Information on the Alexander Technique

You work at a computer and, by noon, your back is hurting and your arm doesn’t feel right. You are an actor, and when you perform on stage your voice gets hoarse and you have trouble remembering your lines. You play tennis every week, have been doing so for ten years, and yet your game never seems to improve. You have practiced the violin every day since you were young, but the last several years have shown little or no progress; you work even harder, and tendonitis threatens.

These are just a few examples of the ways our muscular habits shape our daily lives. At exactly the times when most freedom is needed, we create tension instead—tension that interferes with healthy mental and physical functioning. Is this tension necessary? Are there ways to gain control over these habits?

Ten years of careful self-observation by F. Mathias Alexander (1869–1955) led to the discoveries that became the cornerstone of the Alexander Technique. While attempting to solve the vocal problems that were ruining his career as a Shakespearean actor, Alexander discovered he was creating a pattern of tension that was interfering with the correct relationship between his head, neck, and back. Alexander, and teachers trained in his technique, have been demonstrating empirically over the past 100 years how to change patterns of tension and replace them with calm and poise, even in stressful situations.

We are so accustomed to the tension we carry with us throughout our day that, unless we are in pain, we rarely notice it. Yet it has a powerful impact on every goal we set out to accomplish. Our internal feedback system, or kinesthetic sense, which normally tells us when some- thing is going wrong, is no longer reliable, making it almost impossible for us to make changes in ourselves without causing new problems.

The Alexander Technique helps you use the appropriate amount of effort for each particular activity, giving you more energy for all your activities. In the learning process, your kinesthetic sense becomes a more accurate guide, so you can perform new activities, as well as the old ones, with greater ease, freedom, and control.

The Alexander Technique is taught in private, half-hour to hour-long sessions. It is not a series of treatments or exercises.

Dressed in comfortable clothing, the student is guided through a series of simple movements by the teacher. During this part of the lesson, the student learns to observe and change habits that interfere with optimum functioning. Even the simplest activities—sitting, walking, talking—are mental and physical, and many problems considered exclusively physical cannot be solved without involving our thought processes as well. Becoming aware of and changing the habits and fixed ideas that interfere with simple activities builds a foundation for tackling more complex problems.

Even with a teacher’s hands-on guidance, the muscular habits the student brings to a lesson can be resistant to change. Therefore, part of the lesson usually takes place on a table, where the teacher’s light touch at certain “held” joints and muscles can help the student to experience release and change some of these habits without the interference that often comes during even the simplest acts.

After a series of lessons, your internal feedback system grows more accurate, so trouble can be avoided before pain sets in or performance is stunted.

And you gain a newfound and immensely practical skill in learning to identify and stop destructive patterns of behavior that interfere with how you move, learn, and respond to your environment.

Barbara Lachman completed her 1,600-hour three-year training at the American Center for the Alexander Technique in New York City in 1981 and has taught the Alexander Technique to groups at Peabody Conservatory, Washington & Lee and Wesleyan Universities, in addition to maintaining a private practice. She is also certified by North American Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique.

For further information, please contact Barbara Lachman at 540–464–1195, write her at 407 Spring Valley Road, Lexington, Virginia 24450, or e-mail her at BLachman@embarqmail.com.

Contemplation, and a contemplative life, are reasonable fruits of the Alexander Technique. After learning how to get beneath tensions, to feel the body being drawn upward rather than pushed down, it is time to act—to play the violin, to work at the computer. And here’s where the truth of what one has learned is tested, for one should be able to reach for the violin or walk to the computer in complete mental/physical freedom, with all previous, built-in, automatic responses nonexistent.

To carry such mental freedom into act, to be conscious while one’s mind is freed from predetermined objects, is to contemplate. The Alexander Technique is more than a means of avoiding back problems or tendonitis: it is a measured, steady schooling in the contemplative life.