From Our ACAT Faculty: My First Contact with the Alexander Technique, by Joan Frost

Joan Frostby Joan Frost Due to my mother’s lack of understanding regarding nutrition, as an infant I was fed boiled condensed (pet) milk to grow on. It didn’t work so well. I didn’t get to my feet until 18 months old and when I finally did, my legs buckled so that my knees and ankles caved in. In Ireland, they called this the “green stick syndrome”. I don’t know what they called it in America, but it was not uncommon in the ‘50’s. To remedy this, I had to sleep on my back every night wearing a brace – two shoes turned out 180 degrees from each other with a bar between. This put my legs into a frog position. I wore the brace every night from about 18 months to 3 years old. I have no memory of this time, but I do remember for years going to the doctor for walking exercises to deal with my very pronated ankles.

There was a problem with this mechanistic remedy: I was very pigeon-toed. The brace forced total outward rotation. Since my hip-joints couldn’t structurally accommodate that, where did the adjustment go? To the next level up – my lower back. I became extremely swaybacked. Standing equaled pain.

I must have had a weak back. When I was nine, while on my hands and knees playing with my sister, she jumped on my back and something “went”. It was my upper back. From that time forward, I couldn’t sit unsupported for more than 20 minutes before my back became hot, then numb. I gave up my piano lessons.

I couldn’t stand, I couldn’t sit. Any length of time with either and I was in significant pain. My mother took me to chiropractor after doctor. Nothing helped. I was a stoic girl – I dealt.

In college, typing papers was agony. But when I moved, I felt better. I enrolled in the dance program at the University of California at Santa Cruz and started learning about my body. I discovered my psoas muscle and my lower back lost some of its exaggerated curve. My lower back pain diminished. My upper back? It didn’t change much at all. I was always in pain behind my right shoulder blade and every few weeks it got acute.

I graduated from college and moved to New York City to immerse myself in the modern dance scene. A California friend discovered the Alexander Technique and told me I should take some lessons. She said my neck was very forward. I reached back to feel my neck and discovered she was right! I resisted studying, though. Why should I? I could have five dance classes for the price of one of those lessons. She persisted. Finally, after about six months of urging, I agreed. I called Missy Vineyard and made an appointment.

I don’t know what happened in my first lesson. I just remember taking a floor barre class afterwards and not being able to lift my head off the floor. I did return for another lesson. Again, I didn’t understand what was going on, but it seemed as if Missy knew something true about my body that I didn’t yet know. The closest I could liken to my experience was readings I had done in Zen and eastern philosophy.

Not far into the lessons, I started sticking out my elbows. Missy set me straight. I was confusing elbow width with upper back width. Amazingly, my upper back began to change! My pain started to lessen! I had started studying the Technique to keep my friend quiet. It had not occurred to me that it would affect the way I felt. By the time I was in my 20’s, back pain was a fact of my life and I took it for granted that that’s the way it was going to be.

I had ten lessons with Missy, then she moved to Baltimore for her husband’s medical residency. The effects of those lessons lasted about nine months, then I felt I had lost the sense of it. I asked around for and found another teacher and continued my Alexander journey.

[author] [author_image timthumb='on'][/author_image] [author_info]Joan Frost was certified to teach the Alexander Technique by ACAT in 1983, joined ACAT’s faculty in 1984, and was Director of Teacher Certification from 2001-2008. Joan has also taught the Technique at The Juilliard School, The New School, the Diller Quaile School of Music, and at Sarah Lawrence College. For years she was a lecturer for The Arthritis Foundation. Currently, in addition to training teachers at ACAT, Joan maintains a private practice in Manhattan, in Rockland County, in White Plains, and in Stratford, Connecticut. Find her at her website:[/author_info] [/author]