Training, not treatment

If we’re unfortunate enough to hurt or strained our back during the process of bending, or stretching to pick something up; it is quite possible that what we were reaching for was not even a heavy item. Simply the process of bending awkwardly caused a muscle spasm or the like.  I regularly meet people in such situations and in discussion I hear them say that their posture isn’t perfect but has not been a problem; it’s just this injury that’s causing them grief.

They will come for sessions in the Alexander Technique having been advised that this may help, but the sessions are often seen initially as treatment, because that’s what we get when we go to an osteopath, physiotherapist, chiropractor or other therapist; we get treatment.  However, while the Alexander Technique can certainly provide therapeutic benefits and we can feel great, it is not a treatment as such, but a method that we learn to use for our own benefit; we learn to look after ourselves, posturally. We come for Alexander Technique lessons.

People like myself are called teachers; most of us are members of STAT, The Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique (www,stat, or one of the affiliated societies worldwide, and as such we give lessons.  The Alexander Technique is educational and should not be seen as an alternative to orthodox medicine but complementary as it works alongside treatments or therapy. Therapists in the fields that I’ve mentioned can help relieve symptoms, aid healing, correct spinal and skeletal misalignment etc.  Alexander Technique helps us learn how to prevent the wrong movements and poor postural habits that cause the problem in the first place. It’s usual for people to have physio, osteopathic or chiro treatment but when they walk out after a session they return to the old habits that caused the problem in the first place and so it goes on, month after month.

We may come to Alexander Technique as a last resort having had months of treatment elsewhere and with the re-learning of natural poise, the accompanying improved co-ordination and reduction in harmful posture habits, their painful symptoms just disappear. The symptoms just disappear because they have ceased to do the wrong things that caused the problems in the first place. Some injuries such as strains and inflammation cannot simply heal up if we are constantly stiffening and holding ourselves with unnatural tensions as these aggravate the condition; it’s like scratching an open wound.  But if we change the ‘condition’ within us to reduce muscular strain and effort, our body can heal itself so much more easily.

Alexander Technique lessons enable us to look after ourselves, to avoid unnecessary strain and to bring about a very free and expansive quality through our whole body…just as we had when we were very young toddlers.

While we may feel that our posture hasn’t been a problem, it is often the case that the injury has been just waiting to happen; we may not have had any symptoms of poor posture except for a little stiffness or a stoop or slouch, but our body is almost certainly off balance with unnecessary strain and stiffness and when we bend we’ll do so awkwardly causing the injury.  It is a common error to consider a symptom such as back pain as an isolated situation, but it is actually just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ and is part of an overall condition of poor poise and bad postural habits.

Some people say they wished they’d come for Alexander Technique lessons before they injured themselves to help avoid it happening in the first place; after lengthy treatments in other fields and the strain or inflammation taking months to heal they see that improving posture is a way to help healing but also as a means of avoiding problems in the future;  better late than never. I have to add that it goes well beyond that. The improvements in co-ordination and poise affect everything we do and usually helps us perform better in sport, speak better in public, play an instrument better and generally feel more happy, calm and relaxed…..but that’s another blog post.

Sometimes it works the other way around. People come for Alexander Technique lessons first and after a few sessions I may feel that their spine is chronically held or stuck in one place; it may even be dislocated which can be common in the neck.  In some cases I may well recommend they visit a chiropractor or osteopath for one or two sessions to help free it up. When they have done so, we can often make superb progress as a chronically held physical restriction has been attended to. However I must add that I feel it important that such treatment or spinal corrections are accompanied with Alexander Technique lessons to ensure that the person maintains appropriate posture to avoid the problem recurring.

There is a saying….. if we are older and with regards to improving our posture; ‘you can’t teach an old dog  new tricks’. Well there are two considerations to this; firstly we’re not an ‘old dog’. Secondly we’re not learning new tricks; natural healthy poise is our birthright and if we were healthy as a child we will have experienced it without even knowing. The instinct for good posture is with us until we die and it only needs reviving by eliminating the postural habits.  It’s never too late. I’ve worked with people who were 102 and 104 years old and they became freer, more upright (gaining 1/2″ in height!), better balanced and breathing better too.  There are no ‘old dogs’ round here!