Whenever most of us take on any simple job, either physical or mental, we are usually confronted with so much tension that it affects our performance - making us achieve less than our potential. Often tensions result in round shoulders, stiff neck, and wrong posture, pain in the lumbar region or other different problems that impede us in one way or the other. The Alexander Technique is something that offers us an option to amend this. It helps to alter the manner in which we sit, walk, stand, hold ourselves or function at our work place enabling us to move more freely. As a result we start to get back our balance and natural composure. It is possible for us to become more aware of ourselves and be familiar with our bad habits by means of a steady re-education process. This also helps us to get rid of the bad habits that we may have acquired over several years and start working to change our attitude.
During the last one decade, several people have turned out to be more conscious that there exists a close connection between our physical, mental and spiritual health. Therefore, Alexander teaches us to work with a person as a whole, connecting the manner in which our emotions and thought process as well as feeling influence of our body.
People who may find the Alexander Technique beneficial can be categorized into three groups. The first group includes people suffering from tension in the neck and shoulder, back pain, poor posture, joint stiffness, arthritis and breathing difficulty. The second group comprises individuals who face problems due to the work they undertake, for instance, recurring strain injury and poor posture. It is important to note that people like actors, computer operators, builders, carpenters, dentists, dancers, singers, musicians as well as sportspersons, who heavily depend on the excellent functioning of their body, will find the Alexander Technique beneficial. The third group includes people who are yet to identify any specific problem, but are familiar with the benefits offered by the Alexander Technique.
An Australian reciter and actor called Frederick Matthias Alexander, born in 1869, has been credited with developing the Alexander Technique. Following an enthused observation, Alexander discovered the manner in which our head is balanced on top of our spine plus the correlation between the neck, head, and the back, deeply affected the effectual performance of the person as a whole.
During the initial days of Alexander's career as an actor, he began experiencing phases of hoarseness while performing. When he visited his physician, Alexander was diagnosed to be suffering from inflamed vocal cords and he recommended a variety of treatments along with rest. Nevertheless, his condition started deteriorating and even the physicians were not able to offer any treatment that would if not help to solve the problem for good, at least provide relief for a prolonged period. At this point of time, Alexander came to the conclusion that the main reason for the problem was something that he was doing while using his voice. He eventually resolved to discover the main cause of the problem all by himself.
Although, the problems experienced by Alexander were not obvious while he made any ordinary speech initially, he noticed a distinctive pattern during his recitations. Alexander found that he usually produced a gasping sound by pulling his head back, depressing his larynx and sucking in air via the mouth. He also observed that when he pulled his head back, the neck muscles constricted, which, in turn, caused his head to first pull back and then down on his neck. When this occurred, his height seemed to be reduced.
Following several years of observing himself very carefully, he gradually developed a perception regarding the manner in which our body and mind work in unison. He also came to understand the correlation between the head and the neck as well as its influence on the performance of the remaining parts of our body. His observations and understanding the functioning of the different parts of our body, including the mental and spiritual aspects, form the foundation of the Alexander Technique and all that it teaches.
Alexander shifted to England in 1904. Gradually, several important people there became very interested in his research and what he taught. Several years later, in 1932, Alexander set up a school with a view to impart training to teachers and continued developing his new-found technique till his last days in 1955.
During his studies, Alexander found that to some extent nearly all people pulled their head back and this becomes all the more obvious when they move or make any movement of their body. He documented his observations and at one place Alexander wrote that if you observe carefully you will notice that when you tell anyone to sit down, the position of their head is usually altered - the head is actually thrown back. At the same time, their neck becomes stiff and it is shortened, he documented. As a result of this, there is more pressure on the remaining part of the spine bringing about a sort of alteration in the spine's normal tensile feature and all this affects the remaining part of our body. In fact, when this occurs the internal space for the organs, such as the lungs, is restricted. In addition, it affects our limbs. The natural poise as well as balance of the body is lost when this pattern develops. Simultaneously, we also experience an assortment of problems that develop alongside this pattern.
The manner in which we generally move while undertaking any physical activity is always affected by our mood. In fact, we are discussing everything that has an effect on our movement as well as the energy that is required by the body to make movements. During the initial period, when Alexander was working on himself, he discovered that if he made a conscious effort to place his head in a dissimilar posture, it still resulted in muscular tension. However, when he 'thought' that he needed to release the tension created in the neck muscles, he found that his head naturally moved forward and then up. Subsequently, if he continued his thought process regarding the other parts of his body, the tension was lessened in general.
We essentially do not pay much attention to our attitude or the methods we adopt while undertaking any activity. Although we may possibly consider being careful while lifting heavy objects or even imagine about a strategy during a specific movement while participating in a sports game, but we usually do not give much thought to them. Describing such absence of thought as a 'misuse', Alexander identified that we would only be able to cause changes in our life by bringing our attitude into perception. He observed that he too needed to acknowledge that he had never deliberated on the manner in which he himself directed his own use, but always used him in a habitual manner, which he felt was natural.
