Alexander Technique can dramatically increase people's energy and mental clarity, as well as reducing injury. In one study a factory enjoyed a 40% increase in productivity, and correlated reduction in chronic worker injury, when the workers were given education in the Alexander Technique. The Technique--or the product of "psychophysical reeducation" as its discoverer called it--is a preferable way of moving oneself. It is something everyone on the planet can make use of who has a body and a mind.
It can be further defined as a better way of using yourself in whatever you do, "in which the reflex supports the voluntary and the voluntary does not impede the reflex" (Frank Pierce Jones, Body Awareness in Action, 1987). The tendency most people have is to create extra tension between their head and their spine before and during any activity or movement, thereby starting a typical domino effect of other unnecessary tensions, which interfere with whatever you're trying to do. These become habituated and begin to feel normal. Whether it's walking, picking something up, talking, writing, planting a seed, washing a vessel, or even thinking--and all of these activities are psychophysical (mind-body) activities--this pattern reduces optimal functioning and even clouds the senses and clarity of thought. Allowing the reflex poise allows the body-mind system to function optimally, and awareness of sensation is fuller and more accurate, and thinking is clearer.
F. M. Alexander (1869-1955) was an actor who chronically lost his voice doing his job. Doctors' advice didn't help, so he examined himself with the help of mirrors to find out what the problem was. He discovered that he had this pattern of tightening between his head and spine, pushing down his voice box, every time before he spoke. He also discovered that he could only change this habit once he let go of ("inhibited") his habitual way of using himself in general (that is, not only his habitual way of speaking but his way of moving in general), and allowed a new, unfamiliar way of using himself in the activity of speaking.
He also discovered he could more easily communicate this better way of doing things to others though a gentle touch with his hands guiding people to improved movement.
The Technique is taught by people around the world, mostly for a price that is accessible only to the middle class and only the fairly well-off of those. It is not covered by insurance.
But Alexander intended for the Technique to be available to everyone, and thought it necessary at this stage of humanity's development that we all become conscious of how we move, where we've so far taken things for granted and moved unconsciously.
Those with a more balanced physical-mental lifestyle (those who live in villages doing manual labor) tend to have better coordination, better use of the self, better poise. However, the stresses of modern life affect all of us. And there is an advantage to going from good to better. So even someone who is better coordinated than someone in a more developed/wealthier nation can benefit from consciously appreciating the reflex support they habitually allow in their acitivties and then allowing these to continue to increase in precision and helpfulness.
Information about the Technique can be found on AlexanderTechnique.com, and I will post some more links here.
For people who can't afford a trained teacher to guide them to the hands-on experience of improved coordination, any other person without training will still be able to provide some benefit to the extent that they approach this without any agenda or assumptions, simply trusting their own coordination to communicate what is beneficial and "listening" for well-coordinated movement in the other.
While it is not legal to claim medical benefits for this, relief of symptoms of pain can occur when coordination improves, and more energy is available. A factory in Switzerland, Victorinox, had a %40 increase in productivity when it employed some Alexander Technique teachers for their manufacturing workers, while the workers were also injured less frequently (http://alexandertechnik-schwyz.ch/pdf/Congress%20Paper%20English%20Version.pdf).
The British Medical Journal reported positive benefits from the Alexander Technique (http://www.bmj.com/content/337/bmj.a884).
Self-Study or Community-Study Tool for Exploring Benefits of Discoveries of Movement of the Self Made by F. M. Alexander.
The following experimental setup was created by Alexander Technique Teacher David Gorman, and he used it in his Alexander Technique training school (source—Anatomy of Wholeness recorded talks, lecture 15). It can be done in as little as 15 minutes if you have to, but if you can give it an hour that would be better. NOTE—there are safety notes directly after the description of the experiment, it's fine to skip them while reading this article for information, but PLEASE READ ALL THE SAFETY NOTES before trying it. Probably nothing bad will happen, but on the small chance that it does, you need to know that there are some risks and how to handle them. (This article is written by an appropedia contributor, not by Gorman, but most of the credit goes to Gorman and to F. M. Alexander.)
