Category Archives: Alexander Technique

Don’t “take a deep breath”

Person blowing out a candleOne thing you’ll never hear an Alexander teacher say is ‘Just take a deep breath’.  Alexander teachers help thousands of people with their breathing and voice issues. They enable people to discover how to restore easier breathing and stronger, clearer voice. In the process, people also tend to feel calmer and more confident. How is this achieved? Not by trying to work out how to ‘breathe or speak better’, but by becoming more self-aware and reducing any habits that are getting in the way of our natural overall functioning.

Breathing is an amazingly complex and wonderful system, finely tuned by a myriad of automatic processes to ensure that the appropriate amount of air is delivered exactly when it is needed. There is absolutely no way that our conscious mind could work out how and when to breathe, moment by moment! In other words, we can’t ‘do’ breathing. If we try and control our breathing in any way, then we cannot avoid micro-managing and interfering.

Aside from mistaken attempts to ‘breathe correctly’, we also interfere with our natural breathing in many sub-conscious habitual ways. Some of our most common habits are:

  • Holding the breath – particularly when we’re concentrating or doing something effortful
  • Breathing shallowly and rapidly
  • Actively taking a breath (over-riding the natural rhythm by deliberately breathing in, rather than just letting it happen automatically).

One of the difficulties in working with the breath is that, because it is such a fundamental process, even the simple fact of bringing our attention to it can cause interference. It certainly took me a long time to be able to simply observe my own breathing without this bringing on a feeling of ‘I don’t have enough breath’.

That’s why it’s so helpful to work with an Alexander teacher. A teacher will guide you to an experience of easier breathing and stronger voice, and show you how to reduce your habitual interferences with these in your daily life. The Alexander Technique does not teach you how to breathe well – you know already, it’s just buried under years of habits.

Through experience, you can begin to trust that the in-breath can always be relied on to happen when it needs to, it ‘does itself’. It is the single most reliable thing we have – it will continue to occur whenever needed until our last day. So we never need to ‘take a breath’.

What is the outbreath for? Obviously, it expels carbon dioxide etc and empties the lungs in readiness for the next inbreath. But it’s also what we use for speaking, singing and making noises. The outbreath is infinitely adaptable so that we can both breathe and communicate. An Alexander teacher will share many rewarding ways with you of working with the outbreath, with the benefits of reducing anxiety, coming to present, and finding your natural voice.  

Alexander work is based on practical knowledge and skills, although a little theory can be illuminating. For example, when we speak or sing, it’s sound waves (oscillations in the air molecules) that carry the sound away from us. You can get an idea of this by lighting a candle or match and holding it in front of you. You’ll find that you can easily extinguish the flame by gently blowing on it. However, speaking or even shouting will have little effect (unless it’s a very ‘breathy’ sound). In other words, we don’t need to ‘push the sound out’.

In these Covid times we may not have opportunities to chat to friends in a noisy pub, or sing in a choir, or give a presentation to a group of people. But the next time that you do, just remember this experiment which demonstrates that you don’t need to make more effort in order to be heard! Working with an Alexander teacher you can discover this in practice, finding your own voice and experiencing more joy in singing and speaking.

So the next time that you’re feeling a bit anxious or worried see if you notice a difference in the effect of taking a deep breath or letting a (deep breath) out.

Being a ‘better’ person

Alternative version of Coronavirus public health message

FM Alexander was once asked if a burglar were to learn his method, would they become a better person? FM replied (probably with a twinkle in his eye), ‘no, but they would become a better burglar’.

Learning the Alexander Technique involves a process of developing greater self-awareness and more conscious control (i.e choice) over one’s habitual reactions and behaviours. A common experience reported by students is of becoming more one’s ‘true self’. A person’s sense of self can change as learnt behavioural patterns that were used simply to survive / thrive in childhood and the workplace are gradually peeled away. Anyone who has worked with the Alexander Technique for an extensive period will testify to its transformative effects. In my own case, I know that I gradually became more open minded and optimistic, and less judgemental and relentlessly self-critical. I can’t say whether I’ve become a ‘better person’ but I certainly welcome the changes that have occurred.

