From My Students:

“I had to go to the doctor yesterday for a work
physical, as I’m being promoted next fall and they needed my file to be up to date. I had to do all of these reflex and coordination tests. The nurse practitioner had me bend over, roll back up, and extend my arms out, palms up with my eyes closed. And she remarked “Wow! Not even a wobble! That’s exceptional!” and I just responded “Thank my voice teacher!” Still using Alexander Technique in my teacher and singer life every day! Thank you thank you thank you. -Erin Toohey, soprano and elementary school teacher.

“I had no idea that by freeing up your body
from tension that the sound in your voice would move so much more easily. One of the biggest breakthrough moments for me was when Victoria asked me if my heels felt connected to the ground while I was singing. I realized that while I sing I have a tendency to lean forward while I sing and put all my weight on the ball of my foot.When I noticed that I have this tendency to disconnect from myself, I could let that go.  What a difference in my voice!”
Tristan Mayes, baritone

Inside an Alexander Technique Lesson

“Free your AO,” my Alexander Technique teacher, Victoria, says.  “Forward and up.”  I am seated in a chair and Victoria is lightly touching my head, one hand on my upper forehead, one on the base of my skull, feeling for the tension to dissipate.  I take a deep breath, allowing my diaphragm to drop and the lungs to fill.  I imagine a lily pad floating on the water, an image Victoria gave me—my head floating, lightly balanced on the top of the spine—the Atlanta Occipital or AO joint. I allow the weight of my head to tip forward and think about the crown of my head traveling to the ceiling. I think about keeping my neck free, about being a lily pad. “Good,” she says, “very good.”

It seems like every adult I know has neck, back, or joint pain.  Some have arthritis, others have pain from previous injuries, others just attribute it to “old age.”  I am always touting the benefits of the Alexander Technique and recommending people see a teacher, but it is a tricky technique to explain.   Victoria is teaching me to be aware of the tension in my body, created by old habits of poor use. For example, my right shoulder seems to droop forward, pushing down on my ribcage. I hold my chin up slightly, causing the weight of my head to press on my spine.  (A colleague once commented on this.  “You would look much more attractive if you kept your chin down,” he said.)  When I take walks, my fists are balled tight.  Often my teeth are clenched together, and my dentist told me I grind them at night.  These are not things Victoria told me.  These are things I have started to observe since taking lessons with her.  Originally developed by F.M. Alexander, a performer in the late 1800’s who was losing his voice, teachers now work with students in all types of activities. She works with me when I am typing at the computer, knitting a sweater, or playing tennis.

Victoria places her left hand flat on my right shoulder blade.  She doesn’t say anything.  I have come for my weekly lesson with a knot of discomfort in the middle of my back.  My neck crackles when I move it, which I am afraid to do too much because I have previously suffered from extreme jolts of pain (which brought me to Victoria in the first place).  I breathe deeply again and allow my ribcage to open and my shoulder to lift slightly.  “Good,” she says.  She lifts my right arm to the side and waits for me to let her take the weight.  Then she sets my hand back in my lap.  She does the same to the left arm.  I feel my ribcage free up.  I notice the pain in my back has gone.  “Can you feel your sit-bones?”  I adjust my sit-bones so they are more firmly on the chair, thinking, “lengthen and widen your back,” another tenet of the technique.  I make sure my feet are flat on the floor.  I think, “Feel the floor.” I feel the crown of my head lift to the ceiling.  I breathe deeply, allowing my ribcage to open.  Victoria gives my right knee a little wiggle back and forth, then wiggles the other one.

“Let’s stand, but let’s not think about standing,” she says. She calls this pause between stimulus and response the crux of the technique.  I know I need to inhibit myself from standing my old way, and so I think, “Free the neck, head forward and up, lengthen and widen the back.”  She has her hands on my head again.  She breathes deeply.  I breathe deeply.  In a few seconds, I stand, allowing my head to lead my body.

“Are you doing active rest?” she asks.  I admit I am not. “I’m going to watch you walk over to the table and lie down.”  I walk over slowly, paying attention to my body, sit on the edge of the table, and then lie down on my back, all the time repeating the mantra, “Free the neck, head forward and up, lengthen and widen the back.”  She tucks a few slim paperbacks under my head.  She bends my knees so they are pointing to the ceiling and she gently pulls my right arm to the side, then bends it at the elbow and lays my hand flat on the stomach.  She does the same to the left side.  This is active rest.  I breathe deeply.  She slips her hand under my shoulder blade and slides it out, relaxing the muscles.  She does the same to the other shoulder blade.  She wiggles my knees again.  “Release your knees to the ceiling,” she says.  I think, “knees away from body.”  She slips her hand under my lower back and draws it down, so now my back is flat on the table.  I breathe deeply.  “Relax your jaw,” she says.  I allow my jaw to relax, my tongue gently touching the front of my upper palate.

Soon our lesson will be over.  I will walk out without pain—taller, and lighter.