The Alexander Technique

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The Alexander Technique

Post by tjfillion »

Hey! There was some interest about the Alexander Technique in a topic on vision improvement, so I thought I'd post an explanation of what it is. Like the Wai Diet, it can either be applied to specific things (acne::back pain) or just overall improve your health.

What is this Alexander Technique?

Taken from one of the many websites ( on the technique, a few definitions are listed below:

"The Alexander technique is a way of learning how you can get rid of harmful tension in your body."

A more complete description is offered in "Changing The Way You Work: The Alexander Technique":

"The Alexander Technique is a method that works to change (movement) habits in our everyday activities. It is a simple and practical method for improving ease and freedom of movement, balance, support and coordination. The technique teaches the use of the appropriate amount of effort for a particular activity, giving you more energy for all your activities. It is not a series of treatments or exercises, but rather a reeducation of the mind and body. The Alexander Technique is a method which helps a person discover a new balance in the body by releasing unnecessary tension. It can be applied to sitting, lying down, standing, walking, lifting, and other daily activities..."

"The Alexander Technique is an intelligent way to solve body problems."

Basically, it's a holistic approach, where instead of focusing just on your pain or problem area, you look at the entire body. Everything is eventually connected to each other. For those without a specific ailment, there is still much to be learned about yourself and your movements ... you might be surprised how much this could benefit you.

It's sort of like cleaning your room. Let's say I lost my watch (for me this was jaw pain). Instead of randomly tearing apart my room to find my watch, I've just been cleaning my entire room. I've found things I never knew I lost (elbow pain, anxiety, leg, and hemorage relief). My "room" is more organized, and my watch is finally starting to turn up.

For me, the study of the Technique has been an amazing experience. It has helped me cope with pain, change habits that aggrivated my pain, and begin to feel good once again. Almost everything that was once a problem with my life has changed into something positive. Now I'm nearly pain-free, as opposed to when I began studying the Alexander Technique, my pain was so bad that I couldn't fall asleep at night without heavy medication.

If anything, it's nice because every month, overall, I experience less pain than the last month. During painful times, I would know that it was going to get better, and it has. Just the assurance alone of a solution to my problem gave me a more positive perspective.

Ok ... So What Do I Do?

So what we want to do is release our current excess tension that puts us in a deteriorated physical state. Then we want to change the bad habits that, everyday, put our body it’s current physical state.

Ok, so I would start by reading these introductory articles:

So now we’re on a quest to restore our “faulty sensory awareness.” Basically, what we think or ‘feel’ we are doing is not necessarily the case. Here’s a good exploration of this. Fold your hands. See how one thumb is vertically higher than the other? Now, refold your hands so the other thumb is higher (every finger of one hand shifts over one space). How does this feel physically? How do you feel mentally? Although the movements are mirror images of each other, because of your habits and faulty sensory awareness, the ‘new’ way to fold your hands feels wrong, weird, and possibly distressing.

So what’s wrong (your current habits) feel right, and what might be right (new habits) can feel wrong!!

Exploring habits

Now, make it a game to monitor one or a few physical habits you have during the day. Some examples would be eating, driving, sitting, or brushing your teeth. The sky’s the limit; you can observe as much or as little as you want.

During the activities, just question some of the movements you do. For example, when eating, do you bring the food to your head with your arms (a good habit) or bring your head to your food (a bad habit)?

When driving, do you lean forward out of your chair and clench the wheel during stressful times? Do you hold your breath when you try to make a yellow light?

When sitting, are your feet balanced on the floor? There are reflex muscles in your back to aid in erect posture that are activated by the foot’s 3 contact points with the ground (the heel, near the big toe, and near the pinkie toe). If you think about it, this makes sense because when standing or walking, your feet are flat so they back ‘turns on.’ When sleeping, the foot rests on the side of the heel and the bottom of the foot does not touch the ground, so the back ‘turns off’.
Are your legs crossed? Do you only cross one leg over the other? Try crossing your other leg. How does that feel? Do you clench your feet when you focus on something?

When brushing your teeth, it’s hard to notice bad habits. If you’re right-handed, brush with that hand for a bit, then switch to being left-handed. Then go back to being right-handed. Notice any differences between the hands.

Another good habit to watch for is breath holding. If you notice yourself not breathing, make a light, whispery ‘hsssssssssss’ sound. Then, gently close the lips and wait. Breathe will, if you’re patient, eventually return in through the nose.

Ok, and just as a warning, although this is very fun to explore, monitoring yourself can become frustrating. If you ever get overwhelmed with things to work on, just say ‘eff it!’ and take a break. Just deciding to become more aware of yourself is a huge step.

Semi-supine position


This description is taken from:
where the full article can be read.

The semi-supine active resting position is a procedure that Alexander teachers positively encourage their pupils to do as part of their Alexander Technique homework. The support of the floor, like an Alexander teacher's hands, gives the pupil a constant standard against which to measure and improve their present state of coordination. The semi-supine position considerably eases and reduces pressure on the intervertebral discs by placing the spine in a position of maximum mechanical support. It is an extremely useful way of releasing unproductive tension habits.

Get yourself a few slim books, between 1 and 3 inches high. You’ll be using these to support your head in the semi-supine position. Find a quiet room with a firm yet soft surface (carpet works well). Lay on your back with the books under your head, with your feet flat on the floor, knees up, and hands resting below the ribs. Get yourself comfortable, and plan on being here for about 15 minutes (or more if you desire, or less if you get bored).

