I came to the Alexander Technique six years ago in search of an effective therapy for my husband, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease. We had read a research report in which the AT had had the most beneficial outcomes for this illness, in comparison with other therapies. Our hopes were justified, and for a year my husband visibly unfolded in his weekly sessions, though the effects did not last much beyond the lessons. He adored the teacher and clearly benefited from the one-to-one, hands-on approach. The effort of attending weekly lessons, despite the short-term gains, proved too much and we stopped them after about a year.
After a few months, I found I was missing my own lessons and decided to return. Four years on, I am more involved than ever. I have come to value the AT for all sorts of reasons - physical, emotional, aesthetic, philosophical and intellectual.
As I understand it, the central message of the AT is that action ideally involves releasing, undoing, letting go, using minimum effort to accomplish physical tasks. I have found this to be emotionally gratifying and physically very helpful, unlike the sweat and strain of other body work like yoga, or even the Stretching and bracing involved in dance.
The AT approach to movement reminds me constantly to be in the moment, avoiding the tendency to arrive- a lifetime habit. I like the conceptual neatness of it, the idea of three options: to carry on as before, to do nothing, or to do something different. I find my teacher’s images helpful - to go along the familiar path, not to go at all, or to create a new path so that this becomes the familiar one and the old path is overgrown and disappears.
The Technique is also intellectually challenging. There is a paradoxical struggle to hold onto the perspective of freedom from effort, while releasing: thinking ... but not too much! There is always something to work at, something more to learn, some aspect of movement I have not thought of before, or which has emerged as an issue in the course of the previous week. When I was caring for my husband the problems I brought to my lessons concerned lifting and pushing, endlessly picking things up, cleaning and accessing high shelves, dealing with the physical and emotional strains of caring. I am still concerned with problematic tasks: driving with painful hands, carrying heavy objects, sitting down uncomfortably in my Quaker meeting and so on. I’ve appreciated my teacher’s flexible and creative response to the issues I bring and have come to regard her as a friend and confidante as well as a guide to the workings of my body.
I find the philosophy of AT very congenial. The notion of the core of our being as stillness, the need for a pause between thought and action, the importance of space - between my movements, between my joints, between my thoughts - are ideas which find a strong resonance with my Quaker beliefs and sacred dance which I practise passionately. Sacred dance involves the idea of a mandala in motion, discovery of the still point of the turning world, the notion of opening the heart. I have found in the AT a powerful reinforcement of the idea of trusting the process of opening up.
There is also a correspondence between these ideas with a third area of passionate involvement with the natural world, which I approach partly through botanical drawing and painting. The quietness and openness encouraged by the AT makes me think of the combination of stillness and intense movement in nature, and of ourselves as part of the natural world.
My art is one aspect of a very visual approach to life. Not surprisingly, I derive aesthetic satisfaction from the AT. I love the beautiful stance of the natural body. I value the child-like form we have in mind When we think of the directions, a form unspoiled by fashion or the requirements of modern, adult living.
I recently experienced the joy of a more intense AT experience at a school in a couple of three-hour sessions shared with students of the Technique. I see that training at this level can create a sense of physical meditation: calming, uplifting and rejuvenating. I am sad that I discovered that too late, but I hope to continue my AT journey in another setting.
A major feature of the AT experience for me has been that of learning from a teacher. As a hands-on practice, there has been a meeting of bodies and minds. More than that, my long association with my teacher through the weekly lessons has become a very comfortable experience, a sharing of thoughts and perspectives on life which has sustained me through difficult times. My teacher’s example of physical comfort, joie de vivre and a wonderful lightness of being makes her a great advertisement for the Alexander Technique!