I want to talk to you about graceful ageing, and active, healthy living.
Applying good form to exercise and sport makes it fun and more enjoyable, and you can keep getting better. The AT helps you to do stuff better. I have been giving Alexander lessons to a man in his fifties called Nigel, a long-time practitioner of various Martial Arts. He is very strong and centred, but was having a few hip pain issues. These have fallen away as he has learnt to reorient and redirect unnecessary tension into poise, ease and grace. In his lessons, we worked on his becoming aware of the subtle bracing around his hips as he adopted his basic pose. As he paid attention to reducing this bracing, his Tai Chi became even smoother. He is physically more comfortable than he was. Best of all, the principles which he has learnt can be applied to any of the everyday things we all do. Nigel’s hip-bracing habit is a common one, acquired in the quest for grounded stability, and arises as a confusion between groundedness and downward-pulling tension.
Rachel, also in her fifties, visits the gym regularly to do circuits, weights and stretching. By paying attention to her breathing, and by approaching both the strength work and the stretches a little more gently, she found she was looser, less sore, yet still getting all the aerobic and strength benefits of her workouts.
Michael is in his mid-50’s, and had an absolute ball competing in a 42 km XC ski race at Fall’s Ck in August. He did a personal best and moved up the comparative rankings from previous years. Training is important, but even more important is good form – ie well-coordinated movement. (You should expect nothing less from a teacher of the Alexander Technique!)
The underlying theme here in Alexanderspeak is “Good Use”. The Alexander Technique gives us a generic definition of good form, and the means to acquire it. The AT is there to apply anywhere, doing anything. Applying good form in everyday living reduces unnecessary strain and it looks better! It helps you to live better for longer.
John G, a senior public servant in his 50’s, had chronic back pain. He had been to his GP, an orthopedic specialist, two physiotherapists and a Chinese-trained doctor. A cat scan had revealed two prolapsed discs. John had been particularly diligent with an exercise/stretching program, and with trying hard to maintain “good posture”. While previous treatments had resulted in some improvement, particularly in regard to flexibility, there was still lots of low back and hip pain; on walking, sitting or standing, in each case within minutes. As it turned out, a great deal of John’s pain stemmed from the excessive effort required to maintain his overly rigid “good posture”. John’s concept of “correct posture” involved lots of tension and rigidity.
Initially the Technique brought: (1) release from pain, and (2) a feeling of well being. John also noticed a looseness/freedom in the limbs which was new. John learned how to be upright (i.e. good posture) without excessive tension or “holding up”. This meant he was in less pain, and movement was freer.
There was a positive reaction from others to both his general well being and the fact that his posture had so clearly improved. “I now play tennis 2-3 times a week and ride my bike – these are activities which I haven’t done for 10 years, which I had been told I would never be able to do again. I couldn’t contemplate being able to do these activities even 3 months ago.”
Forty-six year-old Debra C started Alexander Technique lessons to see if it would help her chronic neck pain. She had bulging discs in her neck, and tenosynovitis extending back over three years.
Debra learned to make links between her (controllable) habits of use of herself, and the functioning which they affect. She was able to progressively reduce the vice-like grip her muscles had held on her neck, allowing it to find a less strained position. Neck pain, a constant companion for the preceding 3 years, gradually disappeared. Her arms became significantly less painful. She was able to sit comfortably for longer and able to write more freely. An unexpected further benefit was a very noticeable increase in energy, as she learned to not invest energy in unproductive and pain-inducing tension.
Jackie M, a 47 year-old pharmacist, started Alexander Technique lessons hoping to reduce pain levels, especially in her neck. She had suffered from rheumatoid arthritis for 10 years. She found that she was indeed able to influence her pain levels and to be more comfortable in everyday life, as well as learning a procedure to help her when things were particularly bad. Of course, the Alexander Technique did not address the rheumatoid arthritis, but it helped Jackie to cope better. It helped Jackie to recognize where she had more power and control over her situation than she had thought. Jackie found there was scope for applying her lessons in all the activities of everyday life, with valuable pain-reducing results. Her back improved generally, particularly her neck and lower back.
An intelligent woman, Jackie had been doing her best to manage her condition, including paying attention to her posture. Like John and also Debra, her understanding of what good posture consisted of, how to achieve it and how to maintain it, were all based on a series of common but potentially dangerous misconceptions. Their Alexander Technique teachers were able to gradually correct these.
Recent research bears out our observations. When we did a survey a few years ago about what our pupils valued the most about their Alexander lessons, the top answer was “getting out of pain” and the second answer was “knowing how to stay out of pain or get pain-free again”.
Rachel, a 38 yo mother and public servant wanted help with pain around her neck and shoulders. At her first visit, it was apparent that the level of tension in these areas in particular was very high. Rachel had limited range of movement in her head and neck, eg looking right or left. Interestingly, Rachel’s perception of the tension was very low. She just recognized the discomfort and the restricted movement. This experience has a basis in physiology; muscle receptors tend not to fire when a muscle is constantly held short.
Correcting misperceptions about key anatomical junctions (eg head/neck joint, hip joints) meant that Rachel was starting to send anatomically consistent messages to herself. With repeated and progressively more delicate hands-on guided experiences of releasing tight muscles in a coordinated way, along with sending the right messages, Rachel steadily eased and dismantled her pattern of tensing, shortening and narrowing in response to life’s daily stimuli. Underneath the old tense pattern was something closer to the ease and grace which we all tend to enjoy as children. Within about 12 lessons, Rachel had put a significant dent in her old habitual ways of moving and postural support, and was much more comfortable.