A sore back and/or a stiff neck are not pleasant and you can find yourself in a vicious circle of pain travelling from one to the other, nothing you do seems to get rid of the pain. Not even treatments which are supposed to help with back pain and neck tension. You go for the treatment but find that within sometimes hours and certainly after a couple of days, the pain returns. You might just put up wth it, but given the nagging nature of the pain or tension, that is a little difficult. In short, you don’t know where next to turn.
You may have heard of the Alexander Technique in relation to actors and performing artists, or even to do with posture. but not necessarily when it comes to dealing with back pain and neck tension, or perhaps you have but aren’t sure what happens in a lesson and so have not explored it any further. Perhaps you think taking lessons would be too much of an expense on top of the treatments you’ve already experienced without success. Whatever your reason, the Alexander Technique is known for being of benefit to those who suffer from back pain, neck tension, chronic pain and musculoskeletal problems and is in many cases a relatively inexpensive option. Booking your first lesson is a bit like heading into the unknown if you’ve never experienced a lesson before, you don’t know what to expect and you don’t know the teacher, and that’s absolutely fine.
You may think at first that nothing much is happening in your first lesson(s), your teacher works with you, but it’s unlike anything you’ve experienced before. You may even find yourself looking for results, such as getting out of the pain you’ve been in, which is understandable. The Technique addresses the root cause of our postural habits, which is our mal-coordination since a young age, so it stands to reason that it takes time to learn to apply it to ourselves. Certainly the more lessons you decide to take, the greater chance there is for your co-ordination and postural habits to improve but there is no guarantee about how long this will take.
Initially, your teacher will be asking you to think about stopping. Stopping doesn’t mean not doing anything, but it does mean stopping to observe, both observing your own movement but also what your teacher is asking of you, as well as taking in your surroundings/environment. This stopping allows for a pause to look at what you don’t want to happen, namely that you tighten and shorten your muscles, something FM Alexander called inhibition. Your teacher will also introduce you to the principle of direction, which is having a firm intent of what you wish to happen and is taught by means of short phrases called ‘directions’. This cannot happen without first inhibiting, stopping to observe yourself and what might prevent you from moving out of the chair with ease. This is a preventative measure so that you don’t tighten or shorten in doing so. Of course there will be occasions in your early lessons when you do precisely this and this is an opportunity for you to observe, notice, without judgement. We are usually fairly judgemental of ourselves when it comes to making ‘mistakes’ but there are no mistakes to be made whilst having lessons. If you find yourself shortening, narrowing, or tightening, this is all part of the educational process, observe it and be aware of it next time you repeat the movement.
Thinking and stopping go together, just as stopping and directing also go together. The Alexander Technique is a thinking technique, not a doing technique. During a lesson you’re encouraged to do nothing but think and the rest will follow quite naturally. Of course it takes time to re-train your brain to think in this new way, but not all that long, it just depends on how you are from the outset, what habits you have acquired over time and how quickly you learn, but we’re not looking for results, but rather the experience of being able to let go and release where previously there was tension and tightening. If you mind is crammed full of commitments and tasks, then the Technique can also help calm you down so that you can think more clearly. It is everything to do with thinking, thinking of poise, balance, letting go as opposed to thinking about the pain you’re in and the stress you’re under.
I thought myself out of years of back pain and neck tension by learning the Alexander Technique. We all, generally, have the ability to think and so this is something which is available to anyone to learn, irrespective of their habitual postural habits, age, occupation, whatever. An educational process, it begins with us observing the balance of a young child and observing how much we interfere with having this natural balance ourselves. From there we work regularly with a teacher, learning to move with grace and poise as we go about our daily activities, whatever these might be. They might be sitting at a desk, as were mine, in which case it’s important to be sitting in a beneficial manner with a free neck. Or perhaps you’re a performing artist, maybe even a musician, who has recurrent RSI? Or perhaps you have nagging back pain together with a stiff neck? Whatever your reason for exploring lessons, it is all in your thinking!