What Happens in an Alexander Technique Lesson?
I often tell people that the best way to discover the Alexander technique is to come in for an initial lesson at the clinic in Southbank (see discounted initial lesson voucher at the end of this article).
Alexander technique can be applied to a whole range of different activities – sitting; standing; day-to-day activities; sports performance; dance; singing; playing a musical instrument; swimming; whatever the action, the same principles are applied in any given moment. For those suffering from pain and discomfort, improved body awareness and mobility from lessons in the Alexander technique will reduce pain, making every day actions possible. For instrumentalists and vocalists, achieving good ‘use’ through lessons in Alexander technique can enhance sound production, prevent RSIs and combat stage fright. In sports performance the Alexander technique will boost speed, strength, agility and overall performance.
So what then are the principles of the Alexander technique and how do I teach them I hear you ask?
Well before I get to that I will need to ask a few questions and go through a short health history with you. This is to give me an idea of any pathology that may be causing pain or discomfort or any injuries, repeated strains or operations that may contribute to dysfunction or asymmetry. I see many cases where there are no known underlying problems yet there are pervading health and movement issues. The Alexander technique is often the key to unlocking these matters as it uncovers habitual patterns of ‘mis-use’ which largely go unnoticed, cause undue tension and consequently lead to a variety of concerns such as pain or poor performance.
I also use the health history to get an understanding of what you spend your time doing. It can be helpful for me to know if you have an active or a sedentary lifestyle, whether you play a sport or have a hobby or spend a long time doing the same action or sitting in the same position throughout your waking hours. By getting an idea of what you spend your time doing I can help you to build up a picture of how some of your postural and movement habits have come about or are intensified by actions within your daily routine.
Next up I will need to look at you moving; probably a reasonably simple activity like rising from and sitting into a chair, which we Alexander technique teachers ingeniously call ‘chair work’. I will be also using my hands to get a feel of how you are moving. I only use light hand contact, mostly touching your head, neck and torso. What I am looking and feeling for are areas where you are holding tension; muscles which are over-working or not being activated; habitual and unconscious movement patterns which may be counterproductive and so on. With the aid of my instructions and the feedback you get from my hands you will gradually become aware of some of these habits of use. You might notice for example unnecessary tightening of your neck or overuse of your lumbar. I will then encourage you to inhibit these habits and to direct yourself instead to use yourself differently; to free the neck to allow your head to go forward and up, to allow the back to lengthen and widen. The italicised words inhibit and direct are two of the main principles of Alexander technique whilst the italicised sentence quotes Alexander’s directions. It is by developing your body awareness, identifying your habitual patterns of mis-use, adhering to the principles of the technique and giving the directions that you begin to consciously and constructively control your manner of use and begin to achieve improvements in posture, muscle tone, ease of movement, flexibility, balance and breath.
On each Alexander technique lesson I will also work with you lying on the table in a semi-supine position. Semi-supine refers to a position of mechanical comfort whereby you lie on your back with some support under your head, your knees raised and your feet on the table. This position allows for the neck to be free, the head to release forwards and up off the spine and the spine to lengthen and the back to widen. I will then work gently to help ease tension in your neck, shoulders, torso, back, hips, legs, etc. I’ll be asking you to pay attention to what is going on in your body so that you recognise habitual tightening patterns or asymmetries and consciously give yourself direction to soften, release and allow the spine to lengthen.
As lessons continue (and a course of lessons in Alexander technique is advised) other elements of the technique and principles of Alexander will come to the fore. But explaining them is another story…