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.
The Alexander Technique is a psychophysical discipline. In other words, if you take Alexander lessons, the process will have both mental and physical aspects. When I think of the Alexander Technique, I sometimes think of a famous sports quote. The baseball player Yogi Berra once said, “Ninety percent of baseball is fifty percent mental.” The same thing is true of the Alexander Technique.
But what does that really mean? First of all, it means that, if you take Alexander lessons, you’ll learn about a subtle yet powerful thought process that will help you make some important physical changes. Those changes will help you if you have certain kinds of physical pain. They’ll also help you with the activities that are important to you, such as playing a musical instrument, doing a sport, sitting at the computer and many others.
But here’s the thing. When I started taking Alexander lessons, I discovered that the process had yet another psychophysical aspect. I discovered, much to my surprise, that the process affected me on an emotional level. In fact, it completely changed my relationship with my feelings.
Before I describe how that happened, let me just say something about the relationship between the Alexander Technique and our feelings. Some people are like me: there’s an emotional aspect when they’re learning the Alexander Technique. On the other hand, there are people who learn the technique and make wonderful changes without experiencing any emotions. It all depends on the person. Throughout my career, I’ve worked with people in both groups.
Now let me get back to my story. I experienced three surprises as I was learning the Alexander Technique. First of all, I discovered that the alignment of my head, neck and spine wasn’t ideal. My head tended to drop forward and down, my shoulders had become rounded and my torso was shortening and dropping forward and down. In addition, I often had a feeling of heaviness in my body – almost as if I was carrying around a heavy suitcase.
To put it simply, I was in a kind of physical collapse.
My Alexander teachers helped me understand that this was caused by extra muscle tension. They explained to me that almost all of us developed patterns of extra tension as we were growing up, and that, little by little, those patterns became deeply rooted. They became habitual.
The good news is that my teachers didn’t just help me become aware of my habitual collapse. They also helped me address it. They showed me how I could subtract my extra tension, and realign my head, neck and spine in a more natural and optimal way.
It was then that I experienced a second surprise. I began to feel better not only physically but also emotionally. I’d suffered from chronic depression for many years – but now, as I began to come out of my physical collapse, lo and behold, my depression also began to lift!
The key ingredient in the process was the new, more optimal alignment of my head, neck and spine: there was something about that alignment that made it difficult for me to feel depressed. As a matter of fact, I could not experience that new alignment and be depressed at the same time. It was literally, physically impossible. As you might imagine, that was a wonderful discovery – one of the most miraculous of my life!
As those changes unfolded, I put two and two together and realized that my collapse had been the physical aspect of my depression. Or in other words, my depression had been psychophysical in nature. It had been neither a physical state nor an emotional state, but both at the same time.
The thing is that the change process was gradual, and it took place in steps. During my lessons, my teachers would help me realign my head, neck and spine and, as a result, I would have an extraordinary feeling of lightness, coordination – and above all well-being. Then on other days, my old collapse would reassert itself and I wouldn’t feel so great. So throughout the process, I was taking two steps forward and one step back. With time, though, the new alignment gradually came into the foreground. In the end, it became a new habit.
During that gradual, step-by-step process, something else began to happen: I began to experience some strong feelings. This was the third and final surprise of the process. To be specific, there were times during my Alexander lessons when I would feel as though I was going to start crying. I would do my best to hold it together until the end of the lesson. Then, as soon as I got home, I would let the feelings come out, and start to cry.
These were not free-floating feelings. They were related to something that had happened to me. My father had died suddenly four years previously. He’d commit suicide. Now, for the first time, I began to realize that I had a lot of unexpressed feelings about his death, and I began to grieve.
After that, I went into psychotherapy because I needed a place where I could process all of those feelings. As I pursued both the Alexander lessons and the psychotherapy, I began to realize that I’d discovered another aspect of my depression. It dawned on me that, for many years, I’d been stuffing my feelings. I’d been forgetting about them, and then forgetting that I’d forgotten.
There were a number of reasons why I’d been doing that. First of all, I was a card carrying American male. Men in this society get a lot messages about their feelings. For example, if you cry, or if you express any of the softer, more tender feelings that we all have, you’re labeled a “sissy.”
In addition, when I was a child, there were messages in my family about being “good, quiet and obedient.” Once again, the effect of all of those messages was that I completely stopped expressing my feelings. Then, when my father commit suicide, I had no skills for dealing with this extremely traumatic event, other than trying to forget about my feelings.
Until I started taking Alexander lessons, that is.
During the Alexander lessons, I learned some important truths. First of all, as much as I’d tried to forget about my feelings, they’d never gone away. They’d gone underground, so to speak. And in fact, they’d turned into something physical. I’d been “storing” them in my muscles, in the form of muscle tension. Of course, I hadn’t been aware of that. But all the while, my hidden feelings had been affecting me indirectly. They’d been behind both my depression and my physical collapse.
The grieving process was painful, as you might imagine. Not only was my grief over my father’s death difficult to deal with, but I was also changing some key beliefs about myself and who I was. For the very first time, I was accepting the fact that I actually am an emotional person.
As difficult as the process was, though, in the end it was extremely positive. I began to come out of my collapse, I began to feel my feelings – and best of all my depression gradually began to lift.
As of today, I’m free of depression.
After I’d had such positive experiences with both the Alexander Technique and psychotherapy, I realized that I wanted to be more than just a student and a client. I wanted to go more deeply into each field. So after three years of private lessons in the Alexander Technique, I trained to become a teacher. I began teaching in 1991.
Meanwhile, I also went to graduate school in psychology. In 1988, I received a master’s degree in Counseling Psychology from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Over the years, I’ve found that some of my students are similar to me, as I said before. Their learning process has both emotional and physical aspects. So when a student asks for it, I will offer her a combination of Alexander Technique and emotional processing. Of course, let me also emphasize something else I said earlier: many of my students don’t experience any feelings while they’re learning the Alexander Technique. It all depends on the individual.