Body work opens doors to rehabilitation

From Pilot to Alexander Technique Teacher

Linda Newton of Folsom came to the Alexander Technique after a successful career in aviation – first as a small plane pilot and flight instructor and later with the Federal Aviation Administration as an air traffic control specialist.

One day she slipped in the cafeteria. Because of back pain and other health issues brought on by the accident, she found herself unable to sustain her previous work.

She saw a flyer on Alexander Technique at the office of a physical rehabilitation doctor where she was undergoing treatment.

“I said – What is this?” said Newton. “(The doctor) said, ‘That might help you.’ She wrote me an order, like a physical therapy type order, to go get lessons. That was the first experience I had.”

The Alexander Technique is an educational method used worldwide for over 100 years. According to the American Society for the Alexander Technique (AmSAT), by teaching how to change faulty postural habits it enables improved mobility, posture, performance and alertness along with relief of chronic stiffness, tension and stress.

“It’s difficult to compare to anything because it’s not learning how to do something, it’s learning how to stop doing things,” said Jill Geiger, Information Officer for AmSAT and an Alexander teacher for 21 years. “It’s learning how to recognize and unlearn habits of tension.”

Geiger said that in some ways it is like learning to ride a bicycle.

“The way we learn it is by doing it,” Geiger said. “And once the neuromuscular has learned it, we know how to ride a bike the rest of our lives.”

After extensive rehabilitation and pain therapy, Newton was only 40 percent functional, and now she is able to do the things she wants to do.

“By working on myself with the Alexander Technique I don’t have pain,” she said. “If I do have a flare-up, I know exactly what to do.”

Newton has a degree in Management and served with AmSAT as secretary, chair-elect, chair, and past-chair. She modernized their communications methods, increased their volunteer base from 40 to more than 120, and represented AmSAT at the international meeting of Affiliated Societies of the Alexander Technique in Germany in 2004.

Newton’s father, T.R. McKee, 90, of Folsom, took the lessons from his daughter because of chronic back pain.

“It was amazing, I got up off the table and felt good,” McKee said. “To me the real nice part about it is that it teaches you how to do it to yourself.”

Student Jim Willetts is from Britain, where the Alexander Technique originated. After a quadruple heart bypass he found himself hunching over to protect his chest.

“I Googled and found Linda, called her up on the phone, came here (to Newton’s studio), and I started to take some lessons,” Willetts said. “I immediately started to feel the benefit.”

When she saw what it did for him Willetts’ wife Yuko Okada, who was a Waldorf School teacher, became interested.

She took the lessons from Newton and now she is undergoing the three-year Alexander teacher training under Giora Pinkas at the Alexander Educational Center in Berkeley.

To Okada, it’s almost Zen-like.

“If you try to grab it, it sort of evaporates,” she said. “It changes something in a very deeply fundamental way.”

Willetts considers it to be both spiritual and physical.

“If you’re in harmony in your body,” Willetts said, “the quality of your life and your outlook changes.”

For Newton, the best part is that she is able to help people.

“They come in the door looking bewildered or they have heightened sensitivities that have been created by different circumstances,” Newton said. “Those things kind of fade away, and all of a sudden, little by little, they’re able to do things.”

For more information on the Alexander Technique, see the AmSAT website

By Margaret Snider, Telegraph Correspondent, 11/2/11

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