For your Physical, Mental, and Spiritual
Health & Well-being - October 2002
The Alexander Technique
Robert walked into my
office on a Monday morning. He informed me that he was having severe
back pain and was due to go into the hospital for a disc operation.
I looked at him closely as I began to take a medical history. He
was mid thirties, a successful executive, and looked quite robust.
I noted his posture: chin raised so that the back of the neck was
compressed, back arched so that the chest was pushed forward and
upwards and an overall over-tension of the musculature. I asked
him to stand and sit a few times which caused him to flinch with
the pain in his back. I noted how this everyday action caused compression
of his spine and a severe arching of his back. It was obvious that
the stress on his back had, over time, damaged the discs between
the vertebrae and this was causing the severe pain. Roberts
condition was complicated by accidents from his competitive skiing,
loss of some tissue from his lower right leg, knee damage and the
most significant factor, arthritis damage to the left hip that had
severely restricted movement. It seemed the arthritis was not active
at this time, but when it had been Robert had avoided flexing his
hip and was now in the habit of flexing his back instead.
I explained how our ingrained habits can affect us adversely even
though we are quite unaware of them. I began to adjust his standing
posture, lengthening the back of his neck so that his chin dropped
and his eyes were looking straight forward and encouraging his back
to lengthen so that the overarching was reduced, relieving the pressure
on the vertebral discs. I feel really weird he said.
I explained that when we use certain habits for any length of time,
they feel right to us and anything different feels strange
and even wrong. The conditioning we undergo starts in
childhood. Habits are established and continue into adult life,
gradually taking their toll on our well-being.
Encouraging Robert to maintain the adjustments I had made, I asked
him to bend his knees and hips, so that he lowered into a chair.
He was surprised by how much easier it seemed from the way he did
it himself. I then moved him forward in the chair, asking him to
bend in the hips as much as the arthritis would allow, while maintaining
the adjustments I had made to his posture. This would seem simple
but is actually very hard for most clients. As soon as he began
the forward movement, he thrust his chest forward, compressed the
back of the neck, tensed his legs and tried to get up using the
same habit he had demonstrated when I was observing him and causing
the same pain.
If we are to change any habit pattern, we must first stop doing
what we habitually do and allow something different to take place.
This something different is what we were born with,
and have discarded and forgotten. My function is to persuade a client
to trash the harmful programs he or she have been using
and re-establish the original. The way to do this is to set up the
appropriate conditions and refuse to do anything that will disturb
them as we go into action. We must trust that, if conditions are
right the result is taken care of.
After 3 or 4 attempts, I was able to persuade Robert to move in
the chair in a way that did not stiffen his neck, hollow his back
or tense his hips, and he rose from the chair in an effortless way.
He was amazed at just how easy it was and significantly he had felt
no back pain.
Roberts severe back problems seem far removed from the 1890s
when a young actor named Fredrick Mathias Alexander walked on stage
in Melbourne, Australia and began a recitation of Shakespeare. After
a few stanzas he began to lose his voice, audibly sucking in air
and becoming so hoarse that he had to abandon the performance. This
was not the first time, and the young man from Tasmania who had
dreamed of a career as a great actor found his dream shattered.
He sought the advice of various doctors who, despite throat sprays
and other medications, failed to solve the problem. Only one thing
seemed to help: resting or not using his voice, but as soon as he
used it again the problem returned. Then a light bulb went on in
Alexanders mind. There seems to be nothing intrinsically wrong
with my voice, he reckoned, but maybe there is something wrong with
the way I try to use it. Thus began several years of self observation
and search that resulted in the solution to his voice problem and
the discovery of the principles that are now taught in the Alexander
Technique. These can be applied to many physical conditions as well
as a range of those termed pyschosomatic. The most important principle,
revolutionary for the early 1900s, was mind/body unity. We
are psycho-physical beings, Alexander declared, so it is not enough
to treat a physical problem, we must also examine the mental habits
of thought, belief and choice, thus bringing a better tuned awareness
to our every action. Alexander successfully taught his approach
in Australia and moved to London in about 1910, where he published
four books helping to heal many prominent people such as George
Bernard Shaw. He set up a Teacher Training so that others could
learn his method and there are now teachers and training coursed
throughout the world. A certified teacher must have completed a
3 year, 1600 hour training with a school approved by the National
Organization. The American Society of Alexander Teachers (AmSat)
is the U.S. body.
Robert completed a course of sessions with me, avoiding the expense
of back surgery and returned to his athletic pursuits, calling me
to say he had won a downhill ski race. Prior to seeing me he had
tried several things to alleviate his pain. They provided a short
term effect but did not get to the root cause. It was only when
he brought to recognition of the part his psychophysical habit were
playing that he was able to change the conditions that were impeding
the natural health of the body and adopt those that would allow
the healing process to be successful.
Ideally the Alexander principles should be learned as a preventative
measure, before our habits manifest as physical discomfort. It is
helpful at improving performance and avoiding injury in many activities.
It is taught at many drama and music schools, such as Julliard and
many well known performers have benefited from it.
Can the Alexander principles help you? Relieving yourself of the
burden of debilitating habits will enable you to experience your
life in a new way, free of stress and tension which brings about
lightness, grace and well being.
Colin Egan M.Ed. is
20 year, internationally certified practitioner of the Alexander
Method. He trained for 3 years in England with former assistant
to F.M. Alexander, the founder of the method. He has taught in England,
Colorado and now resides in Moab. He is dedicated to helping everyone
to realize their true potential.