Finding my Inner Adult and other Adventures in the Alexander Technique

Finding my Inner Adult and other Adventures in the Alexander Technique

Most people consider the Alexander Technique a highly effective resource for improving posture, recovering from injury and managing the physical effects of stress, repetitive strain injuries and the demands of daily life. It certainly can provide relief and improvement in all of those areas. READ MORE

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Standing Up Straight Can Be Just As Bad As Slouching

Alexander Technique-167by Karen Krueger Many Alexander Technique teachers don't like to even mention the word "posture." They think the very word has so many wrong connotations that it should be avoided. But I take Humpty Dumpty's point of view: the important thing is not what people think a word might mean, but what we say it means:

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less." (Through the Looking-Glass, Lewis Caroll.)

In my opinion, the Alexander Technique does involve posture, but it defines "good posture" and how to achieve it in a very different way than most approaches.

There's no doubt that bad posture is hard on the body. What most people think of as good posture is generally maintained by using excessive muscle tension in the neck, shoulders and back, which in turn stiffens the limbs as well.

If you habitually slouch in your chair, you probably can notice the amount of extra work that is required to "sit up straight" according to the usual idea. On the other hand, if you habitually maintain what you have been taught to believe is good posture, you may not realize how much you are overworking. You have learned to carry yourself stiffly erect as a child, from relatives or teachers. Or perhaps you learned it as an adult, from a physical therapist, a dance teachers or a yoga instructor. Those who taught you to do this had the best of intentions, but the result can be inflexibility, impairment of full breathing and even pain: ironically, the same problems that can result from slouching.

Several of my students have come for lessons with what most people would say looked like good posture, but who had suffered for years from mysterious neck and back pain that could not be traced to any injury or disease. It was immediately apparent to me, with my Alexander Technique lens, that each of them was holding his back and neck ramrod straight, with very tense muscles. As we worked together on letting go of that tension, these students were able to experience being fully upright with much less effort, and the pain gradually disappeared.

Adapted from "A Lawyer's Guide to the Alexander Technique: Using Your Mind-Body Connection to Handle Stress, Alleviate Pain, and Improve Performance."

[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.acatnyc.org/main/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/karen-headshot-67.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]KAREN G. KRUEGER practiced law in New York City for 25 years before training at ACAT, and has now been teaching the Alexander Technique for almost five years.  She is the author of the recently published book A Lawyer’s Guide to the Alexander Technique: Using  Your Mind-Body Connection to Handle Stress, Alleviate Pain, and Improve Performance (ABA Publishing).  Website:  http://kgk-llc.com.  Buy the book.[/author_info] [/author]

Good Posture Means Connecting, Not Correcting

by Dan Cayer I’m not against correcting our posture or body on principle. I wish all it took to rid ourselves of chronic pain and tension was figuring the right angle or position, and tapping our body into place. It’s such a seductive offer; that we need only arrange our body and then get on with the rest of our day.

I object to correcting our posture on practical grounds; it doesn’t work. From my perspective as an Alexander Technique teacher and a person dealing with chronic pain for several years, ‘correcting’ posture tends to tie us further into a tense knot, decreasing our ability to actually enjoy our body. In this article, I’ll offer a short but powerful exercise for connecting with a natural posture.

What Correcting Usually Means

The instinctual response to pain is to fix it or push it away. As discomfort crowds our consciousness, our brain reaches for a solution: “good” posture! Or, at least our idea of it. Usually, this means we push our shoulders back and stick our chest up. On a more subtle level, we may tighten our jaw and squeeze our throat against the discomfort and fear that’s bubbling up in relation to feeling pain. When posture carries the promise of not feeling pain or uncomfortable emotions, it’s easy to try too hard and stiffen ourselves.

I don’t mean to offer the unhelpful advice to never move your body no matter the pain. I only wish to say that when the first step of responding to pain or discomfort is to immediately try to correct ourselves, it only leads to a negative cycle of judgment, tension, and undesired results. We trade one problem, say slouching, for another, rigidly arching ourselves upward in an uncomfortable and ungrounded way.

