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Just as much effort as you need and no more - How the Alexander Technique can help...

Updated: Jan 29



What would your life be like if, for every activity, you used just as much effort as you needed AND NO MORE!


This is one of the ideas that come from my Alexander Technique teacher training. Developed in the early 1900s by FM Alexander, the Alexander Technique has been described by my teacher, Don Weed, as the ‘study of thinking in relation to movement’… Hmmm…


But, what does this mean?


Well, let’s take an example: we often apply our ‘thinking’ or reasoning processes to activities outside of us: As I write this my husband is fixing a hole in the wall (due to our teenagers belief that our house is a climbing frame).


Before he began, he made a plan. He went and got all the right DIY stuff (you can tell this isn’t my area of expertise!) and he got to work on his fixing-the-wall process. He took one step at a time and he knew where he was headed. Great.


But did he make a considered plan about how he was going to use his body, to use the tools, to fix the wall? Did he consider how he was going to use his hips to bend to just the right level and then use a combination of shoulder, elbow and wrist to raise the tool to the wall?


No. He did have a plan - sure - otherwise he wouldn't have moved but was it a considered plan? No. Not in the same way he consciously reasoned out how to fix the wall. He just decided to pick up the first tool and assumed that his body would do the rest.


Which it did. But think of how much potential there would have been for


I'm not being mean. I just asked him. His answer: “Hell no! No normal person would do that!”


I’m afraid he’s correct. Professional sports people might, when considering how to hit the ball just so – but it’s not an everyday process. Yet we all move all day long. Wouldn’t it be wise to apply some thought to the amazing tool that is our body?


FM Alexander realised this too – his experience showed him that, in his chosen activity of acting or reciting, he was learning his lines, studying the characters – but he had not properly considered how he was going to actually use his body to speak.


He only found this out the hard way, because he kept completely losing his voice. Because he loved his job, he went all out to discover what he could do to prevent the loss of voice from happening again.


His first discovery was that it was something he was doing to himself in reciting that was causing the trouble. Rather than a disease or illness as he had first thought – and because of this he had high hopes that he could change this wrong use of himself and prevent his voice loss. This is often the bitter-sweet joy of realising we are responsible for our troubles: It’s our fault BUT have the power to change it.


He next discovered what he was doing to cause the voice loss: Pulling back his head, sucking in air and depressing his larynx. He found that he couldn’t prevent the second two “harmful tendencies” as he called them, but he could prevent the first. The pulling back of his head.


He came to realise that the relationship of his head and body was of great significance in his endeavour to recite more efficiently. With much trial and error, he came to see that the way that he was able to direct this relationship, of head and body, in activity – was key.


In the ITM AT we say “The poise of the head in relation to the body is the key to freedom and ease of movement” – ahhh, freedom and ease – doesn’t that sound good?!


Much more exploration by FM – and many dead ends, twisted roads and learnings – helped him to develop a way of going about any activity – not just acting – in a way that used only as much effort as he needed and no more. In a way, that was not only efficient but proved to be a constant means of actually improving the use of himself.


In yoga we might relate this concept to that of asana sthira sukham or that our yoga postures should be a balance of ease and steadiness.


So, what has all this got to do with shoulders? Well, shoulders are amazing structures and we can use them for some many useful activities but don’t we just LOVE to use them for ALL of our activities? If you’re anything like me you’ll be hanging onto your shoulders as if you are afraid they will fall off.


So, what if we could use our shoulders really efficiently - only bringing them into use when we need them and only with just the necessary degree of effort? And, because many of our shoulder moving muscles also affect our spine, and the muscles that give us the capacity to breathe well – imagine how much less tension we might find in our necks and more space to breathe there could be available to us.


What if we can use FM’s technique for ourselves? To apply this new way of thinking constructively to our activities in life? To add into his work of the early 1900s, innovations in psychology and theories of motivation and education – plus a modern understanding of our physiology and neurobiology. To understand how our bodies actually work and how to use them well – we are all born with a body and mind but as far as I know, we don’t get a user’s guide!


Well, there’s good news tonight! The ITM Alexander Technique gives us a set of principles, based on Alexander’s own patiently won discoveries, and a knowledge of Human Movement, Structure and Function, with key discoveries about how our minds work and the pitfall of approaching change - which we can apply to any activity in our lives to find that delicious sounding freedom and ease.


Book a session to find out more or email me at movingformsyoga@gmail.com


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