More than a century ago, Australian actor Frederick Matthias Alexander became determined to find out what he was doing that was causing him to lose his voice.
He loved acting and his career as a performer, and he wanted to continue it without any trouble from his voice. He studied and observed himself for years, successfully fixing his vocal issues and making discoveries that would become the foundation of his lifelong work. Today, his work and its evolution is known as the Alexander Technique, and it’s taught throughout 18 countries by internationally affiliated teacher societies.
This technique helps you learn how to change bad posture habits, and it can improve mobility, posture, alertness, and performance while relieving tension, stress and stiffness. Many people have habitual tension patterns that are learned unconsciously and consciously, but you can unlearn these patterns and open yourself up to new choices in reaction, movement and posture. When you study this technique, you’ll learn which habits are interfering with your natural coordination and how to undo them so you can get through your days with less effort and greater ease.
Keep reading to learn four things you need to know about the Alexander Technique and what it can mean for you.
1. What The Alexander Technique Does
In a general sense, the Alexander Technique is a way to help you feel better and move in a more comfortable and natural way – the way your body wants to move. It also helps you learn to feel more comfortable in your own body.
The Alexander Technique can also help if:
• You have carpal tunnel syndrome or any type of repetitive stress injury
• You tend to have a stiff neck and shoulders or backache
• You’re often uncomfortable when you’re at the computer for long periods of time
• You’re an athlete, singer, dancer, actor or musician and you don’t believe you’re performing at your full potential
2. The Basic Technique Concepts
This technique is grounded in five basic concepts, and the first is recognition and awareness of your harmful habits. Everyone develops habits over the course of their lives. Some of these are good and some are bad, but all of them feel normal. The more you do something, the more normal it will feel even if it’s not a natural movement or position for your body. Recognizing your habitual reactions is the first thing you need to do to enable change.
The second concept is faulty sensory appreciation. The force of habit can directly interfere with the type of feedback you receive from your body when you move, and this can produce a false sense of how you’re functioning and limit your ability to make changes.
Next is how you automatically react to all the stimuli in your life. Over time, you’ve likely developed habitual responses to things, and the technique will teach you how to take full advantage of the space you have between stimulus and response so you can chose a course of action. Known as inhibition, this is a skill you already have that likely needs to be developed and refined.
Direction is the fourth concept in this educational method. You have the ability to send a message from your brain to your muscles using your nervous system. With the Alexander Technique, you’ll learn how to use your ability more effectively, resulting in improved muscular system function.
Last but not least is the concept of primary control, which is what Alexander called the relationship that exists between your head, neck and back. The quality of this relationship, compressed or free, is what determines the quality of your movement.
3. The Benefits At A glance
Regular practice of the technique can help improve your life and even enhance your current skills. Benefits include:
• Better stress management: When you learn how to respond to stimuli without as much tension as you do now, you’ll become better at dealing with stress.
• Pain relief: Unrecognized tension patterns contribute to and can be a root cause of musculoskeletal pain. People usually respond to pain by tensing up even further; this can make your discomfort worse, leaving you in a vicious cycle. This technique will teach you how to notice and unlearn these habits, so you may experience some long-term pain relief from chronic or reccurring back, neck and shoulder pain.
• Skill improvement: Athletes use this technique to help enhance flexibility, increase endurance, improve their strength and increase their responsiveness. Performing artists, such as actors and singers, apply its principles to help ease performance anxiety and improve concentration. Public speakers use it to improve voice quality and vocal projection, while those in the business world can use it to increase confidence and improve presentation delivery.
4. A Lesson Overview
Alexander Technique lessons usually last 30 to 60 minutes, according to the American Society for the Alexander Technique. They come in two verbal and manual instruction parts. You don’t need any special clothing or equipment to learn and practice the technique.
In the table work part of your lesson, you’ll experience your muscles as they are in their neutral state. To make this easier, your teacher will have you lie down on your back on a lightly padded table with your knees bent. You will learn how to see and release any unnecessary tension you’re holding. During the table part, you’re an active participant with your eyes open, and conversation is more than encouraged.
The second part is guidance during activity. You’ll perform simple activities, such as standing, walking, sitting, reaching and speaking, and your teacher will give you visual, physical and verbal cues so you can perform these activities with greater efficiency and ease. What you learn in this part can be applied to all of the activities in your life, and you can also ask your teacher to work on specific activities you’re having trouble with, such as computer work, public speaking, carrying and lifting and even your usual sleeping position. If you’re a singer, for example, you can practice singing and have the teacher help you improve your voice quality. An actor can read a monologue for guidance in that regard.
The American Society for the Alexander Technique says that each lesson will bring you insights that you can apply to your life right away, and after about six to ten lessons, you should notice what you’re learning in your lessons carrying over to your daily life. How long you study is up to you and depends on your personal needs, but many students usually take at least 30 lessons over the course of three to six months.
If you’re suffering from chronic pain or stress or you want to enhance your skills, the Alexander Technique may be what you need to work toward those goals. To find a teacher and start taking lessons right away, check with the local Alexander Technique society in your area.