-by Bill Plake
At the college where I teach, I reveal my age to the students on the first day of class. Most of them are somewhat surprised to find out I’m in my early 60s, figuring me for being years younger.
So I ask them what it is that makes me appear younger to them. (Bear with me here, this isn’t vanity, but instead is relevant to the subject of the class.)
“Is it my hair?” No, I have a head full of grey hair.
“Is it my skin?” No, I have more than my fair share of wrinkles.
“Is it how I’m dressed?” No, it’s certainly not that.
“So what makes is it about me that makes you think I’m younger than I actually am?”
Finally someone will mention that I appear fit and healthy. They might say that it looks like I exercise regularly (which I do). But then someone (one of the more observant students) will inevitably say some version of the following:
“It’s the way you carry yourself.” Or, “It’s your posture.” Or, “It’s the way you move around the room.”
“Aha!”, I say. “What do you notice about how I move, and otherwise ‘carry’ myself?”
Then I’ll get responses like, “You have great posture!” Or, “You have a perfectly ‘straight’ back.” Or, “You move around the room really easily and lightly.” Or, “You’re really flexible (mobile, agile, etc.)”
And that’s it.
They’ll all finally agree that I don’t “carry myself” like a typical person of my age. And that’s true, I don’t. I’m not slouchy, or rigid, or compressed, but instead am upright, mobile and expansive. In short, I’m “light and free”. (This wasn’t always the case! Read on.)
That’s because of the work that I do, the very subject I’m teaching to my young students. You see, I’m a certified teacher of the Alexander Technique. And not only am I teaching this subject, but I’m also living it every day, and enjoying the benefits.
In the simplest sense, the Alexander Technique is a practical tool you can use to help you notice and prevent movement and postural habits you have that interfere with the functioning of your natural human design.
The work helps you cultivate ease and efficiency of movement, better balance and coordination, optimal breathing, and a more reliable bodily/sensory perception. It is aimed at restoring the natural, easy, upward and dynamic tendencies that already exist inside your body and brain.
The Technique is highly effective in addressing chronic back pain (and other chronic movement related pain), breathing related health issues, loss or impairment of motor skill (including balance) and even helps with “cognitive” issues, like attentional focus, and performance anxiety.
I discovered the Alexander Technique quite a few years back, when I was experiencing an emerging neurological issue that was seriously threatening my career as a saxophonist. After reading a book about the Alexander Technique written specifically for musicians, I was convinced this was the way for me to address my particular problem.
I found a certified teacher and started taking lessons twice weekly. It wasn’t long before I began to notice some measurable improvement in my musical life. I’m happy to report that the neurological issue is, for all practical purposes, resolved, and I’m playing saxophone better than ever.
For that I’m deeply grateful.
But what I wasn’t expectingwere all the other wonderful benefits that I was also reaping, as I got deeper into the work.
When I started Alexander Technique lessons, I had lots of chronic joint pain: back, hip, shoulder, neck and jaw. And to be clear, my motivation to take lessons wasn’t at all aimed at solving these problems. Truth be told, I just thought these were things that normally came along with getting older (I was in my mid 40s at the time). I accepted them as inevitable.
But these aches and pains gradually began to lessen, finally disappearing completely. At 62 years (and counting) I’m completely pain free.
Besides… I am sure it also helped me catch the eyes of my beautiful wife. 🙂
I find it ironic that I had more “old guy” pain 20 years ago than I do now. But whenever I see pictures of me as a younger man, I also notice how different my “carriage” was. If you just looked at my body, you saw an old man then: head pulled down onto my spine, rounded back, compressed and elevated shoulders, protruding pelvis, etc.
That was the “older” (younger) me. Very different from the “youthful” (older) me.
I became so impressed with how I was able to help myself with the Alexander Technique that I decided to become a certified teacher. I really wanted to share this wonderful work with others! The training is rigorous (1,620 hours, over the course of three years), and the standards are high. I enjoyed my training, and am deeply passionate about my work as a teacher.
I’m confident that I’ll be freely upright and mobile for many years to come, my appearance belying my age. And it’s highly unlikely I’ll be experiencing many of the other posture and movement related maladies that too often accompany advancing age.
But there is more than just improving your body and appearances, you access your natural, upright stature. Emerging evidence suggests that the way you carry yourself has direct bearing on your emotions, and your self-image. Here’s a recent article that lays this out pretty clearly. “Sit Up Straight!” The Mental Health Benefits of Good Posture from HuffPost.
The Alexander Technique is easily the most important tool I have to keep me healthy and youthful. In fact, I wouldn’t even be able to stay fit and exercise the way I do had it not been for the Technique. By moving in cooperation with my natural human design, I’m able to exercise vigorously, all the while avoiding injury. And my abilities to focus, to learn new things, and to effectively interact with the world around me are all made better by this work.
So I encourage you to consider the Alexander Technique. It can help you live your life with less strain and with more freedom and enjoyment. If you have chronic back pain, there is formal scientific evidence available demonstrating the efficacy of this work in improving your condition. Here are the details of a study originally published in the British Medical Journal.
The Alexander Technique has even been found to improve the conditions of patients with Parkinson’s Disease.
If you’d like to find a teacher near you, and you can find a teacher all over the world, here’s a directory of teachers who are certified by the American Society for the Alexander Technique (AmSAT). Or if you’d like to ask me a question, feel free to contact me.
Growing older is inevitable. But growing older doesn’t mean that you have to lose the lightly upward, springy mobility you enjoyed in your younger years. You have a choice, you know. And the Alexander Technique can help you discover your very own “fountain of youth.”