I've very much enjoyed being a student of Sylvie for the last two months, and am genuinely shocked at the profound effect studying the Alexander Technique has had for me.
The 'Alexander Technique' was created by Australian actor, Frederick Matthias (F.M.) Alexander (1889 - 1955). He put his work together as a result of becoming hoarse while reciting to the point of not being able to perform. His success in helping himself led to others coming to him for help. On the urge of Doctor McKay, he came to England and established himself London in 1904, never to return to his home country. He published four books: Man’s Supreme Intelligence, Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual, Use of the Self, The Universal Constant in Living. In the early 1930s he ran his first teacher training course.
Coming up with a definition for 'What is the Alexander Technique' can prove difficult. As a matter of fact, F.M. Alexander did not provide a definition for his 'technique'; he did not even call what he was doing a 'technique'. This is the label that was attributed to what he was doing after his death.
What F.M. Alexander talked about, though, was 'his work' and 'how to do the work'.
It cannot be a surprise then that there is work involved in the Alexander Technique.
He himself put a lot of personal work over many years into what he created and was fond of saying
you can do what I do, if you will do what I did.
As such, the Alexander Technique is not a therapy and requires an active involvement of the student. Furthermore, Alexander Technique teachers are not health practitioners and as such cannot diagnose.
Movement is an important part of the Alexander Technique and so the Alexander Technique is about movement. However, the Alexander Technique is not only about movement. It is about the 'study of thinking in relation to movement'.
Manipulations will bring about improvements. For them to be lasting or genuinely improved, though, students have first to learn about the relationship between thinking and movement.
This relationship between thinking and movement is important and its understanding paves the way to acquiring and developing further skills, processes, called mental disciplines.
During Alexander Technique lessons, what is retrained is how students think. Thinking is an ability we all have. So what is at the heart of the Alexander Technique is the ability to think in a certain way. And it is that way of thinking differently about standing or sitting, for example, that will bring about changes in how the students stand or sit.
Everybody can take part in Alexander Technique lessons: young and not so young; women, men, children; artists; athletes; actors; singers; people with medical conditions or not.
Having Alexander Technique lessons is for anyone who wants to nurture and promote their health. Indeed, taking part in Alexander Technique lessons acts as a prevention and contributes to how well and healthy we feel.
So what does being healthy mean? What is health? According to the World Health Organization is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.
When defining health in such a way one does not only focus on the medical care – the dis-ease side – and one also includes other important aspects in the life of the individual: how do they feel all around? Emotionally, mentally, socially, physically?
Taking part in Alexander Technique lessons leads us towards a healthier way of life: we are not always aware that the ills we are suffering from come from the way we organise ourselves.
When you come for an Alexander Technique lesson for the first time, you will be asked a few questions about yourself and if you are suffering from any medical condition.
Then the teacher will give you an introduction of the ideas, concepts and principles of the Alexander Technique. This opens the door to your understanding about the Alexander Technique and will lead to your first Alexander Technique lesson.
Students/clients usually come to Alexander Technique lessons with an issue related to an everyday activity or to a more specialised activity. Whether the movement issue is related to walking, raising your arm, bending your leg, lifting something, talking, singing, riding your bike, running, playing an instrument, etc. we will discuss what your issue is and why it is an issue for you. After such a discussion you will perform your activity and we will analyse what is going on. This almost always leads to a new understanding and, together with gentle manipulations, to a new experience. This understanding combined to experience bring about change: you will perform your activity in a different way which almost always brings about ease of movement and less discomfort.
The focus of a session is on movement.
On movement AND what drives the movement, i.e the thinking behind it, the thinking that drives it.
In a lesson we will look into that relationship between thinking and movement and we will inevitably
come across a saying by Einstein:
It is easier to break the atom than to destroy prejudice. We all
have prejudices and beliefs regarding how we ought to move and how we ought to behave. Learning to
question those prejudices and beliefs leads to more freedom, simple and easier movements.
Whatever activity you choose to perform in an Alexander Technique lesson takes place in the here and now, within the present circumstances you find yourself in. The reason for that is that we get improvement in the present, not in the past or the future.
The past is no longer and nothing new can happen if we are prisoners of our past. Shedding the past allows to start anew. So, even though everything is repeated (whatever the activity chosen: walking, sitting, dancing, writing, playing an instrument, etc.) everything is new as each time the movement is performed with an open mind in the present moment (new) while at the same time being informed by past experiences.
