All rights reserved.
You are welcome to link to this page, but please do NOT place copies of its contents on other websites. If you find it posted on any site other than www.clarity-of-being.org, please report the fact to me. Many thanks.
In order to properly understand the contents of this and many other pages on this site it's necessary to carefully read Exit 'Spirituality' - Enter Clear-Mindedness, which provides essential background information.
Orthodoxy works brilliantly for preserving orthodoxy, but for what else?
I took up the Alexander Technique at the very end of 1992, when I'd been getting desperate with rapidly progressing neck and back pain. Attentions of doctor, physiotherapist and osteopath had been to no avail, and I was getting quite frightened at my worsening state. The AT dramatically resolved the problem. I still have a fairly clapped-out spine owing to the bad ways I'd been using it previously, but with the balance, poise and general good use that the AT brings me, I get only the occasional temporary pains - small in comparison with what I was suffering previously.
However, that was only one of the many benefits that I've gained from the technique, which transformed my life. For example I learnt a much looser, more effort-free mode of walking, which made my hiking in wilderness and on mountains much less stressful on the knees and altogether more pleasant and light in feel.
Also I became much more at peace with myself and better able to be objective in dealing with people and situations rather than just reacting out of any old emotion that might arise.
Look at the photo of me on Ben Nevis on my Personal home page. That light, balanced and poised uprightness of mine* when standing is in sharp contrast with the harmful distortions that were my norm before I took up the AT, and it belies the fact that I still have quite badly worn vertebrae in parts of my back and particularly neck.
* Actually the photo has caught me giving a not 100% perfect example, because my head is slightly pulled back - a reminder that when you take up the AT you always still have at least some room for further improvement (and thus making things still better in your life).
Soon after I took up the AT I taught its basics to a friend in her 70s who was getting desperate and frightened with back and neck pain that no chiropractors or physiotherapists had managed to budge. She too experienced a dramatic improvement and was freed from the physical torment that had threatened to wreck the final part of her life. For those people who are prepared to take charge of their own well-being, and are prepared to accept positive change in their lives, I strongly recommend the AT, whether or not they're currently having physical problems.
Following a Grade 3 tear (rupture) of my right front quadriceps (adductor femoris) muscle in 2009, I was able to get back into strong walking and indeed strenuous hiking impressively quickly, and without reference to a doctor or physiotherapist, because my mode of walking enabled the muscle to work maximally in ways that promoted healing and regeneration, while keeping to an absolute minimum the genuinely harmful stresses on it that would have been so much of a problem with the general 'normal' but actually dysfunctional mode of walking.
In January 2010 I slipped on ice, falling onto my right side. I was able to establish through inner inquiry that the injury was just a muscle one (well, actually it later became evident that there was also a (non-serious) bit of bruising on the side of the rib cage), and so I handled that at home, just getting some telephone medical guidance regarding medication to reduce the very troublesome painful spasms that could seemingly be triggered by almost any movement of mine. Despite the medication I had a pretty rough time for some two weeks before the improvements were really beginning to show. However, I hate to think what it would have been like if I hadn't had the AT. That enabled me to maintain good back alignment and avoid spasms that I'd have been getting almost all the time otherwise. Getting up from the sitting position was a particular major spasm trigger, and I refined the getting-up-from-sitting method that one learns as part of one's application of the AT, so that I could almost always have elegant, seemingly effortless and completely painless rises from the sitting position. I'm sure that without the AT I'd have been laid up in hospital for several weeks, because there's no way I could have coped at home (living on my own, too).
For those who have openness of outlook and depth of awareness (those who are commonly but misleadingly regarded as 'spiritually open' or simply 'spiritual'), the AT, used as a mental discipline to cultivate everyday self-awareness or mindfulness, is a far better method than doing much formal meditation; it was the core method that enabled me to cross the threshold of enlightenment in 1997, never having formally meditated in my life - though actually the daily lie-downs that were part of my application of the AT had been serving a similar purpose, but in a much healthier way. Basically, The AT is a true self-actualization / self-realization method rather than a spiritual practice - virtually all 'spiritual' practices being harmful (see Exit Spirituality - Enter Clear-Mindedness).
This guide has grown from some short notes that I wrote in 1993 for DP, the first person who I helped learn the technique, and is intended for any other such people to help them get started and see the way ahead a little. It was originally intended to be a supplement to rather than a replacement for the many books that are available on the Alexander Technique. However, I've had reports from people who've actually been using this, with partial success, as an instruction manual in lieu of taking lessons because the book that I'd been recommending had gone out of print and all the other books on the AT that could be found were not practical guides for learning the technique but instead were introductions aimed at interesting people in going for formal lessons.
This latter point is hardly surprising, when you consider that the commercially published books on the AT are almost all written by qualified AT teachers who have a strong financial interest* in not encouraging people to learn the technique themselves! Also, a lot of them have been given much indoctrination in their training, to the effect that the AT can't be learnt except through formal lessons from qualified teachers. In a correspondence on one or two matters in 1994 with the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique (STAT), I was actually asked not to call what I was doing or teaching "Alexander Technique", apparently because they felt that they owned the AT, and only teachers accredited by them should be allowed to use that name for what they taught. As far as I'm concerned, that's just power politics, which looks all the more bizarre in the light of the considerable proportion of fully qualified, and indeed STAT-qualified, AT teachers who actually teach an abomination of the technique, because they've learnt the physical techniques - a set of rules - but not the deeper essence, which is actually a self-actualization process that comes from deep within - not from a set of rules.
* That financial interest would be particularly strong among STAT-qualified AT teachers because of the length and large cost of the training courses, so motivating the teachers to seek to recoup their considerable outlay for their training.
In this guide I seek (1) to explain concisely what the Alexander Technique is and undo various popular misunderstandings about it, and (2) to give basic practical guidance and tips to anyone who I happen to be helping to learn the technique.* Inevitably other people find this useful too. In places I include certain practical insights that are likely to be disapproved of in some quarters because I have the temerity to touch on a few things that are missing from the theory and normal teaching and practice of the technique - and I see it in its wider context as fundamentally a broadly-based self-actualization method, even though it superficially appears to focus on the physical body.
* I explain about my own status as a de facto AT teacher further below.
Let me warn now that this is NOT a complete do-it-yourself manual, and even if you were one of the rare people who (like me) are able to take to the AT as a duck takes to water, you'd still do best to take at least some lessons to get you started fully on course - in particular to receive direct, physical guidance about your head / neck alignment and in using the so-called monkey position.
A further important note -
the Mitzvah Technique
In web searches you may see the Alexander Technique and Mitzvah Technique (MT) being listed as though they're synonymous. My brief online exploration suggested to me that the Mitzvah Technique, which is apparently an extension of the AT, would be a greatly valuable step forward. Given funds to do so, I'd undoubtedly have some Mitzvah lessons myself if I could ever find a suitable teacher at all locally (I mean, in or very close to Exeter, UK), and then I'd update this guide to cover the MT extension of the AT.
