Alexander Technique is for everyone, although Heather tends to specialize working with musicians. An Alexander Technique lesson with Heather is either 45 or 60 minutes long and includes work at a chair as well as on a table (see below for further detailed information). For the musician, there is a third component during the lesson which involves applying the Technique while playing an instrument.
During the first lesson Heather will listen to your concerns, goals, expectations and questions. She will provide an overview of the Technique and its principles and explain how it can be applied to your own situation.
Heather will ask you to sit down, stand up, walk and move around so she can observe your posture and movement patterns. With her hands on your neck, head, shoulders and back, she will identify patterns of tension. At the same time she will convey feedback to you through her hands and verbally, to encourage you to perceive and then release tension. You should experience an easing of your neck muscles as your head becomes more balanced on the top of your spine, which then lengthens as habitual downward pressure is released upwards. You are actively engaged in the entire process. You learn that how you think can fundamentally affect the way you use your body.
The first part of the lesson involves chair work in which you learn to get in and out of a chair with consistently good “use.” You learn to inhibit poor habitual responses to the stimulus of sitting or standing. While it sounds simple to get in and out of a chair, it is not easy to do without unnecessary habitual tightening, pulling the head back and down and compressing the spine. Everything you learn from chair work can be applied to most other movements that are part of your daily activities.
While you lie on a table with knees bent and support under your head, Heather works with you to allow greater freedom of the neck and head to lengthen and widen the torso and elongate the limbs. Since you do not have to support yourself in an upright position nor be responsible for any physical movement, it is easier for you to notice tension in the body and to learn how to release it. It is an opportunity for you to experience a whole new way of using your body. You may feel “lighter” and taller after being on the table. Students tell Heather that this feeling of lightness lasts anywhere from hours to days.
The third component of the lesson for musicians includes exploring Alexander Technique while you play your instrument. Heather starts by observing your playing and habits in response to different passages and styles of music. She will encourage you to play passages that you have difficulty with in an effort to reveal your more extreme habits. She will then work with her hands on your head, neck, shoulders, back (as described above) to help you discover a new ease and develop a whole new relationship with your instrument.
Heather’s students describe a sense of greater ease and freedom of movement when they do not grip their instruments tightly. With some Alexander Technique experience, musicians see that they play in a much more fluid manner, often with striking musical results:
Singers - a singer’s tone production can be fuller and more powerful and vocal range can actually increase when the vocal folds are not strained and pressing down into the neck and spine.
String Players - Violinists and violists often remark on their warmer, fuller tones when they do not pinch the head and shoulder toward the neck as they cradle their violin/viola and when energy is not trapped as tension in the shoulder or elbow of the bow arm. They also find relief from shoulder and wrist pain.
Wind Instrumentalists - Wind instrumentalists notice a change of breathing that is less strained and are able to carry their breath longer. As they take a breath, they learn to recognize and inhibit their tendency to set up, in quick succession, a series of harmful physical habits that compress their spine and tighten their chest, which are counterproductive to achieving a full tone and long breath.
Pianists - Pianists learn to stop holding their shoulders up and let go of back, arm and hand tension so the energy of the body flows right to the fingertips, with a resulting rounder, “fatter” sound. They come to recognize that tight shoulders, forearms, and wrists can create harsh tones and unnecessary technical difficulties. They realize that severely curled fingers create tension throughout the hand and forearm, while extended fingers allow for greater tactile control. They become aware of how often their energy and movement is directed away from the keyboard, when it should always be directed into the keys.
Lastly, using the principles of Alexander Technique can also help lower performance anxiety for some individuals.
As a pianist, Heather has a special interest in working with other pianists, but she has extensive experience working with singers and instrumentalists. She thoroughly enjoys working with musicians because they can quickly hear the musical difference Alexander Technique can immediately make, even during the early stages when they may have not yet fully grasped how Alexander Technique is making the difference.
When the student is not a musician, Heather will either increase the length of time for the chair and table work or she will help the student with a specific physical skill that they would like to improve upon, such as running, walking, golfing, Tai Chi, yoga, working at a computer, etc.
Heather has also worked with students with vocal impairment and speech difficulties, such as stuttering.
Heather works with students of all ages - her students have ranged in age from 7 to 80.
Mastering Alexander Technique
The goal of Alexander Technique lessons is to give you the necessary tools so that you can observe and change your habits on your own, over time.
Heather recommends weekly lessons initially. The length of time it requires for a student to gain sufficient understanding of the principles of the Alexander Technique to use in their day-to-day activities varies considerably from person to person. It depends on the degree of misuse, the level of awareness, sensitivity and the desire for change. Alexander Technique teachers typically suggest that it takes somewhere between 20 to 30 lessons before the student can integrate the technique into their daily activities.
Although Alexander Technique is most effectively learned through one-on-one lessons, workshops can also be valuable for sharing experiences and learning from others. Heather offers introductory workshops to groups of individuals. The workshops can be tailored according to the specific interests and size of the group. Participants can become familiar with the principles of Alexander Technique and experience the process with hands-on demonstration.