Even though I keep telling my students I am not a therapist, some of them use me in that way. As we work with Alexander Technique, they find themselves releasing unneeded tension and at the same time releasing emotions. The two work well together. Emotional release tends to lead to tension release and vice versa.
Many of my students battle with anxiety. When their boss reprimands them or a girlfriend gets on their case, they become anxious. They ask me what to do.
“Free your neck,” I say. “You may not know what that means but you do know its opposite. You know what a stiff neck is. You know what it means to tighten your neck. So check in with your neck a few times a day and see if you are tightening or stiffening or holding it. And when you can, let go of that unnecessary tension.
“All negative thoughts require a tightening of the neck. You can’t feel sad or depressed or anxious or afraid unless you tighten your neck, clench and pull down. Every emotion requires a particular alignment of the body. As long as your neck is free and your head is poised on top of a lengthened spine, you’re not going to be disabled by anxiety or depression. And when you find yourself stuck in sadness or anger or some other unwanted state, you have the means now to let go of that unnecessary tension and take up your full space in the world and operate from a position of poise and grace. This will transform the way you relate to yourself and to others.
“I can’t tell you why you’re tightening your neck unnecessarily. You probably learned these habits from family and friends. I can’t tell you why you get anxious around other people. I can’t deconstruct the thinking that leads to poor self-esteem. I’m not qualified. I can show you how to move more easily and gracefully and when you do that, many of these other problems thin and disappear.”
How did the Alexander Technique come to be mistaken for therapy or treatment?
Alexander Technique teachers use touch to help guide their students, and so the Technique can be confused with bodywork. The use of the hands, however, is just a teaching tool, and is used as an adjunct to verbal instructions, demonstration and other visual cues. Touch helps the teacher have a better understanding of what is going on in the student, more precisely than observation alone. For the student the teacher’s hands enhance awareness, and guide an experience of movement so the student can more accurately interpret the teacher’s demonstration or verbal instruction.
While part of a lesson is spent learning ways to bring more ease and efficiency of movement to a variety of different activities (from everyday movements such as sitting, standing and walking, to a more specialist activity tailored to the needs of the student), the other part is often spent lying down on a massage-type table while the teacher uses touch to help you let go of tension. Superficially this may seem quite similar to various types of bodywork or therapy, but, while the student is more passive, it is still a learning situation in which the student is asked to use awareness and conscious thought. In fact, the student is learning very important skills in letting go of unnecessary tension. Indeed, if we can’t first learn to do this lying down, there’s not much hope of being able to do it in the middle of a complex activity.
You invariably feel better after an Alexander Technique lesson than you did before! After all, this is a lesson in which you study and practice letting go of unwanted and unnecessary tension, both lying down and in various activities. Students often report feeling lighter, taller, more relaxed and at ease in their body.