Friday, March 25, 2005
What is the Alexander Technique? Position your body to improve your health
I first heard about the Alexander Technique back when I was in college majoring in music. I remember having the impression that it was something I should learn. So a few summers ago, when I had the opportunity to sign up for a workshop at a summer music camp, I jumped at the chance. A small group of us met for 45 minutes a day for five days and the instructor, Freyda Epstein, gave us an overview of the technique and its benefits. I walked away from the workshop with the realization that this was something that I wanted to learn and do for the rest of my life.
With the Alexander Technique one learns, by working with a teacher in private lessons, how the mind and body work together. The technique is a way of learning to rid the body of harmful tension by changing movement and position habits in everyday activities. With the hands-on guidance of the teacher and the aid of mirrors, the student comes to recognize how habit can both interfere with good "mechanical" use and create a faulty perception of how we function. Gradually the student is taught to inhibit the habit and replace it with a new way of organizing the body in use.
I have now been studying the technique for two and a half years, as a student and subsequently as a teacher-in-training. I expected to have relief from tendonitis in my wrists and the shoulder pain related to working on the computer for long hours and playing the banjo. I didn't realize that it would also boost my energy and endurance.
F. Mathias Alexander (1869—1955) was a Shakespearean orator at the turn of the century. As a young actor he struggled with losing his voice during performances. He consulted with medical professionals, and was advised that rest was needed. However, no amount of resting his voice prevented the problem from returning when he took to the stage. Because his doctors were unable to offer him a solution, he set out to solve the problem on his own. After a long period of observation and analysis, Alexander found that his difficulties appeared to be the result of unconscious habits that created unnecessary tension and strain. He further observed that his awareness of how he used his body in performance (his kinesthetic awareness) was distorted because of this habitual misuse. Alexander observed a fundamental relationship between the head, neck and back that he determined to be our primary means for orienting in space. It was his habitual interference with this primary relationship that he thought to be the cause of his difficulties performing. Having discovered this in himself, he then endeavored to pass on what he had learned to others who were experiencing similar difficulties.
In his subsequent writings, Alexander spoke of the use of the self. He was referring to how we use ourselves in all activities and in all circumstances. An Alexander teacher's objective is to observe a student's habitual movements and then to find a means of conveying an alternative experience, one free of detrimental habit. The student's task is to work with the teacher towards the desired head, neck and back relationship while inhibiting the impulse to respond to movement in a habitual way. With a series of lessons, the student will become aware of where tension is held and what ingrained habits lead to excess use of muscle tension, limitation of mobility and frequently pain and discomfort. With awareness and conscious direction, these habits can be inhibited and kinesthetic awareness restored.
If you are interested in learning more, this information can be found at the American Society for the Alexander Technique site: www.alexandertech.org.
© 2005 The Carlisle Mosquito