I didn’t come to the technique through any particular aches and pains, but rather because I was losing the plot completely. I was in my mid 30’s happily married and with 2 young children when I found myself struggling to get up in the mornings after being unable to sleep. I spent my nights in despair wondering around the house worrying despite having taken 2 sleeping pills. I had no idea what was the matter with me and so began the journey that I am still on today.
As I felt so awful my first port of call was my doctor. I was prescribed Prozac. Life got considerably worse. I tried psychotherapy, I tried special diets, I tried food supplements and vitamins, I stopped eating wheat and dairy, in short I tried all the things that we might try and nothing really worked. I had no interest in life, no appetite and felt powerless to change my situation. A friend recommended an Alexander Technique teacher and I went along not really knowing what to expect and not holding out much hope and indeed in those first few sessions nothing much happened, but something made me keep coming back. I suppose looking back it took about 6 months or so of weekly lessons before I really noticed a significant change.
A chance remark prompted me to apply to train to become a teacher myself and so I entered the Alexander Technique world and began a completely new chapter of my life. An Alexander Technique training is a 3 year undertaking, but I left for the school each day with a sense of wonder that I was able to spend so much time learning how to inhabit my own body, learning a new way of living.
So, what was this miraculous technique and how did it help me? I think that the most important lesson that I learnt was that however much I tried I was unable to alter external circumstances, but that I could begin to look at what I was doing to myself that might be contributing to my problems. I learnt that, like most of us, I was tightening my neck, hunching my shoulders, collapsing and generally shrinking from life or armouring myself as a form of protection and that these positions or postures had become habitual. I had no idea what I was doing to myself in my everyday movements, how the habits that I had acquired over the years were to some extent causing the sense of unease and depression that I was experiencing.
Try an experiment – think of something funny. What do you notice about yourself? Do you smile, what happens to your forehead, your eyes, your neck, your breathing, etc. Now think of something irritating, a noisy neighbour or a parking ticket or something and notice the same things. What has changed? The Alexander Technique doesn’t suggest that your noisy neighbour isn’t annoying, it just shows you that your responses – frowning, tightening your neck, clenching your stomach etc. are what happens to you physically when you are annoyed. Sometimes these physical responses continue for long after the original cause has gone. This is what had happened to me – I was continuing to be stressed and depressed and over time this had become habitual because I hadn’t learned to release my musculature.
“There is no sensation or emotion that is not translated into a muscular response of some kind; these feeling states are the primary bases of our habitual postures and our individual patterns of behaviour.” Deane Juhan – Job’s Body
The Technique didn’t claim to solve my problems, it didn’t even focus on my problems, it asked me instead whether I could move without tightening my neck, whether I could allow my movements to flow and to notice how much muscular energy I was using and whether it was necessary to the task that I was performing.
What does it actually do, how does it work? Well, after seeing quite clearly that I was indeed pulling myself down and constricting at every opportunity I was simply instructed to do nothing, to stop and wait and then from this place of neutrality to start to substitute new ways of thinking and moving that let me lengthen and release for my old harmful habits. I learnt practical tools that helped me to respond more appropriately to the demands of life; I learnt that as I moved with more fluidity and even, dare I say it, with ease and grace that my whole mental and emotional outlook changed. Carrying out activities with this sort of attention or mindfulness and the simple act of meeting the world in this way was a revelation for me. I shifted my focus from the insoluble problems of the external world and allowed some space and light and time to meet them from a more balanced state.
“It doesn’t really matter whether we begin with an attitude of mental quietness and calm and allow it to radiate out into our muscles, or whether conversely, we can begin to allow the pleasant calming sensations of bodywork to engender that same mental peacefulness.” Deane Juhan – Job’s Body
It is a remarkable process learning the Alexander Technique. For me it was like seeing in colour after having seen in black and white for my whole life. There is no right position or posture; there is simply a condition of simplicity and freedom. It demands your attention. It is so simple that it can be explained to a child. And yet, after nearly 20 years of immersion I am still learning and discovering.
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