Moving and Thinking

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our thoughts and feelings are reflected in our postures and movements. Equally, our postures and movements influence our thinking. Our postures and movements are frequently more revealing about ourselves than our own beliefs about ourselves. With the Alexander Technique you learn to break habits of thinking and moving which in turn affects your posture and your walking. Gradually you will free from yourself from ‘postural sets’, that is from fixed habits of moving and indeed of being. The Alexander Technique does not provide you with ‘right’ positions or ‘right’ postures, but simply with the freedom to make your own choices. Your choices affect how you think and move, but you choose. The Alexander Technique, fundamentally, is about developing freedom in thinking and moving.

Bounce

 

 

 

 

The Alexander Technique makes for economy of effort in everyday activity. An example: in walking or running we conserve energy by the elastic nature of tendons and muscles. As the foot hits the ground mechanical energy is stored in these elastic elements which then is released during the ‘push off’, of the ground. The energy is recovered as a spring-like bounce (easy to observe in children and four-legged animals). This effect is dependent on the elasticity of the elastic elements involved which in turn is dependent on the amount of stretch the elastic elements allow for in movement. (The same reason a tennis ball can bounce and a bowling ball cannot.) Stiffness and rigidity does not make for stretch and elasticity, instead walking or running becomes heavy and sluggish, and each step will require more energy and the muscles will fatigue quicker. Practising the Alexander Technique creates length and expansion of our whole muscular system, whatever the activity. The Technique teaches you how to obtain an ‘inner stretch’ – meaning you don’t have to perform any particular activity to achieve it. (There are no ‘stretching’ exercises in the Technique.) Even in sitting and standing you can allow the musculature to lengthen. Then it will ready for the bouncy effect available to us in walking or running. This is just one of several ways in which the Technique makes for ease and efficiency.

Attention

Attention, awareness, alertness, being present, whatever the name used for the quality of being awake, thoughtful and perceptive, is universally regarded as a desirable quality. From the school room admonition ‘Pay attention!’ to ‘modern’ methods of mindfulness (‘modern’ in quotation marks because mindfulness has its origin in Buddhism). The problem is that paying attention easily becomes another thing ‘to do’, as if attention is something you have to work at. The reality is that attention – in the sense of being perceptive – happens by itself. All we have to ensure is that we do not interfere with our perception. One of the ways we interfere is by not wanting to present, to be ‘here and now’. Why not? Because we are uncomfortable, we are tired, we are stressed, we are tense. Then presence ceases to be a place we want to be in because it is not pleasant. However, many niggling bodily pains, tensions, and uncomfortableness can be alleviated or removed by the Alexander Technique. The Technique teaches you to be easy in yourself, and hence comfortable. Once you are comfortable in ‘your own skin’, as the expression goes, attention happens spontaneously.

New research on the head-neck-back relationship

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The head-neck-back relationship is fundamental to the Alexander Technique. A balanced alignment of the head on the neck as a result of the appropriate muscular tonus of the neck is associated with a more coordinated and efficient way of sitting and moving. The Technique teaches this new movement behaviour by first of all preventing the habitual way of moving (which disturbs the balance of the head on top of the spine). Typically the habitual movement behaviour happens already at the stage of anticipating/preparing to move. Scientists have now corroborated this. Research has shown that prolonged forward head posture (holding the head forward relative to the body) results in a stooped posture which is associated with a number of serious chronic health issues. A new study in the US has additionally discovered that forward head posture (‘head forward dipping’) increased in healthy adults already when they anticipated moving. Individuals with this behaviour had lower impulse control than those without the behaviour, suggesting that forward head posture may be related to an inability to resist impulses. (‘Lower impulse control’ roughly means reacting too quickly to a stimulus to do something.) Read the study, ‘Neck posture is influenced by anticipation of stepping’, in Human Movement Science vol. 62, pp. 108–22.

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0167945718300277.

Head balance

Central to the Alexander Technique is the balancing of the head on the top of the spine. Not for aesthetic purposes, although a well-balanced head looks beautiful, but because it requires a lot less muscular effort. The weight of the head is in the region of 4.5–5.5 kgs in an adult. Lift up a 5 litres water bottle and you have will an approximate feel of the weight you are carrying on your spine during the day. Various studies have calculated the extra effort involved if the head (and frequently the neck as well) is forward from your body’s line of gravity. One study suggests that even just 15 degrees protruding head and neck is the equivalent of carrying 15 kgs of weight instead of 5 kgs. This means back musculature have to work a lot more and the increased pressure on the chest may well interfere with the breathing. With the Alexander Technique you learn how to let go of unnecessary tension so that the muscles of the spine and back can expand and lengthen, thereby allowing the head to balance freely on the top of the spine, with minimum of effort.

