The Alexander Technique
After over a year of pondering, I thought it was time I gathered some of my thoughts…. you could say it’s also a practice run for writing about the Technique.
Feed back most welcome!
The profound re-education of the way in which we relate to and ‘use’ the machinery we call ourselves.
Over time, habits of body, thought and self image cloud our natural freedom of movement as well as our response to being alive in the world.
With subtle instructions and gentle guidance from the hands of a teacher, it is possible to release some of these more ingrained habits so that there is a return to poise and ease and a sense of spacious choice where before there might have been instant but unhelpful reaction.
Habitual reactions can become so entrenched that we can imperceptibly arrive at a point where we are wonky, uncomfortable and out of sorts…. this doesn’t just ‘happen’…. it is more a case of not noticing what we have been unconsciously doing to ourselves as we get swept along with the immense expectations and pressures that life brings. Our habitual ‘out of sorts’ gradually begins to feel so familiar and ‘right’ that when we do experience a more balanced stance, it can feel all ‘wrong’.
The Alexander Technique is a practical way to learn how to stop interfering with ourselves enough to allow our naturally clever system of muscles, joints and bones to return towards their original state… think of a very young child and how freely she moves…. thus retrieving a more elegant posture, economy in our actions and a greater awareness of how to bring this about.
The benefits of regaining greater physical-mental (psycho-motor) harmony can be unexpected and wide-ranging.
It is well known that in the areas of performance, such as for musicians or athletes, this technique has been shown to be practical and most effective, but it also has far reaching effects in the more usual activities of daily living.
If you are wondering if there are ways in which you could be using your energy more effectively or realising more of your potential, the Alexander Technique could be of interest to you.
My first qualification in 1978 was as a Physiotherapist; I worked for the NHS for 12 years until family life took priority.
I was particularly interested in neurology and sports injuries as well as working with major trauma and rehabilitation. For the last 6 years I was Obstetric specialist in the Maternity Unit in Torbay Hospital, providing antenatal classes and postnatal care.
I trained in the Alexander Technique at C.C.A.R.E. under Danny McGowan and Sarah Paice in Totnes between 2008 and 2011, when I qualified.
I came into the Alexander Technique shortly after my 50th birthday, with the intention of engaging in a practice that would above all sustain and nourish me into my middle and later years.
I also had an important question. Was my life style an unseen habitual reaction and if so, what or how might I discover what is natural to me?
This after a lifetime of being profoundly wedded to music and more specifically, to playing the piano. I had painful shoulders, my knees were starting to hurt as I went upstairs and I was despondent to see that I was developing the well known and unsightly ‘pianist’s hump’! What a pickle to be in!
Within the supportive environment of the training school, it was a step into the unknown, with the promise of uncertainty as well as discovery; so it was also a huge leap of faith…. I began to wonder if playing the piano was such a good thing, but equally, was mortified at the prospect of stopping.
As I became more and more immersed in the training a wonderful thing happened. The focus of my attention naturally shifted so that my learning of body awareness and fascination for the application of the Technique took priority and it became easier and easier to let go of playing…. or at least, playing in the same old exhausting way! My shoulders gradually stopped hurting, and there was a noticeable improvement in my overall deportment… my children ( the most observant and critical of commentators!) hardly recognised me!
I started to ride my bike again.
To cut a long story short, as habits began to fall away and the end of my training approached, I got a new bike, let out my house and went off for a year cycling 3500 miles from Denmark to the southernmost tip of Greece… incidentally, playing Beethoven’s last 3 piano sonatas, wherever and whenever pianos showed up.
With 35kg of laden bike, I doubt very much if I would have been so strong or been able to take such good care of myself if I hadn’t had the technique to fall back on, time after time and moment by moment. Also, having nowhere to practice did little to dent my ability to play. I had absorbed a new approach for which I am so grateful.
I love this work and am happy to have the opportunity to spread it and share the inspiration of it as I teach. There is a beauty and a peacefulness (as well as so many practical benefits) that is hard to define, but which for me, is at the core of learning the Technique.
I have been a lifelong pianist and musician, with a busy teaching practice in Totnes. I also have many years of experience as an accompanist and instrumental coach for a wide variety of youngsters as they take exams and up until recently, for Dartington students approaching their end of year recitals.
I have had the privilege to teach for a short time at Wells Cathedral School.
I have given many solo concerts in Devon as well as accompanying solo artists.
I have adapted my playing enormously over these last 4 years and feel I have much to offer musicians in approaching different ways to practice and in avoiding some of the occupational pitfalls of playing an instrument.
I have always loved cycling as well as other sports. I am especially interested in applying the Technique to how the bike is set up and how I can monitor my physical approach while I ride…. I am not trying to win any races, but I am keen to prevent problems arising and getting the best out of me and my bike!
Arriving in Mariestad, Sweden and a fun cartoon about cycling!
Ante and Post-natal work. Pregnancy and Childbirth.
While I was a Physiotherapist I worked in collaboration with different Natural Childbirth agencies to provide a strong team of Physio, Midwifery and Health Visitor support for women giving birth at home and/or with as little intervention as possible.
Many years later I had the great delight of being birth partner to my daughter during her labour and at my Grandson, Ollie’s birth.
As pregnancy progresses, postural health has profound ramifications for the spine, mobility and importantly, the lie of the baby in the womb. As ligaments soften to allow the birth canal to stretch, musculoskeletal problems elsewhere can cause difficulties. The Alexander Technique can help you to learn how to take care of yourself at this precious time.
Emotional well-being and the sense of acceptance is crucial to the flow of labour. There is so much that can upset the delicate balance of hormones flowing through the body, which can interfere with its ability to perform the task. The Alexander Technique can be of enormous support at this time. Clarity and inhibition ( one of the core principles of the technique ) help to bring one continually back to the moment so that the ‘means whereby’ (another ‘buzz word’ of the technique ) can take priority over trying to gain the goal or hasten things along. Again, it is very much of question of non-interference.
In the post-natal period, there is now not only one body to take care of, but the additional blessing of another. How to take care of oneself while immersed in feeding, changing, bathing the baby? Especially when the accumulation of interrupted sleep begins to take a toll.
I look forward to working in this area again!
It might seem a little unusual to bring in this topic, but in my travels I just happen to have come across and had fascinating conversations with devoutly spiritual seekers: the more I read about non-duality, for instance, or Buddhism, the more I see how compatible this work is with aspects of Spiritual practice.
One of the fundamental and most exquisite core components of the technique is something called ‘inhibition’.
We are so geared to react instantly to the slightest stimulus… often without pause for thought and often in a totally habitual way. There is little perception of choice. Eastern practice talks about stepping back to observe a reaction before launching in to act. ‘Inhibition’ in the Alexander world is, if you like, a neuromuscular ‘neutral gear’ where reaction is suspended to give choice or an alternative path a chance. It need only take a microsecond but it can make a universe of difference. To allow space to open up between intention and action is a radical shift in thinking!
At an electrical level, habitual firing of nerve pathways takes place in rapid preference along established (habitually reinforced) nerve routes. To be able to take an unexpected route requires a discipline of stop. In the words of Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron “we can allow the space for the usual habitual things NOT to happen” literally a slowing down.
So similar to the words of Alexander teacher, Walter Carrington, The Technique teaches us “…what not to do and how to prevent it”!
This really is a journey into the unknown and a letting go of control… which for me has echoes of a spiritual path.
The sharpened but expanded awareness of thinking in activity redirects us to the person we truly have the potential to be; conscious, unified and whole.