To his dismay, Alexander discovered that it was not very easy to break one's habit. He understood that if one had to make changes in his/ her life, it was essential that things should be done in a different way. However, he found that in spite of endeavouring to achieve this, he could not succeed. Alexander comprehended that prior to making any changes, it was important for him to restrain his previous pattern, provide directions to the neck to become free, the head to always go forward and then up, and direct the back to extend as well as broaden. All these eventually led to a freer balance of the head and neck.
While Alexander was trying different approaches to change his old habits, he discovered that our feelings are actually unpredictable. In fact, we rely on our feeling to let us know about our performance while undertaking any activity - if we feel right then it is believed that our performance is also right. However, we usually arrive at this conclusion by means of the power of our habits. On the whole, we remain completely oblivious of the habits developed by us, or even the fact that some or most of them may actually not be helpful for us. For instance, if a person has the habit of raising one of his shoulders higher compared to the other, it is very likely that he/ she will not be aware of it. Moreover, when they do this they feel that it is quite usual. In the case of a student, after a teacher brings this to the pupil's notice and enables the shoulder to get back to its normal balance, initially the pupil will find this as if he/ she is being put out of their normal balance.
Precisely speaking, the Alexander Technique helps us to restrain the manner in which we generally use our body by teaching us ways and means to distinguish detrimental habitual movement patterns and also the manner in which we ought to use our body muscles making the least amount of effort and with the least efficiency. One should give particular attention to small body movements like sitting, getting in as well as out of a chair, walking, standing and also working at various work surfaces.
The Alexander Technique helps us to rectify our bad habitual posture, thereby easing the tensions that threaten our health and, at the same time, allows the muscles to function in agreement as well as further efficient manner. The resultant good posture not only benefits the person as a whole, but also helps to alter our perception regarding ourselves as well as the manner in which we are living. Alexander Technique is especially beneficial for people suffering from asthma, as it also helps to improve our breathing. In addition, it also helps to provide relief from pain in the lumbar region and the discomfort that is often associated with old age owing to habitual misuse of our body.
The Alexander Technique has been used to alleviate:
The humans, as a species, have evolved from being hunters and gatherers to cultivators just over a very brief period, compared to the vast history of the planet. After several years, we witnessed the Industrial Revolution (18th century A.D.), the technical revolution and currently we have move more and more away from our everyday physical activities for the need to survive. In his writings, Alexander has noted that man has always been and is yet not able to familiarize himself fast enough to the gradually more brisk changes that are involved in what we know as civilization or the plan of life.
When we are young children we possess the grace as well as the freedom for all kinds of movement - sitting, squatting, bending and reaching with the least effort. When we grow a little older and start attending the first year in school, for most children it is difficult to even to be seated on the floor with no slumping. By this time, many children often have round shoulders, while there are several others who begin to hunch their shoulders upward in the direction of their ears! And as they step into adolescence, they begin to develop many different problems, generally developing the teenage droop, leading to tension in their neck and twisting in their spine. Several young people are there who go through remarkable increase in their growth in a brief period and often find it problematic to understand what they ought to do with their new body. Hence, it has been found that they often endeavour to minimize the growth by sinking down or by slumping into chairs. Sometimes they also try to pull in their shoulders.
These days, most of us have a very inactive life - first we bend ourselves over tables while in school and subsequently over desks in office, computers, at the shop counters and even in the production lines. These days, we work our minds more compared to our body. Today we have several conveniences, including cars, telephones, supermarkets and several other latest technologies, which permit us to practically spend very little energy to perform our routine activities. Hence, our present-day way of life taxes our physical, mental and emotional health in various ways. And consequently we generally develop unwanted habits that restrict our full potential.
Actually, stress or strain is a unique aspect of each one's life and this stress is certainly different from what was experienced by our ancestors. In the ancient times when humans were just evolving into a civilization, people were stressed to find food for their survival and this was only matched by the massive physical pressures on their body, which, in turn, actually worked to neutralize the stress. In modern times, we exist in boisterous, frenzied environments and are confronted with taxing jobs and deadlines, as well as an excess of information. When we are confronted with a situation that is immensely stressful, our brain releases a hormone called adrenaline, which, sequentially, circulates additional blood to the muscles and also augments the heartbeat. Even after this, if we are unable to let the stress go, it is very likely that it will have detrimental effects on our body.
At the day's end we all seem to have a tendency to settle before the television, take a drink or sit for a meal. During this time, the levels of adrenaline are elevated and the muscles may remain in a very sensitive condition of tension. In fact, several amongst us have even become unable to release our physical, mental and emotional tensions.
Before we conclude, it is worth mentioning that the Alexander Technique facilitates our body to neutralize the harmful effects of contemporary life and, at the same time, develop the association between all things we perform and the manner in which we perform them. It may be noted that our approach to several physical activities we undertake is simply insensible and, over a period of time, it may turn out to be harmful. However, the Alexander's Technique teaches us how we can release tensions that we have been holding for long, both physical as well as mental. It also enables us to experience additional effortlessness as well as independence in our movements.