The big advantage that I can see in the MT is its cultivating the natural slight 'rippling' motions of the spine and limbs - something that's all too easily largely neglected in standard AT, and which indeed is an issue for me. I've been long aware of a deficiency of such natural motions in my own body system, and a consequent slight 'awkwardness' and often slight self-conscious 'stiffness' about my seeking to be in optimal alignment and balance, and it looks as though the MT provides the 'missing link'.
It's very likely, therefore, that, if I ever find a suitable local MT teacher, and have funds for the lessons (I'm a pensioner progressively running down on my reserves), I'd then soon be in a position to demote the standard AT to 'pre-MT' in my life and on this site. (That is, subject to my not finding what I'd see as problematical cultural or spirituality 'baggage' in the MT.) However, so far I've failed to find any indication of an MT teacher in my area, and an online search suggests to me that there are few MT teachers in the UK altogether, so for the time being I'm stymied over that.
Everyone's questions about the Alexander Technique answered
What is the Alexander Technique?
In a nutshell, it's a mental discipline that enables you to consistently and methodically undo your lifelong accumulation of habits of body misuse. It's more than that too, but its many benefits and ramifications, and its 'higher' levels of application, are accessed through a simple and elegant process of letting go of that body misuse. The misuse includes chronic tensions and slackness of body muscles, overuse and underuse of different parts of the body, and all manner of distorted and unbalanced postures. The misuse involves excessive effort being applied to virtually every movement and even to being stationary. All this and more is effectively addressed by the Alexander Technique (AT). It's a whole body technique and can't be applied to part of the body in isolation.
Some popular misunderstandings
It's a relaxation technique, isn't it?
No, not in the accepted sense. From outside it does indeed often get confused with what are widely known as relaxation techniques, but these don't seek the same goal and are limited in what they can achieve for you. What you gradually achieve by use of the AT is not total relaxation in the usual sense but, rather, correct and appropriate muscular tone throughout the body. This involves bringing under-used muscles back into service just as much as releasing inappropriate tensions.
The state that you work towards is one in which all body movements are carried out with a minimum of effort; all parts of the body that aren't involved in a particular movement remain in a state of 'dynamic balanced rest', to which the whole body and its constituent parts consistently revert when not carrying out any specific movement. This is an alert, positive state very different from the state of collapse and passivity that's normally understood by 'relaxation'.
Although in applying the AT we keep talking of achieving 'release', and this usually does involve letting go of excess tensions, the full meaning of 'release' here is release from patterns of habitual interference in the body's poise and functioning, so it needs to be thought of as not equivalent to 'relaxation' in the normal sense.
So, if we do use the term 'relaxation' or 'relaxed' within an AT context, it needs to be understood not as an unhealthy collapse (with further resultant distortions) but as 'having or attaining a state of no excess muscle tension, and thus having optimal muscle tone'. Indeed, in real, healthy terms I'm generally greatly relaxed while walking (and sometimes scrambling) on a long and strenuous wild Cornish coast path or Scottish mountain route. TV or pop music, which so many people turn to supposedly for them to relax, are actually potent stressing agents, which are all the more harmful because of the state of collapse or/and passivity that they tend to engender!
It's about posture, isn't it.
'Posture' is rather a dirty word in the application of the AT. Many a physiotherapist or other medical practitioner will extol to you the importance of good posture, and, particularly if you have any spinal problems, you may well be urged to hold yourself in 'better' postures. I myself was caught on this misunderstanding for years. Holding 'good' postures appeared to control my lower back problems to a moderate extent, but was in fact adding to the long term problem and no doubt brought forward the onset of my neck trouble. And the 'postural correction' for my neck was very definitely harmful.
The key to the problem is that when you hold yourself in a specific posture you're applying further effort and muscular tension to your body to achieve this. Any spinal problem will have arisen from, or at least will be greatly aggravated by, the extant chronic tensions and unbalanced forces exerted on the vertebrae, so additional forces are just what you don't need. When you hold a new, 'correct' posture you either tire of it and collapse again into your old bad ways or you assimilate the new fixed posture as yet another layer of chronic tension - yet another biomechanical / physiological time bomb, as though you didn't have enough of those already.
By contrast, the AT concentrates on letting go of all the excessive tensions and related distortions that are causing the problems in the first place. It's a weird and wonderful fact of life that as you let go of all the habits of body misuse, your body readily reverts to its much more elegant, balanced and efficient mode of operation, which you'd have experienced as a very young child before the conditioned behaviour of adults around you started interfering and causing the build-up of tensions and unawareness. The AT therefore isn't about postures in the normal sense, but is about achieving freely-moving, balanced, poised states.
Even in the AT many people fall into error by thinking of a 'good' alignment as being effectively a specific position - especially as you're liable to be told that you're in good alignment when you, or parts of you, are in particular positions, and for convenience you may be given some image of e.g., what good head / neck alignment is like. It's therefore more helpful generally to think of 'states' rather than 'alignments', which latter could easily become just AT-speak for held postures.
It's sort of exercises, isn't it?
Not really. There are a few procedures you may use that could loosely be called exercises, but the technique doesn't revolve around exercises in any normally accepted sense. Indeed the main procedure for which you're likely to set aside time involves lying down apparently doing nothing!
Sometimes people have told me of 'Alexander Technique exercises' that some alternative medicine practitioner had got them or some friend to do for some specific physical problem - throat, neck, back, eyesight, and so on.* Let me be quite clear that, whatever the efficacy of the exercises, all these people, and the practitioners concerned, were mistaken in calling these AT exercises, and they were seriously confused as to what the AT was really about. Whatever exercises were used, they were nothing to do with the AT, and constant vigilance is required to spot and eliminate such confusion. Indeed, as the AT is a whole body technique, it can't be used upon a single part of the body in isolation.
* Indeed, every day a significant number of search engine queries for "Alexander Technique exercises" find this guide. Indeed, a Google search for that very expression while I was writing this note gave this guide at the top of its listing. That's really ironic, considering that all I say about AT exercises here is that they almost don't exist!
Sometimes the cause of confusion is that a therapist has recommended exercises that are thought to be compatible with the AT. For specific problems such as back injuries there are undoubtedly both helpful and harmful exercises, and the helpful ones, through being regarded as compatible with use of the AT, may be mistakenly thought of as part of the AT itself. In this context it's worth noting that the much vaunted McKenzie exercises for the back and the neck - widely recommended by physiotherapists - are all more or less harmful, especially those for the neck. I myself was using those exercises before I came to the AT, and it was getting me all the more wound up and frightened, that my back and neck problems, after a very brief slight improvement, were still quite rapidly increasing despite all my good efforts with those exercises and the associated recommendations of 'postural correction'.
It's a sort of meditation, then?
