In this Alexander Technique review, Chris shares his definition of it, the five most interesting things he learned from ten sessions, and his opinion on whether it has the potential fix the way all us normal people move.
If It Works For Famous People…
Don’t feel out of the loop if you’re unfamiliar with the Alexander Technique.
But do feel out of the loop if you don’t know who Madonna, Paul McCartney, Judi Dench, Hugh Jackman, and Hilary Swank are.
They’re among many actors, dancers, and musicians who’ve used the Alexander Technique to improve their posture and the way they move to avoid pain from repetitive stress and boost their performance.
But what about us non-performers?
Does the Alexander Technique have the potential to go mainstream and help us avoid pain and improve performance too?
Out of curiosity, and because my Alexander Technique-teaching friend, Charlotte, offered me a good deal, I gave it a try.
Here’s my review of my Alexander Technique sessions, what I learned, and what I think of it now.
The Alexander Technique in Brief
This wacky video appears near the very top of the search results for “Alexander Technique” on YouTube.
Featuring semi-famous actor William Hurt as he learns the ins and outs of Alexander Technique, it’s well-meaning, but impossible to take seriously (especially if you read the comments below the video).
It encapsulates the Alexander Technique: well-meaning and potentially life-improving, but with painfully bad marketing.
A (Very Unauthorized) Definition
Since the Alexander Technique’s marketing department hasn’t managed to come up with a mainstream explanation of what it’s all about, I came up with my own:
The Alexander Technique is a way of learning mindfulness for the body. (Body-fulness?)
Just as mindfulness does for our thoughts, The Alexander Technique helps our bodies find the simplest, least stressful ways to deal with life’s obstacles.
Here’s my best attempt to briefly recap the Alexander Technique’s Wikipedia page:
The Alexander Technique helps you retrain bad habits in posture so that you can move efficiently and pain-free in the way our bodies were designed to.
Frederick Matthias Alexander (1869–1955) invented it to fix his own issues of voice loss while reciting Shakespeare in theatre.
Classes are most commonly taught privately in 30 to 60 minute sessions. They involve sitting, squatting, walking, and lying under the guidance and supervision of a qualified teacher.
These days, it’s popular among stage performers, musicians, and dancers. They apply the technique to improve their performance and reduce the incidence of repetitive stress injuries.
Minimal scientific evidence backs the technique, but the few studies that exist are somewhat promising. They found it may help reduce long-term back and neck pain and be beneficial to people suffering from Parkinson’s disease.
Alexander Technique Review:
5 Things I Learned
Of the ten Alexander Technique sessions I did, half were led by my friend Charlotte’s teacher. (Or guru?)
I’ll call this teacher Yoda, because she too is tiny, dresses frumpily, and speaks in difficult-to-understand turns of phrases like:
“You must unlearn what you have learned.”Yoda (both the Star Wars version and my Alexander Technique “guru.”)
Unlearning, as I eventually untangled from Yoda’s roundabout way of explaining things, is what the Alexander Technique is all about.
It helps us unlearn the bad postural habits that a life in desks, car seats, and couches has forced us into and get back to positions we’re designed to move in.
For people like me who spent too much time on their couches watching TV, and writing blog posts (like this one!) on their computers, that’s a lot of unlearning to do.
2. Fill Up Space
This little trick, or cue, that Charlotte would often throw into our sessions is so easy you can try it at home right now:
Without looking up, think about all the empty space between the top of your head and the ceiling above.
Did you notice your body
straighten* lengthen up a little bit to fill that space?
I sure did whenever Charlotte or Yoda asked me the same question. And I still give myself the same cue from time to time. It helps.
This little trick was one of many they had in their arsenal that started to convince me there was something to this Alexander Technique.
[*”Straighten” is a bad word in the Alexander Technique world because your spine’s natural position is an S shape, not straight.]
3. Be Lazy
Here’s another example of a quick “trick” from my Alexander Technique sessions.
Charlotte told me to hold a piece of paper in front of me. She then asked me how hard I was squeezing the paper on a scale of one to ten.
“Three,” I said.
“Can you hold the paper with a one or two out of ten instead?”
Of course I could.
Why, then, was I squeezing the paper unnecessarily hard? What a waste of energy!
We then spent most of that session chatting about this. What other mundane activities was I was wasting energy on? And how could I save stress throughout the day by being more practically lazy?
Going from a three to a one is a small change, but when you learn to do so for hundreds of movements throughout the day over decades, it can make a big difference.
Assess yourself right now. I bet some part of your body is excessively tense and could be a bit lazier right now.
4. Be a Be-er Not a Do-er
Imagine a big-shot CEO who tries to respond to every customer call and email. She’ll burn out in no time.
As Charlotte and Yoda explained, our bodies have a similar thing going on.
We have “do-er” muscles (the CEOs) and “be-er” muscles (the assistants). The “do-ers” are supposed to do the heavy lifting while the “be-ers” keep everything in balance.
But when we have poor posture our “do-er” muscles take over the “be-er” muscles’ job. And eventually they flame out. Our sore backs, necks, and shoulders then scream at us, “Enough already!”
To get my “be-er” muscles back in action, Charlotte and Yoda taught me not to think about sitting or standing up straight, but about stacking my bones.
And they taught me how to feel when they’re stacked. My bodyweight feels heavier as it pushes down in the same directions and I gently sway as my “be-er” muscles do their job.
5. Break Habits With Your Mind
After most of my sessions, Charlotte gave me homework.
My most frequent assignment was to lie on my back for ten minutes.
Another homework assignment was to periodically freeze where I was standing and ask myself how my bodyweight was distributed between my right and left feet and where my head was positioned relative to my body.
The “right” answers should be 50/50 and right on top. I was rarely “right.”
But physically before correcting myself, Charlotte instructed me to take mental note of my position and what changes I needed to make to get into an ideal one. This way I became more conscious of my habits I needed to unlearn.
Slowly my brain untangled itself to unconsciously put my body in the “right” position more often.
Long Story Short
Final Verdict on The Alexander Technique
As I write this, it’s been six months since my last Alexander Technique session.
By no means am I back to moving perfectly naturally like a young child but, surprisingly, I’m still feeling residual effects.
A couple times a day, I’ll catch myself being imbalanced—slouching on a chair, for example—and will make a mental note of what I’m doing wrong and readjust. And for some movement patterns, like how I get down to pick stuff off the ground, I seem to have unlearned my bad habits.
With some better marketing (including some YouTube videos filmed later than 1995) and a more mainstream approach, the Alexander technique has the potential to help a lot more people than the actors and musicians who make the most use of it now.
I wouldn’t pay full price for a private teacher but if some entrepreneurial modern Alexander Technique “guru” were to make the “body-fulness” equivalent of mindfulness apps like Calm or Headspace, I’d get back into it for sure.
Update: Alexander Technique Teachers Review My Review
Someone shared my Alexander Technique review in an active Facebook group of professional Alexander technicians.
Their comments and feedback is worth noting for anyone who’s wondering about signing up for some sessions:
- It’s not just about the body. The mind and body are intertwined, so the technique works on awareness, feelings, habits, and poise of the whole self, not just the physical self.
- Posture is the wrong word. Rather than posture, the Alexander Technique emphasizes poise.
- Touchy-feely. Alexander Technique sessions are hands-on experiences, which is something I admittedly didn’t touch on enough. They say this makes an app unfeasible.
- Admirable reactions. Instead of responding with internet equivalent of road rage, like most people do these days, they were unanimously grateful for my feedback and sought improvement opportunities within it.
What Do You Think?
Share your own review of the Alexander Technique or questions about it with me, Kim, and fellow readers in the comments.
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