By its nature, putting the Alexander Technique into practice necessitates a certain amount of healthy self-interest. But what happens if the individual learning the technique is already overly self-interested, for example a narcissist, or someone with those tendencies? Does the Alexander Technique help them to usefully question and challenge themselves, or does it just encourage their unhealthy self-obsession? Does it simply enable such people to develop greater skills in how they want to present themselves to the world, and how to manipulate others? If FM Alexander was right about the burglar (assuming he was thinking of a person who was a burglar by choice, rather than absolute necessity) then perhaps the answer to these latter questions is ‘yes’?

I’ve been pondering these questions over the last couple of weeks. Like most people in the UK, I’ve been appalled and disgusted at the Dominic Cummings fiasco. The callous disregard and sense of entitlement of the Prime Minister’s top advisor are breath-taking. The scandal has been compounded by the pathetic weakness and irresponsibility of Boris Johnson in supporting him rather than sacking him – it’s now clear, if it wasn’t before, who is really running the country. Together they have put at risk all the Covid-19 health messaging and therefore they have jeopardised public safety, as well as trust in government.

While contemplating all this, I wondered whether things might have been a bit different if Cummings had had the advantage of taking Alexander lessons in the past? With more self-awareness, would he be better able to hide his arrogance and disdain? In particular, in the famous Rose Garden session with journalists, would he have been able to not react with the irritation that was visible at the more probing questions; and at the end, could he have avoided that telling smirk on his face? Or, more hopefully, would Alexander lessons have opened out for him other possibilities that allowed his character to change for the better?

I don’t know the answer to these questions but I suspect that there may be certain types of people for whom learning the Alexander Technique might be good for them but not for the rest of society.

In my own experience of teaching the Alexander Technique, people who come for lessons have always been thoughtful and considerate, with a moral compass and sense of personal responsibility. The privilege of meeting and working with so many people who embody the better aspects of humankind, is one of the main reasons I love teaching so much.

Stop the world, I want to get off!

The Earth with the word Stop above it In tumultuous times such as these, we often turn for guidance to the works (books, poems etc) of individuals who experienced the major world events of previous eras. FM Alexander lived through two world wars and it is clear from his writings how much this experience influenced his work. In his second book, first published in 1923 and updated in 1946, he said:

“I venture to predict that before we can unravel the horribly tangled skein of our present existence, we must come to a full stop, and return to conscious, simple living, believing in the unity underlying all things, and acting in a practical way in accordance with the laws and principles involved.” (Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual, Mouritz, p52)

His method, which we now call the Alexander Technique, was developed as a solution to a voice problem that was threatening his career. This practical method enabled him to free himself from his habitual reactions to everyday activities such as speaking that he found lay at the route of his problem. Through practising his method, he not only resolved his voice issues but discovered profound benefits for the whole of his life.

At the heart of the Alexander Technique is the ability to give ourselves more time, so that we are able to make different choices, rather than simply be ruled by our habits. In our busy lives, it can seem like even the concept of giving ourselves more time is ridiculous. However, we can all take time to stop when there is an immediate danger to avoid. Take the example of crossing a busy road. We stop, look and listen before stepping out. This everyday behaviour is seen as common sense – after all, oncoming vehicles present an immediate threat to our life and health. However, few people pay much attention to how they pick things up, reach up for something, or sit on their sofa. Perhaps that is because it’s so much harder to imagine any potential negative consequences, particularly as these are likely to appear later on in life (it’s unusual to experience an immediate negative impact of such acts).

Yet, the cumulative effect of how we’ve lived our lives moment-by-moment up to this point will manifest itself in the state that we now find ourselves in. Our current state directly reflects our life’s experience. So, if we consider our long-term health and functioning, then how we are carrying out all our acts of daily living, is just as important as taking care when an immediate danger is present.   

