As always, I watched the recent Olympics with great interest and even excitement. Of course, I watched not only as a sports fan (read fanatic!) but also as a teacher of the Alexander Technique. When it comes to the Alexander Technique, my favorite athlete was Allyson Felix, who won the gold medal in the women’s 200 meter race. In my opinion, there’s a good reason why she’s so fast – and why some of the other Olympic athletes are so successful. That’s what this email is about. If you want to skip my analysis, that’s fine – but do watch the video I’m including. It’s a 3 minute video of the race in which Allyson Felix won gold. At the end, there’s a clip of her running in slow motion. Make sure you watch that. It’s amazing! Here it is:
Anyway, watching Allyson Felix run, I thought about the concept of “use.” F.M. Alexander, the founder of the Alexander Technique, coined this term: he talked about the way we “use” ourselves. He believed that our use of ourselves has a big effect on our functioning – as big an effect as heredity and the environment. I like this formulation because it’s extremely empowering. We have a lot more control over how we use ourselves than we do over our genetic makeup and over the environment.
And of course, that’s where the Alexander Technique comes in: it helps us change our use for the better.
Let me explain. When we were young – say 6 years old or younger – most of us used ourselves very well, even though we didn’t realize it. We had a natural alignment of our head, neck and spine, and when we were running and playing, we didn’t exert any more tension than we needed for those activities.
But then, as we got older, we started going to school, we learned to read and write, we sat at the desk for long periods, etc., etc. All of those stresses, some positive, some not so positive, gradually turned into excess muscle tension. And that tension began to throw off our natural alignment, and put extra pressure on our nerves and joints. That’s one reason why many of us end up in pain or have difficulty with activities.
So the Alexander Technique helps us to reduce those areas of tension, so that we can rediscover the natural alignment we all had as children.
Now keeping all of that in mind, let’s get back to Allyson Felix. There are a few people whose use of themselves doesn’t suffer as they get older. They represent a very rare exception – but they are the folks you see on TV: really good athletes and performing artists. Once again, watch the video of the Olympic women’s 200 meter race – and as I said, watch for the slow motion clip. You can really see how wonderful Allyson Felix’s use is. She has an optimal alignment of her head, neck and spine – and she’s exerting a minimum amount of muscle tension. Enjoy watching her!
By the way, I don’t think Allyson Felix has taken Alexander lessons. Once again, I think she’s one of those rare individuals whose use hasn’t suffered as she’s gotten older.
If you take Alexander lessons, I can’t promise that you’ll run like her. But I can promise that you will begin to develop some of those same qualities. You’ll reduce some of your excess tension – and above all, you’ll learn how to realign your head, neck and spine.