We have a tendency to split ourselves into different bits. If we want help defining or achieving our goals we visit a life coach, for physical fitness we might go to a personal trainer, for aches and pains it may be a physiotherapist, and for anxiety perhaps a psychotherapist. Of course, if we want to address one specific issue or aspect of ourselves, then seeing one of these professionals could be exactly what is needed. But thinking more widely, what if we’re interested in improving the way we work as a whole (mind-body), to protect and promote our health for the long term, to be able to stay calm and think clearly, and to achieve the best we can? Is there an approach that is truly holistic that will enable us to achieve these goals – and one which we can access at any and every moment we choose?
And why is it that we tend to compartmentalise ourselves into the mind and the body, and to split the body into different discrete parts? Descartes, and even going as far back as Plato, have a lot to answer for! Our whole culture and way of thinking is centred on mind-body dualism. When we think of ‘I’ we often mean the conscious thinking self (the voice in one’s head) and the body is often seen as simply the vehicle that carries us around – a ‘vehicle’ that we often mistrust, sometimes dislike, and even fear when it ‘goes wrong’. You can notice this attitude in everyday expressions such as ‘my back is hurting me’ − this implies the back is an object that I possess, in much the same way as I might say ‘my car has a fault’. Much of our conventional attitude to health and illness is shaped by this assumption. So for example, if my back is hurting I may assume this is exclusively a physical problem, and I might then look for a specific treatment or specific exercises to strengthen certain muscles. But the thing is that we aren’t an assembly of mechanical parts and we operate as a whole; it’s not just that we’re inter-connected, rather we are indivisible mind-bodies. Not recognising this fully, we don’t always consider whether perhaps the root of the problem, and indeed the solution, might lie partially or wholly elsewhere from the immediate symptom. So for example, an ankle problem may result from the overall way that I walk and stand; and pain is always worse if I anticipate pain. If your car develops a problem with its headlights you’d probably be right in not expecting that the actual cause of the problem could be the tyres. A car is a mechanical object but we’re not, we’re highly complex beings where everything about us affects everything else; the mind can’t be separated from the body, or the body split into discrete independent parts.
Perhaps a more helpful idea than Descartes’ ‘I think therefore I am’ would be ‘I am what I think’. I would argue that every thought that we have translates into some kind of physical quality in ourselves – as well as the converse, our physical state affects our mental/emotional state. That’s probably obvious for things like getting stressed about something and feeling tension develop in shoulders, neck etc, and the vicious circle that ensues. But you might think that this would not apply for more abstract things such as, for example, the ‘mental’ activity of reading your emails? Well try it and see whether you notice any of these happening: holding your breathing, eyes staring fixedly or glazing over, brow furrowing, lips pursing. Why would any of these occur if mind and body did operate independently?
The Alexander Technique is a practical, logical and empowering self-care, self-development method that can be learnt with the help of a qualified teacher. The teacher will use both hands-on gentle guidance and dialogue to engage you in a process of learning that is both experiential and cognitive. You will begin to notice those physical and thinking habits that interfere with your natural movement coordination and balance, and also your freedom of choice. You will discover how you can harness your thinking to free yourself of such habits and to exert a strong positive influence on yourself. Being more self-aware and also clear in your intention, you will find that activities of daily life can be carried out in a more considered and mindful way. Being shown how to reduce the habits that interfere, you can begin to allow the natural coordinating mechanism of your dynamic head-neck-back relationship to work as it should, so that movement can occur with minimum effort, fluidity and balance. This natural movement coordination can be seen in most toddlers and also in animals – think of the grace with which a wild horse runs. Through Alexander lessons, you will notice less tendency towards tension, easier breathing, and a greater sense of calm. The Alexander Technique is not a quick fix but as our overall functioning gradually improves, specific problems have a much better chance of resolving. Gradually, we become better able to look after ourselves in everyday life, and for the long term, and we generally find it a bit easier achieving what we want to achieve
So, faced with all the problems and challenges that we encounter through our lives, does it make sense to look for someone else to fix things for us, searching for a different type of professional help each time we encounter a different problem? Or, alternatively, why not find out about a method that can provide life-long skills so that you can own an approach to help you tackle any and every challenge that you face (whether it might be labelled as ‘physical’ or ‘mental’ or both?)
See https://alexandertechnique.co.uk for a directory of teachers in your area who are registered with the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique (STAT). STAT is the world’s largest and most long-standing professional body of Alexander teachers. All STAT-registered teachers have successfully completed a 3-year full-time training course and adhere to a published Code of Professional Conduct.