The Fundamental Core of My Existance

The Alexander Technique has changed my life in the most profound way imaginable. By luck I was introduced to an idea that has become the fundamental core of my experience. It imbues every moment of my life, for I have become physically mindful and am able to decide 'how to be'. I may not make the best choices, but at least I am aware that I am making them. Until I came upon the Technique I was a victim of my circumstances. At twenty-one, I had joined my father in the seemingly inevitable slipped-disc department (sharing the condition created a strange, yet pleasing, bond with him), as well as suffering from chronic indigestion and an excruciating hammer toe. Having suffered from undiagnosed glandular fever for two years, I was also weak and overtired. Since the age of thirteen, when I had grown six inches in six months, a droopy exhaustion was, for me, the norm.

 

Had I not had the great good fortune to have my first lesson in y early twenties I believe that I would still, thirty years later, be droopy and tired with that myriad of painful conditions that seem to beset so many of my middle age friends. I changed because I learned to think differently. I changed because, unenthusiastically at first, I recognised that I I needed to change. It took my poor teachers a great deal of patience and understanding to help e in my attempt to fulfill my potential. For this I am, and always will be, deeply grateful. 

 

Never well coordinated as a child, I became hopelessly incompetent when my growth spurt left me a dizzying six-foot tall in my early teens. Games was the worst part of every week, worse eve than the endless teasing from fellow pupils and unpleasantness from a surprising number of teachers who felt inferior when addressing a taller pupil. I never stooped and was frequently praised for my excellent posture. What this meant was that I stood on one leg and and dropped the other hip, creating many weird angles to compensate, collapsed internally but never, never rounded shoulders. The effect was, I was told, 'too romantic for words'; in reality it was an apologetic attempt to avoid physically dominating those around me. Modelling was suggested, half-heartedly, but I fell at the first casting couch hurdle by running away from an elderly  agent who favoured nude romps in his office.

 

Eventually finding enjoyable employment in the theatre, I led a typical girl-about-town life, marred only by the persistent lower-back pain, chronic indigestion, and painful toe that was awaiting surgery. I was blissfully unaware, at twenty-one, that there was an alternate approach.

 

Unable to stand for any length of time without pain, I went to a chemist and bought a corset - not a sexy basque, but a surgical garment full of metal reinforcement to hold up my sagging back - in the belief that this was the only way forward. I cycled every day, was slim and fit and had no idea why my back muscles could not support me. wary of doctors since being treated for conditions I had never had, i refused pain relief and operations. hence that hideous and uncomfortable corset; it was my version of self-help.

 

Luckily a random conversation over lunch with a friend changed my life. She had found the Alexander Technique. She bullied me into having a lesson, not because she remotely understood the benefits, but because she felt I was bored and it would take my mind off my troubles. A work colleague, deeply concerned at the step I was taking, begged me to investigate further. He had heard that I would be obliged to lie down with my head on some books, and that the Alexander teachers believed that the texts would permeate my mind. At the very least, he insisted, I must check what books I was lying upon.

 

I arrived at my first lesson full of bizarre concerns. Fate decreed that my teacher would be an Australian woman bursting with good humour, wisdom and down-to-earth common sense. The teacher had talents I little understood - what I would later realise were great 'hands' - and with them she coaxed and persuaded my body and (eventually) my mind to develop it's own strengths. Crucially, she taught me to breathe.

 

I was a keen singer, taking lessons in opera, so I believed that breathing was my forte. It took a while for me to be persuaded otherwise. Now my greatest joy is to breathe and, as a tool to get through difficult times, it never fails. Events and ill health can temporarily knock the system about but, essentially, breathing freely is a lifesaver. It took me several years to realise this, as changing my physical habits felt ‘wrong’. My friends saw the difference in me long before I could appreciate the transformation. The essential ‘me’ was being tampered with. I had to stop draping myself over any available surface and learn to stand on my own two feet. 

 

My teacher admitted that my first visit had filled her with concern: I was like a long bit of overcooked spaghetti. Not a case for reducing undue tension, more a case of injecting a bit of life into this long, lax frame. Like a kind of Chinese water torture, she patiently repeated her instructions on a weekly basis. I often left full of embarrassment that she had had to repeat herself so often but, gradually, her message took root and I grew in strength and confidence. 

 

The Alexander Technique filled me with wonder and admiration and, after a few years, I realised that I would love to train to be a teacher. I lacked the confidence to even suggest it. Thankfully, after many lessons, my teacher did. She felt that I had progressed well enough to consider training and believed that I had the qualities necessary to become a teacher. I had learnt to trust her judgement, so applied to become a student at one of the London schools. It is one of the best decisions I have made in my life. 