Learning the Alexander Technique enables us to develop greater self-awareness in our daily lives. Being more present and embodied is always a challenge, as many of us tend to ‘live in our heads and in the future’ – we’re always thinking ahead. But through the technique we discover how to become present as a mind-body whole. Because we develop skills in this practical method for change, we find more freedom in choosing how we wish to lead our lives. Paradoxically, by being more present we can better deal with long-term challenges.

Along with all the trauma and tragedy of the Coronavirus pandemic, some good things may also come out of this global experience. In the face of the immediate threat of Coronavirus, governments and populations across the world have shown they can make extraordinary changes that are impacting on almost every aspect of everyday life. Climate change also presents a very real threat to our existence but the danger has mostly not been so immediate and therefore not felt so real. Perhaps we will take stock of ourselves and emerge with the ability to make more positive choices, both for ourselves at the individual level, and for the planet as a whole?

‘What is’ versus ‘What if’ thinking

Humorous cartoon to illustrate What if thinking

For many people, ‘what if’ thinking is already a familiar experience. When we’re doing ‘what if’ thinking, we’re looking ahead to what might go wrong, with one imagined event leading to a runaway chain of negative consequences. It causes anxiety and distress and can become compulsive. It’s also called catastrophic thinking, or catastrophising.

Current times are bringing huge challenges, with more health and money worries, social isolation, exhaustion, and anxiety about friends and family. Enforced social isolation can create the perfect environment for completely understandable worries to continue to magnify and transform into unmanageable anxieties.

The Alexander Technique is a powerful embodying method for dealing with anxiety and catastrophic thinking. It enables us to bring ourselves, as a mind-body whole, more fully into the present moment. We learn how to bring our attention to ‘what is’ now, to our physical and thinking selves, our breathing, our surroundings. In so doing, we can lessen the tendency to be always looking ahead to what may or may not happen, and we can use the Technique to interrupt such unwelcome thoughts when they do creep in. Engaging in ‘what is’ thinking doesn’t leave so much mental space for the ‘what if’ thinking to occur. Through our Alexander practice, our over-active state will gradually quieten, our breathing will become calmer and we will feel less tense, and more in control.

Like so many people, I’m no longer able to work as I usually do, and have temporarily switched from face-to-face Alexander lessons to online. Pre-Coronavirus crisis, such a move would have been unthinkable for me. However, I’ve been both surprised and gratified at how beneficial people have been finding these lessons delivered through video conferencing. Online Alexander teaching can never be a complete substitute for hands-on work. So much of the learning is experiential and relies on guidance from the teacher’s hands. But, as a temporary substitute in these extraordinary times, online teaching can work well – at least for those people who already have some existing Alexander experience.

We’re all having to find ways of adapting to these challenging times. The Alexander Technique is my best coping strategy.

Stronger than I think I am?

Learning the Alexander Technique can challenge some of our preconceptions and beliefs. Many of these ideas have been subconsciously absorbed from our culture and upbringing.

Man with biceps and six pack
Photo credit: Dreamlense, Pexels

Let’s take the example of how we perceive strength and fitness. We tend to think that the bigger the biceps and the six-pack, the stronger the person. On one level this is certainly true – if the main aim is to be able to pump weights in the gym then bigger biceps generally mean that one can lift heavier weights.  

So, as someone who has never had prominent biceps I may perceive myself as rather weak. However, through my training in the Alexander Technique I find that I can now achieve more with less effort. And that’s because I know how to employ my whole self in whatever I’m doing, rather than thinking my strength lies mostly in my arms. A simple example is using my own weight to open a heavy door – leaning into it to push it open, or holding the handle and taking a step back to pull it open – rather than just pushing or pulling with my arm.

We can access a powerful sense of strength through having an appreciation of what it means to be vertebrates. If we understand how our head and spine form the core of our strength, we can work with our anatomy rather than against it. Allowing the head, neck, back relationship to operate freely and dynamically, we can experience real strength. I’m aware that these words probably won’t mean a lot unless you’ve already had some Alexander experience. So, if you haven’t, why not find a local STAT-registered teacher and give it a try?

