Do you sometimes feel that your muscles get tense while you practice? Or maybe you feel that you put a strain on your body, for example when you work or just go about you daily tasks, housework, etc.?
If your answer to at least one of my questions is "yes," read on :)
Alexander Technique is a method of working on optimal use of the "self." It's about both the body and mind, because they constantly affect each other and regarding them separately doesn't really make much sense. Alexander Technique is quite popular among musicians — no wonder, considering that a vast majority of professional musicians experience painful tensions or even injuries at some point of of their careers. The question is, can the technique benefit also hobby musicians, especially adult music learners?
My answer is... absolutely!
Let me explain, why Alexander Technique can be so beneficial for you and how you can start learning it.
Your body's daily nightmare
If you are an adult music learner, you are likely to have a job which leaves you sitting in front of a computer or standing for hours on end. This can create a lot of less or more unpleasant consequences such as tense muscles, slumped posture, back pain, physical tiredness, stiffness or inflexibility... Your body might therefore need some help in order to get back to its natural balance.
If you feel stressed out or exhausted, you are also likely to develop some sort of bodily imbalance — a usual response of the body in such cases are tense muscles of the neck, shoulders, and even jaw.
Alexander Technique focuses first and foremost on finding a way to returning to the natural balance of your head, neck and back (which is called the "primary control") and then your whole body. This not only helps you to make sure that your posture is optimal. It also supports your mental well-being. How is that possible?
A pen between your teeth
You might have heard that smile works in two directions: it can be a result of your feeling happy, or it can make you feel happy. Even if you just put a pen in between your teeth (or a pencil — let's ditch plastic and be more eco-friendly;) ) and this way you force yourself to slightly raise the corners of your mouth, after a while you are going to feel happier than before, just because the "fake" smile tricked your brain into thinking that you actually are happy.
A similar thing happens with your posture. When your head, neck and back are in balance, you feel more self-confident and calmer. If you lose this balance, for example as a result of being under pressure or tired, you not only appear to lack self-confidence but also feel less confident and weaker. So there's one vicious and one virtuous circle:
Being like a cat
Cats always seem to be ready to move, flexible and constantly in barely noticeable motion, even when they sit still. Alexander Technique can help you to become more like a cat — let me show you how.
An optimal posture is about being flexible and able to adjust things in accordance with what you do. It's about maintaining balance and doing everything without putting a strain on yourself, with the minimal possible effort, in an optimal way.
Alexander Technique can help you to learn how to do that by working on your awareness of yourself and by reminding you about so called "directions." An Alexander Technique teacher wouldn't tell you anything like: "You need to hold your head like this," "Your shoulders are perfect like this, hold them always this way." Instead, you are given a few simple ideas, such as "imagine that you head goes up and slightly forward" or "think of your spine getting back to its full length," and you just let your body do the job of adjusting your posture.
The goal is first and foremost to help you learn to remind yourself about the most basic principles of the optimal use of the self while you do your daily tasks — when you lie or sit, or sit down on to a chair or stand up, or bend down to pick up something, or wash the dishes, or work at the computer, or play an instrument.
You can also use some "mental pictures" that might make it easier for you to imagine a desired direction. For example you can visualize your head as a balloon — light and moving away from your feet. Or you can imagine that your shoulder blades are like melting chocolate when you are lying on your back. There are hundreds of such pictures that can help you to make using Alexander technique fun and, more importantly, to really feel the change it brings about.
How to start
Now let's get to the essence of this post — putting the theory into practice.
1) It's best to learn the basics of the Alexander Technique with a qualified teacher, ideally during 1 on 1 sessions or during a course. Even if you start with just 3-5 lessons, you can learn the most elementary things and then book a session from time to time in order to get some more guidance and additional advice. If you feel like you really need to take care of your posture, for example because of recurring tensions that impair your daily life (or make your music practice unpleasant or even painful), it is recommended to take lessons regularly for a few months, at least once per week.
2) You'll need comfortable clothes but basically anything casual would do — it's not like going to a gym or a yoga class so jeans and a T-shirt/sweater will do the job.
3) Different teachers can have varying approaches so some might explain a lot at the beginning while others will jump into the practical part straight away. A lesson usually lasts between 30-45 minutes and during that time the teacher observes your posture and movement patterns. In order to get more exact information about the way you move and breathe, and also to guide your body towards releasing muscular tensions, the teacher gently places his/her hands on your shoulders, neck, or back while you are asked to do simple things like walking, sitting down, or standing up.
4) If you don't know any Alexander Teachers in your neighborhood, check out this website:
To finish with, here is a video. Dive into it, join the TEDx audience and let it be your first Alexander Technique experience! Hugs :)