We have probably all been slightly stressed from time to time. We can put ourselves under pressure or feel pressurised by external situations; jobs, household stuff, exam pressure or illness, to name just a few possibilities. This low to moderate level stress can leave us feeling tired, tight (especially our neck, shoulders and back), not quite our usual selves and reduces our emotional resilience. We may have even experienced deeper episodes of stress or a feeling of anxiety in particular situations. This is all normal and part of the human condition. (I have experienced both stress and anxiety at different times, in my mid twenties I had a period where I suffered with panic attacks and later in my early thirties the lose of someone close to me had a deeper impact.) Our bodies are well designed to cope with short periods of stress or anxiety, but problems tend to occur if we get stuck in a habitually stressed and anxious state. Something we often don’t recognise, it creeps up on us!
The Alexander Technique, along with my meditation practice, have proved to be great tools to combat the effects of stress and anxiety. I find them empowering and calming. The Alexander Technique gives me ways to help myself release excess tension in my body. It also gives me greater understanding of my physical, mental and emotional reactions to stress and anxiety. Mediation and AT skills allows me the opportunity to ‘check in with my body’, by increasing my embodied awareness, I notice my habitual reactions, pause and think of the techniques I have learnt, so I don’t get stuck.
Alexander Technique has been part of the training on offer in many top music colleges and conservatories since the 1950’s, one of the reasons is its proven usefulness in combating performance anxiety. We may not suffer from performance anxiety as musicians do, but we do experience ‘everyday performance’, times when we are in different situations outside of our comfort zone, AT is therefore, a useful technique for all. In a recent article ‘Research Reveals How To Deal With Negative Emotions’ by Matt Bodnar, he writes that there are two reasons to learn to handle our destructive emotions (e.g. stress and anxiety) well; performance and peace of mind. Alexander Technique skills certainly prove useful for both.
Alexander Technique lessons teach us how to deal more effectively with all life’s stimuli; physical, mental and emotional. Therefore it’s very interested in our flight, fright, freeze response, the ‘startle reflex’. This is the response that we often get stuck in with the pressures of modern day living. The ‘startle reflex’ is a helpful and appropriate response to sudden danger that should only last a short period of time. As Elissa Epel PhD* put it recently in an interview with Rick Hanson PhD** during The Resilience Summit, if this becomes a chronic condition it can have the same potent long term effects as smoking on our bodies! This increases physical tension and changes our breathing pattern, increases blood pressure and stimulates the sympathetic nervous system (making us hyper vigilant or on edge). It also increases the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. These responses left unchecked can damage our bodies as well as reducing our ability to think clearly. But the good news is that by learning to look after ourselves with mind-body techniques such as AT, we can undo the damage created by bouts of stress and also reduce its effects when we experience stressful situations in the future.
As well as learning to be more aware of our thoughts, emotions and bodies, in an open, curious and self compassionate way, the Alexander Technique offers us other tools to reduce the effects of stress and anxiety and empowers us to become more resilient.
1) It gives us an understanding of how to release excess tension and bring our bodies into greater poise and balance, this brings better co-ordination throughout our whole bodies enabling us to function better. This is Alexander’s principle of use affects function, if we function better, we feel better and improve our wellbeing in general.
2) It teaches us how to carry out ‘constructive rest’ 10 mins to stop and check in with ourselves, allowing our bodies to release and rest. Click here to find out more about how to practice this.
3) Lastly, it teaches a procedure called The Whispered ‘Ah’, a breathing exercise. This is brilliant for many reasons, but in terms of stress reduction, it helps us to think about breathing in a different way. We focus on doing the out-breath, and allowing the in-breath to do itself. This out-breath focus lets the parasympathetic nervous system be more engaged, which calms us. (Also, as an aside, in a recent presentation I attended by a local sound healing practitioner, when she was asked what sound she thought was the most healing, in her opinion it was an ‘ah’ sound!). For more details on the Whispered Ah, click here.
If you would like to find out more about how the Alexander Technique can help you, email or call me using the details at the top of the page. I will be very happy to answer any questions you have or to book you in for a consultation and lesson.
*expert in the effects of stress on our bodies.
**Senior Fellow of the Greater Good Science Centre at UC Berkley, psychologist and meditation teacher.