Just before beginning my Alexander Technique teacher training, I recurrently imagined myself on a tropical beach trying to grab on to a fistful of dry powdery sand. If you’ve ever done this, you know that truly dry sand will just run out of your fist, as it did in my imagination. You may be able to retain a small amount, but the majority will escape through whatever openings your hand provides.
By the end of my Alexander Technique teacher training the image had evolved into scooping up a handful of sand and letting it sift through my fingers, appreciating its texture and warmth. I was also able to imagine more of the environment around me. Instead of focusing all of my attention on the fistful of sand, I could smell the sea breeze, see the clear blue water, and hear the comforting sound of the waves rolling on to shore.
So how does this corny imagery relate to the Alexander Technique?
The fistful of sand represents anything we hold or grip too tightly in our bodies or our minds. It is similar to the Buddhist concept of attachment. Though at one time or another this gripping served a necessary purpose in our lives, the Alexander Technique explores whether it remains necessary, or whether it is now extraneous and can be released. The holding can manifest physically in something like sciatica, where the sciatic nerve is pinched due to chronic gripping or compression through the lumbar spine. And it can also have mental/emotional roots as in a memory from the past you hold in your mind and play over and over again, which is then translated into muscular tension in your body.
What we know in the Alexander Technique is that human beings get attached to the way we hold ourselves and move about the world. We get attached to our perceptions of ourselves, and the identities we present to others. The more we practice these ways of being, whether consciously or unconsciously, we literally lock our brains and bodies into a groove. It becomes a habit, and we say things like, “That’s just the way things are,” or “That’s just the way I am,” or “Back pain is just a part of my life.”
But research on neuroplasticity shows that our brains are capable of forming new neural connections throughout our entire lives if we expose ourselves to new information and experiences, meaning you can definitely teach an old dog new tricks! (You can read more about neuroplasticity by clicking here.) We are capable of changing, growing, and evolving in our own lifetimes more than we ever imagined. If we want to, we are able to release old and unhelpful habitual ways of how we move and react to the world so we can find greater flow and ease in our daily lives.
People come to the Alexander Technique because they want to change the way they support themselves in this wild and wooly world. They’re often looking to change because the way they’ve been supporting themselves has resulted in back pain, neck pain, repetitive strain injury, sciatica, migraines, etc. Or sometimes they’re looking to change just because they long to improve their posture, their voice, their presentation skills, or they just want to feel calmer.
And while the Alexander Technique will not offer you a magic “cure,” it will teach you how to better care for yourself. It will teach you how to use less effort to do what you want to do. The Alexander Technique will help you interact with the world around you with less strain and less pain. And the Alexander Technique will help you get out of your own way so you can access more freedom and flow in your mind-body-being. Ultimately the Alexander Technique will offer you a choice, because at the end of the day, life’s a beach, and you can either grab on to a fistful of sand or let it run through your fingers while you enjoy the scenery.