Alexander Technique

I realize that when one has a website about the Alexander Technique, you should have a page that explains what it is; but the Alexander Technique does not lend itself to written and or verbal explanation without some hands-on input as well.  This is true of all disciplines that include a physical element.

I dare say that mastering the violin, regardless of how many years you spend in study, by reading a book alone, without the actual hands-on experience with the instrument itself, would be a fruitless endeavor.

Studying yoga without experiencing the postures is ultimately an empty experience.  Don’t believe me?  Compare your experience of a posture you’ve actually practiced (a number of times) to one you’ve only read about, even if you’ve read about it repeatedly.

Learning to ballroom dance, without physically practicing the steps,  practicing those steps with the music, and then finally adding the experience of doing all of this with a partner is necessary to truly understand what it means to ballroom dance.

Each physical aspect adds more depth to the experience, and it is depth that cannot be appreciated without having the physical aspects involved.  This is not to say that there is nothing to be gained by reading about it, rather, it is to say that the physical aspect is the keystone, and without it the information cannot be processed in a truly meaningful way.  Which is another way of saying your understanding will be purely intellectual and not experiential: watching someone careen down a mountain on skis may lead to some insight towards becoming a better skier, but don’t tell me you understand the experience until you have it.

That said, you’re on my website and even though Aldus Huxley said “explaining the Alexander Technique is like trying to explain the color red to someone who is color blind…” I’ve got to try.  Here goes.

The body is a balancing act.  This is much easier to realize when you watch a toddler learning to stand and walk.  They teeter, about to fall, and somehow recover.  They do fall, switch to hands and knees, one hand on the bookshelf, and suddenly they’re standing again, gleeful, satisfied.  One gets to witness the ongoing discovery of balance in action from day to day until finally the child seems to get it and a certain ease, grace and joy is there.

This is how we start. At this point the balance is pretty clear, except for the lack of certain musculature which changes with the maturation process.  That clarity begins to deteriorate between the ages of 3 and 6 and becomes glaringly apparent to all by adolescence.  Two year olds with very few exceptions do not have neck pain or back pain or any other unexplained physical aches (OK I’m a parent, they do, but they don’t) It is the clarity in their use of their bodies that helps to explain some of this.  It is the opposite, the breakdown of our ability to use our body in a balanced fashion, that helps make sense of why our bodies falter and the ways they do, and the ensuing aches and pains that follow.

As to injuries, I’ll get to that later, but the simple answer is a reversal of the expression “adding insult to injury”, which is to say “adding injury to insult”, the insult being the way we currently use our bodies.

What is balance?  Balance is defined as an equal distribution of weight, and for our bodies to function at their optimal level our bodies must be used with balance instead of tension.  Our structure, the design of our bones, where the joints are, how the muscles connect to and mobilize those bones, and hence us, is a masterwork of engineering if you will.  It is a tribute to the elegance of our design that we last as long as we do before we begin to ache, and ache we do.

It is a rare individual who uses their body in a way that even vaguely resembles balance.  Who amongst us stands equally on both feet, (after all, we have two, why are you all leaning to one side?)  Does anyone, besides those with a professional interest, know that the head is capable of, designed to be, balanced on top of the spine rather than be held by the neck?  Do you even know where that joint, the one between the skull and the spine is?    Consider the repercussions of having to hold a somewhat heavy weight (the skull weighs somewhere between 10 and 16 pounds) throughout the hours of your day.  If you don’t believe me try this:  Take a 5-10 pound weight, a gallon of water weighs 8 lbs, and holding the weight in your hand, extend your arm straight over your head.  Here’s the good part, shift the weight 15 degrees towards the front and hold it like that for a few minutes.  Harder, isn’t it?  Of course it is, rather than being balanced over your body and the weight going directly down, essentially through the support system of your bones, the weight is now out in front of you, and your muscles have to make sure that the weight doesn’t fall any further.

If you haven’t made the connection yet, next time you’re reading the text on your phone, or sitting at your desk looking at your computer, ask yourself  “Is my head balanced on top of my spine, or is my head out in front of me and are the muscles of my neck and back working overtime to support it?”  Remember this is not a position we’re looking for, it’s the balance of the head on top of the spine.  Balance is about relationships (this is one of the things I can and will teach you), it is not a position.  The moment you turn it into a position it requires holding and therefore a level of tension.  Frequently it is that level of tension, i.e. holding, which determines whether someone has pain or not.

In learning to balance our bodies, we learn how to in essence let go, to use our bodies with less tension because we no longer need it to support us.

It should be noted that there are some Alexander Technique teachers who get very caught up in the importance of the balance of the head on top of the spine.  Although I would not disagree with its importance, after all, it is a large weight situated at the top of a structure; we must remember that it is only one part of a total picture.  What the Alexander Technique presents us with is a method to restore balance to the body as a whole.  What we are seeking is an integration, the relationship of everything in the body to everything else, rather than experiencing the body as a series of separate disparate parts.  The Alexander Technique allows us to come to this new understanding and act on it.  To learn what constitutes balance of the whole body, what relationships have to come into play, and how to go about finding them with ease and openness rather than tension.

This is about as good an explanation of the Alexander Technique as I can give, but please keep in mind, that even though you might think you know what it is that I’m talking about, your understanding pales in comparison to the understanding that you will have after even 10 minutes of physically working with me.  There is no substitute for the physical experience, and let me point out that although I might have gotten across some idea of how much tension is in your body, I have not, and cannot, get across the sense of relief you will feel when you learn to live without that tension.

To experience the Alexander Technique yourself, schedule an appointment in my New York City office 212-691-8607.