We’ve skipped right over feeling what it’s like where we are, and flown straight to how we should be. It’s this nonstop flight that keeps us from actually finding a way of sitting or walking or simply being in our bodies that feels comfortable or ‘at home’. By dictating an idealized sitting position, we almost inevitably inflict an inhumane expectation on our body that just does not jibe with our actual structure. Sitting upright with comfort and ease and vitality is totally possible – it’s how we were designed. But we don’t get there by muscling ourselves up, “sitting up straight,” or yanking ourselves out of a slouch.

Connect with Your Self First

The first step needs to be connecting with ourselves. This need not be a big deal or require the services of a psychotherapist. Simply pause before changing your body and feel how you are – in your body, heart, and mind. You are touching in to your current experience. It may feel unpleasant like dipping into a cold pool or even overwhelming. Strangely, this is a good thing. You’re beginning to relate with your body not as a contraption that needs to be ordered, but as a physical and emotional self that has a natural organization and its own way of responding to life (often independent of our wishes).

How to Do It

Here’s a take-home exercise on how to connect, not correct:

When you find yourself out of sorts, imbalanced, slouching, or if pain is present, take a moment or two to notice what you’re experiencing on a visceral level, which includes bodily sensations, thoughts, and emotions. It may help you to actually breathe in once or twice, with the intention that you are breathing in the full experience. After a moment or two, feel free to make whatever change you wish: roll out your shoulders, connect your sit bones to the chair. Notice if it feels different having listened to your felt experience first.

Widening Our Experience of Posture

Posture may seem to be a wholly mechanical exercise but alas, that is only part of the picture of ourselves. Think of how stage fright or performance anxiety has a strong physiological effect. Our bodies and minds are deeply connected.

Take the example of training a horse. The trainer has an agenda but unfortunately for him, so does the horse. A wise trainer coaxes and works with the horse, allowing the horse to have some room to play out its energy while still being taken through the proper procedures. A horse that’s bridled or reined in too tightly will bolt.

In working with students (and myself), I often find that we hold the reins too tightly in our well-intentioned effort to change body patterns and improve well-being. Over time though, students see that immediately correcting themselves – trying to fix their posture in an instant – is another habit just like slouching.

Posture isn’t about scolding and stiffening ourselves, any more than training a horse is like programming a computer. Gentleness and curiosity are required to make any long-lasting improvements in how you sit and stand. You could try right now: breathing in your experience exactly as you feel it for a breath or two before trying to change it.

This post originally appeared at dancayerfluidmovement.com.

[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.acatnyc.org/main/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Dan-Head-Shot-13.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]DAN CAYER is a nationally certified teacher of the Alexander Technique. After a serious injury left him unable to work or even carry out household tasks, he began studying the technique. His return to health, as well as his experience with the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of pain, inspired him to help others. He now teaches his innovative approach in Union Square, Carroll Gardens and in Park Slope, Brooklyn. He also teaches adults to swim with greater ease and confidence by applying Alexander principles. You can find his next workshop or schedule a private lesson at www.dancayerfluidmovement.com.[/author_info] [/author]

Want to Change Your Body? Use Your Mind…

iStock_brain_smaller_croppedby Jeffrey Glazer Good posture, less pain, better breathing, fluid movement, even confidence; all are side effects of effective application of the Alexander Technique. You may be surprised to learn that a major key to achieving those goals lies in your thinking. The technique teaches you to utilize thought as a way of solving problems that stem from poor posture and movement habits. Since posture and movement are ultimately controlled by the brain, we can improve them by using the brain, albeit in a different way.

The key is to trust that thinking can create a positive change in the body. For example, the primary tension pattern that the Alexander Technique seeks to prevent is tightening the neck. This is because a neck that isn’t tight is essential to preventing tension in the rest of the body. To prevent tightening the neck, instead of doing something that feels like not tightening the neck, we simply think “I’m not tightening my neck.” Or, to frame it in the positive, think “neck free”.

Before sending the message to yourself to not tighten your neck, bring your attention to the area behind the forehead. Then think “I am not tightening my neck”, or “neck free” from that point. Having your full attention up high behind the forehead will help to prevent the tendency to actively use your neck muscles to create what you believe constitutes a free neck. So rather than do something, simply stick to thinking.

Furthermore, you also want to see out in front of you as you think. It can be tempting to check for an immediate result by feeling for the “right” thing, but often when we begin feeling for something we stop seeing what’s in front of us. The eyes get drawn inward and we lose touch with the environment around us. So, if you begin to feel tense, or you stop paying attention to what you are seeing, then start over. Feeling for the “right” thing will not help. Remember, the key is to trust that your thinking will have an effect. Once you begin checking for a result, or trying to do something muscularly, you’ve stopped trusting your thinking.