No, the AT isn't a form of meditation in the normally accepted sense, though it's certainly a mental discipline. Far from the detached mental state associated with many sorts of meditation, the AT involves a constant inward monitoring of the state of your body and its parts, and systematically 'doing the rounds', disallowing habitual tensions and distortions and allowing release and better functioning in each part of the body. It also involves training yourself to attend thoughtfully to the means by which you carry out each activity and indeed each movement in your everyday life, instead of simply drifting and reacting on autopilot as people do almost universally. You are thus cultivating a much superior (more complete) version of mindfulness, as compared with the nowadays popular notion of 'mindfulness' that is developed through formal sitting meditation.
On the other hand there can be some degree of similarity with some of the techniques employed in the course of meditation of the more advanced schools of Buddhism, in cases where attention is carefully directed to 'What Is' rather than illusory realities or anything esoteric - that is, where the importance of an alert observational state of mental clarity and letting go of habitual tendencies in everyday life is emphasized - the practice of 'mindfulness' and 'non-meditation'. However, those traditions and their whole mindset greatly limits the nature of the 'mindfulness' achieved that way - a limitation that can be cast aside really only by getting right outside any 'spirituality' mindset and engage properly with the physical reality and real physical life experience.
For users of the AT generally a feeling of lightness* and well-being is commonly generated, with an increasing detachment from tense thoughts and feelings, and a fair number of people do find that long-term application of the AT, with no additional belief or meditation, brings about an opening up of some degree of deeper awareness. Indeed I inadvertently brought myself to crossing the threshold of enlightenment through using a very thorough application of the AT in lieu of traditional formal meditation.
* - And therein lies a potential pitfall, because the majority of people who already have any sort of 'spirituality' or psychic leanings would tend in various ways to unground their awareness and get more 'spaced out', and assume that the 'lightness' that they feel through their weak grounding is the same as the healthy lightness of feel through correct use of the AT. So, the AT needs to be applied in a very down-to-earth sort of way, and not associated with rarefied or 'spacey' mental states.
When consistently used in an ongoing fashion, the AT would definitely increase and deepen your awareness, but there's a great need not to let your attention get drawn by your very likely increasing astral or psychic awareness / perceptions, which would open you to increased interference from the garbage (my preferred term for what people in their ignorance often call 'forces of darkness' and similar terms). The need, then, is to concentrate very much on the physical 'here and now' and not get lured by supposed non-physical realities and any apparent beings therein (which would actually be illusory and would cause serious problems for you if you involved yourself with them in any way).
It's a bit like Yoga, isn't it?
As with meditation, there are various overlaps of concepts. Indeed, a thoroughgoing application of the AT could be very loosely regarded as a type of Yoga. However, although Yoga is really a whole class of physical / mental disciplines, in the popular eye it's the physical positions adopted in the popular Western-adopted Hatha Yoga that are in people's minds when they try to make comparisons with the AT. And that's where the AT differs fundamentally, because it actively discourages held positions in favour of light and free dynamically balanced states, and it's a mental discipline applied throughout one's everyday life - not a set of positions / movements that are carried out in a 'session'. Indeed some Hatha Yoga positions would be regarded by AT practitioners as positively harmful - at least any that are held for significant periods without letting go and reverting to one's core state of 'dynamically balanced rest' that one would be cultivating with the AT.
I've heard it's very good but is very time consuming...
'Very good', yes it is in my experience, except that some would undoubtedly regard that as understatement (I definitely do, for starters!). But, 'very time consuming', well, it depends what you mean by that. The 'time consuming' criticism comes from people who haven't understood the nature of the AT. Initially you'd take weekly lessons, each lasting about an hour, and you'd need to take, say, 20-40 minutes per day in lie-downs, though you could make some progress with as little as 10 minutes per day. If you're used to rushing through each day on autopilot you may well wonder where you'd find even that much time, but the reality is that when you do start taking the regular lie-downs you find that you function more efficiently for the rest of the time and in this way the time set aside is made up. You might also start questioning just why you're running around like a scalded cat all the time, and make changes to give yourself more peace and space.
What would probably open the AT most to the 'time consuming' criticism, however, is the fact that the AT is a mental discipline that you learn to use all the time in your everyday life. To an outsider this can appear to be an unacceptable degree of devotion and commitment, but that perception is based on the mistaken notion that the AT is yet another thing for you to 'do'. In fact, as we shall see, the AT is a discipline of un-doing, which involves letting go of habitual movements and responses to situations and attending fully to the means by which we move ourselves and achieve goals. Those who fully take up the AT discover that, far from being another time-consuming thing to do, it's simply a better, more efficient and more enjoyable way of living, with the potential of rich rewards indeed.
Who is the Alexander Technique for?
The majority of people taking up the AT do so initially because of a physical problem that has come to light, e.g., osteoarthritis, lower back or neck trouble or other joint pains, or work-related repetitive strain injury problems. Others take it up because of more obviously stress-related problems such as anxiety, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome or migraines. And a smaller number of particularly self-aware people - the real wise ones! - take it up without the prompting of any obvious physical problems, because they understand that the AT is a powerful key to getting much more out of life, both physically and mentally, and minimizing the prospect of all manner of physical problems developing in later life. Nobody is too old or too young (or too well!) to benefit from the AT. Musicians, actors, ballet dancers have particularly severe demands made upon their 'posture' and physical co-ordination, and people from these professions have always ranked high among the numbers learning the AT.
I particularly recommend the AT for dentists and surgeons because of the repeated harmful positions they get into during the course of their work. Even if they can't improve those positions very much, at least they can learn to return to a 'dynamically balanced state of rest' in good alignment in-between times. They'd also then understand the AT enough to put many of their patients onto it and so reduce the load upon the health services - for people using the AT are, on average, healthier people.
On the other hand, many people, as an excuse for not taking up the AT, put forward words to the effect of "I'm already damaged goods" or "I'm too far gone - I've got a steel pin in my back" or "My troubles are because one of my legs is longer than the other, and nothing can be done about that" or similar. The truth is that for even these people the AT would give great benefits, for it enables you to get the best use out of what you actually have, even if it's damaged or malformed. Indeed, my (excellent) second AT teacher had had a steel pin put in her lower back in the course of the problems that caused her to take up the AT in the first place, and I myself have unequal leg length (right femur an inch longer than my left one).
Also, some of the many people who are told by various practitioners that a small inequality of leg length is the cause (or major aggravator) of their problems may have been incorrectly or at least incompletely informed, because their slight scoliosis ('S'-shaped lateral bend) in the spine, which slightly tilts the pelvis laterally, may have solely a different cause. According to my own understanding, the real cause of such scoliosis that isn't caused by unequal leg-length is actually almost always something right outside the understanding of the medical profession and indeed most 'alternative therapy' practitioners too, for it tends to be part of the 'scared to be here' (otherwise unhelpfully known as the 'schizoid') 'character structure', which I explain about in The Five Human Character Structures - Their True Significance - but it can be present as a very partial manifestation of that 'character structure', so that a fair number of people who don't very obviously show that 'character structure' do still show some perhaps rather subtle elements of it, such as a slight scoliosis.
