Everyone who has ever been to a gym probably knows where the trapezius, quads, glutes, and hamstrings are. Many of my clients tell me what they are working on strengthening, where they are tight, what needs stretching…. It seems as if people are targeting bits and pieces of themselves.
What about the coordinated functioning of the whole? Nobody talks about USE unless they have been exposed to the Alexander Technique. Use essentially means how you coordinate yourself as a whole. Strengthening and stretching (and of course massage) help reduce the tightness and pain that result from poor Use. Why not go to the source and improve your Use before problems arise?
By changing the way you deploy all of your muscles you prevent tightness and pain at the source: your USE.
Most people are familiar with the three finger salute, or Control Alt Delete. It’s what you do to reboot your cranky computer so that you can start afresh.
Our backs get cranky too. Holding ourselves upright leads to tension, knots, sore places, and fatigue. And our reactions to the discomfort lead us to strain even more to try to find the right position. Ow!
Instead of straining, try this method. Find a quiet place. Lie down. Yes, that’s it! Support your head with some books so it’s not tilted forward or back. Bend your knees and put your feet flat on the floor. Fold your arms so your hands can rest on your abdomen. Leave yourself alone. Rest for 5-10 minutes. Voila!
This is how you reboot your back.
What is a habit? It’s what feels familiar. We develop habits because they are more efficient than thinking through everything we do as if for the first time. Our habits are comfortably familiar, but they can be flawed. For example, it may feel normal to brace your legs when you stand. But always bracing your legs can lead to reduced mobility and joint issues later in life. We need our habits in order to function, but sometimes it is a good idea to leave the comfort zone and explore our options.
Here is a common motivation for leaving your comfort zone: Mother Necessity. Something is wrong and you want to fix it. FM Alexander had voice problems. This led him to invent a completely unique modality. You have back pain? Doing things the same way you usually do them is not going to yield better results.
Mother Necessity is calling for you!
driving with the emergency brake on
I was driving the other day and my car started making the most awful noise! Uh-oh, I thought. Time for another expensive repair. When I pulled into the parking lot and removed my seatbelt, I saw that I had engaged my emergency brake and forgotten about it. Embarrassing! This was not the first time, either.
I’ve learned that I do the same thing with my body. I forget that I am tensing the muscles of my hips, butt and pelvis, and am unpleasantly surprised when my low back starts to hurt. It is harder to sit upright and to stand up and move when I have the brakes on!
The Alexander Technique is all about disengaging the brakes that we have forgotten about in ourselves.
I sometimes catch myself wondering what my life would be like if I had discovered the Alexander Technique as a teenager. Would losing the ‘tallest kid’s stoop back then have led to more confidence? Would I have had the courage to audition for college chorus? Felt more articulate? Could those terrible back spasms in my 30’s been averted?
Tom Weiser, an Alexander Technique teacher from Boulder Colorado, tells a funny story on The Moth about alternate lives that had me chuckling… and thinking hmmm.
I think that the Alexander Technique has helped me to undo a lot of the awkward habits I learned back then. But I would be a different Holly if I time travelled back to nip them in the bud. If we met, me and she, what would our impression of each other be?
I used to love going to the Natural History Museum. I liked to draw animals and I would look at the skeletons for inspiration. I noticed that horses (my favorite) had knee joints like I do, only very high up, and the lower legs bent backwards, like my ankles, but much higher up. The ball of my foot corresponded to a horse’s hock and my toe to its hoof. Thinking about how a horse skeleton was like my own helped me to draw good pictures of horses. This exquisite illustration by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins captures what my childhood eyes saw intuitively.
When I consider the human form nowadays, I often find it useful to remember that much earlier on our evolutionary tree there were quadrupeds on land and fish in the sea. We retain shadows of those early ancestors in our anatomy and physiology. Our current design was modified from older forms in order to adapt to our organisms needs. Yet the original patterns were incorporated and not thrown out. This fact is also visible when looking at developmental movement in children. (Raymond Dart developed an experiential system for exploring developmental movement patterns. His discoveries are worth looking into).
The way we coordinate ourselves is intimately tied to our ancient, non-human ancestors. It is valuable to look at how a horse or lizard or fish moves, when I want to consider how I move. My form, my activity, my life reflects uncounted lives before me. I am a living natural history museum.