I was talking to my wonderful sister the other night. She’s a counsellor who helps many people through all kinds of deep mental and emotional torment and she often mentions interesting books when we chat. The latest I jumped at was Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score, which is utterly fascinating.
If someone who has experienced trauma continues to feel unsafe, this is totally understandable; but inability to 'come back down' to a normal, balanced state may result in either a sustained fight-or-flight response or various kinds of mental and physical shut-down.
This can mean serious possible long-term implications for body chemistry. Seriously over-simply put, a continuous hyper-vigilant state means production of stress hormones won’t switch off and positive hormones won’t switch on. Ongoing mechanical and chemical imbalances can lead to a wide range of serious conditions over time.
When people suffer from PTSD and/or other conditions caused by trauma or abuse, they may also develop particular defensive movement patterns: tics, twitches, cowering or hypertension, for example.
So, though a student may present movement patterns that may be causing them difficulties, a good Alexander teacher certainly won’t criticise them for it. They probably have damn good reason for having initiated them and they may have been entirely appropriate at the time.
I myself only recently started to appreciate the extent to which traumatic experiences in my own past may have affected the way I moved long-term. My quest for solutions to my musculoskeletal distortions set me off on a path which eventually led, thank goodness, to the Alexander Technique. It's not the only show in town and I've used other disciplines too, but it's the one that has helped me reason out and work my way back to the causes and tackle the original causal thinking.
‘Erroneous’ movement patterns don’t have to be trauma-based, of course. There are countless reasons we end up aching and struggling to move with ease. A tall lady may have stooped for years since first feeling self-conscious as the ‘tall poppy’ in the class. A girl with a military background will have been trained to stand and walk stiffly and may have continued to do so. A violinist may have been taught a particular bowing technique which may not have harmed his teacher (discernibly), but which is certainly harmful to him. Or, you just might simply have never thought out how to go about performing a certain activity and got used to 'your own way', which may not be the most efficient way. The scenarios are countless.
The question is, how can this be changed?
The ITM Alexander Technique is a gentle but powerful approach. One doesn’t push a student further than they are willing or able to go. It needs to be conducted carefully and slowly, because having one's old, established ideas and thoughts questioned can be extremely challenging. However, in the process of exploring whether these ideas are still relevant and useful, a window of opportunity opens to allow a little change, then a little more, and still more. Gradually, it proves possible to let go of old movement patterns that no longer serve a useful purpose; to trust that it is now indeed safe to change. This is true of someone who has quite extreme difficulties with self-generated movement patterns, or someone who would just like to keep improving at their chosen activities.
In our present world of lightning-speed communications, we have become ever more used to instant gratification and impatient for quick fixes. Some things still just can’t be rushed, however, and while they do offer tremendous hope for change and improvement, the processes involved in the Alexander Technique are no exception to this rule.
So, it’s easy to see why F.M. Alexander’s brother A.R. (who also taught the technique) wrote to a student, “Go slowly… it is necessary to go slowly.”
Quick fixes have an end-point, by definition. A 'fix' is a product. There's no growth or improvement possible after an end-point. The great thing about the Alexander Technique is that being a process, not a product, there is no end-point to the processes you can follow to deliver continual improvement. And who wouldn't like to experience continual improvement, right the way through life?
If you think this work could be of benefit to you, please feel free to get in touch; I’d be delighted to have an initial chat with you by phone or Skype.