The Alexander Technique can be described as a series of physical movements designed to correct bad posture and bring the body back into proper alignment, thus helping it to function efficiently.
Poor postural habits do not have to be that obvious when it comes to accruing improper alignment. For example, habitually sitting with the legs crossed. Alexander technique consists of unlearning bad (postural) habits which may have developed over many years of daily use. It seeks to replace wrong postures with correct muscular usage. The underlying principle being that most of humanity's ills; mental, physical and emotional; are caused by the gradual and largely unconscious acquisition of bad habits.
Although the Alexander Technique is not primarily a self-help therapy, it is possible to bring the basic principles into everyday use without having lessons. However for those who are not particularly co-ordinated or have severe postural problems it is advisable to seek the guidance of a professional, qualified Alexander teacher.
Concepts of Alexander Teachings
This is the relationship of the head and neck to the rest of the body must be in correct alignment. The effects of this are to decrease intervertebral pressure, increase height and enhance brain function.
Tip: Imagine a cord coming out from the top of your head, pulling you towards the sky.
The three most important Alexander principles in primary control are:
1. Let the neck be free. Never increase muscle tension in the neck.
2. Let the head go forwards and up, (never back and down to sit on and crush the spine).
3. Let the torso lengthen and widen out. Do not shorten the back by arching the spine.
Invoking an antigravity response at all times. In other words lengthening the spine (as described above) at every opportunity. The effects of this are to enhance lightness and grace and to decrease backaches, head and neck problems.
The goal here is to stop endgaining (thinking about what it is you are trying to achieve), and think about the means to achieve instead (see also Inhibition). For example, when sitting down most of us do not think about the transition from standing to sitting, and as a result simply 'plonk' ourselves down into a chair. In Alexander technique every action that causes a change in body position is important. Endgaining applies to both the physical and mental aspects of our lives, and it is typically seen in those who are driven by success.
The Means Whereby
The means whereby refers to the means employed in order to achieve the end. By considering our motivations, abilities and suitability for a particular task, we can learn inner calm and self-esteem, thereby reducing stress and tension. For example, concentrate on how to sit down properly.
A means of stopping the endgaining response by conscious control of our actions. By focusing on what you are doing you are more likely to be in a better position of control and be more relaxed, which will reflect itself in your postural alignment.
The correct use of the body begins with primary control. By starting with the proper use of the head and neck, all other use follows.
All of our body's limbs, muscles and organs have their own functions and are designed to work in a certain way. When we employ wrong use this interferes with correct functioning. As a result the body cannot work as effectively as it should. Correct use restores proper function.
Can be mental, physical or emotional, anything that sets off a particular response or type of movement. If constantly repeated, these movements can soon become habits. For example, tensing your shoulders and clenching your fists every time you get angry. The whole purpose of Alexander teaching is to bring more conscious control into our lives; to learn new (positive) responses to stimuli and unlearn 'bad' responses.
Are You Out of Alignment?
Check your postural alignment with the following quick and easy test:
1. Stand with your back to a wall (but not touching), heels 2 inches away from the wall, feet 18 inches apart.
2. Gradually press your body into the wall, keeping your feet flat on the floor. If the shoulder-blades and buttocks touch the wall at the same time you are in complete alignment.
Common examples of incorrect alignment include being "one-sided" (there will be one side of your body that touches the wall before the other), or holding the pelvis too far forwards (your shoulders will touch the wall before your buttocks).
Applications of Alexander Technique
- Let the coccyx (tailbone) guide you down as opposed to 'plonking' yourself forcefully on to a chair. By pushing your bottom out behind you slightly, you will sit down with your knees remaining behind your toes. The spine, head and neck will naturally follow.
- Never cross your knees when sitting as this will eventually lead to asymmetry.
- The knees should be slightly turned outwards to retain symmetry.
- When getting up out of a chair, let your head go first and the rest of your body will follow. This will avoid putting unnecessary strain onto the knees.
- Make a conscious effort to correct posture and upper body tension whilst driving: Relax the head and shoulder muscles, do not lock the head back onto the neck, and do not allow the shoulders to hunch up with tension.
- Ideally the back of the seat should come up right to the top of your head rather than end in the region of your shoulder blades. If your car does not have such a seat, consider adding a neck support.
Lying Down Relaxation Exercise
- Ideally, do 20 minutes at the end of each day to relax, decrease stress and increase energy levels.
- Lie on the floor (a bed is too soft).
- Place 2 or 3 books underneath your head until your spine can go flat along the floor with no arch in the low back.
- Place your arms by your sides, knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Lie like this, without moving, for at least 15 minutes. This is an excellent relaxation exercise as it promotes proper breathing, as well as being an indicator for areas of stiffness or asymmetry.
Use the principles of Alexander technique in all aspects of daily living, such as at work, typing, ironing, gardening, when lifting or carrying (especially heavy loads or children), sitting at home watching television, and so on.
Although the Alexander technique cannot be fully appreciated without expert lessons (especially if you are a beginner), it is certainly possible to help ourselves by implementing some of the basic principles outlined above. All of us could benefit by incorporating Alexander teachings into everyday life, and the release of tension that it brings. However, perhaps the most important lesson in Alexander teaching is to recognise that we are very much in conscious control of our bodies. By breaking so-called "bad" habits: altering our reactions to (stressful) situations, improving our posture, taking time to relax and learning to use our bodies correctly we can only change our lives for the better.