The breakthrough moment in my first Alexander lesson was when I lay on a table and my teacher, Julia Caulder, slid her hands down my back and released my shoulders.
Suddenly all the tension was gone and I felt great.
It was an identical move to what my acupuncturist had done.
I had an acupuncture student in training at Emperor’s College who was also a massage therapist. And when he treated me, he’d slide his hands under my back and release the tension in my shoulder blades. I always felt amazing after he did that.
Over the course of my life, I developed the habit of hunching and tightening my shoulder blades.
After my first Alexander lesson — and this is where it was different from what my acupuncturist/masseuse had done — I had tools to live by. I started thinking about the width of my back and the width of my shoulders. During the movie I went to that night, I kept thinking about my width.
I was stepping on to the bridge to total freedom!
The fundamental tenet of the Alexander Technique is that the head leads a lengthening spine which leads the body into integrated movement. Therefore, as a student is standing before me facing way, I have them close their eyes for a few moments and feel their head gently leading their body up towards the ceiling. Just this frequently reduces the effort of standing. I then ask the student to find their feet on the floor, which means to sense both feet wholly on the floor with an even weight distribution from the front to the back of the feet.
I point out areas of the body that are held, and I keep returning to the head – asking that it continue to lead the spine into lengthening. I then ask that the knees be easy, just slightly released. Locking the knees tightens the thighs and kicks the whole body out of alignment, usually creating a sway in the lower back.
I next ask that the ankles be released to show the student that they don’t need to lock their ankles to stand. Then I ask that the muscles in the lower back, right at the top of the buttocks, be easy and not to tighten the buttocks. This allows the student to have movement in the body rather than standing rigidly upright.
The shoulder girdle is designed to float easily on top of the rib cage with the arms hanging freely to the sides. With my hands resting lightly on the sides of the ribcage of the student, I make him aware of his breathing and ask him not to interfere with it. “Simply let your breathing move the ribs gently on the sides and back as well as the front.” This is the basis of gentle, balanced movement in the torso and allows breathing to act as an inner massage of the muscles of the back and shoulder girdle.