Three-Person Experiment by David Gorman
(note on pronouns—for clarity and consistency, I will call the Worker “she,” the assistant “they,” and the observer “he”; this is an arbitrary assignment of pronouns, just so we're a little clearer which person we're talking about) 1. Get a group of three people. One will be the Worker, one the Assistant, and one the Observer. Get consent from everyone to being touched with hands on a shoulder, head, hips, or knees—and make sure there are no injuries anyone needs to be aware of*. 2. The Worker does a task (for our example, let's say it's washing the dishes). Observer observes how Worker moves in the doing of the task, to get a baseline for comparison after the experiment. 3. The experiment: the Assistant notices themself, psychophysically, in body-mind, and attempts to let go of any assumptions about how to react to the wish to help the Worker improve the movement. Then while continuing to release assumptions the Assistant places his/her/their own hands gently on the Worker's body (shoulder for starting; you can vary this later), front and back (if you can't reach comfortably, move yourself to where you can). The hands are not there to manipulate, only to give information as a reference point for where the Worker's body is in space; and to be a vehicle for the Assistant to “listen” to (feel) the Worker's movements. The Assistant "listens" to/senses what is going on in the Worker's movements as the Worker does Worker's task. The Assistant again and again lets go of any “agenda” that he/she/they may for how the Worker “should” move, listening instead for how the Worker is moving. The Worker meanwhile describes anything of note of what Worker is experiencing. For the Assistant: there is nothing to accomplish, there is nothing you need to impose on the Worker, nothing you need to fix for them. You don't need to liberate them. When you merely observe and sense, the Worker will find Worker's own freedom the most rapidly. Meanwhile, the Observer observes both the Worker AND Assistant, and notes things such as the following: I. Where is Worker's attention? what does the range of what the Worker's attention include? II. What does the Assistant's attention include? what is the Assistant excluding from their attention? III. What changes, if any, are there in the Worker's quality of movement from before and after the period of time with the Assistant's hands being on the Worker? Where if anywhere do the movements look easier? Lighter? Smoother? More flowing? Where might she allow a change of her attention in such a way as to include something that would make things easier? This feedback will provide another perspective. The Observer will likely see a lot that Worker and Assistant are not detecting from where they're looking. 4. After a few minutes of this, take a break. All three walk around a few steps and look around the space you're in, sense any changes in yourself or your experience of time and space. 5. Record your observations of what's changed and discuss briefly. 6. Rotate places and repeat—Worker becomes Observer, Observer becomes Assistant, etc. You'll be able to make different observations from each of the positions. Do all three rotations if you have time. Variations: you can vary the hand positions—the head-spine is the place of greatest leverage, but also the one where the most "harm" can be done, so it's better to start with a place of less leverage, in my opinion. Putting hands on someone's ankles can be very nice, but I suggest allowing the whole of the other, and the whole of yourself, to enter into your attentional field as you do so. See if you can recognize or sense how all the parts relate with the head-spine relationship (what F.M. Alexander called the Primary Control, or Primary Movement, and Rudolf Magnus called the “central apparatus”: when you want to stop a horse, you pull on the reins, and pull the horses head back; or when you want to throw a steer, you have to get his head bent back before he has a chance to lengthen his neck. This is the major player in how the rest of the animal (or human) coordinates movements.) It may be better to approach this head-spine relationship once you've found more freedom in your own (by exploring Alexander's discovery more yourself in the Worker's and Observer's roles). I would love to know what you discover as you do this, and any improvements in quality of life in the community. Please look up social media groups that are discussing learning and teaching of Alexander's work and share about it.
SAFETY NOTES: READ BEFORE CONDUCTING THIS EXPERIMENT DO NOT OPERATE HEAVY MACHINERY OR DRIVE directly after you have done this work. You may be in a more unusual relationship to space and time than you realize, so take a walk for a minute before you get in a car. You may feel fatigue as you explore moving in ways that are unfamiliar. If you start to feel lightheaded, crouch down immediately. Occasionally someone may even faint—if they are fainting try to catch them and make sure they don't hit their head.
- DO NOT PUT HANDS ON SOMEONE IF THEY HAVE RECENTLY HAD A CONCUSSION. IN THE PAST FEW DAYS. You can hold their hand, you can be a comforting presence by moving in an easeful way around them, but don't touch.