My suggestion is to practice sending messages to your body from the area behind your forehead. Send the message over and over again. The key is to think rather than do; the skill is to think without producing tension. Alexander Technique lessons can help you with this type of thinking, and they also give you the kinesthetic experience of what “neck free” feels like. With dedication, patience, and trust, you may be surprised at the results.

This post originally appeared on Jeffrey Glazer's blog.

[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.acatnyc.org/main/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/jeffrey.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]JEFFREY GLAZER is a certified teacher of the Alexander Technique. He found the Alexander Technique in 2008 after an exhaustive search for relief from chronic pain in his arms and neck. Long hours at the computer had made his pain debilitating, and he was forced to leave his job in finance. The remarkable results he achieved in managing and reducing his pain prompted him to become an instructor in order to help others. He received his teacher certification at the American Center for the Alexander Technique after completing their 3-year, 1600 hour training course in 2013. He also holds a BS in Finance and Marketing from Florida State University. www.nycalexandertechnique.com[/author_info] [/author]

The Alexander Technique: It's Not Just About Standing Up Straight

meerkatby Brooke Lieb When people hear that I teach Alexander Technique, they often comment "Oh, that's about standing up straight", or say something apologetic or sarcastic. Then they inevitably pull themselves up into their version of "Good Posture".

The good news is that gravity is not what's getting you down. It's actually your own muscles, over contracting, working inefficiently and pulling you down. When you learn to allow lengthening to occur throughout your musculature, weight falls more efficiently through bones and joints, leaving you more balanced on your skeleton.

Hours spent sitting at a computer, studying, driving a car and other such sedentary activities contribute to being habitually shortened through the muscles on the front of the body. Because we are so used to this shortening, it doesn't register in your feeling sense as active muscle work. In fact, it probably feels effortless and maybe even comfortable. Fortunately, when you learn to release this excess effort, the natural outcome is more evenly distributed muscle tone, lengthening and more upright alignment through your spine. You can get better results with less effort when it comes to posture.

I have a couple who've studied with me since Fall of 2000. He reported gaining a full inch in height at his last check up; and she went from a 1/4" to a 1/8" correction in her orthotics for a leg length discrepancy.

Studying the Alexander Technique can help you look taller and feel lighter and easier in upright posture.

I leave you with this quote:

"I am putting into gear the muscles that hold you up, and you are putting them out of gear and then making a tremendous effort to hold yourself up, with the result that, when you ease that effort, you slump down worse than ever." F. M. Alexander

[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.acatnyc.org/main/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Brooke1web.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]N. BROOKE LIEB, Director of Teacher Certification since 2008, received her certification from ACAT in 1989, joined the faculty in 1992. Brooke has presented to 100s of people at numerous conferences, has taught at C. W. Post College, St. Rose College, Kutztown University, Pace University, The Actors Institute, The National Theatre Conservatory at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, Dennison University, and Wagner College; and has made presentations for the Hospital for Special Surgery, the Scoliosis Foundation, and the Arthritis Foundation; Mercy College and Touro College, Departments of Physical Therapy; and Northern Westchester Hospital. Brooke maintains a teaching practice in NYC, specializing in working with people dealing with pain, back injuries and scoliosis; and performing artists. www.brookelieb.com[/author_info] [/author]

The Alexander Technique as a Tool for Dealing With Trauma

grrrby Brooke Lieb [*Please note, I am fully healed and my love of dogs is fully intact!]

The Sunday before Father’s Day in 2005, I was bitten on my right leg in three places by a bulldog in the home of someone I knew. I had met the dog before a number of times over the years, and had entered the home of her owner without waiting for the woman to come to the door without incident many times.

After the dog released me and her owner pulled her away and closed her up in a room, I noticed my habitual reaction was to immediately focus on the idea that “everything is fine.” My parents were there, having arrived before me, and they and the dog’s owner seemed ready to join me in my habit. I was able to stand and walk on the leg. I saw a long scratch down the inside of my calf, which was bleeding; and evidence of bite marks on my calf and the outside of my thigh, which was swelling slightly, beginning to turn red as bruising began; and what seemed like bleeding under the skin where there were obvious teeth marks.

