In Alexander lessons, the teacher helps the pupil to recognise the habitual patterns of movement that interfere with the good functioning of the musculoskeletal system and stop it from working freely and efficiently.
The teacher and pupil will work with everyday movements such as standing, sitting and walking. Through explanation and with the skillful guidance of her (or his) hands, the teacher will show the pupil how to avoid the old habitual ways so that new responses become possible.
“I am still amazed at the effect that a course of
just twelve lessons has had on my health.” -Claire Phipps
I don’t know a lot about the Alexander Technique before my first lesson. What I do know is that, having suffered from often agonising back pain for the past ten years, I’m fed up with frequent emergency trips to the doctor and chiropractor, and have decided that I want to do something proactive about my back pain instead of simply reacting to it.
My first lesson, though, involves learning what not to do. Many of our everyday habits – walking, sitting, standing – are performed wrongly, thanks to poorly designed furniture and our failure to use our bodies properly. So the key to the Alexander Technique is “unlearning” these unnatural ways of holding ourselves and instead trying to recover the natural posture that most of us abandoned back in nursery school.
Now, posture I think I do know about. Knees together, back ruler-straight, neck and head stretched upwards. All wrong, I’m afraid. These traditional ideas of “standing up straight” use the wrong sets of muscles and all too often place extra pressure on the spine. Just what back pain sufferers don’t need.
The teacher (unlike many treatments, this is very much a two-way process; you are being taught to deal with your own ailments) seeks to reawaken the in-built relationship between body parts to bring about a more natural – and less stressful – posture, using very gentle manipulation of the head, neck and spine. My job was to concentrate on various parts of my body, in particular “thinking tall” – but not straining to stand up straight. Not exactly the proactive participation I had expected, but concentrating on opening the chest area or relaxing the pelvis is harder work than it sounds. A bonus to the technique is that it’s very efficient in forcing you to forget work worries as releasing tension in your legs becomes a more immediate concern.
How well you are doing with the Alexander Technique can be difficult to gauge. Teachers are constantly supportive (a “well done” is a very welcome thing when some of the changes that are taking place are too minute to make you notice them immediately). But this is not necessarily a therapy that will produce instant physical results. Mental, maybe – I certainly became more aware of how I was using my body after the first lesson.
I do start to see changes. A major one is that I start to understand what my teacher has been guiding me towards. Lying on my back and “thinking” my knees towards the ceiling-without physically moving them skywards-I notice when my hips relax. Breathing deeply from my diaphragm instead of taking shallow gasps from the chest, I feel my shoulders “open out” and carry less tension. As I sit down, I can tell as soon as I hit the seat if my spine has “collapsed” backwards into the chair. Finding my “sitting bones” and keeping the spine supported when I sit is one of the easiest tips to carry into everyday life.
I still don’t “do” much in the lessons. For the first few, I spend the entire 40 minutes standing up, sitting down and walking carefully around the room. I later pr ogress to lying down while my teacher works at releasing tension from my legs (which makes sitting down very much easier). And then, of course, there’s the breathing. Concentrating on breathing in and out through the nose; taking slow, deep breaths; feeling the breath come from the base of my stomach: using all of these helps to open up my chest, relax my shoulders, and free my neck. Breathing might be an essential habit, but we tend to do our best to make it difficult, cramping our lungs as we hunch over the office desk.
I also learn some new positions which at first seem anything but natural. One ungainly pose sees me on hands and knees to lengthen the spine and neck. Another, the “monkey position” which, with knees bent, allows the arms to hang loose from the shoulders has since become my favoured stance when cleaning my teeth, saving my neck a lot of unnecessary strain.
It’s not essential to understand the ideas of Alexander to get to grips with the technique. It is, after all, more about understanding your own body. But a reading, however quick, of the writings of F.M. Alexander – The Use of the Self is a very easy way in – can illuminate a lot of the (often odd!) manoeuvres and manipulations of the lessons. They also show that it’s not only bad backs that can benefit from a dose of the technique – Alexander himself developed his teachings in an effort to rid himself of throat and voice problems. Proof that the parts of the body can be connected in ways we don’t often consider.
THERE’S NO real end to the Alexander Technique. As long as I’m willing to engage my mind before I use my body, I can keep learning forever (and even experienced teachers have the odd refresher lesson).
The temptation to slump into the sofa – and to ignore the nagging feeling that I shouldn’t – is still there, but now I know exactly why my back aches the next day. Instead of rushing to the doctor or chiropractor to click things back into place (and I haven’t been to either since my first Alexander lesson), it’s given me the chance to act for myself to prevent these little emergencies from happening.
Amazingly, a friend who, like me, has suffered back pain for many years noticed that I was sitting differently and that my back seemed, well, straighter. I think she’s right.
I AM STILL amazed at the effect that a course of just twelve lessons has had on my health. That’s not to say that my back is now pain-free – tiredness, stress and the occasional case of overdoing it continue to upset my body sometimes – but rather that when something goes wrong, I now know what to do to help.
Just a brief burst of controlled breathing can ease away a good deal of stress; the hands and knees pose can stretch out a spine that has suffered from a long day at the office. It does take an effort on my part to remember what I was taught (and I haven’t ruled out future refresher lessons).
The wonderful thing, though, is that when I do stop to recall what I learnt in the lessons, I find that I have been standing, sitting and walking in a more natural way all the time. Learning without even realising it.
If you already know a little about the Alexander Technique and are ready to embark on a course of lessons then you should simply book your first introductory lesson.
If you think you’d like to learn the Technique but would like to experience it first, the introductory evening courses would be perfect for you.
If you just want to find out more about the technique in a practical and informal way, try one of our informative one-off workshops.
Your teacher will guide you through everyday movements and activities such as sitting, standing, bending and walking using skilful hands-on guidance and verbal explanations.
Also during the lesson some time is spent lying down in semi-supine; an ideal position to rest and support the musculature of the neck and back.
Lessons can be 30 or 45 minutes.
Introductory lessons last 60 minutes
The number of lessons you need depends upon your individual needs, interests and physical condition. Some students study for 6-12 months; others continue taking lessons after reaching their initial expectations and choose to continue to study the Technique for years. Lessons should be planned to be as close together as possible with a minimum of one per week to begin with. Your teacher will continuously appraise your progress and, in consultation with you, will advise on the frequency of lessons
Each lesson will bring new insights that you can apply immediately. Within the first 6-10 lessons you will probably notice that what you are experiencing in your Alexander Technique lessons is having an effect on your daily life. As you continue and your understanding grows, you will be able to apply what you’ve learned to a wide range of activities. The Alexander Technique is not a quick fix; your lessons will lead to gradual change and long-lasting, positive results.
You don’t need to wear special clothes or undress for a lesson.
Your everyday clothes are absolutely fine with the exception tight jeans and pencil skirts as they might restrict your movement.
You can bring tracksuit bottoms or leggings for your own comfort if you prefer.
60 minutes £65
45 minutes £55
30 minutes £45