Many people seek out the Alexander Technique when it is suggested that their backache or aching shoulders are a result of their poor posture.
FM Alexander (1869 - 1955) showed how neglect of the poise (balance) of the head on the spine set up many unwanted tension patterns in the body.
It was also no coincidence, he maintained, that the best sportsmen, dancers and performers are the ones on the whole who have an excellent relationship of the head, neck and back (HNB).
If your HNB relationship is poor and your body is consequently strained by harmful tension patterns, you will find it harder and harder to get your piano playing up to standard, to keep your eye on that golf ball, to maintain a winning tennis serve, or to climb a set of stairs.
Stress is the result of our inability to keep life's many stimuli at a manageable distance. A course of Alexander lessons will show you how you react to stimuli from one moment to the next - something which leads to narrowing or shortening in the body, which can upset the HNB relationship.
The Alexander Technique will teach you not to respond to stimuli immediately and will show you how to keep your serenity and body intact, i.e. free of unnecessary tensions.
To say the Alexander Technique is simply about body mechanics and postural re-alignment would be misleading. The slow improvement in posture through a course of lessons is only a by-product of more important principles that Alexander discovered.
Alexander's personal experience
Alexander showed how trying to reach a goal ("end-gaining") brought with it a myriad of unnecessary interfering tensions. Also his research into the body's responses to stimuli has important implications in the understanding of stress and how to manage it.
His own predicament is worth noting.
As an actor, he used to deliver lengthy recitations to audiences in his native Tasmania in the 1890s. At the peak of his career, he began to get hoarse during his performances, until his voice was virtually inaudible. Doctors were unable to help and he concluded that he must be doing something to himself.
Watching himself in a mirror, he saw that he pulled back his head (upsetting his HNB relationship) at the moment of speaking, constricted his throat in some way, and became hoarse. In a live performance he was particularly unable to prevent this reaction from happening because the stimulus to speak was so strong.
(This article was written by Matthew Reid. For more information on the Alexander Technique or if you want to find a teacher in your area, visit www.alexandertechnique.org.za)
- (Health24, updated May 2011)
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