Wholeness in Walking

‘To take a step is an affair, not of this or that limb solely, but of the total neuromuscular activity of the moment, not least of the head and the neck.’ said the famous, Nobel-Prize winner physiologist Sir Charles Sherrington. This was a tribute to Alexander’s technique, for it was preceded by: ‘Mr. Alexander has done a service to the subject by insistently treating each act as involving the whole integrated individual, the whole psychophysical man.’*

The Alexander Technique teaches how mind and body work as a whole. Take the example of walking. Walking depends on the freedom of the joints, especially of the hip, knee and ankles joints to bend freely. The freedom of the joints depends also on the ability of the muscles to lengthen effortlessly. Muscles constrained by tension restrain joints from moving easily and may also compress joints, making walking stiff and a lot of work. With the Alexander Technique you learn to expand your musculature in movement, especially of the head and neck, so that the spine can lengthen and all joints are decompressed. This in turn allows for swift and effortless movement of the joints, so that walking can be easy and efficient.

You are warmly welcome to come to one of our ‘Open Hours’ events to get an impression of the Alexander Technique.
Through a series of lessons you can learn to practice the Alexander Technique.

[* quoted from The Endeavour of Jean Fernel by Sir Charles Sherrington (Cambridge, 1946).]

Primary Coordination

Alexander discovered that there exists an optimum coordination of the head, neck and back which makes human movements fluid, easy and graceful.

This organisation of movement exists in all vertebrate animals. Small children have this coordination instinctively. Due to stress and harmful habits we may lose this natural coordination. Typically we strain the neck, causing the head to compress down on the spine, and we shorten the spine. Instead the whole muscular arrangement of the body should ease and expand so that the spine can lengthen and the head can be delicately balanced on top of the spine. This makes for uprightness and freedom of movement.

This is not achieved by exercise or manipulation but by a conscious change of our habitual way of sitting, standing and moving in everyday life.

With the Alexander Technique you can reinstate this primary coordination of movement.

You are warmly welcome to come to one of our ‘Open Hours’ events to get an impression of the Alexander Technique.
Through a series of lessons you can learn to practice the Alexander Technique.

Breathing

Breathing can be deep and easy. Too often we hold our breath unconsciously or breathe shallowly by restricting our breathing capacity. One of the reasons may simply be mechanical: that we collapse in the front, thereby compressing our neck and chest.

With the Alexander Technique we achieve an upright poise. The spine lengthens and the ribcage can expand. Then the lungs are free to move and breathing becomes naturally effortless. Air is essential for our well-being, not just our physical well-being, but our psychological well-being. It is not only a question of not getting enough air but also of exhaling freely. Holding our breath, breathing intermittantly or inadequately can be a cause of feeling tired or stressed. Conversely, when we feel ‘well ventilated’, we feel free, unhindered, unrestricted, and ready for action.

You are warmly welcome to come to one of our ‘Open Hours’ events to get an impression of the Alexander Technique.
Through a series of lessons you can learn to practice the Alexander Technique.

Alexander Technique and Parkinson’s

People who are living with Parkinson’s Disease can derive great benefit from learning the Alexander Technique. Many case histories and personal reports as well as research suggests that the Alexander Technique can provide benefits for people living with PD such as:

  • they felt more positive/hopeful as a result of the lessons
  • felt less stressed/panic
  • improved self confidence
  • improved balance/posture
  • improved walking
  • improved speech
  • reduced tremor

The Alexander Technique is not a treatment, but offers strategies which can help Parkinson’s patients to manage themselves better in their daily lives and gain more control over movement patterns. As the Alexander Technique is something you learn and apply in your daily life there is a high potential for longtime retention of the benefits. Alexander Technique can be a valuable contribution to the quality of life of people living with Parkinson’s.

From 2016 to 2018 Regina was involved in devising and setting up a project in London to make the Alexander Technique more available to people with Parkinson’s and their carers. In an article for the latest issue of STATNews, the newsletter of the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique (STAT) she reports about the development and activities of this project.

More on the “AT for Parkinson’s” project on the website of the Walter Carrington Educational Trust.
Research studies (please scroll to “Diseases” for research specifically on Alexander Technique and Parkinson’s).

You are warmly welcome to come to one of our ‘Open Hours’ events to get an impression of the Alexander Technique.
Through a series of lessons you can learn to practice the Alexander Technique.

The Power of Habit

Habits are useful for many purposes but may also cause us to become stuck in a routine. We may become stuck in a certain ‘groove’, a certain way of doing things. A habitual way of doing something comes to feel familiar, comfortable, and ends up feeling like it is the only way of doing things. Take sitting, for example. We adopt a certain sitting posture, not because it is any good for the purpose but because it is habitual. That habitual way of sitting may be too stiff (too much tension) or too slouching (not enough tonus) or a combination of both, and because it is habitual we are not conscious of it. The Alexander Technique makes us conscious of our habits. The Technique brings to our attention the amount of muscular effort we bring to an activity. As we become more aware of what and how we perform whatever activity we are engaged in, we can break the habit. You learn to prevent the habit with its associated stiffness and rigidity, and instead allow the muscular system to expand, thereby increasing the length and reach of your body. By breaking habits you will have more choice. The Alexander Technique does not tell you what to do; it provides the skill to break habit.

You are warmly welcome to come to one of our ‘Open Hours’ events to get an impression of the Alexander Technique.
Through a series of  lessons you can learn to practice the Alexander Technique.