I love exploring what wellness methods are out there because I’m curious. I also like to get a taste of these methods myself so as to find out how they work in order to tell my friends and clients about them, as well as to become a better instrument myself to carry out any sort of healing work. Here I would like to talk about Alexander Technique because I have had very good experience and positive changes with the lessons I had.
So, what is Alexander Technique? I don’t really know how to give you a full picture. What I can say for sure is that, Alexander Technique is not what it seems to be but so much more.
The Alexander Technique is not exactly a therapy. The sessions are called ‘lessons’ and the people whom you would go to see are called ‘teachers’. Before I went to my first lesson, I did some research online and thought an Alexander Technique lesson was about learning correct postures. I found some videos that talked about this technique and thought I would learn it myself. I had done yoga and dance for quite some years and thought I knew my body quite well. How wrong was I! My body had been feeling all wrong and no matter how I adjusted myself, my body just didn’t feel right. I was still determined to learn it by myself and curiously, I came across this book called The Alexander Principles by Dr. Wilfred Barlow in a second hand bookshop.
Dr. Wilfred Barlow stated that The Alexander Principles are simple, only one short sentence really –
Use affects functioning
Isn’t that simple? And it’s what everyone knows already! Use affects functioning, of course! Wears and tears… that’s why we have to buy new clothes and shoes, new phones and so on and even new houses/flats… err… where can we buy ourselves new bodies?
Well, it seems that we are stuck with the one body that we were born with. Perhaps then, the only ways to make sure our bodies last as long as possible in good condition is to avoid wears and tears, and to provide them with optimum rest. Much like how we would care for any objects that we have if we want them to last long.
Getting more curious, I found myself searching and writing to teachers in my area. Strangely, only one teacher responded. Several months on I received an apologetic email from another teacher who said somehow my email had gone to the bottom of her email list and she only read it after much time has passed. Her email confirmed what I thought at the time, that when we ask, we are always guided to the best outcome. Jackie Coote, my Alexander Technique teacher, is one of the best teachers I’ve ever had in my life. When I say ‘best teacher’, I mean a teacher whom I feel most comfortable and safe with, who does not judge me for my progress or learning abilities, one who would listen to my feedback in order to provide me with guidance that I need.
I went to my first lesson with Jackie thinking that she would point out all the mistakes in my posture so I could correct them. She didn’t. She explained that people tend to ‘right’ themselves by adjusting their body parts but when we adjust one part, tension might go to another part. We need to allow the whole body to adjust itself, gently. After all, we all have developed much habits of misusing our bodies since we were little children.
Jackie explained that when children are small, they sit on highchairs and their back and legs are supported but as they grow, they often sit in adult size chair and their legs are dangling. As the legs are heavy, that would tend to cause the back to slump or collapse, and the children might then lean on the table to help support themselves. To help me imagine the discomfort for children, Jackie asked me to imagine myself sitting on a bar stool with my legs dangling. Well, it’s always fun to swing my legs front and back for a little while but after the first few moments my feet would want to rest on something and same as my back.
Alexander Technique is about learning new habits while leaving behind habits that do not serve us or our bodies in the classroom. Much like the cleaning job I have. When we think about how many years we’ve been storing up habits that don’t serve us, we can understand why one lesson wouldn’t be enough. How many lessons one needs really depends on the individual.
So what is an Alexander Technique lesson like? For an observer, it doesn’t look like much – a bit of standing, sitting, from standing to sitting and vice versa, a bit of lying down and perhaps some walking around. During the last few lessons I had with Jackie, there was some breathing and speaking too. There was a saddle on a wooden frame in the classroom. Jackie said it was for students who did horse riding and also useful generally for people to help free up the hips. Some people also have lessons in order to use their bodies in the most efficient ways for their professions. If you do some google searches, you will find many famous actors and musicians who are students of the Alexander Techniques. Frederic Mathias Alexander, who was the founder and creator of Alexander Techniques, was an actor himself. He started observing how he used his body when he lost his voice and after all the specialists he went to fail to help him to regain his voice.
During all these activities, Jackie would always be right next to me, sometimes with her hands gently touching or guiding me, so gentle that the touches were like invisible. However my body would always respond to her touches or gentle suggestions, in a way that was equally gentle. While my body was adjusting itself, sometimes I would lose balance, sometimes I would panic, sometimes I felt it was all too much for me to handle. At the end of every lesson, however, all these undesirable feelings would be gone and left me with a sense of joy – joy of accomplishing something new, joy of leaving behind unnecessary tension, joy of reconnecting with my surroundings.
There is so much more to my experience with the lessons that I’m not telling you here, partly because I don’t want to bore you with a super long article; partly because everyone’s journey is unique and personal. I would not like you to go to your first Alexander Technique lesson with any sort of expectation.
Here are some of the things that I gain and still enjoying from my lessons with Jackie:
- I learnt to be gentle with myself and my body;
- I learnt to pause, before any actions, both physically and mentally;
- I realized there was so much tension within my body that I didn’t know existed, because of the way I use my body as well as the way I feel and think;
- I learnt that even though a lot of guided meditation or other wellness classes such as yoga might draw our attention to doing belly breath, most of us haven’t utilized our lungs fully so it’s beneficial to give our breath some attention while thinking of ourselves as a whole”.
- I remember some incidents in which I started to use my body in certain non-effective ways and be able to move on from them while learning new habits;
- I’m more aware of both my body and my surroundings at any moment;
- I got a glimpse of what the ultimate grounding feeling is like, as well as what loving myself entails. These were the questions I had on my mind when I went to my first lesson;
- I learnt that it’s possible to be free of tension both mentally and physically as we enjoy this beautiful place we call Earth.
If you wish to research more about Alexander Technique, Jackie’s website is a good place to start. She includes some useful links in the Resources page too.