I was born in 1955, the year that F.M. Alexander died. This may be an insignificant coincidence, but I believe that destiny has urged me to follow his footsteps for reasons that are constantly unfolding. Now in my fifty-sixth year, I feel a desire to explore what has led me to follow this journey and how it has helped me. A circuitous route through life’s rich tapestry has often felt like a maze with no exit. Studying the work of Alexander has encouraged me to accept the randomness of life. More importantly, it has enabled me to recognise that I now have a choice of how to react to its unpredictability.
Recommended reading on Alexander training courses are books by the man himself, including his second work Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual. This contains a slightly uninviting section entitled ‘Psycho-Physical Equilibrium’. Trying to unravel Alexander’s writing style can sometimes be challenging, but like Shakespeare it can ultimately be very rewarding. Within this section, I was to find the clearest understanding of my journey to date.
At the age of twenty-three, I spent three weeks in hospital following complete loss of coordination (unable to carry out any normal activities: walking, eating and so on). Various tests (including a very unpleasant lumbar puncture) confirmed a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. This was all very frightening, and viewed as ‘something terrible that was happening to me’. It became all too easy to consider myself a victim of outside circumstances.
In actual fact, my sense of victimhood had probably begun much earlier, following childhood events outside my control. Psychologically, this left me expecting the worst to happen. Worse, I came to almost expect that this would continue. After reading Alexander’s section on psycho-physical equilibrium, the most significant contribution toward this I now believe to be as follows.
Memories of an earlier period in hospital at the age of nine had bee successfully suppressed and seemed very insignificant. My right knee had given way during a school game of rounders, and involved an Operation for suspected cartilage trouble (pre-keyhole surgery; I am left with a scar of six inches, often mistaken for laddered stockings!). As in Alexander’s example, I had to re-learn how to walk 'properly' (overseen by mannequin mother and Air Force father, both with their own ideals). I have memories of mother trying her best to soak off Elastoplast from thigh to calf. It was similar to slow, painful exfoliation. Meanwhile, father was left to supervise seemingly endless walks back and forth on the upstairs landing, encouraging me not to ‘limp’.
My ‘successful’ learning how to walk again involved many emotional factors, most notably wanting to get it ‘right’, fear of looking ‘odd’ and a desire to please parents. At the time they were going through marital problems, resulting in divorce a few years later. I will be ever grateful to them, for they did the best they could in the circumstances.
How I wish, though, that the Alexander Technique had been available to me at this time. I firmly believe the operation and life events (and my own reaction to these) to be the cause of my dis-ease. I am not denying the diagnosis of MS, or looking for ‘something out there’ to explain it. I am suggesting that there is more to life than a ‘diagnosis’, whatever it may be. The worst does not have to happen and if it does, so be it. Nothing in life is guaranteed, much as we humans try to make it so. Ultimately, the Alexander Technique has taught me that
my victimhood is no longer required, replacing it with curiosity and wonder at all of life’s peaks and troughs.
Since the initial onset of MS symptoms in 1978, my dis-ease had followed a relapsing/remitting course with intermittent disabling attacks. Various medical interventions have included steroids, removal of all amalgam fillings, calcium tablets, muscle relaxants, antidepressant medication (stopped in 2005) and, from 2001, alternate daily injections of the disease-modifying drug Betaferon (which I chose to stop in December, 2010).
My interest in the Alexander Technique began around 2005, when it was suggested by my reflexologist. Having lessons and reading around the subject inspired me to pursue this avenue further.
It is certainly difficult to define exactly what the Alexander Technique is, but could our constant search for definitions (or recognisable ‘boxes’) be part of the problem? The Alexander Technique is not a patient/therapist relationship but more a re-education process between student/ teacher, with a specific syllabus of ‘unlearning’ bad habits. It is possible that such habits, perhaps originally acquired to avoid physical and/or psychological discomfort, are no longer proving useful and could even be detrimental to our overall wellbeing.
I feel that the Alexander Technique allows individuals to regain a belief that they have some control (however small) over their situation through awareness, and that they are free to choose their response. Rather than just accepting problems as something that happen ‘to’ us and seeing ourselves as victims, the Alexander Technique encourages us to explore further and adopt a proactive approach to help ourselves as much as possible. This sense of ‘doing’ (even if only by altering negative thought patterns) can in itself provide motivation and a sense of achievement.
The Alexander Technique has enabled me to take responsibility for my own wellbeing, preventing me from returning to ‘Victimhood’ and seeking something or someone out there to blame. I began attending a training course in 2007 on a part-time basis while still working. Three years later I was able to become a full-time student of the Alexander Technique, following the death of both parents and a
modest inheritance. Perhaps it is the best tribute I can give them.