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How does it work?
When starting Alexander Technique lessons you will begin to notice you would like to react differently to some of the stimuli of daily life. That could be anything; how do you react when sitting behind the computer with a deadline approaching? How do you react when noticing you left late for an appointment? How do you react when having to play high notes on your musical instrument (see example below)?
The AT will teach you to use your brain to respond differently to a stimulus. By reacting with more calm and better coordination you can prevent doing something according to your old unhelpful habit.
Now take a look at the drawing. In order to explain the drawing I will give a very clear example from my private practice:
Meet Lucia, a talented double bass player, coming to me with pain in her hands and arms. In a series of 15 lessons we worked intensely on the release of unnecessary tension in sitting, standing, walking, using her iPhone, sleeping positions and of course... playing the double bass!
The Alexander Technique focuses on the physical, mental and emotional aspects at the same time:
Lucia slowly became aware of creating unnecessary tension in her neck, shoulders, arms and hands, mainly while playing high notes on her double bass, but in many other daily activities as well. She also noticed she was holding her breath a lot. These were the physical habits.
Furthermore she found out that just before playing high notes she thought unhelpful things like; ‘oh no, maybe I won’t make it and it will be out of tune’, or, ‘playing high notes requires a lot of tension and force in my hands and arms’. These were her mental habits.
You can imagine that these physical and mental habits made her feel stressed and frightened. To become more at ease and feel more safe she started to practice more and more, but in that way she also got more and more pain; the vicious circle was born.
Clearly, Lucia’s physical patterns would not have been changed successfully if her mental habits would have been overlooked. Also it is clear why the positively meant advice by people to ‘just relax’ could and did not work; she simply didn’t know how.
Lucia’s Alexander Technique process started with awareness; she didn’t notice her physical and mental habits and felt helpless and tense. Once she started to notice her unhelpful habits she could start her recovery.
With help of her new awareness she was able to choose to play the high notes differently. She learned to replace the unhelpful thoughts by more helpful thoughts like; ‘my back is strong, long and wide, the power comes from there, instead of just my hands.’ Simultaneously she learned how to release unnecessary tension from her neck, shoulders, arms and hands, so that muscles started to be less shortened and cramped, becoming long and strong instead, in this way diminishing and preventing pain.
Now, 15 lessons down the track, her playing has become more easy, efficient and confident, her sound is more full and the pain has almost completely disappeared. And íf she notices the pain coming back she now knows where it is coming from and what to do about it. She practices smarter making daily choices to practice short blocks of time with high quality and awareness, rather then long blocks, repeating habitually mindlessly with too much tension.
In this story the ‘stimulus’ in the drawing is ‘playing high notes on the double bass’ followed by a moment of choice (yes/no). Lucia is able to choose each time which path she wants to take in her brain; the old habit, or the path of freedom, release and coordination. This really is true prevention!