Alexander Technique

Re-educate Your Body for Better Balance, Less Muscular and Mental Stress and Improved Alignment

Susan Cohen guides a client in The Alexander Technique.

The simple task of cracking a nut became an avenue through which I relearned how to relax my shoulders, breathe and let my head float atop my spine while squeezing the nutcracker. The task was an assignment given by Susan Cohen, to demonstrate how, by being better aware of what we do with our bodies; we can bring ease in our everyday lives. Susan, who has been practicing and teaching The Alexander Technique for more than 25 years, gave us an introduction to this century-old discipline in an hour-long class at the Corner Store on New Year’s Day.

Nineteen of us had the same idea—to begin 2014 learning something new. We all congregated at the Corner Store for a taste of a method that has helped actors, lawyers, singers, chefs, athletes and countless others who want to alleviate pain, reduce stress and feel healthier. “Whatever you do, you can do it a little better with conscious awareness,” said Susan.

What is The Alexander Technique?

The Alexander Technique is not exercise. It is a precursor to movement. It requires awareness of breath and of how we hold our tension. A student learns how to reprogram basic movement patterns such as sitting at a computer, standing, walking, bending, reaching and lifting. Through gentle hands-on guidance, not fixing or manipulating, as well as verbal coaching, a student can learn how to replace faulty movement patterns that over time have caused compression and tension with patterns that allow more freedom of movement and ease.

Susan further explains, “We strive for a balanced life. However, because of our hurried lives we lose focus on how we move and function. In the process we forget about the balance for which we strive.” She says The Alexander Technique offers a practical approach to self-care. “By eliminating our poor movement habits we learn how to balance our bodies and take charge of our thoughts and our lives.”

Who Does It Benefit?

The Alexander Technique has been shown to be helpful in relieving pain through learning better coordination of the musculoskeletal system. It can improve mobility, posture, performance and alertness and relieve chronic stiffness, tension and stress. Susan first discovered its benefits when she became injured while living in London in the 1980s. Dizziness, headaches and back problems prompted her doctor to recommend surgery. Instead a friend recommended The Alexander Technique.

“From my first Alexander lesson I experienced a dynamic sense of lightness. I was unaware of my poor postural habits and had no idea of the downward pressure I was putting on my spine and joints. Slowly I became aware of what I was doing and how to rid myself of these harmful habits. I discovered a new sense of balance and coordination and began enjoying a feeling of effortlessness.”

Two years of private lessons gave Susan a desire to help others achieve what she had experienced. She spent 1600 hours learning the technique over three years.

When Susan returned to the United States and moved to Capitol Hill she began teaching the technique to students at the Shakespeare Theatre, Arena Stage, Studio Theater, Howard, Catholic and George Mason Universities. She continues to maintain a private practice from her home studio.

How Alexander Technique Works

Susan describes what she does: A lesson consists of gentle hand-on guidance and verbal coaching to improve such basic movements as sitting at a computer, standing, walking, bending, reaching, and lifting. You learn to strip away faulty movement habits and tension patterns and eliminate discomfort by relearning how to balance your body and take charge of your thoughts.

“In time you will learn to release unnecessary muscular tension and restore your body’s original coordination. As you address your entire body— not just segments of it—you will improve your overall functioning and enjoy a better state of health. This enables you to move with more ease and poise.”

She says The Alexander Technique is not a quick fix. “Think of it as an owner’s manual for the body. It teaches us to use our bodies according to their inherent design.”

History

The technique is named after actor Frederick Matthias Alexander, who developed its principles in the 1890s as a personal tool to alleviate breathing problems and hoarseness during public speaking.

Alexander was a Shakespearean orator who developed voice loss during his performances. After doctors found no physical cause, Alexander reasoned that he was doing something to himself while speaking to cause his problem. His self-observation in multiple mirrors revealed that he was contracting his whole body prior to vocalization in preparation for all verbal response. He believed that this habitual pattern of pulling the head backwards and downwards needlessly disrupted the normal working of the total postural, breathing and vocal mechanisms. Alexander also observed that others commonly tightened the musculature of the upper torso as he had done, in anticipation of activities besides speech.

Alexander believed his work could be applied to improve individual health and well being. He wrote four books explaining his theories and also trained teachers to teach his work from 1930 until his death in 1955.

Famous people who have studied the Alexander Technique include writers Aldus Huxley and playwright George Bernard Shaw; actors Judi Dench, Hilary Swank, Sir Ben Kingsley, Michael Caine, Jeremy Irons, William Hurt, Jamie Lee Curtis, Paul Newman, and Robin Williams; and musicians Paul McCartney, Madonna and Sting.

Susan Cohen will be offering three classes on The Alexander Technique at the Corner Store this month. They will be held Tuesday evenings February 11, 18 and 25. Space is limited and cost is $50 for all three classes. To register contact: Susan Cohen: susanatdc@aol.com. For more information call Susan at: 202-544-2448 or visit her website at: www.susancohenalextech.com.

Pattie Cinelli is a health and fitness professional and write who specializes in working with people who want to feel stronger, look better and move well in their everyday lives. She can be reached at: fitness@pattiecinelli.com.