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.