If you have your hands on someone and they want your hands to come off, one word does it: "STOP." Your hands come off, no questions asked. This is not a substitute for professional medical attention. While it is true that someone's changed use of the self can lead to reduction or disappearance of symptoms of aches, pains, and repetitive stress pains, the information in this article is not intended to diagnose or treat any illness or injury. It's also true that sometimes things that appear to be related to use are serious medical problems, like Lyme disease. People with loose ligaments/really flexible joints should be especially cautious (for example, Ehlers-Danlos syndromes, Marfan syndrome) and should probably work with an experienced professional who is familiar with these syndromes or conditions specifically, rather than having experimental hands-on contact from an untrained individual. Yoga and stretching, if it increases flexibility, can also be very harmful for such individuals, and this experiment with Alexander's discovery is no more dangerous than those things, probably less so. “non-violent” communication: telling someone observations about how they move can potentially be emotionally damaging and so this must be done with kindness, gentleness, and awareness of the impact moment-by-moment. Even seemingly innocent things like “you have a crooked shoulder” can prompt someone to become extremely self-conscious. Part of our training as professional Alexander Technique teachers is is about recognizing where we might inadvertently say something that could upset a student's sense of dignity and interfere with their learning. It may seem completely obvious and harmless to you, and to everyone else, that Nydia has a crooked shoulder, and yet it may not be obvious to her at all, and having it pointed out overtly can invite Nydia to feel self-conscious and ashamed. It's really helpful to be sensitive and careful about this, or someone may be scared off for good. It is impossble to do this perfectly, and sometimes feelings do get hurt, but it's of the most value to try to be kind and accurate rather than providing more quantity or more smarts. 1. Rather than describing how people are structured or move, describe the changes from before and after the experiment. For example: your head was a few degrees less tilted back than it had been, your shoulders were an inch more even, your movements felt somewhat more fluid. 2. Rather than stating opinions or interpretations, state facts: “your shoulder was a few centimeters higher than your left”; “you moved suddenly” (rather than “you jerked”). This is tricky, as we usually think that our interpretations are facts; however, the more accurate and precise we can become about communicating the more helpful we can truly be. 3. A list of qualities you might look for: more fluid/more rigid, faster/slower, more sudden/smoother, heavier/lighter, easier-looking, harder-looking. Do not use this is a power trip or a way to foster dependency in other people. Yes, this knowledge can and has been, in my view, used in ways that have contributed to disempowering dynamics. I'm not here to point fingers but to acknowledge the potential for damage. This damage is much less likely if you stick to experiments like the one described here, which puts everyone on the same footing. I have heard of abuses in many fields that seemed to be perfectly harmless; it's easy to abuse a resource when it involves people's opening up their most vulnerable selves. Let's respect all humans!
These cautions may read like the side effects warnings of a pharmaceutical, but they are not side-effects of the reflex support, which already exists within you whether you know about it or not. They are really artifacts of things we humans may bring to the table from beforehand, not of the discovery itself. They are serious because this is a serious resource, with potential for surprisingly dramatic changes, but I don't want you to be scared of trying it. Knowing the dangers puts us at minimal risk. And we couldn't do anything if we never took any risks at all. There are other pitfalls to this experimenting process. There are possible ways of making assumptions that will narrow your attention in such a way as to miss the most important things, whether you are the Worker, the Assistant, or even the Observer. The Observer's coordination of self affects the experience of what they observe! Rather than listing these pitfalls out, which would take another article, I will say simply that they exist, and you will almost certainly run into them. If you keep re-opening your mind more and more, and letting go of everything you think you know about space and time, things will get clearer and your picture more accurate. The solution to the problems of releasing assumptions is releasing more assumptions. The only way you really go wrong, as Socrates pointed out, is thinking that you know already know the whole answer. Note also that this is not about a journey from bad to good—that is a value judgment, and you can equally well see it as building on strengths. And note also that everything is a psychophysical activity—you are never doing any of this while not in your body, and so there is a connection. Thinking about doing the dishes is also an activity. Responding to someone's criticism or a weird look or a compliment, etc., are all activities. You can look at subtler (more on-the-mental-end-of-the-spectrum) activities once you've done this experiment with something concrete. The results you find may be all over the map. That is the beautiful thing about trying it in community. Out of ten people I'd guess that one will have an epiphany the first time trying this. “Wow, all my life I've assumed that my body had to feel this way, and it doesn't!” That person will be riding on a cloud, and it will be quite annoying for the rest of us in the community for a while, perhaps. We'll wonder what they've secretly been smoking. Then of the other nine, three will feel something “nice and soothing,” two will be uncertain if they felt anything, and the rest will say they certainly felt nothing change at all. It depends not on whether you're smart or astute or not, but simply on whether you happen to be sensitized in that particular