F M Alexander was an actor and Shakespearian orator. He repeatedly lost his voice when on stage and, after consulting many doctors without success, decided to find out the cause for himself. This was the start of the Alexander Technique.
Through determined observation, Alexander identified in himself the main bad habit which became the basis for his effective technique; maintaining unnecessary tension between the top of his neck and the base of his head. Learning how to avoid creating any more than the minimum tension necessary cured his problem. It has since helped very many people to use their bodies more efficiently, and so avoid the problems which can be caused by repeated movements.
The Alexander Technique – taking the pressure off your body
by Robert Rickover
“Stand up straight!” “Pull your shoulders back!” As children, we were told to have good posture. Yet we were seldom taught effective ways to accomplish this. Indeed, we were often not even told just what “good posture” is. The consequences of this information gap can be seen all around us: stiff necks, shoulders hunched forward or pulled tightly back, restricted breathing, and tightness in the thighs, legs and ankles.
Backaches, headaches, and other painful symptoms are often the unfortunate result.
By the time we’ve spent a year of two in school, sitting for hours on chairs and at desks chosen primarily for their economy and for the convenience of the custodial staff, we have learned tension patterns that interfere with our natural easiness, balance, support, and freedom of movement. These tension patterns – slumping or stiff “good posture” patterns – become so habitual that they start to feel normal despite the fact that they seriously restrict our breathing and freedom of movement.
The Alexander Technique is a time-tested method of teaching ways to restore our natural balance, flexibility and ease of movement. It teaches the use of the appropriate amount of effort for a particular activity, releasing more energy for all our activities. It is not a series of treatments or exercises, but rather a re-education of the mind and body that helps you discover a new balance in your body by releasing unnecessary tension. It can be applied to all of your daily activities.
The Alexander Technique places a great deal of emphasis on the relationship between your head and neck. The way we manage that relationship has huge implications for the way the rest of our body is organized. If, as is so often the case, we compress our heads down into our spines, a whole series of compensatory tensions is created. If, on the other hand, we can learn to allow our head to balance lightly on top of our spine as nature intended, our built in “anti-gravity” reflex is activated and our body is encouraged to release previously held restrictions.
How the Alexander Technique is taught
The Alexander Technique is above all an educational method. Alexander Teachers use a combination of verbal instruction and a light, guiding, touch to convey information to their students. Alexander Technique teaching is done in private lessons and in group classes. Private lessons are usually between 1/2 and 1 hour in length.
Most certified Alexander Technique teachers have completed a three-year full time training course recognized by one of several major professional societies. Typically, the training courses have a student teacher ratio of 5:1 or less, and provide a great deal of individual attention for each trainee. A few teachers have trained more informally on an apprenticeship basis and some of them have become members of professional societies through a rigorous review process. Not all Alexander Technique teachers are certified and not all teachers eligible for certification are members of a professional society.
Choosing a teacher
All of the major professional Alexander Technique societies publish a teachers’ list as well as on-line listings. Recommendations from friends and colleagues can be useful in choosing a teacher, but you will have to judge for yourself if a particular teacher is right for you.
Ask about his or her training and be prepared to take a few lessons before deciding whether to continue with a course of lessons. If you live in a community with several teachers, have a lesson or two with several before making a final decision. The basic ideas of the Alexander Technique are not in any way complex or mystical, but they do represent a new way of thinking about the functioning of your body and may take a little getting used to at first.
Excess tension in your body can cause a variety of unpleasant symptoms and it can interfere with your ability to perform activities well. Therefore it is not surprising that most people come to the Alexander Technique because they are in pain (backaches, sore necks and shoulders, carpal tunnel syndrome etc.) and/or because they are performers who want to improve the quality of their singing, playing, acting or dancing.
People of all ages and occupations have benefited from Alexander Technique lessons. The Technique also has its share of famous people who have publicly endorsed it – including two Nobel Prize winners and a great many celebrities like Paul Newman, John Cleese, William Hurt, Sting, James Galway and Yehudi Menuhun.
Robert Rickover is a teacher of the Alexander Technique living in Lincoln, Nebraska. He also teaches regularly in Toronto, Canada. Robert is the author of Fitness Without Stress – A Guide to the Alexander Technique and is the creator of The Complete Guide to the Alexander Technique (www.alexandertechnique.com )
Here are contact details for the largest Alexander Technique organisation in the UK:
STAT (Society of Teachers of Alexander Technique) http://www.stat.org.uk/ 020 7284 3338