Life Experiment 10: The Alexander Technique



Your posture, like breathing, is something that is always with you. In life we aren’t usually taught how to hold ourselves, we figure it out on our own, and we usually incorrectly. This can result in back and neck pains as well as inefficient movements of our body. By learning  a few key principles on how to optimize our posture,  one can gain huge benefits. Imagine if you went through life without realising that your car had a 5th gear. Think about how much more smoothly your car would drive when you eventually found it.

The Alexander Technique (AT) tries to help you lose your habits of bad posture and the incorrect ways that you use your body. The AT tries to eliminate tension, and over/under use of different parts of the body. When using the AT I felt like I was gliding, like a tractor beam was pulling me up when standing and guiding me in my walking.

I started to take the Alexander Technique lessons after my elocution teacher mentioned the principal when we were doing diaphragmatic breathing. My interest was piqued and being the curious person that I am, I found a local teacher and booked 10 lessons for $500.
I recently watched an excellent video about a man who learnt to use a bike which would turn right when he turned the handle left and vice versa. It took him 8 months to learn to ride the bike in this backward manner. It was amazing to watch his brain click, to see the neurons process the new way of riding the bike. An amazing thing happened, when the man tried to ride an ordinary bike, he fell off. As hard as he tried, he was unable to, people thought he was joking! His brain was stuck in riding in this new parallel way.

The same is true with our posture. Over the course of our life we have learnt to built up muscle tension and misuse which have compounding effects on our posture and the alignment of our spine even though it seems natural to us. As this happens over a prolonged time, we become unaware of the tension that builds up, just like the tension that builds up under the ground before an earthquake. This tension then has ripple effects, causing problems with other muscles and bones.
For example, if we hear someone to our left call our name, our natural reaction is to turn our head as this requires the least amount of work for our body. However this is quite jarring and we should turn our waist to move our head as this is better for our body. The AT taught me that we often make the most efficient body movements in the short term, at the expense of our long term well being.
Over the course of my 10 lessons I found the Alexander Technique very difficult to grasp. My difficulty may be because of how deeply our habits are ingrained and the ATis something that is developed over many years not 10 lessons.
I did learn a number of principles from the Alexander Technique, some of which I am using on a daily basis and hope to develop further. Primarily the AT taught me to stop and be mindful of how I am holding my head on my shoulders, how I walk and how I sit. Just in the same way that you concentrate on your breathe when you meditate, the AT taught me to be mindful of my posture.

A Summary of What I learnt from the Alexander Technique:

+ The Alexander Technique is the art of unlearning.
+ You can release tension in your neck by pointing your chin down and your head up. This will lengthen your neck and help to align your posture.  Or as Sandra Riddell puts it:  “Ask the neck to let go of the head so that the head can lead the spine into length….” This will feel as if you are looking down but you can use your eyes to change where you are looking instead of your neck/head.
+ Your spine and neck should stay in a relatively constant position, the rest of your body should do any necessary moving.
+ You should move using your head, imagine your head is the driving force, as if a string is attached to your head pulling you up when standing from sitting.
+Always think of the head as being loosely poised on top of the neck, not held there.
+When sitting, allow your hips to be free and our feet are directly under our knees and not crossed.
+ When walking we normally let the forward foot guide us. We should use the back foot to propel us forward.
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