What’s the Alexander Technique about?

Chairs

Most people who’ve heard anything at all about the AT, or even those who’ve had a couple of lessons will say it’s about posture & that chairs enter into it. Although these ideas are not exactly true, they’re not exactly not true either: People will (eventually) look straighter, and during the lesson a good amount of time is spent sitting down and standing up–not as monotonous as it looks. 1

However, if this were all I knew about the technique, I would not be tempted to take a lesson (even what is vexingly known as a ˜taster’ lesson). I would assume that with a little more will-power I could fix my own posture and that I didn’t need to pay someone to teach me how to sit in a chair.

If you ask an AT teacher about this, you’ll get an earnest explanation that the idea of ˜good’ posture is incorrect as it implies a position, i.e. posture, of frozen muscles, unlike the dynamic stillness 2 of an AT practitioner & anyway, FM Alexander was 1st known as the ˜breathing man’ before posture became so important.

Regarding the chair and repeated standing and sitting, the AT teacher will tell you that she has you sit and stand because the process of sitting and standing involves so many different muscles of the body and it’s therefore a wonderful opportunity for you to observe how much excess tension you use to perform these actions.

So why do the not-quite-correct assumptions persist? They persist because many AT teachers fail to emphasize exactly why the ˜how’ is important. This is not because they’re bad teachers. If during the lesson, you’re aware of the ˜how’, what FM calls the ˜means-whereby’, when you move instead of being focused on the outcome of the movement, 3 you’re in the hands of a good teacher and you’re learning the AT, whether or not you understand what happened. You will, in time, function, feel and look better. But if you don’t know the why, your education is incomplete. 4 When asked what the AT is about, you’ll fall back to soundbites about the importance of being aware, ˜going up’, reducing tension and, yes, posture & chairs.

Why does the act of using means-whereby during movements cause a real, noticeable, change in your self? 5

A simple answer is that using the means-whereby activates dormant, under-used postural muscles in favor of over-used skeletal muscles. Employing the proper muscles for their proper jobs pays enormous dividends in health and function. Using the right muscles also results in less tension and subsequently less unhappiness. 6 Of course you can go much deeper than this 7 & I do during a lesson, but the above is a simple fact that can be easily recognized & repeated to others.

I hope you found this format easily digestible. It’s an experiment. I probably won’t use so many footnotes in the future.
1 This is one reason I don’t have videos of people standing up & sitting down–it cannot possibly be entertaining/educational to the uninitiated.

2 Yes, dynamic stillness sounds like a contradiction. It’s not. It’s the subject for a future entry.

3 ˜Endgaining’ in AT jargon

4 And probably not inspire anyone else to take AT lessons.

5 Not ˜yourself’, your ˜self’. It’s a vital AT concept that the ˜self’ is the inextricably linked mind & body.

6 This can be seen in the faces of those who have learned to relax their jaw & forehead muscles.

7 What is the agency behind these thoughts stimulating muscles? What are the mechanics? How do postural and skeletal muscles differ in composition? Where are they on the body? All of these questions are a good beginning.

8 FM used a lot of footnotes & imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But his were much, much longer & more momentous than these trifling asides.

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