The AT may or may not be able to do a lot to remove the scoliosis itself, though its grounding effects do help a bit, because the scoliosis tends to be part of a 'package' in which poor grounding is the basic problem. Actually, to address that isn't the great problem that you might expect, even though at the moment vanishingly few people (even healers) know how to do it. Genuinely effective methods can be found on Healing and Self-Actualization - The Safest and Quickest Way. A particular need is for clearance of stored emotional issues and traumas, and in particular the clearance from oneself of attached parasitic 'lost' souls, which would be the true owners of at least the very major portion of emotional issues that one is carrying (one isn't necessarily aware of those issues), and the dissolution / inactivation of any active connections to the primary archetypes that one may be carrying. The easing out of such a scoliosis can cause temporary hip or/and knee pain when walking, and at such times there's just a possibility of medics misdiagnosing that as arthritis. I myself experienced what was apparently this effect in 2007, and the not-too troublesome pain when walking disappeared again over a month or two.
In the case of scoliosis caused primarily by unequal leg length (which is actually my situation, having right femur about an inch longer than the left one), I've found it surprisingly easy to correct for that by having the longer leg bent more than the left leg in standing positions. For me, once I'd identified the situation (amazingly, not until I was coming towards 76 years old!), it was quite surprising how my body readjusted so readily (though with a few days' tiresome adjustment pains in the back, plus associated sciatica), so that it then quickly became second nature to have my right leg just that little bit (more) bent so that the top of my pelvis was roughly level. I deliberately don't always maintain that better spinal alignment, however, because standing or walking always with my right leg bent or more bent would be problematical for me too. The best solution would actually be to have surgery to shorten the longer femur - except that that's not a practical option for me in my 70s, owing to likely muscle loss during the necessary post-operation healing / recovery period when I couldn't do my normal hiking to maintain muscle mass. If I were young, this wouldn't be a significant issue.
For a long and quite punchy list of benefits from using the AT, see 51 Reasons To Try Alexander Technique in 2017.*
* This link isn't meant as a specific endorsement, however, of the main site there, which sells ergonomic office seating. I've no doubt it's fully reputable, but I've no experience of it. Also, I'd always recommend to AT users that they put priority on learning to sit well on simple seating (i.e., through applying the AT) rather than spend significant sums of money on buying speciality 'ergonomic' seating that could well actually be doing harm by taking away incentive to, yes, learn to sit well on simple seating! - Particularly as you can't sensibly go carrying ergonomic seating around with you for occasions when you'd be wanting to sit down for a while.
Theoretically it's for everyone, but...
In practice certain common socially ingrained attitudes prevent the vast majority of people from being able to learn or use the technique. For example, most people seem unable to adjust to the very notion of such powerful self-help; they may want AT lessons, but only as therapy that's done to them instead of actually learning to use the AT themselves. Such people will benefit little if at all. Many other people are so unaware of their habits of misuse, or of the possibilities of change in their lives, even after a series of lessons, that they can't progress with the AT. Usually, however, such people don't seek AT lessons in the first place unless perhaps pressured to do so (e.g., by a well-meaning but perhaps misguided partner). A common variant of this situation is where a person has some awareness of the need for, or possibilities of, change in her life but is simply afraid of letting go of what's familiar - 'I prefer the devil I already know, thank you very much'.
Many people who do take lessons make only limited progress and eventually give up use of the AT because some of their habitual rigid ways of perceiving things cause them persistently to misunderstand the technique's basic principles, despite its elegant simplicity and the best endeavours of excellent AT teachers. Such people will usually speak highly of what the AT has done for them, but will have little conception of how much further and in what other ways they could improve if they applied the technique fully for the rest of their lives.
As I understand it nowadays, indeed only no-soul people (who are only a tiny minority of the human population at large) can integrate the AT fully and effectively into their lives (that is, understanding it properly as a flexibly applied principle rather than taking it on just as a set of rules). Other people's degree of ability / inability to do so is related primarily to their amount of soul programming - or, in other words, how far removed they are from the basic healthy no-soul state. However, even in the case of no-soul people, many have direct interferences from the garbage, which distort their ability to understand the AT or / and their motivation to take it on properly.
Body use and misuse
How are we misusing our bodies?
Since early childhood, to some extent all of us have built up a large and unedifying collection of interrelated muscular tensions, which exert excessive force in the joints of the skeleton; such excess force is often unbalanced and causes poor alignment of the bones. This is particularly true in the case of the spine. These excess forces in many cases cause premature wear (osteoarthritis), and aggravate joint problems that have arisen for other reasons. Many people are 'blissfully' unaware of these tensions in their own bodies. The tense muscles interfere with the operation of other muscles, which become slack and often over-extended and more or less unable to carry out their proper function.
A good example of this sort of interference caused by tension is in the neck, where large muscles running down the neck are normally excessively tense, preventing the operation of small muscles whose task is to keep individual vertebrae in proper alignment and to control the head's position. Thus, paradoxically, the more tension there is pulling the vertebrae down upon each other and causing excessive wear, the more likely you are to find that with certain head movements the vertebrae slop around against each other in an uncontrolled way, causing clicks and scrunches, because of lack of correct muscle tone in the right areas.
Not just tension.
This latter example shows an important point in understanding the AT. We aren't dealing just with tension but with all sorts of related problems including chronic slackness of certain muscles. The majority of people have some degree of slackness in their lower backs and a lot of tension in the upper back, shoulder and neck regions. What the AT works towards is correct and appropriate tone in all the body's muscles.
What's it like to be using your body well, then?
When not carrying out a particular movement your body is in a state of 'dynamically balanced rest'. This is true no matter whether you're lying, sitting or standing. Minimum effort is used to achieve a task. If the movement of a finger can achieve it, then the rest of the arm doesn't move. If the task doesn't require more than the hand to move, then just the hand moves. No part of your torso becomes involved in a task unless the task is difficult to carry out without such involvement of the torso. A well-functioning body thus always seeks to keep movement to its most distant parts that can carry out a particular task, and meanwhile the rest of the body continues to maintain that dynamically balanced state of rest (but isn't held still either, for that would apply unnecessary effort, and thus does allow a fair amount of very minor movements and transient variations around the point of absolute balance - which is why I talk of 'dynamic balance' rather than just 'balance' as being the healthy state).
No sense of effort is required for normal body states and movement, because these depend primarily upon built-in reflex responses to gravity. You can let go of every single muscular tension you thought was holding you up, and you don't fall over - in fact you become a little taller.
This body state is accompanied by a feeling of well-being, of a delightful lightness and lack of effort in all normal activities. You cope well with everyday situations, not normally being upset by them, and indeed responding in constructive, thought-out ways instead of simply reacting.
