In order to function well, we need a certain amount of muscle tone. Unfortunately, though, most of us have more tension than we need, because of the stress of daily living. This tension interferes with the natural alignment of our head, neck and spine – and that’s one reason why so many of us are in pain or have difficulty with activities.
Through private lessons in the Alexander Technique, you can become aware of your unnecessary muscle tension and reduce it. At the same time, you can rediscover the natural alignment that we all had as children. This alignment will give you better balance, coordination, and ease of movement.
It turns out that there are two, closely related processes going on all the time in your nervous system. They’re called excitation and inhibition.
Excitation and inhibition.
At first glance, those names may sound awfully complicated – but the underlying concepts are actually very simple. They’re also extremely important if you want to understand how helpful the Alexander Technique can be in learning how to calm your nervous system.
Think of it this way. Whenever you engage in an activity, your brain sends two kinds of messages to your muscles: excitatory messages and inhibitory messages. For example, when you lift your arm to drink a glass of water, the excitatory messages tell some of your arm muscles to contract, to do something. Meanwhile, the inhibitory messages tell other muscles not to do anything, to stay at rest.
Both kinds of messages are being sent by your brain to your muscles, not only during a given activity but throughout the day. And both are necessary for optimal functioning. But here’s the thing. Modern society puts a huge emphasis on doing – on accomplishing tasks, working hard, and achieving goals. This emphasis on doing is obviously useful and important – but unfortunately, it has a downside.
For many of us, it’s gradually led to an imbalance in our nervous system. Little by little, the excitatory messages have begun to outweigh the inhibitory messages. As a result, we’re living with an internal state where both our nervous system and our muscles are working overtime, so to speak. Even when we’re at rest, we have a lot of extra activity inside.
I often compare this extra activity to the refrigerator in your kitchen. Think back to a time when you were sitting in your kitchen and the refrigerator shut off. All of a sudden, the room got really quiet – and then you realized there had been a hum all along and you hadn’t even noticed it.
For many of us, something similar is going on in our nervous system and our muscles. There’s a “background hum” that’s there no matter what we’re doing, and we’re not even aware of it!
At this point, you may be wondering what all of this has to do with the Alexander Technique. It turns out that F.M. Alexander, the founder of the Alexander Technique, made an extraordinary discovery. He discovered that we can use a special thought process to consciously increase the amount of inhibition in our nervous system.
If you take Alexander Technique lessons, you’ll learn about this subtle yet powerful thought process. Then you can use it to restore the balance between inhibition and excitation, and quiet the background hum that you may be experiencing inside. At the same time, you can encourage your muscles to lengthen and return to rest. That way, when you carry out an activity, you won’t be overdoing. You’ll only be exerting the minimum amount of effort necessary for that activity.
Of course, inhibition isn’t the only thing you’ll learn about during your Alexander lessons. Once again, you’ll learn how to realign your head, neck and spine. As a result, your strength, coordination and balance will improve.