Almost every day I have clients come to my office with some kind of chronic or acute pain. They're worried, tense and, most of all, cannot understand where this all came from and why it came now. Listening to the stories, they believe it all started over the weekend while lifting or moving or playing tennis. Yet with closer examination of the facts and observation of the muscles involved, it soon becomes apparent to me that what has happened has a long history.
The body has great powers of reserve. We go along day after day performing our tasks until, one day, that reserve is gone or temporarily used up. As muscles begin to shorten and become isolated from other muscles that would normally work together, pain sets in. It may start first with tension or fatigue but the end result, without correction, will be pain that can become chronic.
One of the first means to work with the subtle causes of pain and its correction was the Alexander Technique. Frederick M. Alexander, an aspiring young Shakespearean actor in the late 1800s, found his ambitions were frustrated by chronic cough which led to the loss of voice. Weeks past without improvement of his condition. Frustrated with the lack of solutions in the medical community, he began working on himself. His mode was self-observation and modulation during activity; that is still central to the Alexander Technique.
He set up a three-way mirror to observe himself and noticed that every time he began speaking, he tightened a certain group of muscles in his neck, lifted his chin and tilted his head back and down. The resulting pressure on the spine restricted his breathing and shortened his stature. By changing this habit, surprisingly, his condition improved.
He also found that when he focused on the goal of correcting this postural deficit instead of the process, his overactivity of incorrectly using this muscle group brought him little or no progress. This was a simple restatement that old habits are the worst to break. So instead of trying to break the old habit he made new ones.
The technique's basic tenet is that when the neck does not overwork, the head can balance lightly at the top of the spine. He found that when head and neck were not in concert with one another it had ramifications throughout the rest of the body.
Our neuromuscular system is designed to work in concert with gravity which imposes a force of 3.5 pounds per square inch. When our posture in sitting or standing is poor our body does not resist gravity at the same rate at all the right places. This puts increased weight and tension on structures that were not intended to hold that much weight.
I find when I go to various seminars of bodyworkers you can immediately pick out those who have had Alexander lessons, their posture is impeccable. They also breathe with their abdomen rather than from their diaphragms.
As the student of the Alexander technique becomes a sharper observer and begins noticing those around them sagging or holding their breath or hunching their shoulders, they are reminded to counter their own stress responses. Since tension is a kind of internal static, releasing tunes the system, quiets the mind and expands perception.
I have found Alexander's Techniques to be very useful for myself as well as my clients in relieving chronic pain, especially in the upper back and neck. If you would like to learn more about this useful technique, there are various books on his life and work or visit the web site at www.alexandertech.com.
Till next time, Rebecca