What's so powerful about ceasing to misuse our bodies?
Apart from the immediate physical benefits of minimizing, eliminating or preventing various painful symptoms, and all body movements becoming increasingly light and effortless in feel, there's the fact that wear on joints becomes greatly reduced, so your active life is likely to be considerably extended. But it doesn't stop there. The procedure of directing the mind to let go of the habits of body misuse is at the same time enabling the mind itself to let go of age-old emotional tensions and rigidities of outlook. No two people experience the improvements in exactly the same way, but most feel increasingly a sense of lightness and well-being, and become more and more inclined to respond in thought-out constructive ways to the crazy situations that life presents them with, instead of just reacting out of ingrained feelings or habit. Such people are actually recovering parts of their intelligence and intrinsic capacity to enjoy life, which had become locked up over the years by all the accumulating tensions.
Dispense with the psychotherapist as well as the doctor!
A great aid towards the ultimate mental health
While you may on occasions still have cause to see a medical practitioner, consistent use of the AT undoes not only many common chronic physical problems, but also all manner of emotional ones - even ones you never knew you had. The beauty of this method is that you don't have to stop and consider whether you have any sort of emotional tensions or problems; as you improve your body usage, so you simply feel better and function better in all respects. No need for analysis or discussion of the causes of anything - you simply let it all go anyway, and greatly enjoy the experience. Also, the general cultivation of the healthy sort of mindfulness is itself a great enhancer / cultivator of the ultimate mental health that clear-mindedness brings.
I don't claim, however, that the AT will clear anything like ALL your emotional issues - which is why I strongly recommend the use of other methods that I present in Healing and Self-Actualization - The Safest and Quickest Way, in addition to the AT.
The technique itself - how is it done?
A central feature of the AT and indeed of continued improvement in your self-usage is un-doing. You train yourself to set aside the tense and limiting concept of doing, because that means end-gaining - choosing a goal and then going on autopilot (in other words using all manner of habitual responses) to achieve that goal. You retrain yourself to attend first and foremost to the means by which you achieve each movement, each goal. Of course you can't attend consciously all at once to every detail of every single movement you make, but nonetheless that marks the direction of the changes that you'd be allowing to occur.
In practice the most basic things to attend to are allowing muscles in your neck and back to be released from inappropriate tensions and your spine consequently to be nicely lengthened, with your head in a lightly balanced state on top. You learn to pay virtually constant attention to this while going about your everyday life, and it appears to be fundamental to all the other improvements that accrue.
The term 'primary control' is a bit of AT jargon commonly used to signify the most basic goal that you work towards in learning the AT. Your spine (back plus neck) and shoulders need to be thought of as a single (loosely) crucifix-shaped unit, whose state is central to that of all the other parts of the body. On the one hand you concentrate on enabling muscular release and consequent lengthening in the spine and broadening between the shoulders, and on the other, you don't allow spine or shoulders to become involved in particular body movements unless it's essential (most of the time it's not). Your spine and shoulders and associated musculature are thus regarded as being at the core of the dynamically balanced state of rest that your whole body is able to return to after each movement.
The foregoing isn't meant to signify that the spine and shoulders should be held immobile, but simply that they don't become directly used in the carrying out of particular voluntary movements unless that involvement is essential. In practice, in a really free and balanced body even quite a small and peripheral movement will cause involuntary balancing adjustments within the core, so actually quite a lot of very small movements in the 'core' of spine and shoulders can be regarded as an integral part of that dynamically balanced state of rest.
A particularly important element of 'primary control' is the maintaining of a balanced, poised relationship of head to neck. You learn to stop moving your neck about with your head movements, for the head needs to be pivoting and rotating lightly and effortlessly on just the very top of the neck. Your neck, therefore, nearly all the time needs to remain in alignment with the rest of the spine and function as an extension of the back rather than as a stalk on which to wag the head. This means undoing your ingrained habits of head movement and learning to allow the head to move freely on its own.
This might at first sound like a great restriction on head movement, and indeed some people go wrong in their learning of the AT by fixing their heads in a stiff, relatively immobile semblance of a nicely poised head. You can always check that your head is as free and as mobile as it needs to be by carrying out a spot 'teeterability test'. However, it's fact that the majority of people move their heads about in too gross a way, and once you've saved your neck from all that abuse, your head movements, such as during conversation, will be smaller and more subtle. If you feel that you have to wag your head (and neck) a lot to express yourself, then that perception is definitely part of the problem that you need to resolve.
The head / neck relationship - forget 'forward and up'!
Most books on the AT that I've seen extol the virtues of keeping your head in a 'forward-and-up' relationship with the spine. This is a good dictum only if you happen to mean the right thing by this, and many people take on board precisely the worst possible meaning - the very posture that the 'forward and up' direction is supposed to contradict! The most common distortion of the head-neck relationship is to have the neck to some extent protruding forward and the upper part of the head pulled back by a chronic shortening of the large muscles in the back of the neck. As always, little benefit can be gained by just hauling yourself out of this distortion as a physiotherapist would probably have you do.
Actually in my view (and also on the basis of my listening to the views of other AT practitioners / teachers), the term 'forward and up', although widely repeated and passed on in AT circles, is best dropped because it causes more confusion than it resolves. As far as I can ascertain, what was really meant originally by that most unfortunate expression was actually "Stop drooping your neck and pulling your head back". In other words it was a matter of stopping doing something that was interfering with your natural state - not trying to haul yourself into a specific position (which could then become just another held posture).
I like what one AT teacher (Sandra Riddell) had to say on the subject:
I've recently found that I don't use the term 'forward and up' at all with beginning students, or in workshops and classes - it mostly creates confusion and doing. At the moment I'm using variations along the lines of "Ask the neck to let go of the head" followed by something like "so that the head can lead the spine into length...." Several students have said they find this clearer and more effective than just saying 'free the neck'; indeed I do also.
Actually I have a little pragmatic heresy to add here, for in certain cases it can be helpful initially to get holding one's head in a facsimile of good alignment with the neck. I know about this because I did it myself; indeed I had no sensible alternative! I was desperate with neck pain, and I deliberately and awarely held my neck in a worthy facsimile of good alignment, with full understanding of what I was doing. This actually helped me greatly, immediately enabling me to go out on my long hard hikes once more and no longer be tortured by neck pain afterwards. However, what I was also doing was keeping aware that I was initially holding my head in that much less harmful position and also working on releasing the neck tensions and progressively letting go of the holding. In particular, I was building into my self perception an 'image' of my head being loosely poised and balanced on top of my neck.
