I attended an introductory workshop on the Alexander Technique (wiki link) on a gloomy Sunday morning last weekend, and it was actually more interesting than I thought.
In summary, it is a reflective school of thought by a fellow named F.M. Alexander (hence the name), on how you could best improve your everyday movements to minimise unnecessary strain to the body and hence avoid longterm aches and pains.
My coach for the session gave a startlingly simple example: the chair. All of us use the chair in our everyday life, but the back of the chair is actually a crutch that inhibits muscular development of the back. It was proven all too easily when everyone in the group sat straight in their chairs without leaning on the back of the chair for about ten minutes, and promptly began to feel discomfort (me included). Apparently, our backs were not as strong as we thought.
There’s also the obvious defect that chairs are all of the same height for easy production and storage, which does not facilitate comfort for everyone obviously. A short person ends up dangling, and a tall fellow tucks his legs under the chair. Therefore, the chair is also a contributor of discomfort and strain on the body.
Summary: chairs should have straight backs with no padding (because padding = bad support), and adjustable heights to suit different individuals.
Change of postures and physical habits cultivated with years of practice take time, and this is no exception. The Alexander Technique focuses on improvement over an extended period of time, and is not any wonder therapy by any stretch of imagination. And yes, it’s applicable to things like walking, sitting, standing and even singing or speaking.
A quote from the founder that the coach brought up, which I found enlightening:
“You cannot change something by repeating that which you have.”
– St. Dunstan’s Lecture 1949 (link)
Truly, change requires change itself.
This is slightly off-topic, but I found the Alexander Technique teaching similar to what I think about when swimming. The indoor pool at my apartment is about 20m in length, and swimming 1km (my usual distance covered) required 50 laps, which kind of made me feel like a goldfish bumping about in the glass bowl.
Therefore, I switched objectives instead.
- Being absolutely horrible at the front crawl, I made it a point to observe my motions and subsequently correct them. Swimming after all, is just a set of movements made to move through water with maximum efficiency. Thereafter, I sought to experiment and improve my stroke, and I’m proud to say that the amount of effort for stroking is being reduced.
- I paid a great deal of attention to every stroke. Similar to how you clench your abs on a situp to achieve a greater workout, I clenched the various muscle groups on every stroke. Tiring, to say the least. I swim less, but feel equally (if not more) tired.
*Note: all of the above happened before I went for the workshop.
(Back to the Alexander Technique.)
There’s also a position called the semi-supine, which is supposed to help relax your muscles and spine after you rest in the recommended position for 10-15 minutes. I tried it in the workshop, and surprisingly it did feel good. It doesn’t require much other than a quiet environment, the floor and a couple of books so you should try it too if you’re interested.
All in all, very interesting. I was tempted to sign up with the five week course after that, but the sessions begin at 7pm on Tuesdays, which is a little tough because I get to the city at 720pm on average. Oh well, self-improvement for now.
I’m currently trying (note on trying) to remind myself to sit straighter everyday, and to observe my everyday movements to see if there are unconscious habits that I should improve on. Granted it would be easier with a mirror and a personal coach, but I’ll take it by myself first to see how things go.