While the body has its own inner wisdom, we stop listening to it at a very young age. Many individuals live their lives without conscious recognition or understanding of how they use their bodies. After the age of three or four most individuals adopt tension patterns that interfere with the natural alignment, balance, support, and freedom of movement we all had as very young children. When muscles are habitually over-tightened or too slack, bodies become distorted, unbalanced, inefficient and compressed.
There is an underlying assumption that as we age, it is normal and expected to feel aches and pains and to lose some degree of mobility and elasticity. Bodies don’t seem to “cooperate” as we age. We move slower and our bodies stiffen. But what if these changes are a result of years of misuse and misalignment of the body? What if many of these trends could be alleviated by consciously changing the way we think and use our bodies?
Let’s look at one simple activity – walking. Ask yourself the following about your own walking:
Head and Neck
Does your head sit poised on top of your neck OR does it strain forward ahead of the rest of your body?
Does your head move freely on top of the spine OR do you lift your chin and shorten the back of your neck or drop your chin and shorten the front of your neck, pulling your head into your spine?
Do your eyes look straight ahead OR do they look down to the ground?
Do your eyes have freedom of movement OR Is there unnecessary muscular tightening around your eyes, forehead and face as you look forward?
Do your shoulders rest well on the torso OR are they hunched over and rounded or are they raised up towards your ears and in towards your neck?
Is your back straight OR do you tighten and push your mid-back and hips forward ahead of the rest of your body?
Is your back pain-free OR does it bother you after walking for a while?
Do you use the front of your body and core to assist your back OR do you depend mostly on your back to support yourself upright?
Do your legs align well with your feet OR do your knees end up angled in closer together or further out than the rest of your legs?
Are your hips straight when you move your leg forward OR does your hip twist with the leg movement?
Are your knees relaxed OR do you lock you knees when you stride?
Do your arms hang and swing freely OR do you hold them stiffly?
Do your hands hang freely OR do you clench your hands?
Does the distribution of your weight change from heel to toe as you walk OR do you walk predominantly on your heels or balls of your feet?
Do your toes stay flat OR do they curl upwards, inwards or sideways? Are your toes pointed straight ahead OR do they point outward or inward?
Even something that we think as intuitive and natural as walking can go wrong on so many different levels!
There are countless other ways that people misuse themselves in their daily activities. Take, for example, cell phone use where we can exert significant pressure on the spine if the head-neck-back alignment is distorted. We often don't know how to look down at a cell phone without pulling our head and neck down as well:
We go wrong even just standing:
Most of us stand either somewhat collapsed like the figure to the left, or too rigidly, like the figure in the middle. Our goal is to be like the figure on the right – balanced. So how do you stand or use a cell phone?
The good news is that there is an excellent solution to the misuse of the body!
Alexander Technique is a gentle, subtle method in which the student learns to recognize and change habits that create harmful tension and misuse of the body. It focuses on the critical relationship between the head, neck and back. By altering this relationship to decrease tension, downward pressure on the spine is alleviated and it returns to its full natural extension. (This is why some students actually gain height after learning the Technique). The Technique contributes to greater balance, coordination, freedom of movement, and integrates mind and body in such a way to produce maximum efficiency and minimum tension.
The Alexander Technique teacher guides the student through tactile and verbal cues to help the student restore the natural poise of the head, neck and back. The teacher assists the student to discover and change habits that interfere with that poise.
Alexander Technique is as much about WHAT NOT to do as it is about WHAT to do. If you remove harmful habits, such as pulling the head back and down into the neck, the body’s more natural alignment and balance can reassert itself. The student can then discover a freedom of movement and lightness of being.
In order to be qualified, the Alexander Technique teacher is required to complete a 3-year, 1600-hour course at an accredited school.