Tuesday, 01 May 2012 23:57

How many lessons?

An education

Because of the reputation it has for improving general functioning and well-being, the Alexander Technique is sometimes mistakenly thought of as a 'therapy'. It is often lumped in with other alternative or complementary disciplines and regarded as a form of treatment for specific illnesses and complaints. It is important to understand that it is not treatment and that if you approach it on that basis you will not derive maximum benefit from lessons.

The Alexander Technique addresses the widespread problem of habitual misuse. Because Alexander was ahead of his time and his discoveries are only now being taken seriously, most people, including many health and sports professionals, have no idea that they are misusing themselves and therefore have little idea of the degree to which their misuse directly affects their general functioning.

The Alexander Technique gives us a means of dismantling this habitual misuse and restoring optimal use of our neuro-muscular-skeletal systems and the postural mechanisms which operate them. The benefits to the entire Self - including mental, emotional and physical functioning - which come with an improved use of oneself cannot be overestimated.

Many people with chronic back pain, headaches, joint problems and neck and shoulder trouble, amongst other things, are interested in the Alexander Technique because they have heard that it 'cures' these conditions. Unfortunately – perhaps ironically – because these complaints tend to disappear as one's use improves, the Technique is seen as just another form of treatment for physical complaints.

Almost 100 years ago, Alexander carefully considered what to call his method. He chose the word ‘technique’ - 'a technique of psycho-physical re-education' - rather than therapy, because he did not want people coming to him as passive patients expecting him to rid them of their physical problems. As he saw it, many physical problems were a consequence of the larger problem of misuse. Misuse inevitably leads to backache and poor posture but it also damages less tangible things such as joy and enthusiasm for life that are so important for our wellbeing and development.

When the emphasis is on fighting physical complaints, the offending parts are isolated, and attempts are made to fix them as quickly as possible with local intervention - some form of manipulation or medication. What needs to be understood is that this approach will not alter the conditions which produced the problem. Unless one's use is improved and changed, the condition will return. What is needed for a person to heal is a change in his overall condition.

That is where the Alexander Technique is unlike any other approach. It will rebuild your 'use' and restore optimal functioning of your postural mechanisms. The faulty conditions which produced the problems in the first place will gradually recede. But such changes do not come about overnight. They require time and your participation. Once you to learn to recognize the unconscious habits that have led to malcoordination and malfunctioning of your postural mechanisms, you will discover possibilities of ease in movement that you never knew were possible. The painful physical conditions caused by your misuse will leave you.

Most people can make basic changes in about 20 lessons, which should be taken over a period of some months. Ideally the first half of these lessons should be taken at short intervals to keep up momentum, reinforce learning and to prevent the old bad habits from creeping back. Later they can be taken with larger intervals of time between as you learn to manage your own progress. It is useful to consider the occasional refresher lesson after the initial course is completed. When you consider that most of us have been developing our bad habits for decades, it is remarkable how willing our bodies are to change and re-organise posturally in a very short time, given the right stimulus.

A course of Alexander lessons spread over a year is relatively inexpensive and investment in prevention considerably reduces the cost of healthcare.
If music students were to have the benefit of Alexander work during their training, as is now commonplace in Europe and America, repetitive strain injury would not be such a common occurrence and the students' confidence and skill would improve significantly. The same applies to sports men and women and the increasing number of people sitting at computers for long periods.

There is no obligation to sign up for a full course of lessons. You can take a few to test the method for yourself but you should consider having at least ten lessons before you assess what it is doing for you. Most people notice some improvement immediately; but the deeper changes and benefits come about more gradually as the lessons build on one another. It is this re-educative process which leads to transformation through learning. It is important, therefore, to step beyond the notion of paying for a 'quick fix' and to see Alexander Technique lessons as an investment you are making in your future.

Published in What is AT?