Women carrying water on heads
Women in India carrying water pots; Photo credit: Leprosy International, Wellcome Collection

You can see the power and poise which comes from integrated dynamic head-spine alignment in these photos of women carrying huge weights on their heads. In many cultures, head carrying has been common for hundreds or thousands of years. In some rural areas, women still have to carry water for several miles every day (about 20 kg, equivalent to a heavy suitcase). It would be naïve to imagine that this never causes any problems, yet in photos and videos it looks pretty effortless. Now to me that’s strength!

Malagasy women carrying water
Malagasy women carrying water (and a child); Photo credit: Wellcome Collection

So, yes of course we can build up specific muscles through repeating specific exercises through a few hours at the gym every week. But for most people in industrialised countries, our postural support system is not working well after years of adapting ourselves to this world of desks, seats etc. So, no matter how big your six pack and biceps are, it would probably be dangerous to put a 20 kg weight on your head, unless you have the alignment and balance that allows the weight to transmit straight down into the ground.

If we can re-learn to use the whole of ourselves in our daily activities we’ll find we’re stronger than we think we are – that’s what we can discover through the Alexander Technique, so that we can do more with less effort in all aspects of life.

A life ruled by habit?

Habit and change spelled with Scrabble

We all develop habits – our usual way of doing things. As young children we learn how to walk, talk etc partly through mimicking the adults around us (which inevitably involves copying their habits). Later we may want to emulate our peers and slouch nonchalantly to ‘look cool’. Or perhaps we injure ourselves and have to adjust so that we can, for example, walk without pain – only to continue walking in that way when the pain has resolved. If we experience trauma, we develop coping strategies that then stay with us, even if the person or event that we’re protecting ourselves from are no longer there. Habits develop as a response to many different situations.

And why do we always end up hunched over our desks and our mobiles? Simply because mind and body are not separate entities, so wherever our attention is, the rest of ourselves want to be there too – and these days our attention is often absorbed in a screen of one sort or another!

Habits are inherently neither good nor bad. They allow us to get things done quickly as we don’t have to pay attention to how we are carrying out all the acts of daily life. This may not be too much of a problem if we are able to retain our poise and coordination as we carry out our everyday activities but that is rarely the case. Being on ‘automatic pilot’ has its downsides.

One of the, perhaps less obvious, reasons we get stuck in habit mode is because of how our sense systems work. Generally speaking, we are consciously aware of differences not constants. Every moment nerve signals are conveying a whole host of information including visual, auditory, proprioceptive (sense of oneself in space), olfactory, gustatory, and touch related (texture, temperature, etc). It would be impossible to be consciously aware of the myriad of sense signals that our brains receive every second. So we tend to pay attention to what’s different – and that makes sense from an evolutionary perspective because anything that is different could represent either a threat or an opportunity.

However, this system evolved (and was therefore probably quite effective) for a world that is rather different from the one we live in today. Going back pre-industrial revolution, most people would have lived in a less complex environment, with no fast-paced cities or technology. At the same time, their lives would have been less sedentary and more varied in terms of the range of movement moment by moment throughout a typical day. In contrast, today many of us are stuck at a desk – staring at a screen, using a keyboard sitting on chairs for many hours at a time. If we do spend a lot of time sitting, we’re likely to have little or no awareness of our sitting bones (being busy paying attention to ‘more important things’); but if something were to change, e.g. if the seat became warm, then we’d probably notice this.

If our life consists of many hours of repetition e.g. sitting and looking at a screen, then we are likely to simply cease to register when we begin to slump, or tilt our head to one side, or shift the weight mostly onto one sitting bone, or to grit our teeth or generally tense up. Whatever it is that we’re doing with ourselves becomes our habit. Crucially, because it’s ‘normal’, it begins to feel right. So, for example, a habitually tilted head will feel like it’s straight. Not surprisingly, it’s hard to change when something fundamentally feels right i.e. is what we always do. That’s why it’s such a challenge if we want to change the way we sit, move, eat, think etc.

