In this blog I share my top eleven (yes eleven, not ten!) best practices for learning the Alexander Technique. The list comprises all the things I do myself to sustain and move forward with my own Alexander Technique skills. My students who most successfully use the Alexander Technique in their own lives do many of these things too. People who are taking, or have taken, lessons or classes in the Alexander Technique, will find this particularly helpful. Many of the practices, however, will be useful to anyone wanting to learn more about the Technique. Better still, most cost nothing and take up virtually no time, as you practice the Alexander Technique doing things you would be doing anyway!
- Cultivate Awareness
In your Alexander Technique lessons you are learning to be aware of habits of posture, tension and reaction that you were probably unaware of before. You may also be becoming familiar with some basic anatomy as it relates to how you move and coordinate yourself (e.g. your hip joints, sitting bones, head balance, and so forth). Start cultivating the habit of noticing what you are doing with yourself: notice your feet on the ground, tune in to the balance of your head at the top of your spine, become aware of your breathing, of your back, your sitting bones, your knees, your hip joints. Starting to notice what we are actually doing with ourselves in the moment is the first step toward real change. It is in this pause that we can reevaluate our situation, and choose a different course of action if desired. And of course you can practice this anywhere, doing anything – driving the car, waiting in line, sitting at your desk…
- Practice “Alexander Thinking”
What does this mean? In lessons you will have been invited to think – to give yourself mental messages, so to speak, to help prevent unwanted (and even harmful) habits of posture and tension, and to promote what we do want. We call these two skills inhibition and direction. You can use your thinking skills anywhere, doing anything. These directions are not something to hold on to, but just to lightly think to yourself in the moment and then throw away. They are something you can come back to at any time. Make it an intention to practice your “Alexander Thinking” a few times each day.
- Do Constructive Rest!
Having a daily Constructive Rest is probably the easiest and most effective thing you can do to improve your posture and release tension. Just “relaxing” a few minutes a day in the Constructive Rest position will be beneficial to almost anyone. It’s also the ideal time to practice your awareness and thinking skills, which will only add to its effectiveness.
- Play the “Can I do less?” Game
Another way to practice your thinking and awareness is to play what some Alexander teachers refer to as the “Can I do less?” game. Whatever you are doing, stop and ask yourself “Can I do less?” – i.e. “Can I use less tension?” “Can I grip a little less?” It can be quite enlightening and useful!
- Set Reminders
It’s SO easy to forget about awareness and thinking when we’re in the midst of our busy lives, especially when these practices are new to us. Help yourself out by setting reminders for yourself. Some ideas that have worked for me and my students include: posting written reminders next to your computer, in the car, or by the kitchen sink for instance; setting electronic alerts (especially useful when working at the computer); and, having an item which you use as a reminder to keep in your pocket or on your desk (e.g. a small stone or trinket).
- Have an Activity to Practice
While one of the advantages of the Technique is that you can practice while doing anything, especially in the beginning it is very hard to remember. I suggest setting aside a specific activity each day (can be for just a minute or so) to practice doing it using your new Alexander awareness and thinking skills. Choose a simple activity that you do on your own, so you can take your time to think it through, give your directions, and not worry about what you might look like to someone else. If you’re working on bending, perhaps you could practice when you feed your dog, or unload the dishwasher. If you want to work on reaching, maybe when you get the cereal box out of the cupboard each morning. Make these things your practice each day, and you’ll soon be creating better habits.
- Read about the Technique
Well, of course reading my blog might be an ideal place to start! And there are lots of other great blogs about the Alexander Technique too – check out the listings at AlexanderTechniqueBlogs.com.
A lot of books have been written about the Technique, many of which are very good indeed. There are books about the Technique in general, and books which look at how the Technique can help a specific activity or population (e.g. there are books on running, swimming, acting, playing an instrument, and there are books for people with back pain or who want to improve their posture). AlexTechExpress.com has some good recommendations if you’re looking for somewhere to start.
Reading about the Technique can really help your understanding of the underlying principles and you can get great tips from different teachers. Just reading about something that is expressed in a new way is helpful.
And if you just don’t have time to read, there’s a great podcast – BodyLearningCast.com – dedicated to the Alexander Technique. It has a wealth of interviews with many different people on a wide variety of topics. You can download these and listen to them while you commute, for instance.
- Find a Community
Sometimes having Alexander Technique lessons can feel lonely. You’re making all these great new discoveries about yourself and how you move and function, but have no one, apart from your teacher, to really share them with. Friends and relatives don’t really get it! It can, therefore, be very helpful to find a group of people who are also going through the same process. You can find supportive communities by attending group classes or workshops. I also have a monthly reading group, that encourages reading about the Technique and related subjects, while also offering the opportunity for connection with others. There are also a few very lively online Alexander Technique communities you can join. My favorites on Facebook are: Consortium for the Alexander Technique and Alexander Technique Growing Together. Both groups are open to anyone interested, from absolute beginners, to people who have been practicing (and even teaching) the Technique for many years.
- Give Yourself a Break
Learning the Alexander Technique can be a wonderful experience of self-discovery. But change is not easy, so don’t be hard on yourself. I encourage my students to be happy when they notice “mistakes”—this in itself is a huge step forward. After all, if you don’t notice what’s happening there is no opportunity for change. Be curious. “Play” with your Alexander thinking skills, and to have fun experimenting with them.
- Explore Group Learning
Especially if your primary mode of learning the Technique has been through private lessons, attending a group class or workshop can open up a different level of experience. As well as the community aspect, group learning offers opportunities to explore ideas in new ways, to observe others, to discuss our successes or concerns, and find out how other people are using the Technique in their lives. Many teachers hold workshops, and I recently started holding monthly mini workshops especially for people with some experience with the Technique. There are also some fabulous residential options (check out AlexanderTechniqueWorkshops.com and AlexanderInGreece.com) if you really want a full emersion experience!
- Have a Lesson!
And of course, having an Alexander lesson for yourself can be hugely helpful! If you’ve been learning the Alexander Technique in a group class, having an individual lesson or two can be quite eye-opening, giving you some time to work one-to-one with your teacher on your own particular situation. And if it’s been a while since you last had any in-person instruction, there’s nothing like an individual lesson to help you refresh your skills.
Well, this has been a longer blog than usual. My hope is that it will be a useful resource for Alexander Technique students. If you’re a student or teacher of the Technique what do you do to support your learning? If you have some other helpful ideas, I hope you will share them in the comments below. As always, I look forward to hearing from you.