A student who had had a couple of lessons and seemed to have a good initial understanding of the Alexander Technique turned to me after a lesson and said “Well, this is all really interesting, and I like it, but I’m not quite sure what the point is.” Excellent question.
Lots of things happen in a typical Alexander lesson. There is table work, which everyone likes – it feels great to have a sense of expansion throughout your body, to feel your back lengthen and settle onto the table, to feel your breathing ease and integrate into your whole body. It also feels great that the student can learn fairly quickly to get many of the same benefits when lying down on their own at home, using the simple Alexander directions that are taught as the mental foundation of the Technique.
There is chair work, in which the student learns to become aware of and inhibit his or her habitual reactions to a stimulus, the stimulus in this case being the idea of sitting in a chair or standing up from sitting. It sounds ridiculously simple, but it’s actually quite challenging, especially at first. The teacher helps with verbal guidance and gentle hands-on help. Over time the student learns to interfere less and less with his or her natural coordination, and to trust the body’s natural, easeful, integrative reflexes to do the work rather than doing it with unconscious, unthinking muscular effort.
These things are of course great for people with neck, back, or hip issues – all the joints benefit, really, because we learn to allow them to move freely and openly. Pain, if present, is reduced, breathing opens up, circulation improves, we gain a sense of moving in harmony with gravity rather than fighting against it. We learn to expand in movement rather than to contract and hunch our way through life. But the even greater benefit, should we choose to take advantage of it, is that by paying attention to how we do things rather than just focusing on the end result, we start to work our way to a bigger picture, a wider perspective, a life based on conscious choice rather than on habitual reaction. That’s the point. By interweaving conscious direction and control with physical awareness and movement, not only do we gain freedom from physical problems, we can begin to experience one of the great pleasures of life: acting from choice and freedom instead of habit and conditioning.
My Alexander Technique site – www.theexpandingself.com