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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 in daily life. That could be anything — sitting at the computer with a deadline approaching; noticing you left late for an appointment; or having to play high notes on your musical instrument (see the example below).
The Alexander Technique will teach you to use your brain to respond differently to a stimulus. By reacting more calmly and with better coordination, you can prevent your old unhelpful habit from getting in the way of doing something you want to do.
Take a look at the drawing on this page. Let me explain this drawing with a clear example from my private practice:
Meet Lucia, a talented double bass player, who came to me with pain in her hands and arms. In a series of 15 lessons we worked intensely on releasing unnecessary tension while sitting, standing, walking, using her iPhone, in 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.
In addition, 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 safer she started to practice more and more, but in that way she also had more and more pain. The vicious circle was born.
Clearly, Lucia’s physical patterns would not have been changed successfully if her mental habits had been overlooked. Also it is clear why people’s well-meant advice to ‘just relax’ could not and did not work; she simply didn’t know how.
Lucia’s Alexander Technique process started with awareness; she hadn’t noticed her physical and mental habits and felt helpless and tense. Once she started to notice her unhelpful habits she could start her way to more freedom.
With the help of her new awareness she was able to choose to play the high notes differently. She learned to think more helpful thoughts like ‘my back is strong, long and wide, the power comes from there, instead of just my hands and shoulders’. 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 easier, more efficient and confident, her sound is fuller and the pain has almost completely disappeared. And if she notices the pain coming back she now knows where it is coming from and what to do about it. She practices more intelligently, making daily choices to practice for short blocks of time with high quality and awareness, rather than long blocks, repeating passages habitually and mindlessly with too much tension.
In this story the ‘stimulus’ in the drawing on this page is ‘playing high notes on the double bass’ followed by a moment of choice (yes/no). Each time, Lucia is able to choose which path she wants to take in her brain; the old habit, or the path of freedom, release and coordination. This is true ‘prevention’ — dealing with a problem at the source, not just treating the symptom!