Healing - Alexander Technique to the Rescue
by Jayesh Talpade
Spondylitis…that's what you have," said the doctor. Images of people wearing collars immediately rushed across my mind. I am not going to be one of those, I decided.
I stumbled across the Alexander Technique quite accidentally in one of my searches on the net. But unfortunately, there are no Alexander teachers based in India. And the technique cannot be learnt without a teacher…
Browsing through a copy of Life Positive last year while waiting for a dentist's appointment, I chanced to read an article on the Technique and it had an email id at the end of it. On what seemed like a really long shot, I sent a mail to the person, Joseph Stevens, otherwise known as Vinod. And he responded! He was of Indian origin, an Alexander teacher living in the UK. He was not planning to come to India just yet, but would let me know when he did.
In time, I got a mail suggesting I come down to Kochi, Kerala.
My neck had not made too much progress. Taking 15 days off and rushing off to an unknown place is not what one normally does. But I did it…went to Kochi, took the lessons. That was around August last year.
What happens in an Alexander lesson?
During the lesson the teacher observes your posture and movement patterns. He also supplements the visual information he gets, by using his hands, gently placing them on your neck, shoulders, back and so on. He does this to get more precise information about your patterns of breathing and movement.
He asks you to perform some simple movements - walking, or standing up or sitting down in a chair - while his hands are kept in easy contact with your body, gathering information, and simultaneously conveying information to you. The teacher's hands gently guide your body, to encourage a release of restrictive muscular tension. All of us have unconscious movement habits. Without realizing it, we put undue pressure on ourselves. We use more force than we need to lift a coffee pot or a weight bar. We slouch as we sit, unaware that our way of doing things gives our bodies a certain look. We blame body problems on activities - carpal tunnel syndrome on computer work, tennis elbow on tennis. But often it is how we do something that creates the problem, not the activity itself.
The Alexander teacher helps you see what exactly in your movement style contributes to your recurring difficulties - whether it's a bad back, neck and shoulder pain, restricted breathing, perpetual exhaustion or limitations in performing a task or sport. Analyzing your entire movement pattern, not just your symptom, the teacher alerts you to habits of compression in your characteristic way of sitting, standing and walking. He then guides you - with words and a gentle, encouraging touch - to move in a freer, more integrated way.
The Technique's basic idea is that when the neck muscles do not overwork, the head balances lightly at the top of the spine. The relationship between the head and the spine is of utmost importance. How we manage that relationship has ramifications throughout the rest of the body. As the boss - good or bad - sets the tone for an organization, the head-spine relationship - compressed or free - determines the quality of the body's overall co-ordination. Our neuromuscular system is designed to work in harmony with gravity. The delicate poise of the head sparks the body's anti-gravity response: a natural oppositional force in the torso that easily guides us upward and invites the spine to lengthen, rather than compress, as we move.
Instead of slouching or holding ourselves in a rigid posture, we can learn to mobilize this support system and use it wherever we go - in the car, at the computer, in the gym. Using the Alexander Technique, you can learn to strip away harmful habits, heighten your self-awareness, and use your thought process to restore your original poise.You come to understand how your body works, and how to make it work for you. You begin to tap more of your internal resources, to enhance your comfort and pleasure in all your activities.
Vinod gave me the 15 lessons and went back to the UK. I have been practicing for around eight months now, and there is a difference in the way I sit, the way I walk...why, even in the way I feel about myself. My spondylitis is considerably healed. The raw agony has abated to the extent that there are days when I am hardly aware of it. But there are days when my consciousness slips, my posture slumps and the pain stabs at me as if in reminder. The Technique is not something you do for 15 days and forget about. It is an exercise in awareness and a journey you undertake for the rest of your life!
There were seven others like myself who had journeyed from various parts of India to take those lessons. One among them was a Dr Ranganathan from Pune, all of 89 years of age, who had trained under Dr Alexander himself in the 1950s and has been doing the Technique ever since. Its effect could be seen on him. He looked around 68 years of age and had the disposition of a much younger man.
Vinod hopes to come back to teach the Technique in India, again. He wants to send some teachers here to further the practice. The project has to be financially viable, which it will be only when people start taking lessons. Until then, we'll have to wait for him to take his next vacation.
Contact: Jayesh Talpade
Joseph Stephens (Vinod)
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