The Alexander Technique - A way of life
Most people think that the Alexander Technique is some form of complementary therapy which can help with posture, back pain or breathing. While the technique has many therapeutic benefits it is not a therapy and even the word ‘technique’ is misleading.
Over half a century before Ram Dass wrote ‘Be Here Now’ or Eckhart Tolle wrote ‘The Power of Now,’ F. Matthias Alexander had devised a method of heightening awareness which he call ‘Conscious Control’. He stumbled across it when trying to find a solution to the curious problem of his own loss of voice.
Alexander was a Shakespearean actor at the end of the 19th century and his career was threatened because every time he recited his voice became very hoarse and could hardly speak at the end of the play. He sought help from various doctors and voice trainers, but no one could help him so he decided to find out what was causing the problem himself and set about closely observing himself while reciting in front of a mirror. After a while he clearly saw that every time he started to recite he threw his head back with a great deal of tension in the neck muscles. This action depressed the larynx, which is where the vocal cords are located, and thus causing the vocal cords to become inflamed and his voice to become hoarse.
He was truly amazed by what he saw as had been totally unaware of this habit even though it was quite extreme. As he worked over many months to break this habit he discovered many other unconscious postural habits as well for example he was gripping the floor with his feet, lifting his chest and over-arching his back. After a while he taught himself how to prevent these habits and to his amazement not only did his voice improve, but the respiratory problem that he had been suffering with since birth also disappeared. He returned to the stage to continue his career, but fellow actors approached him who had the similar problems and he started teaching people how to breathe and speak more consciously and improve the way they performed their daily activities such as standing sitting and walking. He began to get a very good reputation at sorting out a variety of health problems that doctors were unable to help.
Since Alexander’s time stress and tension have become a major problem, one that seems to go hand-in-hand with our modern lifestyle. In fact some people refer to modern times as ‘ the speed age’. Many of us have forgotten how to relax, as we race from one task to another, driven by unreasonable deadlines or a fear of being ‘left behind’ in an increasingly technological world. There is nothing wrong with rising to the challenge or working hard to achieve a cherished goal, but the problem comes when we are constantly in a state of tension, unable to ‘switch off’. When stressed our whole physical, mental and emotional system is then under constant ‘red-alert’, and over time this can cause chronic worry, anxiety, exhaustion, headaches, and can even lead to life-threatening illnesses such as strokes or heart attacks.
At first, we may actively enjoy the buzz of the adrenaline as it rushes around our body when we take on an exciting new challenge, but in the long term stress can rob us of everything that is important. It can take away our good health and replace it with a wide range of other stress related disorders that are becoming more and more commonplace in society today. It can also rob us of much needed rest and relaxation that our body needs; it can even destroy our personal relationships and as a result can cause extreme emotional anguish.
Mind, Body and Emotional Unity
The Alexander Technique is a simple yet profound way of learning how to be more conscious during any activity – from driving to running; from thinking to breathing. It is very practical and can be understood by anyone, yet at the same time it can empower a person with confidence and a greater enjoyment of life. The technique helps to improve balance, posture and co-ordination; it will help us to use ourselves in a way that is harmonious with nature. Our bodies are our most precious possession, yet often we give them very little attention, apart from wondering ‘how do I look’ or ‘am I dressed right?’ The human body is, in fact, an amazing anti-gravity mechanism, but most of us unconsciously interfere with the natural working and reflexes to such an extent that nearly half the population suffer with backache. It is also estimated that many more people will suffer from asthma, insomnia, arthritis, neck pain, headaches and migraine, often due to stress or excess muscle tension that many of us unconsciously hold throughout the body.
The famous writer Aldous Huxley was greatly helped by Alexander himself and wrote about his experiences in his books. He said that ‘The Alexander Technique gives us all the things we have been looking for in a system of physical education; relief from strain due to maladjustment and consequent improvement in physical and mental health; and along with this a heightening of consciousness on all levels. We cannot ask more from any system; nor, if we seriously desire to alter human beings in a desirable direction, can we ask any less.’
By practising the Alexander Technique you will have more awareness to yourself – how you move, think and react in many different situations. You will learn how to move with gravity, instead of against it, thus achieving greater ease of movement, this will in turn affects our mental and emotional outlook on life; you will feel calmer and therefore have a greater control of your own life. The only requirements are patience and a willingness to let go of harmful habits that we have acquired throughout our lives. It is often said that our body is the temple of the soul; by freeing the body from the unconscious tension we will also be freeing our spirit to allow us to reach our full potential and become who we really are.
Richard Brennan an internationally renowned author of having written nine books on the Alexander Technique which have been translated into twelve languages. He lives in Galway, Ireland where he runs a busy private practice as well as being the director of the only Alexander teacher training college in Ireland and is the president of the Irish Society of teachers of the Alexander Technique. For more information please visit www.alexander.ie
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