A few weeks ago I decided it was time for me to try out the Alexander Technique, a unique body awareness practice that I had heard about for years. People I knew had followed it with positive effects. Still, I really had no idea what it was, or how you “did it”, until now. (And, I am still in the beginning stages)
I found Alexander guide Gabriella Minnes Brandes in Vancouver through an actor friend, and started the process. It felt strange, subtle, and very awkward. I didn’t enjoy the feeling of sudden extreme self-consciousness.
However, even after just one session I walked outside feeling lighter, and I noticed my chronic neck pain was already easing.
In the second and subsequent sessions I felt less strange about focusing so intently on my own body posture.
I decided to rummage around online for more information and through twitter I found Leland Vall in New York, and his informative blog “Free Your Neck”. He agreed to answer a few questions for my blog and help me demystify the Alexander experience.
TJ: “How did you discover the Alexander Technique, Leland?”
LV: “I discovered the Alexander Technique at a demonstration during my first year in college. The Alexander teacher came around the room briefly touching each person’s head. When he came to me he gently touched my head and moved it slightly. My head had always felt fine to me but suddenly it felt like it was in the “right” place, as if my head had never been there before. I felt like I was being reintroduced to my body.”
TJ: “How did it help you? How is it affecting your life now?”
LV: “The Alexander Technique is a simple idea with broad implications. On one hand it gives me options about my body that help me to stand taller, feel more open, lighter, more stable and stronger. But it also intrinsically promotes an optimistic way of looking at the world that always suggests there may be other options or situations may not be as they seem.”
TJ: “What did you find most challenging at the beginning, and also, now in your practice.”
LV: “Without a doubt, the most difficult thing about the Alexander Technique, for me and everyone else, has always been explaining what it is. Ask anyone who has ever had a lesson and you will see the struggle. People have been trying to write a useful definition of the Alexander Technique for over 100 years. To find out what it is, you have to experience an Alexander lesson yourself. But don’t try to explain it.”
TJ: “What is your practice?”
LV: “The Alexander Technique has no form or way of practice. It is an idea that helps you go about your life or whatever you are doing. You might find some Alexander activities or exercises (I even wrote a book that is nothing but one long exercise) but in those cases the activity (or maybe a non-activity like lying down) usually mimics regular life while the exercise is really about how you are thinking.”
TJ: “What kind of people come to you, why, and how did they know to try Alexander Technique?”
LV: “People who like the Alexander Technique are people who are looking for new choices and possibilities. If they have pain, they often come because they suspect that they are contributing to their pain and are ready to change their posture or the way they move. Athletes and performing artists come to break habits and improve performance. Some people come to look better, taller and thinner. Other people see Alexander as a life skill for personal growth and increasing awareness.”
TJ: “What do you love most about teaching it?”
LV: “What I love most about teaching Alexander is that the more I teach it, the better I understand it within myself and the more it benefits me. Every lesson I teach is also a lesson I give to myself.”
TJ: “Do you think that anyone can learn it?”
LV: “Anyone who is open to the pleasure of self-discovery can benefit from Alexander lessons. It is not dependent on age or physical ability.”
TJ: “How long does it usually take for someone to feel the results of the practice?”
LV: “Benefits of the Alexander Technique begin almost instantly, usually within the first few minutes of the lesson. Lasting benefits also begin with the first lesson and continue to grow as long as you remain interested in learning and discovering. Like learning to play a musical instrument, learning Alexander is not an all or nothing proposition. Like a music lesson, the first lesson can open a new world and, just from that lesson, you may make discoveries on your own, even if you never take another lesson.
After a course of lessons you might feel that you know enough, even though you suspect that there is more to learn. I find that five to ten lessons is a minimum number to gain a usable skill for most people. But people do benefit even from one lesson. I still remember and benefit from my first Alexander lesson, and that was 28 years ago.”
TJ: “Has it helped people with illnesses? Which ones?”
LV: “The Alexander Technique can help any illness or condition where you think that choices that you make affect how you feel. People use the Alexander Technique for pain, especially back and neck pain, for improving breathing, breaking habits, and for getting the most out of your body, even if you face physical challenges. The Alexander Technique offers the possibility of making new choices about your body that are often unexpected and quite liberating.”
TJ: “Have you taught actors and what has been the benefit to actors?”
LV: “I studied acting and directing in college and then at Trinity Rep Conservatory, so working with actors is a specialty. Alexander is the skill that brings all the actor’s training together. Specifically, it is the simple knowledge of how to stand tall, feel grounded, remain open, breathe easily and speak with a clear voice. Without any exercise or warm-up, it offers the actor the skill of greater stage presence and clarity of purpose. Finally, it gives the actor more room to fully express their training and ability. After all, the Alexander Technique has long been called, “The Actor’s Secret.””
TJ: “What are some reasons to take Alexander lessons?”
LV: “Here are at least twelve reasons:
1. Feel lighter and stronger.
2. Improve posture.
3. Reduce pain.
4. Reduce anxiety.
5. Improve movement and balance.
6. Improve breathing.
7. Transcend athletic plateaus.
8. Look younger.
9. Break harmful habits.
10. Improve vocal production.
11. Improve your response to challenging situations.
12. Renew your experience of yourself.
The Alexander Technique offers you nothing less than the power of transformation, every day. It is simple concept with profound implications.”
TJ: “Thank you, for this, Leland. And, I agree that the only way to truly understand is to try it. I highly encourage anyone to give your body this gift of realigning yourself so as to have a better quality life.”
If you are in New York, Leland’s next demonstration is Monday, July 19 from 8:00 pm to 9:00 pm. The address is 44 East 32nd St. 11th Fl (just west of Park).
Visit Leland’s website and blog for further information: www.freeyourneck.com
If you are in Vancouver, I highly recommend Gabriella Minnes Brandes, Suite 110-809 W. 41st Ave, Vancouver. Contact her at 604-737-2818