Taking the Brakes off –
How the Alexander Technique helps as you get older
What is it?
As you get older it’s easy to feel you’re splitting in two – the person you’ve always been, inside, and the one in the mirror that gets aches and pains, forgets where you put things and finds activities take more effort than they used to do. It’s common to think that this is just part of aging. If you’re caring for a relative you may be feeling the strain yourself at the same time as coping with its effects on someone close.
Wouldn’t you like to turn the clock back? Learning the Alexander Technique may not iron out wrinkles or remind you what you were doing, but it can help with a whole raft of things affected by age – like being surer of your balance, standing and sitting straighter (which can take years off your appearance as well as the strain off your back), or using less effort to get in and out of chairs. It can ease walking and take the strain off knees, hips and ankles. It can help you pick things up with less effort, putting less strain on damaged arms, wrists and fingers. It can help ward off back-ache after overdoing it in the garden or on the golf course. Even if you’re chair-bound it can help you sit more easily and take some of the strain off doing what you can. It also helps you deal with stress and worry, so you can make the most of your abilities and enjoy yourself with confidence.
So how does it work?
If there was a theme song for the Alexander Technique is would be “It Ain’t What you Do it’s the Way that you Do it”. Young children move smoothly and easily, staying in balance. Once they’ve been at school for a few years, you start to see them slumping, hunched over phones (we were told off for hunching over a book – some things don’t change!). As we go through life we develop all sorts of habits about how we sit, stand, walk etc. It often seems more efficient as it is automatic, so we can get on with more than one thing at once. But we stop taking any notice of how we are doing things.
TRY THIS – put your hand up, then lower it again. Did you consciously choose which arm to raise? Or how far to raise it? Most people don’t – we’ve been putting our hand up since infant school. Now try it again slowly, and this time really notice what muscles you can feel lifting your arm and hand. What happens to your back? Are you still breathing? How often do you take that much notice as you move?
Add to these habits the tensions that build up in muscles as we adjust to cope after accidents, illness, stress, poor posture etc. and it gets more and more difficult to get about. Over time the body slowly distorts, and we don’t notice. At least not until something starts to hurt. Even worse, our brain adjusts its picture of us to include the distortions – they become part of who we are. This is why, as anyone who has tried to diet can tell you, changing long-held habits is difficult.
The Alexander Technique is a way to recognise and unpick these habits, getting back to a more balanced body with freer muscles and regaining the ability to move as much as you can without unnecessary effort.
How do I learn?
Most teachers recommend learning the Technique in individual lessons, so they can be entirely about you and adapted to what you can do at that moment, which is why it can help people even when they are quite limited in movement. It can also be tailored to the sorts of activities you do, so for some people we may do more sitting, for others lifting or letting go of stress. In a lesson, an Alexander teacher works with you to help you understand how your body can work as freely as is possible for you, how to stay balanced and make best use of the reflexes we all have to hold us up and keep us moving. We look at what patterns of muscle tension you are holding on to, how you can let them go and avoid them in the future. This can be particularly helpful for stress and anxiety. Depending on your mobility the teacher uses their hands to guide you in very simple movements, to help you notice and unlearn habits, but most of all we help you learn how to use your thinking to choose how to do a movement.
Not sure what that means?
TRY THIS – choose which hand you are going to raise, pause and think of that whole arm letting go and getting longer, then of the hand floating up towards the ceiling like a feather on the breeze. As you think, allow your hand start to rise upwards. Or picture your fingers resting on a soft cloud as it drifts upwards. Was the movement different to your previous one?
Or let you shoulder droop, allow your hand to wrap gently around a mug and try to lift it a little without gripping – can you? How different does this feel to usual?
Now you wouldn’t want to consciously choose every movement or you’d never get anywhere. But our mind and our body are two sides of the same coin. An Alexander teacher is trained for three years to help you rediscover this and use it to free yourself of habits that get in the way of an active and enjoyable life. You know you still feel the same – by learning and practising the Alexander Technique you can reconnect that inner you with your body to reduce the impact of ageing and make the most of every day.
Many well-known people have spoken about the benefit they have got from lessons, from Joan Bakewell and Twiggy to John Cleese, but it’s not only for the rich or famous. Just about everyone can be helped by learning it, whatever age or level of mobility they have. How could it help you?
Tricia Kelly is a professional teaching member of both STAT -Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique www.stat.org.uk and ATE UK-Alexander Technique Education http://www.alexandertechniqueeducation.co.uk/ . She found the Technique many years ago to try and stop herself tripping over, ended up with feet a size bigger and had to buy new shoes. She now rarely falls over and teaches the Technique near Maldon in Essex. So far she has taught people from teenagers to well-into-their-80s, and helped them with stress, back, neck, shoulder or foot pain, breathing, sleeping and migraines amongst.
As well as lessons Tricia talks to groups (she’s on the list of approved speakers for the Essex WIs) and runs occasional classes for small groups.
There is more about the Technique and about Tricia on her website www.awarenessinbalance.co.uk,
or ring her on 07749 283963 and leave a message – she will ring back.