There are many ways of answering this question, and this partly depends on who is asking you. I’m not trying to evade the answer, see below for a few possible conversations and answers.
Example One – the utility database caller
If I’m asked by someone on the phone who is calling from a utility firm and they want to know which box to put my profession in, “So what is the Alexandra Technique” (yes, often) I can either say Education or Health. Sadly they don’t usually have an option for both.
What is it – Are you a Teacher, or is it Massage or physio therapy?
Well we do use our hands, but our clients stay fully clothed and we don’t massage. And physio is a treatment where massage and manipulation may be used and exercises given. We use our hands as a guiding touch for communicating and re-educating the mind and muscle and nervous system. Yes I am a teacher, and usually work one to one or with groups who choose to come and learn. You might say I am a psycho-physical therapists!
Interesting. So what does that mean?
It means we don’t separate people into mental or physical or emotional parts. We understand that people are whole and unified and work to reinstate that gently and naturally. We don’t just work with people’s muscles or bodies, or emotions. I’m helping them integrate all their parts back into one unified whole, its healthier and more natural this way and has many great benefits.
Wow, that sounds deep, so who uses it?
People like yourself who have desk jobs and do lots of sitting. Sometimes they have sore backs, buy new chairs and still have sore backs.
Yes, that’s me! I got this great new chair, and still I can’t sit down all day. They are going to get me a standing desk.
Oh good, I guess you will enjoy more freedom to move and have a variety of ways to work? (Yeah) And often even the best furniture can’t do the whole job. So we help educate the person, to sit better on any chair or seat. Would you be interested to know more? Where are you in the world, can I send you my leaflet?
Example Two – the 8 year old
If its an 8 year old who asks “What do you do all day with your Alexander Technique work anyway?” then I might ask them questions, like:
Who tells your hand to hold your pen like that? A: Huh? Me of course.
Who tells you to bite your lip and pull your shoulder forwards whilst you write? A; Erm, I do!
And are you aware of doing with your lip and shoulder whilst you are writing? A: No, I’m just writing.
My job as an Alexander Technique (AT) Teacher is to help people like you, to become aware of this lip biting, shoulder pulling and pen holding – and to encourage you to remember your body whilst you are writing. A: Why?
Otherwise you may tie yourself in knots and not realise that you’ve been hurting yourself whilst you’ve been writing, this can lead to pain and strain. Maybe not today, but sooner or later. A: But I’m not hurting. Except on Fridays.
Well, sometimes you tell me at the end of the day that your back is a bit sore and you like me to rub it, like I do when we pretend we are making pizza and adding all the toppings – and you lie down and I smooth tomato sauce on you and add cheese. It sounds like you aren’t aware yourself whilst writing and biting, pulling and holding yourself? A: No, I’m not.
So this is what I do. I help people stay with their bodies whilst they are writing, so they can stop biting their lips, unclench their shoulder and hold their pen lightly so they can carry on writing each and every day, without hurting themselves. Its a gentle reminder, like when I put my hand on your back and you un-scrunch! A: and people pay you?
(Honestly, I’ve had a similar conversation to this recently, the child shall remain nameless 😉
Example Three – a friend with a sore back
“So what is the Alexander Technique and can it help my sore back?”
Yes, I really think so. It depends a bit on why your back is sore though, may I ask you a few questions? (Yes) OK, have you seen a Doctor? A: No, its just old age, my mum was just the same. You’ve got to live with it, I suppose.
Any idea why your mum had a sore back, and what contributes to yours? A: She was bent double with hard work and old age. I’ve inherited her genes (there is no hope for me). And I’ve got the start of a widow’s a hump just like she has, I don’t want to go like her when I”m older!
I hear you! That must have been uncomfortable. Some back pain is from injury – could that be you? A: No. (pause) Well, except the time I was in a car crash and had a really sore back for weeks. I was on the floor in such pain and could hardly move. But that was… I can’t really remember, 15 years ago?!
So when we get hurt and suffer shock, injury and trauma like you did in this crash, if we are lucky we get to cry and release the shock. Someone holds us with warmth and tenderness and empathy and helps us integrate the shock. If this warmth and tenderness isn’t forthcoming and we don’t release the shock with tears, anger or activity – then some of this gets stored as tension in the body. When we get back on our feet, we often have use some some short-term strategies to compensate for the recovery parts and help us avoid the pain. These too can add to tension and misalignment. And sometimes they continue after their usefulness and hang around as habits we don’t even know we still have. A: oh yes that makes sense. I was in hospital and couldn’t cry then, I never really did, as soon as I was home I just wanted to get on with my life. I remember not wanting to stand on my right foot for a while because that would hurt my back. Oh yes, I’m doing that now! Oh its weird to stand on both feet.
Sometimes back pain can be because of a disease, which is why I asked if you’d seen a Doctor as they could diagnose any possible disease, like arthritis for example. A: no I don’t think its that. I suppose it could be from that accident. And I’m on my feet all day with work and so busy I don’t get time to have a break or sit down, unless I go to the loo!
And then how do you rest and restore yourself? A: well I usually have to go to the shops, visit my mum, cook the dinner, help the kids with their homework, have a glass of wine, then fall asleep on the sofa.
So it doesn’t sound like there is much time for you to look after yourself? A: no but that’s OK, I mean I’ve got to do all of that stuff, I have no choice.
Well there are many ways Alexander Technique lessons could help you. One way is that it could help you to really stop and take time out for you to recover and decompress, to release some stress. Could you spare 20 minutes a day? It could help you become aware of the tension you carry from moment to moment – before the pain gets bad. I could show you a way of really resting your back, which could help gently restore the healthy springiness in your spine, and recover its length and natural curves. From my experience, I’m hopeful it could also help you integrate the shock of the accident, the injury, the misalignment from the short term ‘get out of pain quick’ strategies, and learn new ways for self care. Does all this sound good? A: Yes, how much do you charge?
Example 4 – the business definition
From my website 2017: A tool for transforming harmful tension and painful posture, into freedom and poise one thought at a time.
Today for a business flyer: The Alexander Technique is a proven approach to regaining your natural co-ordination, balance and ease of movement. Many clients come to the Alexander Technique for a lasting solution to long term back and neck pain. The Technique teaches self-care tools, practice helps maintain these and mastery enables you to sustain your well-being. You can apply this to your chosen activity of music making, gardening or sports.
Lucy Ascham is an Alexander Technique teacher who likes to read and write using herself as best she can whilst doing so. The things I write may be gleaned from many sources.