 

At twenty-eight, nine months after having my first child, I started the three-year training course. It was pure joy despite the soul searching that change demands (I was too immature to enjoy it at first). The greatest hurdle, for me, was letting go of what I thought I already knew. I think I still find it the greatest challenge in all aspects of life. Coming from a position of physical weakness, I also found it trying to be tired again. It took me a long time to realise that tiredness does not always indicate weakness, but can be a sign of good work. 

 

My strength had increased immeasurably since my first  lessons. Now, my coordination improved too as I applied thought to activities previously too difficult to enjoy. I became a good skier once I realised that ‘monkey’ was the perfect position to be in, rather than the knock-kneed style I had previously favoured. A game of tennis was still tough, but at least I could hit the ball with the racket even if the direction and speed remained dodgy. My singing was transformed, partly by the Alexander Technique and partly by a change of singing teacher. I had always been asked to sing with ‘a little more charm, dear’, an instruction which crippled me with insecurity about my size and talent. Now I was told, 'That’s an awful pissy sound for a woman of your size'. That idea, along with an application of good Alexander directions did the trick, and I have never stopped learning. 

 

I took a part-time job as a textile conservator and was the only one in the workroom not to suffer from the tension and pain caused by the working conditions. Thinking about how I addressed the worktables - how I ‘used’ myself in the process -prevented any work-related injuries. Pregnancy and childbirth were wonderful opportunities to focus on ‘use’ and its benefits both to my babies and myself. The same is true of all activities: thoughtfulness prevents most problems from occurring. I found that with the help of the Technique I became aware of strain and stopped it before it created pain or damage. This is the tool (the ability to choose) that the Technique gave me. 

 

One unforeseen consequence (at least by me) of the path I had chosen was that my height, keeping pace with my wellbeing, would increase. In F.M. Alexander’s words, I was achieving my full height potential. I ran home and found that I had grown by an inch and a half. I was horrified, not stopping to think that this dead weight had been compressing my spine and stomach, thereby causing all my ills. Getting any taller was my worst nightmare. Had I been told at the start of the training course that the cost of a lifetime of understanding and improved health would be a fractional increase in height, I would have turned away and given up. The negative experiences I had suffered as a direct result of my height had been so unpleasant that I would not have been able to accept changing in that way. 

 

I took a part-time job as a textile conservator and was the only one in the workroom not to suffer from the tension and pain caused by the working conditions. Thinking about how I addressed the worktables - how I ‘used’ myself in the process -prevented any work-related injuries. Pregnancy and childbirth were wonderful opportunities to focus on ‘use’ and its benefits both to my babies and myself. The same is true of all activities: thoughtfulness prevents most problems from occurring. I found that with the help of the Technique I became aware of strain and stopped it before it created pain or damage. This is the tool (the ability to choose) that the Technique gave me. 

 

One unforeseen consequence (at least by me) of the path I had chosen was that my height, keeping pace with my wellbeing, would increase. In F.M. Alexander’s words, I was achieving my full height potential. I ran home and found that I had grown by an inch and a half. I was horrified, not stopping to think that this dead weight had been compressing my spine and stomach, thereby causing all my ills. Getting any taller was my worst nightmare. Had I been told at the start of the training course that the cost of a lifetime of understanding and improved health would be a fractional increase in height, I would have turned away and given up. The negative experiences I had suffered as a direct result of my height had been so unpleasant that I would not have been able to accept changing in that way. 

 

Thankfully no one mentioned any such thing. I was allowed to grow both literally and emotionally so that, eventually, I was able to accept my height without too many concerns. Interestingly, my natural height, as opposed to the earlier collapsed version, elicited far less comment despite the extra inch. Good body language, another benefit. 

 

The Alexander Technique is an ongoing process that continually enlivens every day. Responding to stimuli by thinking rather than reacting -whenever possible - is a process that keeps brain and body alert. Profound changes are possible with the smallest adjustments, often a form of controlled release that allows one’s own potential to re-emerge. 

 

I feel now that it is my Technique. With it I have been able to weather many storms. It has empowered me in a real sense, in that I have, if I wish, conscious control of what I am doing. It allows me to attempt to do my best - I haven’t won Wimbledon, or sung at Covent Garden, but I have enjoyed improving my own performance. Insecure, collapsed, reactive, unmotivated, unable to sustain any activity for long that was the young adult I had become. A chance encounter gave me the opportunity to change. It also gave me a legacy to pass on to my two children, born when the journey started. I will never cease to marvel at the luck that came my way and bless both my younger self for accepting the challenge and all my Alexander teachers, pupils and colleagues for facilitating the transformation.