There’s no escaping it on this planet. We are incessantly governed by our relationship with gravity. The most mysterious of the four fundamental forces, gravity tugs and pulls at our body continually. Every movement we make, every breath we take, it’s always there. Our body swims in it and like swimming, the more efficiently we move and align, the longer we’ll stay afloat, so to speak.
Each day is filled with subconscious actions. We drive cars, eat lunch, talk on phones — all with little intellectual awareness. Mousing, sitting, walking, scanning a price, standing; all done with little conscious awareness. Repetition is our daily routine. Our mind may not be fully aware of our movements but our body doesn’t miss a twitch.
So when simple tasks are physically inefficient, they stress the body and we end up with tension, a bad back or perhaps carpal tunnel syndrome or worse. And for performers and athletes, who require an even higher level of perfection in motion, an inefficient or stressful pattern of movement can have dire circumstances.
Meet Alexander. Most daily activities are composites of simple actions. If we could learn to do simple actions like sitting, walking, reaching, turning, typing and such in a stress-free manner, our body can benefit. The Alexander Technique helps a person learn to relate to movement and position in just such a way.
Frederick Alexander was born in Austria in 1869. He invented a technique of personal education and therapist interaction restoring efficiency and balance in common movements and postures. Moving and posturing well make for a happier body. It can result in relief from chronic pain and a whole host of common ailments.
Early in life, Alexander pursued a career in the theatre. Through overuse, he lost his voice. Alexander connected vocal strain to the way he held his head, neck and back while projecting. In an “Aha” moment, he realized his inefficient posturing was causing stress and injured his voice. He re-trained his body and found a new voice and a new calling. He moved to England and began teaching his technique to anyone who realized that their relationship to their body affected their health and performance.
Usually, two basic classes of people benefit from the Alexander Technique. One group is chronic pain sufferers experiencing a problem related to the way they use their body. The other group who typically see benefit are those who use their body in their work, like an athlete, a gym teacher, actor or performer.
An Alexander Technique therapist teaches in two ways. First, the student learns how to correctly use his or her body by learning and following the instructions and skills the teacher imparts. Therein lies a tremendous range of the empowerment involved with this technique. Secondly, the therapist helps the client uncover subconscious motivations that perpetuate the stressed position.
Local practitioner. “We don’t say sit up straight,” said Robert Rickover, an Alexander Technique therapist who lives in Lincoln. “That phrase puts too much emphasis on stress.”
“In fact,” Rickover continued, “That bit of advice to the young is pretty terrible. Though her intentions were good, mom was almost always wrong to put it that way. When we hear that, usually then people just rearrange tensions in their body. They don’t hang on to that advice, anyway. Most kids are smarter than that. They’ll sit up straight until mom leaves the room!”
“Though mom sees slouching isn’t a good thing, — it interferes with breathing, it doesn’t look good, all sorts of things. But the solution she proposes is to do something different but doing something different within the same framework of the bad habit.”
Posture as a verb. “Even thinking in terms of [body] positioning is harmful for a living, constantly moving person,” Rickover reminded. “Even just breathing is a motion-filled activity. Remember, “posture” can be a verb or a noun. It used to be more common as a verb but today “posturing” has negative connotations. It’s too bad, because it’s best to think of “posture” as an ongoing process, [a dynamic activity,] not a static position.”
Look at slouching in front of the computer, for example. “Slouching isn’t giving in to gravity,” Rickover said. “Slouching is actually tightening, pulling in and down with musculature. You don’t feel that but more importantly than moving out of that slouch position, Alexander Technique gives processes to lose that pattern.”
And if you just “sit up straight?” “You may make a change but not a lasting or valuable one,” he said. “AT solves the dilemma by identifying what you’re doing [thinking], usually unconsciously, that’s getting in your way and working to eliminate that.”
Our modern lifestyle wreaks havoc with health. Rickover agrees. “There’s more external stress, long hours sitting in front of a computer, etc. The AT has a history of helping people release tension and pain, and helping them move more efficiently — which is why it’s so popular with musicians, actors, athletes.”
Alexander Technique is about far more than sitting up straight. It’s a holistic approach that improves health and function. Learn more at Alexandertechnique.com
Heartland Healing is a New Age polemic describing alternatives to conventional methods of healing the body, mind and planet. It is provided as information and entertainment, certainly not medical advice. It is not an endorsement of any particular therapy, either by the writer or The Reader. Visit HeartlandHealing.com for more information.