence and self-control
- greater mind-body awareness
Who is it good for?
The Alexander Technique can be practised by anyone who is interested and willing to learn. Because The Alexander Technique improves overall wellbeing, it helps people across all ages and from all walks of life, such as:
- computer users
- musicians, singers and actors
- business professionals
- parents and teachers
- athletes and fitness enthusiasts
- people with back pain
Some famous students of the Alexander Technique include Hugh Jackman, Paul McCartney, Paul Newman, Sting, Yehudi Menuhin, Roald Dahl, Aldous Huxley, and John Dewey.
Origin of this Technique
The Alexander Technique was developed over 120 years ago by Frederick Matthias Alexander, an Australian actor who began to experience chronic hoarseness, sometimes even the loss of his voice, when he performed. Doctors and voice professionals at the time could not find anything wrong, he developed a solution known as The Alexander Technique, through the process of observing himself as he spoke. Alexander discovered that strong patterns of excess tension in his neck and body were causing his problem. Over time he developed a strategy to let go of these habits, enabling him to speak and move with greater freedom and ease. People were so impressed by the improvements in his health, that he was persuaded to teach others what he learned. He continually refined his teaching methods and developed a way of using his hands to help his students have the experience of a new way of using themselves. He also trained others to teach his method, and now there are thousands of Alexander Technique practitioners and teachers around the world.
Find a quiet place where you will be undisturbed. Spread a rug on the floor and lie down on your back. Don’t use a pillow; instead, place your head on a small stack of paperback books. There should be just enough to allow your head to be level with your shoulders as you lie on
the floor. Bend your knees so that your feet
are flat on the floor and your knees are pointing to the ceiling. Your feet should be about hip width apart and resting completely on the floor. Place your hands on your abdomen but don’t interlink your fingers. Let there be a gap between your hands.
Start by taking time to become aware of the way you are lying on the floor. Remind yourself that you don’t have to support yourself against gravity in this position, so this is a good chance to allow your muscles to release. Allow your eyes to soften; think of them becoming receptive rather than active. At the same time, don’t let them go blank. You must actually see what you’re looking at. We don’t want to strain your eye muscles.
Take time with this part of the procedure to allow yourself to quieten down in body and mind.
Gently bring your awareness to your neck and think of the muscles of the neck softening. This changes the way your head articulates with your spine, and facilitates release in the muscles of the back. Encourage this further by thinking of the head gently moving away from the feet—please remember that you don’t need to move either your head or your feet. We are more interested in the internal release rather than the external movement. Then ask your shoulders to soften and gently sink into the floor. Here it can be really tempting to just push your shoulders down into the floor—Don’t do it! We want an internal release which unravels your shoulder muscles from the inside. The use of force is counterproductive.
Stay with these three simple thoughts—the neck freeing up, the head moving away from the feet, and the shoulders releasing into the floor —for about 10 – 15 minutes. Then gently roll over onto your side to get up. You can practise this once or twice a day. Increase the duration and frequency if you want to—it won’t hurt! It rests and lengthens your spine, and makes you feel calmer and more able to cope with the pressures of the day.
Padmini Menon is the only certified Alexander Technique trainer in India. She can be contacted at email@example.com
This was first published in the May 2014 issue of Complete Wellbeing.
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