The society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique has just produced a short promotional film about Alexander Technique in Sport and it made me think about my experiences.
We often think of AT for helping us recover from back pain, or play our musical instrument with more fluency. But of course, being able to use our bodies in a free, balanced and better co-ordinated way can improve sports performance too. Whether you are an elite athlete or someone who wants to keep fit and healthy, it helps prevent injury and work to our full potential whatever that may be. When we have the experiential knowledge of how our body works best through AT, it’s easier to do whatever we do in a more considered, balanced way that enables us to have a long term healthy approach to our physical (and mental) wellbeing.
Before I trained to become an AT teacher I was fortunate to have lessons with a few Alexander teachers, including a couple of lessons with Elisabeth Walker, a first generation teacher*. She was in her 90’s at the time. I was so impressed with her vitality and ease of movement, she was inspirational. She was still able to squat down holding on to a door handle and able to lift and direct me from sitting on the floor to standing. I thought if I could be anything like that as I grew older it would be amazing. It was certainly one of the factors that made me think of training.
I was sporty as a child and young adult, competing in discus, basketball, netball and swimming. Then in my 20’s I turned my hobby into my job and worked as a personal trainer. Unfortunately I had no knowledge of AT when growing up. I was very committed and trained ‘hard’. At times this lead to injuries that looking back, may have been preventable with a better understanding of body mapping and AT skills. I do remember coaches emphasising the importance of technique over strength, but as I was young and strong I was more likely to rely on power and not take care of my body. Now-a-days with apps like Coaches Eye it’s far easier to film and analyse technique and body use. And with AT teachers and coaches working together sports people can get the best combination of advice. After all practice does not make perfect. If you practice badly you are more likely to get injured and less likely to improve. Intelligent embodied practice and training is what is required.
The techniques elite athletes use to achieve medals are not necessarily easy on the body long term. So it’s important for us to know the difference between techniques that may take athletes to peak performance and what will promote long lived healthy bodies for the rest of us. Take cycling, when you watch the Tour de France you can see cyclists whizz past in very aerodynamic postures – backs arched, necks looking compromised. This gives them the edge in the race. But, if we are not racing and just want to enjoy some healthy cycling is this the approach we would want to take? Probably not. Instead we might lengthen through the spine, take the pressure off our neck and maybe out of our shoulders and arms by sitting in a slightly more upright way. We may not win any races, but we are more likely to still be cycling into retirement. This is why AT teachers work with coaches and teach athletes ways to stay as easy and free as possible while they are training and competing, but when working with fitness enthusiasts may work in a different way. All people come to sport with their own ability, fitness, injuries and goals and we can be sensitive to these to achieve sustainable, well co-ordinated and efficient use of their bodies.
I recently had the opportunity to take an AT workshop during a Yoga and Pilates retreat day, it was well received and a lot of fun. AT can compliment and give practical skills that are useful to both yoga and Pilates (and vise-versa). AT offers body mapping, embodied awareness and improves co-ordination. It’s also helps with teaching us how to respond to stimuli, rather than reacting. In this case the stimulus is the particular pose or exercise being performed. We can pause, and be mindful of our bodies, using them with an accurate body map and understanding how to allow our bodies to perform and move well, without being pushy and having excessive tension which can lead to injury.
Alexander Technique is the ‘how to’ of anything – not just getting in and out of a chair 😊. So I really enjoy when pupils come to me with particular questions or problems that we can explore and trouble shoot together. I have had great fun working with pupils on their physiotherapy exercises, yoga and Pilates exercises and weight training exercises as well as skiing, fencing, badminton and running. I teach pupils the skills to make movement more mindful, considered, co-ordinated, safer and more effective. If you would like to find out more about how the Alexander Technique can help you please contact me using the details at the top of the page.
*Elisabeth was part of FM Alexander’s first teacher training in the 1930’s.