freedom for life

The Edinburgh Alexander and Therapy Centre has been offering Alexander lessons and workshops since 1994.

A relatively new pupil came in this week, fed up. The pain and discomfort associated with arthritis was making life difficult and they were finding it difficult to stop and get things all working again. It is how things usually are with chronic conditions and comes from the standard pain reaction, which is to become aware of pain and then to attend to it. Awareness precedes attention. In this direct attention, where we orientate ourselves to the pain, we tighten our musculature, establish maladaptive habits and elaborate the implications of the pain. This is the territory of the psycho-physical, where conscious control in how we use ourselves can make a big difference both physically and psychologically.

The difference was rather nicely summed up by my pupil at the end of their lesson when they said that they felt ‘held by my body without any strain. Rather than me holding it, it was cradling me and I was not trying to protect it.’ Which is a lovely description of the change conscious control can make.
 We had started on the table working with the use of the eyes, to change the focus of attention from the awareness of the pain and discomfort, to the possibilities of conscious control and being able to turn things round for oneself. It is very important that attention is not forced elsewhere and that the distress, which is present in the emergency response to pain and its implications, is acknowledged. What this involves is different for different people, depending on who they are, what sort of pain is involved and its actual implications. What is important, in that the we seek to gentle ourselves, soothe ourselves for the more psycho-analytically minded, and find a gentle way to talk to ourselves. One that allows us to move our attention to thinking about what we might do next and how we use ourselves to do it. 
When this occurs, there is a palpable change in breathing and a lengthening in stature, as well as a widening of the back. This is a better place to think of the implications of what is happening, of what we need and what we want to do next. For which we can then rehearse the guiding orders for moving ourselves into action, in a free and supported way, where we are breathing easily and have freed ourselves from the self-imposed restrictions of the standard pain reaction.

This is the last blog for this year – I will restart in January. In the meantime, Happy New Year, when it comes and all best wishes for 2014.

Published in Lessons from the Chair
Friday, 03 May 2013 17:41


In the process of developing and extending constructive conscious control, one of the things that sometimes happens is that people can start to experience discomfort and pain. Sometimes this involves a return of the symptoms that brought people to Alexander Technique in the first place; at other times the pain and discomfort arise in new places. When this happens, there is often a divergence of opinion as to what is occurring between the teacher and pupil. This divergence can be quickly and easily cleared up by understanding, what I refer to with pupils, as snagging.

Snagging occurs most often for some very particular and inter-linked reasons, two of which concerning context and structure will be outlined today, and two of which I outline in the follow up blog in three weeks time. Before I turn to the reasons, it is worth looking at the divergence in judgement as to what is happening between pupil and teacher.

The pupil understandably is concerned about their experience of pain and discomfort. In judging this experience the tendency is usually to immediately judge things negatively and to make certain assumptions. The most common is that no progress has been made, that they have gone backwards to the beginning and that they have learned nothing. Invariably none of these things are actually the case when looked at from the point of view of learning the Technique and developing conscious control.

From that point of view, there is a contextual element to developing conscious control and this provides the first reason why snagging occurs. It is simply much easier to be aware of our use in some activities rather than in others. With new pupils, it is often much easier to apply the technique in walking, for example, than elsewhere. As their use improves in walking, it highlights their old habit of shortening and narrowing in other activities, which become noticeably uncomfortable. Often this is because through the improving use, as the muscular and connective tissues adapt to the new carriage, their physical structure changes. When this happens other things often need to change and free off to allow everything to work together, to flow together. At this point, where there is a need for structural change and things become stuck and uncomfortable people often understandably revert again to their old habits for dealing with pain and end up going in the wrong direction. It is at this point that they need to stop and to allow themselves to lengthen and connect so that everything frees off and becomes comfortable as it regularly does in the lessons when this needs to be addressed.

Context and structure, separately and together, provide reasons for snagging which can always be overcome through application of the Technique to further develop constructive conscious control. This applies as much to the beginner as to the adept. We are always, always learning and developing, deepening and growing in conscious control provided we remember to stop and allow ourselves to find our way up to freedom, where we can breathe through lengthening and widening.

Published in Lessons from the Chair

Following on from the recent research on Alexander Technique and chronic back pain, new research has been done on giving lessons to help people with pain management at an NHS Pain Clinic in England. While not a full clinical trial, the research evidence further supports the effectiveness of Alexander Technique in helping people with Chronic Pain.

Published in Lessons from the Chair