When I was 23, I woke up one morning and could barely turn my head.
Without excruciating pain, I couldn’t lift a pot of coffee or brush my hair. I’d been a professional ballet dancer, so I took pride in my strength and flexibility; this shouldn’t be happening to someone of my age and fitness, I thought. Doctors told me the extreme pain was due to stress, told me to relax (eye-roll), and recommended prescription-strength Ibuprofen. Within two weeks, the pain had faded to gone. Great! Four months later, it was back. For the next five years, a pattern emerged and continued: debilitating pain for one to three weeks, gone for months, only to return like a comic-book super-villain, laying me out flat.
I got massaged. I meditated. I stretched in yoga class, strengthened in Pilates, saw a chiropractor, got Rolfed. I saw an acupuncturist, saw a therapist, saw a Reiki practitioner. I tried homeopathy and Bach flower remedies. Some of those modalities helped in the short-term; in the long-term, the pain episodes always returned. In retrospect, I understand that most of these approaches were treating my pain symptoms; they were not looking at me as a whole person, considering what I might be doing (unconsciously) that could lead to my problem, and helping me to help myself.
Finally, as part of my graduate-school training in Theatre, I found the Alexander Technique. Even though it was then 100 years old, had been included in top performing arts conservatory curricula since the 1950's, featured in The New York Times, used at institutions like the Mayo Clinic, and cited in respected medical journals for decades, I'd never heard of it. Yet, as I acquired experience in and applied the Technique within my daily life, I noticed that my pain incidences gradually became less intense and were of shorter duration over time. Eventually, they stopped altogether. '
This was no miracle. I simply was learning and putting into practice the common-sense principles of the Alexander Technique, an educational modality that had been around since the late 1800’s, used by smarty-pants like George Bernard Shaw, Aldous Huxley, John Dewey, Sir Charles Sherrington, other Nobel-Prize winners, scientists, actors, musicians, members of Parliament… and most notably spotlighted in the last 10 years by The British Medical Journal’s 2008 long-term clinical trial.
I knew how to use a can-opener, a key, a toothbrush, a vacuum cleaner; but how did I use me? How did I walk? Or sit or stand or sign my name or perform any other “automatic,” every day activity? And if I didn’t know how I did those, if I had no conscious control of such simple things, how could I truly know what I was doing during something more challenging like exercise? Or acting? How much tension did I really need to do any daily activity? Was I aware of when I was using unnecessary tension and how that habit might lead to me compressing myself, which might create pain? And was my awareness, my “feeling” of what was “right,” in fact, right? Healthy?
Finding an Alexander teacher:
Make sure your teacher is certified by a program that requires the international standard of 3 years/ 1600 hours of training. Give a teacher a couple of lessons to determine if you are a good match. No matter the discipline, not every teacher resonates with every person.
Contact the American Center for the Alexander Technique or the American Society for the Alexander Technique for help in finding nationally-certified teachers who might be a good fit for you.
What you will learn in your first, individual lesson:
-That everyone has unnecessary tension patterns in their body they may be experiencing (or may be unaware of) and how you can move out of yours.
-How the head-neck-back relationship effects how we function (well or not so well) in our daily lives.
-How thought impacts our bodies and vice-versa.
-That we can choose response vs. reactvity.
-How to become aware of everyday movements like sitting, standing, walking, and reaching.
-How your awareness in these simple activities (and your decision to change how you do them) can lead you to feel and function better.
The Alexander Technique can be useful to:
It's extremely useful for people with injuries and various illnesses and conditions (short and long-term), for technology and business people (anyone who sits at desks/ computers for long periods of time), and for people who do public speaking (it helps improve their voice, stature, and stamina). The Technique can help prevent injuries for people who work by improving mindfulness about movement. Because it addresses control, specificity, and economy of movement, it can help athletes and anyone who walks or runs. Currently, it is seen most frequently as part of the training programs for actors and musicians at institutions of higher-learning such as Julliard (in the curricula since 1969), NYU, and the Royal School of Music.
Rebecca Poole is a nationally-certified Alexander Technique teacher in the New York City area, whose students have ranged from ages 7-96 and have come from various professions and life-experiences