More than 100 years ago, FM Alexander recognised that we’re gradually losing our ability to accurately interpret all the information we receive through our senses, and he coined the term faulty sensory appreciation. He realised that we are usually governed by what feels right – by the force of habit. He recognised it first in himself, when he observed his habitual response to being on stage, and deduced that how he was standing and speaking lay at the root of his voice problems. His next important discovery was that he was unable to stop these habits simply by force of will. Alexander developed a method that enabled him to be free of these habits, and then worked out how to teach his method to others. The Alexander Technique enables us to lessen the habits that hold us back and to have more choice in our lives – we can’t often change the world around us but we can find more freedom and happiness in how we respond to it.

Choosing our future

Yes Scottish Independence flag

It can take a little while, when learning the Alexander Technique, to begin to believe that such huge potential can be opened up by simply becoming more present in oneself and taking a tiny moment before responding to life’s myriad stimuli. When we don’t go down the usual immediate reaction route, then we gain the opportunity to be curious, to ask questions and allow new possibilities to emerge: ‘Do I really need to scrunch up my shoulders to reach for my cup of tea’?, ‘Can I find more ease and calm while sitting here?’, or ‘Are my beliefs and opinions stuck, or can they respond to changing circumstances within a shifting world’?

What would FM Alexander have made of the current state of the world? He was born well before the welfare state came into being and he lived through two world wars. In his lifetime he noted a: ‘…growing tendency towards disunion instead of unity, towards dissatisfaction instead of satisfaction, towards enmity and discord instead of good-fellowship and peace’.1 It would seem that little has changed! His writing of more than 70 years ago remains just as relevant to today’s politics; he observed: ‘Under the present plan, politics and deception are interdependent. The individual seeking re-election will resort to forms of deception to which he would not stoop in other walks of life, particularly in the matter of making promises which he has not the least hope of fulfilling…’ Alexander suggested that we don’t always give ourselves time to question and that we can easily be ‘carried away by ‘…oratory or personality or both.’1

So, what was Alexander’s solution to this unsatisfactory state of affairs? He was clear that the foundations of the state (political, social, educational, industrial and moral/religious systems) ultimately rest on the condition of all the people who constitute it. The implication is that if we want to make far-reaching changes at the community/national/global level, we need to start by first reflecting on and be willing to change ourselves. FM Alexander’s method provides an extremely effective means for personal change. We can discover how we can have more choice over how we act and react moment by moment, and how we connect with others and the world around us. We learn to pay more attention to the means by which we achieve our aims, rather than just fixating narrowly on the desired goal (endgaining). This clarity of intention and more holistic (mind-body-environment) view makes it more likely that we will ultimately be successful, whether the goal is a personal or a wider one.

The Alexander Technique gives us a practice with which to engage more profoundly and productively with the world. At its very heart lies self-awareness situated within the context of one’s surroundings and fellow humans, together with the ability to choose for oneself rather than being stuck in habitual ways of thinking and doing. Such self-determination at the individual level might ultimately enable change in the bigger picture.

So looking more widely, the people of Scotland and England appear to be going in very different directions. In Scotland the avaricious, self-interested narrative of Thatcher did not take hold nor, more recently, have the lies and misconduct of Johnson/Cummings been disregarded. Here it seems that individual responsibility does not mean ‘everyone for themselves’, instead there is a greater sense of the importance of the wider community within which an individual co-exists. So I for one, now have a very different stance towards independence than I did the first time I lived here over 30 years ago.  Perhaps in the coming year there will be time to question, to be curious, to openly engage…and to choose our future?

1Footnote: FM Alexander Constructive conscious control of the individual. Second edition, 1946. Mouritz p182–185.

Hypermobility & the Alexander Technique

Over the many years that I’ve been teaching the Alexander Technique I’ve learnt a great deal from working with people who are living with hypermobility. Hypermobility is a term that covers a huge spectrum, from simply having increased flexibility with no negative consequences, through to more complex and challenging conditions such as hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (hEDS).

One of my clients with hypermobility, Daisy has agreed for me to share her experience of learning the Alexander Technique. For several years, Daisy had been living with persistent pain, fatigue and weakness but she has not yet had any medical diagnosis (unfortunately it is common for people to have to wait years before receiving a correct diagnosis, reflecting the complexity and often poor understanding of hypermobility conditions).

