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Is Alexander Technique a daily exercise routine?

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Published: October 10, 2006 at 12:54 AM [UTC]

Been meandering around the topic of AT for a while here. It’s a very useful exercise for me in the sense that during the process of writing I recall pearls of wisdom, exercises and such I have received down the years and not fully thought about or explored. I don’t seem to have offered a full definition of AT yet but then that is rather hard to do , as you may have realized by now. Perhaps explaining AT is similar to the technique itself, primarily concerned with `non-doing.` (Joke).

An interesting example which contributes to this is a comment I read a few years ago on v.commie about someone who said something to the effect `Oh yes, I am taking AT lessons regularly and I do the exercises without fail every morning for ten minutes. It really helps.`

So there I was thinking that on the one hand, this is very positive because somebody is taking the lessons, working at what he is learning , and feeling the benefits. But, I also felt that the whole thing was rather odd and perhaps another example of how AT is misunderstood, especially in the beginning stages.
AT is not a set of exercises. It is not a routine like stretching that will make you feel better if practiced everyday. AT is actually a way of thinking about how you live (mentally/physically) your life from the moment you wake up. IT argues that we can make choices about how we use ourselves and that rather than the habitual and erroneous choices we make we can reclaim our heritage of good health and happiness by conscious control, especially of the primary control I mention in previous blogs.

However, it is very easy to see how the confusion arise for two reasons. Firstly, given that one receives little or no verbal explanation in a very traditional AT lesson one might be forgiven for assuming that a ten minute daily practice of that every thing would be helpful. Perhaps it is, but what Alexander was saying is that at the moment prior to any action we have what might be called a `choice point` where we can make conscious decisions about what we are going to do. In other words, the action worked on in the lesson can be recalled the moment before one stands and sits at any time in the day.

A second reason why one might think there are exercise is that there are a small number of activities that one might well classify as exercises in a traditional AT lesson. One is called the monkey. There are many descriptions and explanations of how to get into this stance but the simplest and most effective for me is simply to follow the procedure for standing described in the previous blog. Half way up to full erectness simply stop. If the standing position is based on primary control and all the myriad elements of good use of the body then you will be in the monkey position. In this position the body is beautifully set up for performing any number of daily actions. The one that springs to mind most quickly is chopping vegetables. When we do this we usually contort our bodies and bend over in the most horrible way imaginable. If one stops and makes a conscious decision to sink into the monkey pose then the action becomes effortless and we have stooped misusing out body. In this sense, what may have been an exercise in the AT lesson becomes a way of living without misusing the body. One can of course play the violin in the monkey position….

The third reason why one might believe AT has exercises is that many teachers after Alexander teach a lot of great exercises. That is because the field expanded over the century as increase in knowledge about the body, mind and vision made it possible to have AT lessons very different from those offered by Alexander himself although remaining true to the basic concept of primary control. This is a topic outside the purview of this blog but for those of you who are interested here is a simple exercise I learnt in an AT training seminar with Lucia Walker. Place the palm of your hand on eh top of your head. Place the back of your other hand against the base of your spine (on the tail bone. Stay like this for as long as you wish and then switch hands. This simple action has a very powerful effect of integrating the body and creating a sense of where it exists in space which means that in subsequent activity such as playing the violin one is simply able to use ones resources more effectively.

That’s all for today. I’m off for a stretch.

From Gabriel Kastelle
Posted on October 10, 2006 at 3:53 AM
Thanks for this AT series, Buri! I've been following with interest... (Despite an intended joke or two which I hope were understood that way). Since you raise the subject of the all-timeliness of AT, I have a question (same question I had for a yoga instructor I really respected, but was too stupid or something to actually ask!) So, imagine you're falling asleep [yawn]-- does AT or primary control have advice or relevance for your "pose" or posture then? Different mornings can feel very different, for no reason of daily activities that I can figure, and then I wonder what I did during the night!
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on October 10, 2006 at 5:29 AM
yes, you cna work on your prmary control while in bed prior to sleep. The procedure is the same as any other actviity. AT simply puts the body in the most efficient state of use for whatever you are doing. However, you cannot practice it at night in the literal sense because you relinquish contorl to the unconscious. It would be a fairly helathy thing to end the day on.
My own preference is for simple breathing exercises - just pay attention to a small triangular area below the nose as the breathe goes in and out. Be aware of the feleing of the bretah on that spot. One doews not adjust the breathing in anyway.
From Noël Kingsley
Posted on October 11, 2006 at 4:17 PM
I've been a teacher of the Alexander Technique for around 15 years and practised it for my own benefit for 34 years. Explaining the technique has always been a challenge as it can mean different things and bring different benefits to everyone.
Simply put, AT is a practical method of eliminating harmful posture, such as stooping, slouching, stiffening and other habits and improving our balance and co-ordination in everyday activities. We revive the natural poise that we enjoyed as young of habit, loose, tall and in balance. We all have an inbuilt instinct for healthy poise, and this is what we revive. It comes easily, with guidance.

The quality of freedom and better co-ordination helps us perform better at any activity, unencumbered by habits that can undermine us. Movement becomes effortless, we become freer, taller and calmer. We also become more sensitive and aware of the habits and how to deal with them. These are qualities that performers appreciate.

The Primary Control that Buri referred to is the maintaining of a good head/neck/back relationship. The alignment of which is not 'held' but maintained by thinking 'directions' which are mental instructions that bring about a light and expansive quality in our whole body. We learn to think ourselves free, to lengthen and widen in stature. Our arms become freer, as do our legs and most importantly our necks.

There are no exercises as such, but one or two proceedures like lying down (semi-supine)on a floor for ten minutes with knees bent to help the back release and lengthen, and also to do 'monkey position' as a means of bending efficiently and in balance without strain.
The Alexander Technique is something that we can use all day, to help us be free, in balance and well co-ordinated. The improved self-awareness and ability to release our own unnecessary tensions help us make the most of ourselves in any situation, from playing an instrument, competitive sport, acting, dance, Yoga, business presentations to coping with pregnancy.
AT is not a treatment. People have lessons to learn to use it for themselves for their own benefit.
it's best to have a one-off demonstration by a qualified teacher so you can experience how it feels and discover what the potential may be for you. It is usually taught on a one-to-one basis as we are all different, with differing needs and habits. We then get individual hands-on guidance so we can experience moving, standing, sitting with less effort and in balance.

I hope this helps, and if you have any questions I shall be happy to answer them as best I can. You can see more about this on my website


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