Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Alexander Technique

The Poise With Which We're Born

"To look up and not down,
look forward and not back,
look out and not in . . ."
Edward Everett Hale (1822 - 1909)
American author and Unitarian clergyman

Hale's maxim for a healthy mental attitude uses the same words that Alexander applied to the ideal physical stance: up, forward, out. In the photo above, you can see how four - year - old Sam executes this motion naturally, bending and balancing effortlessly.

I came to the Alexander Technique by way of tendonitis, whether from snow shoveling, playing scales, swimming, or dragging my urban grocery cart around the streets of Philadelphia was never determined. A non-tennis player with tennis elbow, I began Alexander lessons as a way of learning how unconscious physical habits might be a contributing factor. The Alexander Technique focuses holistically on helping the student improve the "use" of the body; my "homework" involved lying flat on the floor and letting gravity pull the tension out of my joints. While the sessions do not work like magic, they do provide an instructive, calming method of learning to re-align your posture, always with the neck free, and the head forward and up. Additional Alexander imperatives are to take more time before moving any body part and to use no more energy than absolutely necessary, something I've been guilty of in piano, swimming, driving, and storming around in general. The goal is a new way of being in the world, not a way of escape.

A primary Alexander concept is to pause, as does the 265 - year - old man in The Tao of Pooh, who attributes his long life to "walking lightly" and "inner quiet." The legendary F. M. Alexander, who founded the Technique, is supposed to have said on his death bed: "If I had it do over again, I think I would have been happier if I had paused more." Hmmmm. Something to think about.

Another principle is to stop doing, i.e., we can't improve ourselves by changing or doing something different but only by ceasing to do what is harming us in the first place. According to Alexander, our goal is to go forward, never back or sideways (even though going backward to a life before pain may seem preferable to our present situation). Musician and Alexander practitioner, Pedro De Alcantara invokes wise King Solomon on this topic: "Ask not thou, 'What is the cause the former days were better than these?' for thou dost not enquire wisely concerning this." De Alcantara says that "Stress is a stimulus, strain a response. Clearly it is the response that causes a problem . . . The stress of life is permanent and inevitable," (2). Thus we study the Alexander Technique as a way of functioning that will reduce the strain to our selves.

For a list of books about
the Alexander Technique


and my list on Listmania

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