Daisy began Alexander lessons as a way of looking after herself better. Right from the start, she found she was able to apply some of what she’d learnt to help herself in her everyday life. Here are some snapshots from her Alexander journey:

In Daisy’s first lesson, she was already getting more of a sense of embodiment and ‘wholeness’; this was despite her description of herself as being a “live in my head type person”.

Second lesson: Daisy reported that her Alexander lying down practice had helped her deal with pain. “I had a busy, stressful week and got myself into a mess again but doing my Alexander lying down helped me get out of it”.

Third lesson: We were exploring standing, and Daisy realised that her habitual way of doing this was putting stress on her joints. Through the hands-on work, she had an experience of standing in balance pretty effortlessly. She said “I realised I’m trying to balance & that’s making it difficult – I don’t need to try, and my legs now feel more stable”.

Lesson 5: After years of constant pain and discomfort, Daisy was delighted to report that she’d had a pain-free week.

Lesson 6: The week in between lessons had brought a reminder of the need to keep the Alexander thinking and awareness going, or old habits are likely to return (particularly during early lessons before changes become fully established). Daisy had been away with work for a few days and “not thinking about the Alexander Technique and my neck & shoulder tension returned”.

Lesson 10: Daisy said that “The Alexander Technique has given me the means to self-manage, rather than having to always be seeking help from others”. This nicely illustrates the self-care nature of the technique.

In lesson 14, she mentioned “This way of moving feels really good and right”, reflecting an experience of moving that was better coordinated, in balance and therefore less effort.

Lesson 15: Daisy reported that “I’ve been applying the Alexander Technique more and finding standing quite a bit easier”. She also said she’d realised that, even without thinking about it, she was often now staying in balance when moving and standing.

The all-encompassing nature of the Alexander Technique (mind-body) was illustrated well in lesson 16 with Daisy’s comment that For the past 5 years, I’ve been going to psychotherapy – my progress has become much more rapid since I started learning the Alexander Technique”.

In lesson 18: Daisy said “I’m now often aware when I tense unnecessarily. I’ve been trying out the stuff we did last week and found it releases tension in my jaw”, showing how self-awareness increases and again how the Alexander Technique enables people to sort themselves out.

Lesson 19: “I’m thinking about the Alexander Technique quite a bit in between lessons. Now it actually feels wrong when I bend over in my old way”. Here we can see how we can overcome unhelpful habits through Alexander lessons.

In her 20th lesson, Daisy said “The Alexander Technique gives me a sense of joining myself up”, demonstrating the embodying nature of the Alexander Technique, giving us a better sense of self.

Daisy can still have relapses of pain and it’s usually when life gets on top of her but she finds now she usually knows how to get out of the mess – this ability has brought greater self-confidence in managing the symptoms of her hypermobility. For example, in her 22nd lesson she said “I had neck pain and stiffness after an emotionally challenging week – but I managed it and I’d completely recovered within the week”.

So how did these changes come about for Daisy? What is it that she is putting into practice? Alexander lessons are based around experiential (hands-on guidance) and cognitive learning (thinking in a less reactive and more embodied spatial way). The aim is to enable people to quieten an over-active mind-body and improve their general standard of functioning – breathing, postural support, balance and movement. In so doing, people usually discover a different sense of themselves.

If you would like to try an Alexander introductory lesson to see if it’s an approach that suits you, I would recommend looking at the websites of local Alexander teachers and calling up a couple for a chat, as we’re all different in the way we teach. I suggest asking if they are happy to work for integration and connection and not for release or lengthening, as this should give a good indication of appropriate experience of working with people with hypermobility. You can find a directory of registered UK teachers at: www.alexandertechnique.co.uk.

Mindfulness & the Alexander Technique

This Saturday I’m giving a conference presentation, to discuss how learning the Alexander Technique can help people with hypermobility – I’ll come back to this topic next time. The talk that will precede my one is about mindfulness. So, why did I decide to call my presentation Embodying mindfulness through the Alexander Technique?

