How would you respond to the question, “What do you do for a living?” You might say that you’re a teacher, a word processor, a homemaker, a computer programmer, a violinist, a dancer, or a singer. Accepting the constraints of the question, you’d be led to describe the results you attain rather than how you attain them. If a homemaker responded, “Well, when I lift the kids I’m feeling a twinge in my back. I think I might be able to lift better. Those four-year-olds aren’t weightless, you know. When I stoop and squat, I’m feeling stiff and having some trouble getting back up. I’m using my voice at high energy levels and sometimes I’m losing my voice at the end of the day,” eyebrows might be raised. Why, because most people, our families and employers included, are more interested in what we do, in the results we achieve, rather than in the manner that we achieve them. And that is too bad. For it is the way that we achieve our goals, the way we live, and move, and act that determines our health and our happiness.
How, for instance, do you get into and out of a chair and why is that relevant? Alexander said that the job of the Alexander Teacher was to give you something to do that “puts you wrong,” that excites your habit. Chair does that in spades. Why? Because the activity is so ubiquitous and because there is risk involved. It’s behind us and out of sight and we really don’t know for sure where it is. The response to these provocations is to brace throughout the entire system, to shorten the postural muscles, and to stiffen the spine. In short, we pull back and down.
Is the habit of back and down so egregious? It causes back pain; it robs us of grace, of balance, of ease in our movements, and of freedom in our joints. It dulls our awareness of a lengthening reflex inherent in the head/neck/torso relationship. So, yes, it is pretty egregious. Sitting and standing within the context of an Alexander lesson makes our habitsapparent and ripe for correction.
Your study of the Alexander Technique will enable you to replace your unconscious habit of back and down with the continuing, conscious choice of letting the head go forward and up while releasing the back muscles into length and width. Whatever your task, your study of the Alexander Technique can teach you to perform it with greater freedom, with more efficiency, and more important, without harm to yourself. You will learn that how you do what you do is just as important as what you do, and that the Alexander Technique is indeed, the “how to” of how you do everything.