This actually worked very well, so that soon I was simply not drooping my neck, and my head was sitting increasingly lightly on top. However, my use of my spine remains a bit stiff and awkward even now because of the accumulated considerable wear on vertebrae and the fact that attempts at nice flexible use of my spine has at times caused me bad flare-ups of pain that could take days to subside. In fact because of this I probably still am to some extent maintaining an element of holding my back and especially my neck in a certain degree of 'good alignment' facsimile. Certain well-meaning people without full understanding of my physical condition have urged me to do a lot of flexing exercises for back and neck in order to increase mobility and prevent fusion of vertebrae - but this is largely unworkable with such a clapped-out spine, except over a very limited range of movement.
However, thanks to my taking up in 2007 the methods that I present in Healing and Self-Actualization - The Safest and Quickest Way, by late 2008 my neck was easing up and actually becoming more flexible, and I think the same was also beginning to happen for my back - not bad for a 66-year-old! Considerable care is still needed by me, though, about increased flexing, for the wear on the vertebrae is still real, and there would by now be considerable limits as to what the surrounding soft tissues can take without injury. More recently I have indeed been carrying out a brief 'head rolling' neck flexing exercise every morning, though the signs are that any attempt to do anything similar with my back is very liable to cause another pain flare-up that takes up to a few days to go altogether.
Things to remember, then, about a healthy head / neck relationship or dynamic alignment are:
- Always think of the head as being loosely poised on top of the neck, not held there.
- For this purpose, see the task of the large muscles down the back of the neck as being not to hold the head on but simply to stop the head falling forward. Their tension can thus can be released to just before the point at which the head would fall or tilt too much forward.
- Neck and back are best thought of as a single dynamic unit, which is always gently seeking to lengthen (if only one would let it do so!).
- It's helpful to think of that lengthening continuing out through the top of the head.
Very often people suggest that you imagine a length of string gently pulling you up from
the crown (the highest point, a little back from centre of the top of your head, and
indeed further back than many people realize).
I myself have never found the notion of anything external helpful; I simply maintain a certain sense of rising at my crown (as part of the operation of a notional 'anti-gravity' rising through the spine) as part of the general lengthening.
- That rising of the crown implies for most people a usually slightly lower gaze than
they were used to, pre-AT (they can readjust their gaze with their eyes to compensate).
It may be sensed also as a slight tilt forwards of the head on top of the neck - the
actual pivoting point being roughly level with the eyes, but more at the back. This
sense of a rising of the crown and a slight forward tilt of the head in relation to
the neck is very good for singing, and indeed may then be temporarily slightly
accentuated - especially enabling higher notes to be sung in a full, resonant voice,
without sounding as though you're being strangled.
However, I eventually found that my default vertical angle of gaze was a little too low, and needed corresponding upward readjustment; this is something for all AT users to watch out for and act upon when found.
- Very importantly, you don't actually try to achieve or 'do' any extension or lengthening of your spine; you just imagine it and train yourself to incorporate that into your ongoing self perception. This in turn gradually trains the relevant muscles to bring about what at first you're just visualizing, in a healthy and flexible manner, whereas a deliberately 'done' extension would itself be applying effort, tensions and - yes - distortions.
It's extremely difficult to get the full sense of a healthy head / neck relationship without the direct physical assistance of a good AT teacher, but as you do so it would be greatly helpful for you to keep it in mind at every possible moment during your waking hours (even while lying in bed), so you get used to the new sense of poise and balance. Eventually this state becomes so familiar that anything else is actually uncomfortable and you're no longer having to fight the old habit of neck abuse.
My particular thanks to Robert Rickover and members of his Google email AT discussion group for discussing in exemplary positive and constructive manner my original, flawed writing in this 'Forward and Up' section in March 2007 and prompting me to be more focused and describe more clearly what I'd already come to understand from my own experience.
The usual starting point
One-to-one lessons are usually required, though a very strongly motivated and self-aware person can make quite a lot of progress with the sole assistance of one of the better books on the AT. I know this latter is true because I myself had already made dramatic progress in three weeks before my first lesson. It's worth remembering too that the AT founder, F.M. Alexander, managed without a teacher and indeed without any books on the subject - he had no alternative! Although he was undoubtedly an exceptional person, the assumption widely held in the AT 'Establishment' that virtually nobody else would have a similar level of ability to pick up the technique himself is actually unfounded, even though it's clear from real observations that people with such an ability would be few and far between. On the other hand, however well you might pick up the AT from a book, your progress would be hampered by all sorts of misunderstandings and dead ends (Alexander himself didn't exactly learn and formulate the technique overnight, and left much to be refined), whereas with suitable books and a good teacher you can get the best of both worlds and improve much more quickly.
An excellent resource for working on your own (and indeed getting the best out of the AT even if you have a teacher) is the AT Self Study page of The Complete Guide to the Alexander Technique website - without prejudice to all the information I give to that end in this guide, of course!
Your teacher, as well as explaining aspects of the technique, will manipulate your neck/head and your limbs and spinal alignment. The aim is very different from what, say, a chiropractor would do. Here, as far as possible at the time, you let the teacher move the part freely, seeking to set aside any urge to assist or resist the movement or react in any other way. All the movements are very gentle. The teacher is simply giving you the experience of that part of your body moving or being adjusted into better alignment without your habitual interference.
Sitting. You will have some of these manipulations done while sitting on an upright chair, and will be adjusted into a lighter, looser, more balanced sitting state. You will be guided through a light and effortless mode of rising from the seated position to standing, and of descending again to the balanced sitting state.
Standing. Likewise, the teacher will acquaint you with a beautifully light and balanced mode of standing upright. When you start noticing significant release while standing you will probably be amazed at how much tension throughout your body had been trying to hold you upright when in reality it had been interfering with your body's inbuilt reflex response that counters the effect of gravity. Paradoxically, through letting those tensions drop away, you not only feel taller but actually become a little taller.
Lying. When lying on your back on a firm surface with your legs drawn up so that your knees are raised and pointing towards the ceiling, you're least liable to be reinforcing the habitual muscular tensions, and the teacher will probably have you at times lying in this way on a therapy table or firm couch, with a suitable thickness of books under your head to raise it to an appropriate height. Again, the teacher will go round and successively move each of your limbs, your shoulders and your head, so that you gain the release that occurs when these parts of your body are moved without your calling into play your habitual interferences.
Finding a teacher
Particularly in towns and cities you can often locate one or more teachers by enquiring at local complementary health centres. Others may come to light because they give adult education courses, so their names appear in your local adult education directory. For the most part adult education classes (for groups) are of limited use, but they can be a means of pinpointing a teacher with whom you consider it worthwhile having proper one-to-one lessons. Others may be located simply by word of mouth. You may not know anyone who's had AT lessons, but anyone who seems to be conversant at all with local alternative therapy facilities may know, even if they haven't been involved with the AT themselves. Look also for ads in places like a window or noticeboard of a whole- or health-food shop or vegetarian / 'healthy eating' eating place. Other sources of such information may come from musicians and actors, many of whom may already have been having AT lessons themselves.
