by Laurie Kline
The Alexander Technique is concerned with the way your head and your spine work together to support you, and how certain learned patterns get in the way of functioning at your best.
Why do Alexander Technique teachers spend so much time talking about the relationship between the head and the spine? The reason is, the head and the spine are integral to the support system of the body, and the head, which sits on top of the spine, weighs about 10 to 15 pounds. This is the weight of a bowling ball, and in most people this weight is directed down into the spine. This downward directed head sabotages the deep postural muscles in the back and around the spine and makes them inefficient. This leads to the spine compressing in an unhealthy manner, which the body’s design can’t sustain. And we wonder why we have a back problem!? In other words the deep postural muscles in the back which are meant to buoy us up in the field of gravity, are not working, because the downward directed force of the head is reinforcing a collapsing of the torso. This breakdown of the support of the spine leads to a segmenting of the different parts of the spine, and to inappropriate structures like the shoulders, ribs, and even the jaw trying to take over the role of support.
Since a bowling ball weighs about the same as the head, just imagine a bowling ball sitting on the top of your spine, while muscles in the neck and shoulder area are overworking, pulling the weight of the head downward.
You may be asking yourself, why don’t I feel this downward compression if it is creating so much strain? Why doesn’t my sensory perception (your body’s feeling sense) tell me that I am doing something wrong? From a very young age we start to form bad postural habits, which as we get older become more firmly established. This happens gradually and under the radar, so to speak. Our friends, parents, and idols are no better examples from which we could learn to see these patterns. As human beings we are wonderful at adapting and since these habits happen automatically without our conscious choice they go unnoticed.
In a well-organized individual the muscles in the neck and torso are being used with the appropriate amount of force to support the weight of the head on the spine. This allows for compression and extension of the spine, while maintaining a free and flowing functioning. Alexander Technique lessons restore the balance of the head on the spine. This has a positive effect throughout the person, correcting bad posture, but equally if not more important, creating a sense of well-being and energy. Why is this effect so global you may be wondering? When the postural muscles along the spine are working well the whole system is buoyed up, taking the pressure off the organs, rib cage, and the joints. This support improves our breathing, our circulation, our nervous system, and our ability to relate to the world in a more open way. Conversely, when the postural muscles of the back fail to support us according to their design, we suffer from neck pain, shoulder pain, fatigue, and a general sense of strain.
As I hope you can see lessons in the Alexander Technique open up the possibility of change at a very fundamental level.