As Osho says
To be in the moment is the miracle: it helps slow down, it helps to pay attention to what
we are doing, it helps to be in the moment of the activity (not to be on autopilot), it helps to be more
at peace, it helps to have more time, it helps to improve our wellbeing. Indeed, this attention to the present
usually leads to less tension.
Alexander Technique students play an active part in their lessons. Lessons are designed around whatever issue or concern clients/students bring to the lesson. They learn how to do things for themselves (when they want to, as they want to) without adding additional muscular effort.
This active part, this engagement of thoughts and thinking leads to learning and, step by step, progress. As a matter of fact, without a student’s collaboration, change cannot take place.
Participating in Alexander Technique lessons does not teach anything new. Frank Pierce Jones puts it this way:
(...) the Alexander Technique doesn't teach you something new to do. It teaches you how to bring more practical
intelligence into what you are already doing (...).
It is true that we all 'know' how to sit, stand, walk, etc. During a lesson, we learn to stop how we usually react and to function is such a way that we perform our activity with as much effort as necessary and no more.
What we gain during a lesson is a better understanding of what we are doing and how we are doing it, a more efficient way to go about our activity. In this respect, we perform a 'new' movement in the now of the lesson.
We can transfer what we learn in a lesson to our everyday activities: we are less locked in contractions we were not even aware of, we are less tired, we act more rapidly with less effort for a longer time in all situations.
Learning the Alexander Technique is no quicker than studying a martial art or learning to play a new musical instrument or learning how to paint. There is no saying how long it will take: your journey will take time.
Give yourself time to learn, to walk your way through confusion, a state that is part of your learning process: if we always know what we are doing we cannot learn something new. It also takes time to learn something of ourselves; we are our own field of experiments: knowledge comes from within.
Whatever your concerns, whatever you might be suffering from there is no substitute but give your body and mind time to change. IT IS ESSENTIAL TO GIVE TIME A CHANCE. The answers you are looking for while learning might not come up during your session but afterwards and sometimes weeks afterwards: A big change may happen overnight…. after a long period of input.
A quick-fix is exactly that – quick but it is unlikely to be long lasting. YOU and only you can give yourself time and give the healing process of your body time to work. So do not despair, follow a process and, in time, you will notice change.
The Alexander Technique is an education that requires the student to change their thinking so that they move in
a different way and interferes less with the way we are made. The more you study the Alexander Technique,
the more lessons you have, the more your understanding grows and the more change for the better you are able to make.
The shift in thinking you learn to master, very often, leads to less pain, less tiredness, more mobility.
As Alexander said:
This may not be today, tomorrow, or the next day, but it will be (…), provided we
do work at it.
What we sometimes forget, in cases of chronic issues or conditions, is how long we have put up with or even ignore discomfort before seeking help. What we sometimes forget is that looking for a more natural way to help oneself takes longer to respond BUT the effects and benefits are very often longer lasting.
Taking parts in Alexander Technique lessons can be beneficial in several ways. It can for example help:
promote a sense of well-being and pleasure in movement(F. P. Jones)
Contrary to what is often thought, the Alexander Technique is not a therapy, neither does it deal with posture or position:
The question is not one of correct position, but of correct co-ordination*.
Thinking is central to the Alexander Technique and plays an important part in its teaching. The Alexander Technique re-trains students' thinking in such a way that this new way of thinking allows the body to move in a more natural way.
As vertebrates, we are made to move and we are in fact designed to do so. You might be doing yoga, running; you might be playing an instrument, etc. This is what you do. Although what you do is important, Alexander claims that how you do your yoga, how you run, how you play your instrument is of greater importance. He claims that your head/neck relationship with your body in movement will improve everything you do and that you will have better co-ordination.
Taking up the Alexander Technique helps you move forward one step at a time whether you want:
By learning a new way of thinking, you will use less muscular effort in everything you do and hence will move more easily, efficiently and effectively.
So don't give up, the Alexander Technique can help you move forward and learn a process which is a simple and efficent solution to many problems and limitations we encounter, and very often create, in our lives.##########
* Man's Supreme Inheritance , Mouritz.
Fabulous introduction to the Alexander technique this morning. Eye-opening and thought provoking, thanks so much.
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