Now that you are in the semi supine position you will guide yourself through five interlacing and complementary stages of awareness :

awareness of supporting surfaces
awareness of your body as a whole
curiosity about habits
spreading awareness to the world around you ...

1) become aware of the supporting surfaces underneath you: the headrest under your head and the floor supporting your back, the floor underneath your feet and your arms, radiate your attention through these areas of contact.

2) now spread awareness to your body as a whole, from your torso through your neck... head... arms.. and legs, noticing how each part of your body interconnect with its neighbours.

3) become curious, without trying to directly change them, about what restrictive habits you may have been carrying around with you during the day... and "make friends" with your habits.

4) Now allow the muscles that connect your neck and head to release so that the four "corners" of your back, your head, both of your shoulders and tail bone, can spread away from each other, releasing the long thigh muscles so that your knees can direct up to the ceiling, your feet lengthening and widening onto the floor... allow the muscles to release from your shoulders to your elbows... to your wrists... and fingers.

5) Radiate your attention to the world around you, listening to the sounds and silences around you, seeing what is directly above you... and within your peripheral vision, being aware of the space of the room around you, and feeling the floor and headrest underneath you, which brings you nicely back to stage 1.

After you have lain down for fifteen minutes, it is time to slowly get up. Take a moment to notice how you feel before rising, and then how you feel once you rise. Then just walk around and see how you feel.

Here is an .mp3 where I walk you through a lie down: ... aydown.mp3

It's I think a 5 mb file so be patient.

Alright, enjoy!
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Post by Oscar »

Thanks! :)
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Post by Corinne »

Wow thant's great Tjfillion. Thanks! You're already quite advanced...
How long have you been having lessons?
I just got done doing a trial week at the Alexander technique school here outside of Amsterdam... I'm seriously thinking of doing the 3 year training.
I think on another thread you mentioned you were going to start as well in Ann Arbor. What's the school like there?
Are you familiar with the two branches of the Alexander technique?
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Post by tjfillion »


I've been taking lessons for one and a half(ish) years now. The Ann Arbor school is like this:

They meet 3 hours a day in the morning, 5 days a week, for 6 weeks and then have a 1 week vacation and repeat. Jane, the course director, is flexible if you can't go exactly 5 days a week. It takes 3 years and you train for 1600 hours.

The day's broken up into 3 sections. The first hour is table-turns. Jane gives each student a mini lesson while the others read and discuss Alexander lit.

The next two hours sort of vary. Sometimes they practice giving eachother Alexander lessons, sometimes they do chair work, sometimes they do physical activity ... whatever Jane has in mind. Each hour is generally different.

COOL! Amsterdam? Actually, I'm pretty sure Jane is visiting within the next month ... I remember her mentioning it.

I'm not really clear on the 2 branches. I know there's the really strict Walter Carrington approach where lessons are just table and chairwork and the teacher's hands are more subtle. Then I know some teachers have more varied approaches, incorporating different practices. And I know some teachers have a much less subtle touch than say, the Carrington approach. What are the 2 branches?

How was the trial week? I think my favorite part about the training is how it's everyday. Most other bodywork methods train in weekend workshops and then have some longer seminars here and there ... I think the consistancy of working day by day makes all the difference.

It's really cool that you're thinking about doing the training. I know for myself, after I started having TMJ problems I looked back on my life and was like, "How could I have been so dumb?" I rememberd all of these horrible habits I had ... I was even tense in kindergarden. My habits are pretty ingrained, and even with lessons I've always thought if I could just start over again now with what I know ... I could do anything and really excell at it. And I think with training ... all it's time and work on myself ... by the time I'm done I really will be starting over. It's pretty exciting. I don't want to throw away who I am now, I just want to weed out all of the things that get in my way. Also ... for me I've always liked the idea of a Ninja going out into the mountains to be trained by an old and wise guru in some sort of highly skilled whatever. I kind of think the Technique's like that ;)
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Post by Corinne »

Yeah Carrington is one branch and Mc Donough (I think) is the other but I don't know what distinguishes the two...
One is more "agressive" than the other. Maybe then according to your discription of Carrington Mc. Donough is the "agressive" one. I guess taking the student earlier into more sophisticated situations. Maybe the hands-on work is more "heavy" I'm not sure...
Thought you might know! :wink:
The schedule is also every day 9 till 12:30. I agree, it's so good!
First "turns" but not necessarily on the tables. Can be on the chair. The other students lie on the ground or read or work on each other. There are 12 students all 3 years combined learning together. Then a mini movement principle game. Then break for 15/20 min. Then the teacher reads from one of Alexander's books. Then lessons (longer turns) and hands-on work for the 3rd year, the others are worked on or work by themselves.
Exceptionally we went together to the swimming pool and practiced floating. This was really fun!
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Post by tjfillion »

12 students? That's so sweet! So there's at least 3 teachers there too. That's cool because you'll get a lot of good work from different people. Yeah some of the movement games can be really fun (I hear).

Yeah I forgot to mention chairwork and reading aloud from books. She did those too (I've only been there twice so far).

Carrington is definately the very subtle, old school method. I've read about that one and my current teacher's a very big fan. My teacher told me of some who will lift your head and sort of move you around and I'm guessing that would be the heavier/ Mc Donough approach. I should try to find some reading or a Mc Donough teacher and see what its like. Hmm.

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