If at all possible, try to get some picture of any teachers you've heard about, by getting first-hand accounts of them and their teaching style from people who've had lessons from them.
Choice of teacher
Even among fully qualified AT teachers there are middling and bad ones as well as the good ones. And then, if we just consider the good ones, each has his/her own viewpoint and style in applying and teaching the technique. Some will explain things constantly, others will concentrate more on giving lots of tips appropriate to gaining release from your particular misuse patterns, and others will tell you little at all and rely on your gaining body awareness and a sense of lightness from manipulation during the lessons, which, they believe, would be enough in itself to lead you on in applying the AT in your everyday life. Others may bring in concepts that aren't generally regarded as basic to the AT, such as the non-physical aspects, the aura, 'energy flow' and chakras.* It's helpful to be aware of this variety of approaches to AT teaching, so that you might choose a teacher with an approach and style with which you can empathize. In general terms, these approaches aren't actually wrong per se, though if applied too narrowly and/or to the wrong students each can be limiting. It should be noted, though, that a significant proportion of teachers do present serious distortions of the AT. A common one of these will described later under 'teacher problems'.
* As I caution in Healing and Self-Actualization - The Safest and Quickest Way, you actually need to keep clear of such specific descriptions of our non-physical aspects, for they're actually illusory, and the people who can 'see' or otherwise 'sense' them don't realize that they're being given those impressions by a most troublesome influence that I call the garbage (aka 'dark force', 'forces of darkness', 'forces of evil'), for an insidious and pernicious reason. Basically, it's best to keep clear of teachers of the AT, or indeed teachers of any other life improvement method, who think in terms of the aura, auric structures (including chakras) and 'energy flow' - very ungrounding concepts to take on board; you could end up taking on a lot more seriously harmful 'baggage' from such teachers than you realize.
The best way to choose an AT teacher is undoubtedly by use of energy testing (NOT dowsing or channelling!). Generally speaking, the very best AT teachers would be no-soul people (i.e., according to my particular working model of how reincarnation works and how certain differences between people are best explained), for these have the deepest possible awareness and so stand the least likelihood of teaching any distortions of the AT. Otherwise, an AT teacher who is in their first incarnation of their particular soul would probably do, but there would be liable to be subtle distortions in their understanding of the AT, which would make it less effective even though they seem to be doing and saying all the 'right' things. Anyone who's reincarnated more times than just once would almost certainly be teaching a significant distortion of the AT (notwithstanding any professional AT teaching qualification), tending to concentrate on following rules and 'getting things right' rather than working on the basis of a flexible deep understanding. Such information about particular AT teachers can be found out by means of very careful and rigorous energy testing. It would be pointless to ask an AT teacher about their incarnational status, for few or indeed virtually none of them would really know what you were on about, and virtually any of them would be liable to hold wildly incorrect beliefs about reincarnation, probably believing that (s)he is an 'old soul' (which actually none of them would be - as far as I can tell, the 'received wisdom' about supposed 'old souls' among healers, psychics and mystics being hopelessly wrong).
Despite appearances, it's a lesson, not a therapy session - IMPORTANT!
There are many people who waste money on going for AT lessons, regarding it as a therapy that's done to them. In general they get little lasting benefit, and indeed conscientious AT teachers will recognise when this sort of thing is happening and gently ask the particular clients to discontinue their sessions with them. True, the release you get during a lesson with a good teacher can be dramatic and extremely beneficial, but, whether or not the teacher tells you to, you then need to take the improved functioning back into your everyday life, allowing yourself to keep getting in touch with and extending those releases and other improvements in body use that you gained in your lesson. Part of that process involves committing yourself to taking daily lie-downs, as explained below. If you do this consistently, you will eventually get to the point where you readily allow your state of release and balance to return, no matter where you are - even, for example, while standing in a bus queue. You can become completely self-sufficient, with the AT completely assimilated into your lifestyle so that it no longer seems to be a special technique, but is simply a better and continually improving way of living. In practice most people would benefit from the occasional 'top-up' lesson after their initial series of perhaps 12 to 20 weekly lessons, just to keep them going in the right direction.
What can I 'do' at home?
Apart from gradually retraining yourself in your body use generally, to carry out all tasks and body movements with a minimum of physical effort and a maximum sense of lightness and balance, it's the lying down (as done on the teacher's table or couch) that's the most important thing to set time aside for.
Probably you'd have to lie down on the floor - preferably on really soft carpet or a firm closed-cell camping mat - for a bed is very unlikely to be sufficiently flat and firm. A really firm couch might do, if long enough. The need is for a flat, firm surface upon which your back can be let down into an undistorted, fully lengthened state. Get your teacher to advise you as to what would be a suitable thickness of books for you to support your head when lying like this; this depends very much on the individual, and will probably reduce somewhat as you progress - particularly if you have a forwardly hunched or drooping upper back to start with.
Once your optimal head height from the floor has stabilized and remains the same (quite small) distance, you may find it best to use a soft foam pad that raises your head sufficiently (having the pad covered with something to keep it clean and free from skin and hair oils). I myself use such a foam pad, protected simply by a suitably folded old cotton handkerchief.
Going down onto the floor
There are arguments for and against different ways of getting down into that lying position. Some people (including me) normally get down into a sitting position on the floor, with legs out in front, then allow the back to unfurl onto the floor, using the hands to support the head as it approaches the support. This method of 'going down' is good for building and maintaining strength and a supple co-ordination of the back muscles. On the other hand it can mean that you come to rest with a tensed-up neck. Some people therefore prefer to go down in a gentler way that's more or less a reverse of the preferred method of getting up (see below), seeking to give minimum work and tension to the back and neck muscles.
Whichever method you use to lie down, your overall aim needs to be to arrive on the floor in as released a state as possible, with maximum length in your spine. Thus while unfurling backwards onto the floor you need to be imagining your back releasing, lengthening and broadening, so encouraging it to do so. Think of your back spreading out onto the floor as though it were melting butter or maybe a melting watch in a Salvador Dalí painting - or whatever image works best for you at the time. Also, as part of that freeing up, set aside any habitual urge to hold or catch your breath - even for just an instant. Allow yourself to continue breathing as though you were doing absolutely nothing.
Once lying there
With your legs loosely straight but moderately apart, wait perhaps for a minute or two, to get in touch with your body in the lying state and allow release to occur as you feel the force of gravity on all the different parts of your body (allow each to feel heavy and as if no longer under your control). Then decide to raise one of your knees, so allowing the foot to come closer - but don't actually do it yet! Think of it and how you will achieve that end with the minimum of effort. If you just went ahead and 'did' it you'd once again operate on a habitual level and probably use all manner of muscles and parts of your body that don't need to be involved at all. The only muscles that you'd need to use are those to raise the one upper leg; the lower leg should be allowed to hang or drag along limply, for the mere raising of the knee will then cause the foot to be drawn towards you. Think of the knee being drawn upwards by a levitational force.
