The Alexander Technique - John Edwards (MSTAT)
I first heard of the Alexander Technique in the late 1970s, when, following many years of performance and teaching of the classical guitar I began to suffer from pain in my neck and shoulders as well as frequent headaches. I was introduced to the Technique by a friend who had received lessons from Alexander himself. My first teacher was Diana Mason-- the only teacher in Bristol at that time--- and I was soon to be pleasantly surprised that something you learned could have such a therapeutic effect, namely the eradication of my pains. I remember wondering where they could have gone, and I could not even bring to memory their sensation. I was very impressed with the Technique, even more so as my guitar playing now felt so much lighter and easier. General well-being seemed greatly enhanced as well, with an interesting experience of being much more comfortable in my own skin!
I continued my lessons with Diana, Irina Jackson, other teachers for a few years, and in 1984 had the opportunity to begin one of the three year teacher training courses, which follow the principles laid down by FM Alexander himself. I qualified in 1987 from ATTC in Totnes.
Since then I have introduced the technique to hundreds of people, in lecture/demonstrations, short courses--I have been a leader for HF Holidays since 1994--, as well as in individual lessons. During the first ten or so years since qualifying I practised alternately in South Wales, Dorset and Hampshire, but from 2005 I have been more permanently established in Bournemouth.
What is the purpose of the Alexander Technique?
The Alexander Technique recognises that civilized life gives us the possibility of developing many bad habits in the ‘Use’ of ourselves, and from school days on we learn to slump when sitting, stand badly with stiff legs, the weight of the body often wrongly distributed. We hold our breath when concentrating and these things often under pressure to produce results and perform well. Worse of all, bad habits come to feel right and natural and so we are often completely unaware of them, but it is exactly these same habits that we bring to all our activities both in those needing great skill--dancing, singing, music, horse riding, swimming etc as well as in everyday life. In activities requiring such skills, habits of poor ‘Use’ can result in dissatisfaction at best, and at worst, sometimes even complete failure with repetitive strain injury, tendonitis, carpel tunnel syndrome etc. being a by- product.
In the gym I frequently see exercises being performed badly and with great strain, sometimes even under the guidance of a sports-trainer. Exercises that reinforce poor postural habits already well in evidence, and with absolutely no awareness that there is any other approach than ‘no pain- no gain’ or, ‘if its not hurting, is not working’. I have often thought that gyms and sports training places should prominently display a notice saying “Its not what you do, it’s the way that you do it”--but I think that would probably beg too many questions! and the practice of crude muscle strengthening exercises remains the remedy for almost everything.
It is possible that by practising the Alexander Technique, one can learn a far more skilful and co-ordinated way of ‘Using’ oneself in activities, develop a more reliable sense of effort involved, avoid long-term damage, and free oneself from aches and pains associated with misuse, and not the least, increased pleasure in using oneself well in any activity.
Usually these take place on a one to one basis, but it is possible to introduce the Technique in a small group setting. The teacher uses a gentle hands-on guidance to give the pupil experiences of seemingly simple activities, such as standing/sitting, walking, use of the voice and lying down etc. but since the guidance is in the hands of the teacher, combined with a particular way of thinking on the part of the pupil-- which we call Giving Directions-- these movements can be accomplished in a new way, with much reduction in habitual poor Use. In a short time, depending on the application of the pupil, this can become the norm.
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