As moments passed, my assessment of the situation was that I had to pursue proper treatment for myself. Those around me were already soothing themselves with the idea that I was walking and the skin was not broken, so I was OK. I first suggested that I go to the hospital, as I imagined a tetanus shot was in order. The others seemed hesitant to take me there, as the wounds didn’t seem serious enough. The owner said she didn’t think I needed to go to the hospital or that there was any worry, as the dog was up to date on her shots and the skin was not broken. (In fact, on later inspection when I got home, I discovered the skin had been broken in five places.)

I did not want to go to the hospital, but I knew that was my habit of minimizing things. I pursued the subject, insisting that I should consult with a medical professional to determine the proper course of treatment. The owner offered to try to reach her doctor on the phone. She called and I thought the line didn’t answer. My mother later told me she believed there was a recorded message with further instructions and another number to call in an emergency, but the dog’s owner didn’t pursue the course beyond her first call. I suggested I call my own doctor, who was out of town. The doctor covering for her called me back after about 15 minutes and determined that the dog and I were up to date on our shots and my concern was infection. He didn’t tell me to go to a hospital, but did tell me how to clean the wounds and what to watch for that would indicate infection.

The owner had provided me with a bottle of betadine and paper towels to clean the wounds. I asked her for some ice as I saw there was swelling, and at first she told me in which drawer I’d find a plastic bag to put the ice in before she stepped in and did it for me.

I noticed throughout that I was in mild shock. My hands were shaking, and I had lost my appetite, even though I had been hungry when I arrived. I felt an energy of wanting to move, to get away from this environment, even though I stayed where I was. I was also acutely aware that I found the behavior of my parents and the dog’s owner contributed to my discomfort. I felt a distinct attitude coming from them that the event was over and all was fine now, while I was still very shaken. I felt unsafe in their presence and that any display of upset or fear would be met with a non-reaction.

When I arrived home a couple of hours later, my husband expressed what felt like an appropriate level of horror and concern and outrage that this had happened. I knew his response had an accurate level of energy and urgency to it. It took me a couple of days to feel the full intensity of my physical and psychic disturbance, and all the while, I had to keep recognizing my habit to minimize the events, my feelings, my thoughts and use my Alexander principles of awareness and direction to keep myself in the reality of the situation. My parents also woke from their somewhat numbed reaction and became more upset upon seeing my injuries in full color, and in response to how the dog’s owner had minimized the seriousness of the events.

For a few days, whenever I thought about the actual attack, I could feel the pain of the dog’s jaw biting my leg vividly. I could feel my fear and shock setting in as I struggled on the floor, calling for help and trying to scramble away from the dog. I wondered if I would have flashbacks and residual stress from the event. That didn’t happen and I believe it was because I sought out contact with people who would express the outrage, and empathize with me, whether or not they saw the actual wounds or had ever been bitten by a dog themselves.

Acting against my habit in this case has had many benefits. I have been much more proactive in dealing with many different circumstances that I would habitually avoid or let go un-addressed at the expense of my own comfort and well-being.

About a month later, on July 7, 2005, I was watching a film clip of a man injured in the subway bombings in London. As I watched the police help him walk and saw the cuts on his face and his bandages, I recalled the shock and mild trauma that I had experienced from the bite, and felt I could empathize much more fully with the pain, fear, and shock he must be feeling. I could touch into those feelings, while not re-living the moment as real or losing my present self in the memory. I fully credit my skill in the principle of the Alexander Technique with my ability to feel more fully and know I was safe.

[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.acatnyc.org/main/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Brooke1web.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]N. BROOKE LIEB, Director of Teacher Certification since 2008, received her certification from ACAT in 1989, joined the faculty in 1992. Brooke has presented to 100s of people at numerous conferences, has taught at C. W. Post College, St. Rose College, Kutztown University, Pace University, The Actors Institute, The National Theatre Conservatory at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, Dennison University, and Wagner College; and has made presentations for the Hospital for Special Surgery, the Scoliosis Foundation, and the Arthritis Foundation; Mercy College and Touro College, Departments of Physical Therapy; and Northern Westchester Hospital. Brooke maintains a teaching practice in NYC, specializing in working with people dealing with pain, back injuries and scoliosis; and performing artists. www.brookelieb.com[/author_info] [/author]