The Experience of an 'Older Person'

Dorothy Walker 


My intention is to encourage people of my age (over seventy) not to be daunted by the habits of a lifetime. Uncovering and dealing with them can be fun and the results astonishing. I come from an era and a background where the body was a tool to get the work done. Taking up the idea of listening to my body and becoming at ease with it has given new energy to the later years of my life. 


To give some little taste of the process, I went through a notebook which I have kept during my three years of lessons and What follows is a brief selection of my comments written there. 


On rereading the little book, I am most forcibly struck by the immense patience of my teacher as I proudly (sometimes disconsolately) feed back my observations and discoveries, frequently rediscovering the same thing three months later! These habits and misuse, my teacher will have seen from the very beginning. 


Here’s your Christmas present the money for your first Alexander lesson. But it was the beginning of March before I followed it up. 


The first lesson's big question is, ‘Why are you beginning Alexander lessons?’ 


My answer, ‘Because my friend urged me to’, sounds weak, but it is true. Something  to do with ‘my shoulders being all hunched up with anxiety' I think the friend said. 


The Other feature of the first lesson is being introduced to ‘semi-supine’, when of course I closed my eyes, as I do at other times in the lesson. In lesson two I learn that my eyes help balance by relating to verticals - don’t close them. 


My feet in contact with the ground also helps - it’s recommended that I don’t wear socks all the time. I’ll just have to get used to the sight of my squashed, crunched up toes. Better still I could learn to wriggle them and they would improve and spread out. 


The physical sensation of relaxation at the end of a lesson is great. However, by the end of the day my muscles complain bitterly about this ‘releasing thing’, i.e. they ache, a lot. 


After about six lessons my confidence collapses: I can’t do this, it is all too strange and unfamiliar. I am familiar with my thought processes and my brain; but my body? I don't like what I see in the mirror so it is very hard to work that way. 


So we don’t use the mirror. 


Next lesson there is lots of encouragement given. Apparently it is quite usual to suffer lack of confidence, but it’s a bit soon after only six lessons. 


So I carry on. 


My own thoughts later are that as I am in unfamiliar, even unknown territory, it is an adventure. Treat it that way! My reservations are that I am required to spend a lot of time thinking about myself, inhibiting, giving directions etc.(though these are not words I would have used then). But I probably spend a lot of time thinking about myself anyway. At least this is positive. 


After a while I use a CD to guide me in my semi-supine. The first three bands are about twenty minutes each, so one band per semi-supine is helpful. Again the process and the terms used are a foreign language to me, but it keeps my eyes open (!) and gradually over the next few months of listening I get some understanding of the structure of my body. 


I am creating a problem for myself, as I have this urge to finish the days work before the semi-supine. Stopping in the middle is extremely difficult and yet I am one of the lucky people who could do so on most days. ‘Preventative, not restorative’ is a phrase to keep in mind. But it is so difficult to stop for 20 minutes even though the benefits are obvious when I do. If only I had known this seventy years ago!


A new discovery is made. The right hand side of my body is much ‘tighter’ than the left. Now I can actually see this for myself, as I have learnt to focus in the mirror on a specific bit of myself. Thus I am not embarrassed, just interested. 


Having read some sections of Job's Body, I am amazed at the intricacy of connection between muscles and nerve cells etc. No wonder I feel different. The lesson sessions are not about emotions, but muscle release is. Once it has been pointed out it is obvious that the release of tension built up over so many years is going to be felt not jusr physically but emotionally as well. Sometimes when I get home after a lesson I only want to sit in the garden and not even think. 


I realise curling up into a ball to try to shut out the migraine pain was not a wise way to deal with it for all those years! Even though, in my old age, I no longer have migraines the curling up habit is very hard to break. 


Another ‘curling‘ habit I have discovered is wrapping my feet round the chair legs. I seem never to sit with my feet squarely on the floor but then I don’t stand squarely either. 


Am I standing comfortably? If I am, then I need to correct my right foot, which will he turned outwards, twisting the right knee which is the one that hurts when I go upstairs. 


The Alexander Technique isn’t just a thing one does sometimes, it is a way of life. Half measures won’t do and you can’t cheat (yourself). 


We have a review at the end of two years, and what I find I have gained is confidence. For someone in their seventies that is surely  quite an achievement. Also, physically I am more supple, and I enjoy the feeling. (More supple than some of my contemporaries who have always  been athletic.) 


After a few more months it dawns on me that I don’t want to hold my head up when walking or meeting people. It is so contrary to my lifelong philosophy of ‘keep your head down and get on with it’. Decision  time! Do I now cease being an Alexander pupil? 


What has happened to my newly found confidence? 


Over the next few weeks I come to acknowledge that it is my frightened thoughts and emotions that have the ‘head down’ philosophy. My body quite likes being ‘open’ and I think wisdom lies there, rather than in my usual negative attitude. 


Confidence restored. 


It feels like I am at the beginning all over again, but not quite, because Inow know the sensation of being ‘all of a piece’ sometimes after a lesson or even, for a fleeting moment, on other occasions. That sensation is worth the struggle, which I shall enjoy continuing.