way. Everyone is different. So most people won't have a mountain-top experience, but the one person who's really sensing something will be of value to the rest; those who have a little change will be able to feel a bit more ease in their work, and over time the group will have more encouragement to keep going. Now, I acknowledge that this experiment is set up for only three people, not ten, but a) you can add more observers or do multiple groups (until you run out of dirty dishes—then you can clean the bathroom!), or b) you can share about your findings with others in other communities throughout the world. It's the communal benefit that's important here, more than the individual. The individual will benefit, but that may not be the immediately sensed thing, but you won't have to simply take this on faith for as long as if you were not in a community. One other thing I would ask: please do not call yourself an “Alexander Technique Teacher,” or tell people you are teaching the Alexander Technique, whether for pay or not, because this will detract from those who have trained for upwards of 1600 hours to have the privilege of teaching this professionally, and who generally do do it extremely well for having committed to professional training. Yes, some people with no training can do things professionals only dream of, and yes there's power in groups, but it has potential to dilute the reputation of Alexander Technique teachers if you make misleading statements. You will not be robbing from the rich to help the poor, you will be mostly robbing from people who've dedicated their savings, their time, their souls to learning so as to be able to help others. The construct of professions has its drawbacks, but there is room for both professional Teachers and non-professional investigation of the principles or discoveries, especially in a transitional capacity. Please say, “I am exploring Alexander's principles,” or “the discoveries” or “I'm exploring options of the use of the self,” or “experimenting with,” “investigating,” “co-learning,” if you prefer. That way no one is being harmed, and I believe you will have the enthusiastic support of many in the professional Alexander Technique teaching community, and of the spirit of Alexander himself. I also recommend reading at least a few chapters of Frank Pierce Jones' _Freedom to Change_, also published as _Body Awareness in Action_: http://www.fetchbook.info/search.do;jsessionid=FA3465B38E17BDDA0313F3323552D52F?search=frank+pierce+jones&searchBy=Author&Submit=Search. You can also get some kind of experience visually and auditorily from videos--(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DN_W1_6iUjs)—about how people can learn to move differently. This is an experimental article. I can't guarantee that you'll be able to tap into this resource in this way, I can't promise I know what's good for your community, and I'm certainly not guaranteeing a %40 increase in productivity relative to what you are now. But I do believe very strongly that it's worth trying this, and not just once but at least once a week for three months, before deciding if it's worth continuing. The changes may be subtle. They may be dramatic too.
With all these warnings, and with the complexity of the experiment, it is worth having some tips that address challenges I anticipate: 1. “No one else in my community wants to do this with me.” If you don't have two other people in your community who are willing to engage in this, you can do a variant of it with one. And if you cannot do that, you can do it alone. Contact Alexander Technique teachers or learners, and someone may help you sort out how to do this. But I encourage you to bring it up at at least three community meetings before giving up on having help, and say you're asking for help with exploring this resource. 2. “These instructions seem too hard to follow.” I hope to put up a video of three people who have never heard of Alexander, his Technique, or anything related before following the instructions, and to fool-proof them. I would suggest just assuming you do understand the instructions well enough to experiment, even if you think you don't, and go ahead and try doing what you think it's saying and see what happens. Maybe you'll sort out some details later down the road. You're sure to learn something anyway. 3. “This seems really overwhelming.” You can always stop, at any point. Any of the three roles can call “stop” and walk away. It only seems overwhelming if you're believing that there's an urgent need to force this to move forward, rather than that things are OK as they are and you can go from good to better. You've coordinated yourself just fine your whole life up till now—you're alive, you're reading this, so things are OK. And if you don't like what you experience in the experiment, or find it overwhelming, you can always go back to what you've practiced for X years of your life so far. 4. “I'm really not OK with being touched.” Good that you are aware of this! Respect your needs. You can be the Assistant only, or the Observer, for as long as you need to. You can still benefit, because you have mirror neurons. Or, maybe you have one person you do feel safe being touched by in your community and you can start with that person being your Assistant as you do the Worker role.
I have a vision that communities everywhere could get %40 more bang for their buck, or better. And learning in groups, benefitting from the power of mirror neurons for multiplied learning (do a web search about mirror neurons), is another way that communities can leverage their resources where isolated individuals cannot. This is what F.M. Alexander set out to do—to change the world for the generations to come, to bring all humans' movement into the conscious realm, not solely those with the money to pay.
Acknowledgements: I want to acknowledge Thea Tupelo-Shneck for her support of the idea, articulation, of Alexander Technique hands-on practice's becoming a part of the culture, like massage, exchanged non-professionally. And Marjorie Barstow, master teacher, who pioneered group teaching, as well as F. M. Alexander and my own trainers, Debi Adams and others. Thank you to David Gorman for articulating the three-person exercise that forms the basis of this.