In this latest in my series of interviews with students of the Alexander Technique I would like to introduce Wendy Coblentz. Like most of my interviewees so far, I have never met Wendy in person, but got to know her online through her interest in the Alexander Technique. I’ve also learned more about Wendy through her recently published book, It’s Your Fault: My Journey Through Back Pain, A Teenager and Self-Discovery, which includes, among many other things, some accounts of her experience with the Alexander Technique. Wendy has quite a story to tell, and I’m so pleased she agreed to be interviewed as part of this series. So, without further ado, here’s the interview:
Me: Thanks so much for doing this interview, Wendy. To start off, I’d love you to tell me and my readers a bit about yourself.
Wendy: I’m a San Francisco native. I have been involved with fundraising activities for non-profit organizations for more than 30 years, and currently sit on the board of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. I live in Mill Valley, California with my husband and one Siberian husky. My two children are grown. I have studied the Alexander Technique for over six years.
Me: And how did you first hear about the Alexander Technique?
Wendy: After trying many different modalities, a doctor I was seeing at the time suggested the Alexander Technique. I had never heard of it.
Me: That’s great that a doctor actually suggested it! I know back pain was the primary reason for trying the Alexander Technique. How long had you been suffering and what else had you tried (maybe a condensed list!)?
Wendy: I had suffered with back pain for more than four years. After trying numerous injections plus acupuncture, physical therapy, a breathing coach, yoga, and more, I was becoming increasingly desperate. So, I looked into weirder and weirder treatments, hoping for a cure. I was open to trying the Alexander Technique.
Me: Well, I personally wouldn’t call the Alexander Technique “weird” (especially compared with some of the other things you tried!), but it is certainly different from other treatments, therapies or modalities, both conventional and unconventional. Could you tell us what your first encounter or experience with the Alexander Technique was like?
Wendy: I first lay on the table having little expectation that anything would make a difference. Looking back, I’m sure that I had totally tightened up in anticipation of yet another person moving my body around, a habitual pattern. However, with the gentle movements encouraged by John, the teacher, my body felt like it was lengthening and expanding although I couldn’t explain why. We then moved to a small stool in front of a mirror where John guided me into sitting and standing. He watched me walk back and forth. Although John discussed thought and direction, it didn’t make much sense to me at the time.
Me: That sounds fairly typical. I know, however, from reading your book, that after you’d had just a couple of lessons or so you stopped. Why was that, and what made you decide to go back and continue?
Wendy: I saw John once a week for a few weeks. During my lessons, I felt better, but as I went about my day my back still hurt. I anticipated the pain with every move and I was ready for my pain to be over. Although I tried to keep the Alexander Technique principles in my head and “Let my neck be free,” I was on a mission for a cure. I wanted it now. So, I stopped my Alexander lessons.
For the next eight months, I tried other alternative (and bizarre) treatments, while becoming more frustrated with practitioners. My coping mechanisms for dealing with pain had dwindled. Plus, I was dealing with my teenage son who was doing all kinds of antics like hiding watermelon-flavored vodka in the car, and more, which would have been enough alone to drive anyone crazy. I was worn out.
As I describe in my book, getting better had become an obsession and I felt like a hamster spinning on a wheel. I was convinced if I stopped trying to find a solution, then I would be sentenced to eternal back pain. I reconsidered the Alexander Technique again because it was non-invasive, non-judgmental and my options had run out. My brain was more open to acceptance and to stop fighting.
Looking back, I had become the ultimate “end gainer.”
Me: Who is your Alexander Technique teacher? Are you still having lessons regularly?
Wendy: John Baron in Sausalito, California. I see him about every two to three weeks.
Me: It’s always interesting to hear what different people do in their AT lessons, so I’d love hear a about yours. Is there a typical formula to your lessons, or do you do something different each time?
Wendy: We usually chat about any of my current physical issues that have arisen since my last lesson. I then move to the table and lie in the Constructive Rest* position. John starts with gentle movements directing my neck, legs and arms to lengthen and widen. We then move to the other room in front of the mirror and the lessons change each time. We have worked on voice and public speaking, lunges (to reach for things in the kitchen, for example), certain stretches the Alexander way, the “Whispered Ah,” sitting ,walking and more. Once, I had an Alexander lesson to learn the best way to walk my five-month-old Siberian husky puppy. I was taught to use the leash as an extension of my arm, and direct. I always learn something new and different each time.
Me: That’s great! I love working with my own students on activities that are important to them. What benefits have you gained from studying the Alexander Technique, including how it has helped you manage your back problems (if it has)?
Wendy: The Alexander Technique has helped me manage my back and neck issues by tempering my reactions to stimuli whether they be physical or mental. AT has taught me about acceptance and learning to “stop.” Earlier this year I was walking my dog in the morning when it was very cold. He pounced on something and my back tweaked. If this had happened four years earlier I would have panicked, but my reaction was much different due to my Alexander training. I walked home, iced my back for a brief time, and then worked out. I knew the pain would go away in a couple of days and it did.
Me: You’ve written a book about, among other things, your experiences in the world of both regular and alternative medicine. Is writing something you’ve always wanted to do? Is the process therapeutic for you also?
Wendy: I’ve been writing essays for years on a variety of subjects. After I injured my back, I began writing about my experiences with back pain. As my pain continued over the years, I became my own research subject as I branched out in the world of alternative medicine. I told myself, “Well, if it doesn’t work, I can always write about it.” The long-term process became therapeutic as I began to see my reactions and behavior clearer through writing. At the same time, I was writing pieces about my son. Everything started to weave together highlighting my own personal journey. On some level, my son’s behavior and the “wisdom” of an array of practitioners, provided some comic relief that saved me although I didn’t recognize it at the time
Me: Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
Wendy: The Alexander Technique changed my life. Through my training I have learned how not to always seek the result (end-gain) and now force myself to “stop” when I’m moving too fast. I’m now able to step back from a situation, physical or mental, before I react. I’ve graduated from a Type A personality to an A-minus thanks to the Alexander Technique.
Me: What a wonderful endorsement to end with! The Alexander Technique changed my life too, though for me it all started with chronic neck pain and tension! Thanks again, Wendy, for doing the interview – it’s been fascinating.
Wendy’s book, It’s Your Fault: My Journey through Back Pain, a Teenager and Self-Discovery is available in paperback and as an eBook. Alexander Technique teachers and students can receive a 25% discount for the paperback or eBook through her website, using this code: AT25.
Wendy’s website is: www.WendyCoblentz.com
You can follow her on Twitter at @wendycoblentz
It’s Your Fault is also available on Amazon.
And if you have any questions for me or Wendy, please leave a comment in the space below. We’d love to hear from you!