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Alexander Technique

What is it?

The Alexander Technique is an educational method used worldwide for over 100 years. By teaching how to change faulty postural habits, it enables improved mobility, posture, performance and alertness and relief of chronic stiffness, tension and stress.

People study the Technique for a variety of reasons. The most common is to relieve pain through learning better coordination of the musculoskeletal system. Another common reason is to enhance performance. Athletes, singers, dancers and musicians use the Technique to improve breathing, vocal production, and speed and accuracy of movement. However, the most far-reaching reason people study the Technique is to achieve greater conscious control of their reactions.

The Alexander Technique is typically taught through a series of private lessons with a certified teacher. During lessons you learn through direct experience how to go about your daily activities with increasingly less effort and greater ease. You develop awareness of habits that interfere with your natural coordination and learn how to undo these patterns to consciously redirect your whole self into an optimal state of being. Most of us have many habitual patterns, learned consciously or unconsciously. These patterns can be unlearned, enabling the possibility of new choices – in posture, movement and reactions.

Over a course of lessons, your teacher introduces concepts and practices that expand your awareness of the functioning of your nervous system, muscular system and skeletal system. You’ll learn to restore optimal poise, balance and ease in overall functioning.  As you progress in your study, you’ll find that what you’re learning applies to all areas of your life.  Just as study and practice in a new language enables you to understand and speak the language easily without thinking, so study of the Alexander Technique’s principles will gradually integrate into the activities of your life on an ongoing basis.

What happens in a lesson?

In an Alexander Technique lesson, your teacher instructs you, with verbal and manual guidance, to approach movement differently. You will learn to recognize habit patterns that may be interfering with ease and flexibility and you’ll learn how to stop them. No special clothing is needed. There are two parts to a lesson:

Table work

To more easily experience the body’s muscles in a neutral state, part of the lesson takes place lying down (fully clothed) on a lightly padded table. Your teacher will teach you how to recognize and release any unnecessary tension you may be holding, promoting an enlivened sensory awareness and quieting the nervous system. You are an active participant: your eyes are open and conversation can take place.

Guided activity

Using simple activities such as sitting, standing, walking and speaking, your teacher gives you verbal, visual and physical cues to help you perform those activities with greater ease and efficiency. Guiding you in movement, your teacher will elicit your body’s capacity for dynamic expansion and you will learn how to maintain that ease and freedom on your own. Actors may choose to work on a monologue, violinists a challenging passage, dancers a movement. In any activity you bring to a lesson – swinging a tennis racket, lifting a child or sitting in front of a computer – you learn to apply the principles of the Alexander Technique to reduce compression and increase overall ease and proficiency. Lessons typically last 30 – 45 minutes.

Who studies the Alexander Technique?

People of all ages and abilities study the Alexander Technique to relieve pain, reduce stress, improve posture and enhance performance. Examples include:

* performing artists (singers, dancers, actors, musicians)

* people with chronic or recurrent back, neck and shoulder pain

* older people with balance issues

* people interested in improving posture

* public speakers

* amateur and professional athletes

* parents carrying young children, lifting groceries

* teenagers with posture issues

* computer users with hand, wrist and arm pain

What are the basic concepts?

Recognition of the force of habit

Our habits develop over the course of our lifetime, some are helpful and some are not. Our habits come to feel right or normal. Recognizing habitual reaction is a first step in enabling change. Your Alexander teacher will often recognize your habits before you can.

Faulty sensory appreciation

This force of habit interferes with the accuracy of our kinesthetic feedback. Creating a faulty sense of how we are functioning and limiting our ability to make productive change.

Inhibition

We react automatically and habitually to the various stimuli of life. The Alexander Technique teaches how to take advantage of the space between stimulus and response to choose a course of action. This is inhibition. It is a skill that we already have and can learn to develop and refine.

Direction

We have the ability to send messages from the brain through the nervous system to our muscles. The Alexander Technique teaches how to use this ability more effectively, resulting in more efficient functioning of the muscular system.

Primary control

The relationship among the head, neck and back is what F.M. Alexander called the primary control. The quality of that relationship, compressed or free, determines the quality of our overall movement and functioning.

Benefits

Benefits experienced by people who study the Alexander Technique include:

Pain relief

A leading contributing factor of musculoskeletal pain (and often its underlying cause) is unrecognized patterns of excess tension.  People tend to respond to pain by tensing further which usually exacerbates discomfort. Because it teaches how to recognize and unlearn these habitual patterns, the Alexander Technique is known for its effectiveness in relieving neck, back, and joint pain for the long-term.

Skill enhancement

Athletes – amateur and professional – use the Technique to improve strength, increase endurance, enhance flexibility and increase speed and accuracy of responsiveness. Performing artists (actors, singers, dancers, musicians) apply the principles to enhance freedom of movement, relieve performance anxiety and improve concentration and stage presence. Public speakers use it to improve vocal projection and overall voice quality. Those in business find it enhances presentation skills and increases confidence.

Improved ability to deal with stress

By teaching how to respond to any stimulus with less tension, the Alexander Technique enables you to better handle life’s stresses.

Who was Alexander?

Frederick Matthias Alexander (1869-1955) was a Shakespearean actor challenged by a recurring voice problem. Chronic hoarseness interrupted his burgeoning career and he frequently lost his voice while performing. Because doctors found nothing wrong with his vocal mechanism, he reasoned that the cause might be related to how he was using his voice.  After years of rigorous self-observation and experimentation, he found what he was doing that was causing the problem and figured out how to speak without those habitual patterns of tension.  He then no longer experienced vocal problems, regained a full, rich voice and returned to the stage.  His posture and overall coordination improved and he no longer had the problems with breathing that he had experienced since childhood.

Alexander continued to develop his technique, exploring the relationship of habit, thought and perception to human movement and functioning.  He taught his discoveries to other actors with such success that doctors began referring to him patients with various breathing and coordination problems. As word of his success spread, people came to study with him from various places around the world.

With more people interested in studying with him than he could teach, he developed a training program to enable people to teach it to others.  Over 100 years later, there are now thousands of certified teachers across the world trained in programs closely based on his.

Alexander’s discoveries evolved into core principles, the basis of his practical educational method. Students of the Technique today are as varied as the disciplines that have been influenced by this work: education, medical rehabilitation, skill development, stress management, the performing arts and athletic skill enhancement.

 

Jennifer graduated in 2010 from the Urbana Center for the Alexander Technique (Urbana, IL) under the instruction of Joan and Alex Murray.