Exercise and the Alexander Technique:
A Pupil Offers Suggestions
by Bob Kahn, PhD
Bob is a medical writer living in the northwest of England. For the past nine months he has been a pupil of Kim Cant MSTAT.
As we age, it is important to exercise in order to move efficaciously, avoid falls and keep our bodies and minds in good shape. However, what kind of exercise is appropriate with the guidance of the Alexander Technique? Being over 80 now, this is not a casual question for me nor for many others, but a life-promoting or life-threatening issue. Therefore, I suggest each exercise should be linked to a key question: Is the exercise compatible with Alexander Technique experience? Let’s treat the Alexander Technique as a guide for which exercises are most appropriate given our age and hopes.
What exercise will work best for me?
How we move, sit and stand impacts how well we live as human beings. Alexander Technique teaches clearly that first, we need to learn to stop and inhibit certain habits, and only then begin to consciously develop new healthier ways to link together our necks, heads and spines. Any good exercise should help us to be aware of ourselves, with our feet firmly on the ground, our posture upright, but not rigid, and our muscles relaxed. You should decide for yourself how best to exercise. Whatever exercise you choose, you need to keep asking: Is this exercise (or what the exercise teacher is asking me to do) in keeping with the principles of the Alexander Technique? Is this exercise helping specific parts of my body to be free? Bad habits can arise from bad exercises.
When and where should I exercise?
I do not find that exercising alone works for me. I much prefer an exercise class with a small number of people who support each other, with a teacher who explains which muscles and bones are strengthened or endangered by specific exercises. I know that learning the Alexander Technique is best done on a one-on-one basis between a teacher and a pupil. However, once you have learned the basic principles of the Alexander Technique, you need to apply those principles throughout the day, becoming aware of the strengths and weaknesses of your own muscles and bones. Sitting in front of a computer for more than an hour without moving around is not a good idea. Moreover, when sitting it is helpful to place against the back a rubber ball with spikes, pushing the ball against the back of the chair to reduce pressure and improve posture.
How should I exercise?
Learning to walk properly is a great form of exercise. Aiming for 6,000 to 8,000 steps a day is a sensible target, but such a bold goal has to be approached slowly rather than slavishly. Walking with Nordic poles exercises the top half of the body well, especially the shoulders and arms. I find that one exercise class a week is not enough and the Alexander Technique fits well with Tai Chi and Qi Gong and aerobic exercise generally, if performed slowly.
Go to it!
I have found it helpful to look upon all exercise as a hierarchy with Alexander Technique at the top of the pyramid. For me, that pyramid descends from Qigong and Tai Chi, to aerobic exercise (slowly) and walking. Many years ago, my wife and I found Alexander Technique helped to resolve back problems. But now I have discovered that Alexander Technique is important for the whole body and mind. If we each pause and reflect BEFORE we start to move, we will move differently with fewer bad habits, more purpose and perhaps slower as well.