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The Alexander Technique

Stand up, sit down, right, right, right.

by Michael Braunstein


 
REMEMBER THE LAST TIME YOU SCRATCHED YOUR HEAD?

Or licked your lips? Or blinked your eyes? Probably not. Those are subconscious actions that we repeat many times over without thinking about it at all. The thing is, most of our actions in our daily life are subconscious; without any intellectual awareness. Typing, sitting, walking, punching a cash register, getting up, driving a car; these are done with little conscious awareness. We learned how to do them, and we repeat them over and over with little thought.

But what if the manner in which we are performing these simple tasks is physically inefficient or stresses our body in some way? Repetitively we are actually endangering our health. We end up with tension, a bad back or maybe carpal tunnel syndrome or more. Or perhaps we just aren't performing the task as well as we need to, say, if we are a performer or athlete. Or we end up with a sore neck at the end of the day after sitting in front of a computer terminal for 8 hours. And day after day it goes on. If this were happening, wouldn't it be nice if we could find a way to re-learn some of these basic actions and alleviate the stress we are placing on the body?

Because most of the activities we undertake are composites of simple actions, i.e. sitting, walking, reaching, turning and so on, by learning to do these actions in a stress-free way, all our daily activities can benefit. This is what the Alexander Technique helps a person learn.

 

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Da head bone connected to da neck bone, da neck bone connected ...

Frederick Alexander was an Australian who invented a technique of education and therapist interaction that can help a person re-establish balance and relaxation in common movement or posture and therefore avoid discomfort or tension that builds up. Like many therapists, personal events led to his need to develop this technique.

Alexander was born in the last half of the 19th century. A statured gentleman in Tasmania, he pursued a career in the theatre. But it was after he lost his voice that he developed the therapy that would bear his name. Alexander connected the particular way he was using his head, neck and back in projecting his voice. It was obvious to him that his technique was causing the stress that allowed him to harm his voice. In correcting the way he used his body, he was able to regain his voice and find a new calling. He moved to London and began teaching the Alexander Technique to people whose health was compromised in some way or who wanted to improve their working relationship with their body.

Thus, there are two basic classes of people who benefit from this teaching. One group is those who suffer from chronic pain or a malady that is related to the way they use their body. The example of a person who gets a sore neck every day after sitting at a computer terminal is a good one. A grocery clerk with carpal tunnel syndrome may be another. The second group of people who typically benefit are people who use their body as a tool in their work, like an athlete or a gym teacher or an actor or performer.

The Alexander Technique teacher re-educates in two ways. Firstly, the student learns how to correctly use his body on his own through following the instructions and skills the teacher gives. This is an example of the empowerment involved with this technique. It's also an example of the effectiveness. It may be hard for a student to believe that it is beneficial or even necessary for them to learn to walk or sit "right" after years of doing it. But it is the years of doing it the "wrong" way that caused the problem. All the chiropractic adjustments and all the Advil in the world will only temporarily solve the problem. It will come right back if the cause is not addressed.

The second way the Alexander Technique therapist accomplishes the goal is by gentle manipulation of the body on a massage table much like a massage therapist would. The difference is that the body is moved to change the "muscle memory" of the old movement or posture, not just to massage the muscles. Alexander Technique is truly a therapy that requires the commitment of both teacher and student.

Frederick Alexander was very successful at his practice. He taught it until his death in 1955 at the age of 86. Many notable people have availed themselves of the Alexander Technique; among them John Cleese, Paul Newman, Aldous Huxley and George Bernard Shaw.

Be well.


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Michael Braunstein is Executive Director of Heartland Healing and certified by the American Council of Hypnotist Examiners in clinical hypnotherapy. He graduated from the Los Angeles Hypnotism Training Institute and was an instructor at the UCLA Extension University for 11 years.

Heartland Healing is devoted to the examination of various alternative forms of healing. It is provided as a source of information and not as medical advice. It is not meant as an endorsement of any particular therapy, either by the writer or by Heartland Healing Center, Inc.


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