Mind full or mindful

Many of you will be familiar with this cartoon of having your mind full rather than being mindful – it’s all too easy to get too caught up in our busy lives, impacting our health and wellbeing. Practices such as mindfulness can help us be more present, and so can the Alexander Technique.

So how do they differ? I’ve made an attempt to portray how this cartoon might look if we consider it from the perspective of the Alexander Technique:

Alexander Technique mindfulness

Through learning the Alexander Technique we gradually become more present but as a whole mind-body self – we’re very much part of the picture, not just looking out (or inwards) from the mind – you could describe it as embodying mindfulness.

So the Alexander Technique is not a meditation practice, or indeed any kind of practice or exercise that you perhaps do for a certain amount of time each day or week, but rather it’s a way of thinking and being that is with you all the time as you go about your daily life.

FM Alexander was around long before our culture took up mindfulness with such enthusiasm. In his time, Alexander was described as Zen for the Western world. For him the mind/body is indivisible – whatever you are thinking now will be playing out physically in some way and vice versa. So he was a bit ahead of his time. At least the wider world now acknowledges that the mind and body are linked – but a linkage still implies two separate entities!

The Alexander Technique is a method for self-care and for change. It enables us to have more choice over how we respond to what life throws at us. Alexander teachers use hands on and spoken guidance to enable people to learn on both experiential and cognitive levels – they will be shown how they can quieten their over-active mind-body and improve their general standard of functioning – their breathing, postural support, balance and movement. In so doing, they generally discover a different and more confident sense of themselves.

The Alexander Technique and mindfulness are complementary, and both help people feel calmer and more in control. I would argue that learning the Alexander Technique has a greater potential to transform people’s lives because it works at such a fundamental level – how we react, how we move, how we breathe. But it is not a quick fix and it is not as accessible as some mindfulness interventions – you can’t just download an app. Learning the core Alexander skills and gaining sufficient understanding to apply it in your own life usually requires some one-to-one lessons. Not everyone has the time, money, or inclination for that but for those who are able to make that personal investment, it’s unlikely they will be disappointed.

When things go wrong

I had a lot of anger to deal with on Friday. On the phone to a well-known life-insurance company, I was shocked to find out that my mum had been misled about her policy. In her lifetime, my mum had done her best to make sure she was leaving all her affairs in order, and she had been assured that a scheme she’d paid a lot of money into would cover her funeral expenses. I discovered on the call that this was not the case. Despite my mounting anger, I was able to ensure I got the information I needed, to calmly but firmly make my case, and to take the matter further.

When people begin Alexander lessons, they don’t usually anticipate the all-encompassing nature of the technique. They often come for a specific reason – perhaps back pain, or stress, or for posture-related problems – and they’re pleasantly surprised to discover additional benefits in seemingly unrelated areas of life.

Understanding the fundamental nature of the Alexander Technique takes time. At the beginning one might assume that the core skill of learning to ‘not just immediately react’ might entail a suppression of emotions. With time it becomes clear that this is not in any way true – rather, we discover how we can best express our real feelings.

As I was listening to the person telling me why the policy would provide no money to pay for mum’s funeral, I was also noticing my (mounting) reaction. I was feeling a tightening in my chest, my brow became even more furrowed than usual, and my attention was narrowing in. I was beginning to hunch over my desk, gripping the phone hard. Oh, and I was holding my breath. So, as the conversation proceeded, I simply and repeatedly reminded myself of the support coming up through my sitting bones, and of the space around me. As I did this, I gradually became more aware of the room around me, and began to breathe more freely. Rather than spitting out the first words that came to me, I took a few seconds to regain my calm. In those moments, the right words came and in a tone that required to be taken seriously.

I’m still angry at the situation – even just writing this now, I can feel my jaw momentarily tighten. But I’m not turning the same thoughts over and over. That is what I would have done before and it would have harmed no-one but myself. But that doesn’t mean that I’m going to let the matter drop. I accept the real feelings of anger and frustration, and in accepting them they begin to lose their power.