What is the Alexander Technique?
“To you, clerk, literary man, sedentary person, man of fortune, idler, the same advice. Up!” [Walt Whitman]
Some time ago a man arrived at the studio of an Alexander teacher for his first lesson. As usual, the teacher spent a bit of time introducing the Technique, speaking of what they might consider during a lesson, and asking the man what brought him. The man explained there was really nothing wrong. A friend had a series of lessons with this teacher and recommended he give it a try.
As the conversation proceeded the man told the teacher the kinds of activities he did most weeks, including his work for a large technology company. Most of his day, he reported, was spent in front of a computer or attending meetings where he found it hard to focus for long. It turned out that during his entire day, he almost never sat down for more than a minute or two. The company he worked for had constructed a standing work station so he could spend the day in that position working at his computer. And, during the company’s meetings, he stood almost the entire time. When the teacher asked him about this, he replied that he could not sit for more than a few minutes as it caused pain. He couldn’t stand for long either; but while standing, he could move around, and that seemed to help.
Thinking back to the first few minutes where the student described his situation as “nothing wrong”, is a cause for wonder. The human body is constructed that it may be used to sit sometimes for long periods of time without pain. Sitting is very much a part of life, and there are many activities in which we couldn’t participate if we were not able to take advantage. This man probably sat quite comfortably at some early stage of his life, until something went wrong and his body no longer appreciated what he was doing that was causing such discomfort. So, he made the decision many of us might have done in his situation – “if it hurts to sit, just don’t do it”.
Our student has now, however, been studying the Alexander Technique for a while, and recently flew a significant distance, mostly seated, with no pain and little discomfort.
The Alexander Technique is a proven method to help reduce pain and stress. Although the Technique is educational and not therapy, it is found in many rehabilitation programs to help heal injury and recuperate from surgery (See research page for details). The Alexander Technique is also a vital part of the curriculum of many universities and conservatories both here and abroad, and is made available to employees of select companies and corporations.
The purpose of the study of the Alexander Technique is to get in touch with our natural postural habits of movement and expression that have always been a part of each of us. During the course of a lesson, the teacher will, through verbal and hands on instruction, help the pupil contact a feeling of ease, lightness and connection perhaps not experienced since childhood. The student begins to recognize that movement and expression are within our control, and therefore we are able to determine the amount of tension and muscular activity applied to any task. Through a study of the Technique, we learn to use our energy more efficiently, and stresses and strains that may have led to discomfort and pain, begin to go away.
As we study the Alexander Technique, we learn there are many ways to go about our activities no matter what they may be. With consciousness and awareness we become open to the alternatives of our life routines without unnecessary pain and stress. It is with this understanding that we learn to use only the effort we truly need for any activity.