What to Expect in an Alexander Technique Lesson

You have a body problem you'd like to solve. You have recurring back episodes that lay you out on the couch for weeks. Your hands and wrists bother you whenever you use the computer. You wake up at night with spasms in your legs. You can't think straight because you're distracted by the pain in your neck and shoulders. Your attempt to sing comes out like a strained croak. Your tennis game never improves.

You decide to take a lesson in the Alexander Technique.

Because the Technique is a process of movement re-education, a private session is called a lesson, the practitioner a teacher and the client a student. A student can be anyone — an athlete, a child, an arthritis sufferer, a homemaker, an executive.

An Alexander lesson — usually 30-45 minutes long — is an opportunity to unwind and observe how your mind and body work. In one part of the session, you lie clothed on the table and settle into a restful state as the teacher gently moves your limbs, calms your system and encourages ease and expansion. In another segment of the lesson you are more active. The teacher guides you to notice how you sit, stand, walk or reach and offers focused, supportive coaching on how to do simple actions more easily. No matter where your problem is, you and your teacher will attend to the dynamic pattern in your entire body.

Movement then becomes the vehicle to improve your functioning. To demystify some of the body's complexity, you look at a muscle chart and miniature skeleton. As you stand or sit, the teacher helps you sense compression in your neck, release it and envision your spine lengthening. As you walk, the teacher — highly trained in the subtle, sophisticated Alexander touch — gives you the feeling of a lighter, more fluid stride.

That feeling then becomes your reference point when you're on your own. You recall an idea or sensation from your lesson and use that memory to cue yourself and lighten up. You learn to imbue ordinary activities — writing, speaking, washing dishes — with a spirit of observation as you notice your tendencies and explore ways to move more efficiently. You acquire a unique skill, a kind of portable body intelligence.

An Alexander lesson helps you restore your capacity for harmonious movement. Though it has therapeutic benefits, it is not a treatment such as chiropractic or massage. Like yoga or physical therapy, it is something you learn to do on your own. But it is not a set of exercises or postures. Instead, it is a method for noticing your movement patterns and changing those that get in your way.

A teaching studio is a low-tech environment with a chair, bodywork table and mirror. You — the student — wear loose, comfortable clothing that allows free movement of the arms and legs. The teacher asks what problem or goal brings you there. You might discuss your medical history and what your life demands of you.

Though you should feel free to try one lesson, you will get the most out of Alexander study by taking a series. Many students begin to apply their new understanding after their first session, finding they have more choice than they realized about how they look and feel. Some people solve the problem that first drove them to study after several months, and then continue for a year or more, fascinated by the process of removing inner obstructions and refining their skills.

The success of the work depends on how you use what you learn. The goal is not to make you dependent on the teacher, but to train you, in all your interactions, to find greater comfort, confidence and peace. Given time, the Alexander Technique offers a gentle way to work on yourself — each day, throughout the course of your life.

© 1997 Joan Arnold (joanarn@aol.com


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