I'm asked more times than I can remember 'what is The Alexander Technique?'. For something that has been around since the 1890s, you'd think most people would know by now - but obviously not.
Here's an article I wrote around 10 years ago to give you an idea.
The Alexander Technique (AT) is unique. A one hundred-year-old technique that requires no specialist equipment can appear outdated, whereas, in my view, it's still ahead of its time.
AT can play a vital role in the training, coaching and development of anyone with an interest in their performance in sport, business, the arts or everyday life. It's essentially a 'pre-technique' that can be learnt to improve performance in all activities and, I believe, can provide the key to entering the elusive state athletes and artists call 'The Zone' or 'Flow', a place where effortless performance is possible.
The Technique is often misunderstood, so it's best to start by stating what it isn't. It's not a form of relaxation or a set of exercises to improve posture. Neither is it an alternative therapy, although radical, it's entirely consistent with orthodox medical science and educational in nature.
So, to get to the point - It's a practical method for improving your movement, focus, posture, that helps you take greater control over your actions.
How does it do all that?
Well, it can make you aware of the unnecessary effort that you habitually apply to most things that you do. The majority of adults unknowingly develop habits that lead us to tighten our necks, shoulders and backs that can cause the all too familiar aches and pains, and even poor performance in sport.
This adds up to a lot of wasted effort and interference with your body's natural functions such as breathing, digestion circulation, and movement. It's a bit like driving your car in the wrong gear - not very efficient and causing to excessive wear and tear.
From a performance perspective it can have a disastrous effect. You cannot perform at your best if you're not functioning properly.
Technically, The Alexander Technique is a method of re-education that will improve your self-awareness. This will help you recognise your bad habits, and here is the clever part, through applying its practical techniques allow you to change them!
So if you're struggling with your golf swing, back hand, improving your 2,000 meter time on your rowing machine, or even not able to sit at your desk without getting a neck ache - AT could show you how to fix it.
So Why Have So Few People Heard of It?
That's a good question. If I'm asked what I do for a living, the usual response is, that sounds interesting, what is it? The less tactful reply is, never heard of it and make the assumption that it's not worth learning, otherwise they would already know of it.
We're very good at making instant judgements without any real knowledge to justify them. This is the main obstacle to overcome in order to make the Alexander Technique known to a wider audience.
AT has been taught for over one hundred years to performing artists yet, with the exception of a few elite athletes, is unknown to most involved in sport. Those who have looked briefly at it, often wrongly assume it's about improving posture or treating back pain and fail to appreciate its scope and significance to athletes.
Why The Technique is not more widely known may be due to a number of reasons.
Learning The Alexander Technique requires the pupil to take responsibility for their actions to address the influence of habit. To benefit, as with any other skill, a number of lessons are necessary. This isn't what many want to hear and very quickly the idea of taking lessons is dismissed without further thought. This work needs a level of commitment many are not prepared to make.
Yet, The Alexander Technique is ideally suited to those with an interest in their health and performance, already dedicated to a life of personal development.
The subtle approach can make it look too simplistic to address a complex problem. In common with all the best solutions, it is a simple one. If you're used to a punishing training programme or the rigours of business, the perceived physical inactivity during a lesson doesn't seem to be the best way to improve performance.
How To Start The Process of Change
Change can only happen if you can first learn to stop doing the unnecessary things you have always done. The habit of getting set to do something has to be prevented.
This is achieved by jumping into the gap between thought and action.
If your response to getting ready to move, is to increase muscular tension, nothing can change until you prevent the initial reaction - your habit.
Once you can do this, you'll gain a far greater degree of control over your actions. So if your golf swing is ruined by tension in your shoulders, you can learn to swing without it. Through AT lessons, you'll learn how to spot habits that stop you performing at your best.
So if you're curious and would like to try a session, you can find a qualified teacher (following a three-year course) at www.stat.org.uk for the UK or www.alexandertechnique.com for the US and Worldwide teaching associations.
Roy Palmer is an athletics coach, teacher of The Alexander Technique and a rowing fanatic.