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 now. Listening to their stories they feel it all started over the weekend while playing tennis or golf or when they lifted something heavy. Yet, with closer examination of the muscles involved, it soon becomes apparent -- to me at least -- 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 the injured or overused muscle gradually begins to shorten and become isolated from other muscles that would normally do part of the work, pain begins to set 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 methods developed to work with the subtle causes of pain and their correction was the Alexander Technique. The brain child of Frederick M. Alexander, an aspiring young Shakespearian actor in the late 1800s. Frederick found his ambitions frustrated by a chronic cough which led to a loss of voice. Weeks passed without improvement of his condition. Frustrated with the lack of solutions offered by the medical community, he began working with his condition through self-observation and modulation during activity which are still central to the popular Alexander Technique today.
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 and the other structures in his throat and neck 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 certain muscle groups brought him little or no progress. This was a simple statement of old habits are the worst to break. So instead of trying to break the old habit he made new ones.
The Alexander 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 entire 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. This puts increased weight and tension on structures that were not intended to hold that much weight.
As students of the Alexander Technique become sharper observers and begin noticing not only their own more subtle responses and corrects them, they also notice those around them sagging or holding their breath or hunching their shoulders. By their simple observations they are reminded to counter their own stress responses correctly.
Since tension is a kind of internal static, releasing tunes the system, quiets the mind and expands perception. A simple yet intensely powerful technique anyone can learn.
I have found the Alexander Technique 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 national web site at www. alexandertech.com
Till next time, Rebecca.