About 10 years ago I discovered the Alexander Technique. I was working in a restaurant and my back started to ache. I had never learned how to care for my back. I saw an advertisement in the local newsletter for a short course and I immediately signed up. The class was run in conjuction with the drama course in the same college. It was simple, hands-on and very effective.
My memory of the history of the practice is sketchy. I remember that it was started by Mr Alexander (first or second name?) and that he was a singer who lost his voice. He then started to study how the body worked to create the best sound and work in the best way. He noticed that the reason he lost his voice and that so many of us have poor posture is that we constrict the muscles in the back of the neck. This is known as ‘the primary control’ in AT. Alexander then developed a teaching and a method to help people to rediscover their posture. The method is taught by trained teachers. There is an element of ‘hands on’ work where the teacher uses their body to give subtle, physcial information to yours such as holding your neck to remind it to relax.
In essence the teaching of The Alexander Technique is on the correct use of the body. Within that teaching, there is one essential practice referred to simply as semi-supine or lying down. I ‘rediscover’ this practice regularly and scold myself for not doing it daily.
Here’s what you do:
Take 2 or three books, so the combined width is about that of two telephone directories, and place them on the floor.
Lie down on the floor, place your feet flat on the ground. The last part is to gently lower your head onto the books. Lay your arms out by your sides, palms facing upwards.
Take a few minutes to relax into this position.
Start to notice the feedback you are receiving. Is my head heavy on the books? Are my shoulders on the ground? Which of my shoulders is making more contact with the ground? Are my hips evenly balanced? Which side of my body feels longer than the other? How is my breathing?
Do not make any adjustments. Simply notice.
Give yourself the following mental directions. Do not try to do anything with them, simply say them.
“I would like the muscles in my neck to be soft and relaxed.
I would like my head to roll forward and up off of the top of my spine.
I would like my spine to lengthen down towards my feet and up past the top of my head.
I would like my back to widen and spread across the floor in all directions.
I would like my knees to soften, point towards the ceiling and away from each other.
I would like my weight to drop down through my feet, 60% through the heel and 40% through the ball of the foot.”
Relax on the floor for 10-15 minutes, periodically noticing how your breathing is and how your body is making contact with the floor.
When the time comes to finish, very gently roll over on to one side and come up as slowly as possible. Ideally you will use some sort of aid (like a chair or a table) to come to a standing postion.
I use the semi-supine position whenever I come home from work in the bar. I will have been standing all day and I notice the distortions in my shoulders and neck. It is a wonderful way to start the day. I often combine it with meditation or visualisation or simply in giving myself time to daydream. There is something in this that relates to the corpse pose in yoga or meditation techniques about lying on the earth. It is a chance to simply ‘be’.
If you have any issues with the use of your body or any sort of repetitive strain injury, please look up you local Alexander teacher. I have included the links below to help you in your search.
AT teacher in Cork, Rosemary Moone