When the movement occurs with no interference it feels deliciously light and effortless. In practice you'd probably find that all sorts of interferences still occur when you actually give your consent for the knee to be raised. For example various movements and passing tensions may occur in the other leg, and your lower back may well tighten. Most likely your neck would tighten too.
Although you need to eliminate these habitual responses, it's important not to allow a sense of failure because at the moment you can't stop particular interferences. The truth is that you're firmly on the path of improvement, and that's what counts. Therefore simply make a mental note of all the unnecessary muscular involvement that has occurred in spite of your best endeavours, and rejoice in the fact that you're already aware of so many things that are going to get better. By remembering all these interferences, and even noting them down, you will have yardsticks against which to recognise the magnitude of your progress later on.
Having raised one knee, go through a similar procedure with the other leg. Some books suggest you should bring your feet as close as possible to your bottom, but I find it better not to be so bunched up because my leg muscles release more fully when the legs are bent at a slightly easier angle.
Before you attend to any fine adjustment of leg positioning, the next thing you need to attend to is allowing your spine to lengthen as much as it can at this moment. By drawing your legs up you've now made it possible for the whole of your back to lower onto the floor if it's able to release sufficiently yet. To assist this process you need to ease your pelvis forwards (i.e., away from your head) or to haul the upper part of your torso away from the lower part (as a teacher would do for you) - or both. At this stage you will find that significant lengthening of the spine occurs, unless you happen to be one of the people whose back happens to be already fixed in a straight shape that lies flat against the floor without any change of shape.
In general, until you have some experience, it's best to stick with easing the pelvis forward. Do this with your hands underneath, seeking to minimize any involvement of your shoulders in the movement. I found that, after some nine months' quite concentrated progress, I got additional spine lengthening by following the pelvis adjustment by gently hauling the top of my torso in the other direction, and I still use both methods each time I lie down. If you use the latter of the two methods you need to be aware that this gives some work to the shoulders and therefore in the long run might be regarded as a bad thing*; in any case it's then important to pay immediate attention to the shoulders to allow them to release as much as they can at the moment.
* I'm actually rather heretical about this sort of thing, because, to my best understanding so far, there's nothing problematical about using the shoulders in that way - provided you do so with awareness that you're doing it, and you're therefore allowing them to release well when you've finished actively using them. That would all be part of a healthy application of the AT. The problem lies with unaware use of the shoulders, in which case they'd be remaining under very unhelpful 'autopilot' control and wouldn't release. The same principle applies to various active uses of the neck, which is another part where one is generally told that one should not involve the neck in various body movements such as lying down. What all this boils down to is that there's a lot of rigidity in quite widespread AT 'received wisdom', and this needs replacing with a much more thought-out and flexible approach that properly recognises the uniqueness of each situation and indeed each moment.
Having allowed what spine lengthening is available at this point, you now attend to your legs. Your legs need to be so positioned that they're delicately balanced, your knees not falling over one way or the other despite not being held up by any muscular tension at all. Ideally you'd have arrived at your present position with the legs already beautifully free and balanced and not held upright at all, but in practice you'd probably have to make adjustments to get the legs into their respective most balanced positions. Check how free a leg is by very gently pushing it sideways with a finger, one way and then the other. If it really is in a state of freedom and balance, the moment the knee is moved from the point of balance it would start falling over and you'd then have to restore it to its balanced position. The freer your legs are, the more difficult it would seem to find that point of balance where no muscular effort is required to stop your knees falling over; it's nonetheless important to achieve this balanced state and indeed periodically to recheck that you haven't started holding the legs in that position.
Meanwhile, direct your attention to your neck, the different parts of your back, your shoulders, your chest and breathing, your jaws, face, abdomen and successively each part of each limb, and in fact each other part of your body that happens to come to mind. In every case you both observe as far as you can what is the state of the part you've focused on, and think of it releasing, softening, letting go, or whatever is the most appropriate form of words or image for you just then - be creative! Attend also to your breathing. (See the note on breathing.)
After, say, your first round of your body, attend again to your lower back. Unless that area is already very free and always settles immediately onto the floor, you can probably now obtain a little further release and lengthening by running your fingers up and down underneath both sides of the lower back - even if there's no obvious free space there. This is worth repeating at intervals during the lie-down until you're sure that it's initiating no further release. Each time you sense any release, assist the lengthening by easing your pelvis a little forwards or gently hauling your upper torso away from the pelvis. You can encourage still further release, especially of back and shoulders, by a spell of very slow deep breathing. (See the note on breathing.)
If you're one of those with a back already fixed in a straight shape that hugs the floor, then a more extensive and forceful running of your fingers up and down under your back should gradually encourage release to occur. Meanwhile ensure that your neck isn't getting at all bunched up and that your head moves outward to take up any lengthening in that region.
Let me be clear that what we're aiming for really isn't a flat back as such but a free and flexible back, lengthened as far as it will go of its own accord through removal of all excess tensions that are habitually shortening it. The healthy upright human spine has a very slight curvature, so your back in a well released and fully lengthened state will likewise settle into that residual slight curvature when you become upright. that's true even if your back started off fixed in an absolutely straight shape.
Remember not to try to make release happen. The need is to simply imagine it occurring with the intent that it be so, and allow that part of your body to take the hint. On any one occasion you'd probably find that noticeable release occurs only in certain parts of your body. Rest assured, that's normal, and whatever little seems to be happening will be paving the way for releases in other parts of your body in due course.
In your earliest stages of learning the AT you may not be aware of anything particular happening at all. That's no cause for concern, for each lie-down is still serving its important purpose in that it's preparing the ground for more tangible releases that will occur later.
Books on the AT may give you the impression that you must first of all gain release in the neck before anything else much can happen. That's highly misleading, even though it no doubt works that way for some people. True, release in the neck is of fundamental importance, but no two people are the same and there's no telling which parts of your body will undergo major release first. In my case, despite considerable neck trouble, which was my initial primary concern, it was my lower back that started really noticeably releasing first, closely followed by upper back and a first stage of release in my shoulders. Although I quickly learnt better use of my neck, really noticeable release of the tense muscles there didn't start occurring till 9 months later.
Having said that, though, I'd concur with the books in that once you can allow good release in your neck, that's about the first thing you want to check for release and balance when you're returning yourself into a better state.
During your lie-down, repeatedly make mental rounds of your body, concentrating on each part, letting yourself become aware of its state and giving it consent to release. Give special attention to those parts where you can feel release occurring, and to parts that you notice have become 'held' again; old habits will keep trying to creep in. Particularly if you cough or yawn or swallow or speak, or think a tense thought, immediately check the state of your neck again and as necessary direct it to let go of any tightening-up.
Once you seem to be getting no further release, remain lying for the allotted time, occasionally checking that nothing is surreptitiously becoming held and tensed up again. Apart from those little checks, your mind can wander far and wide then, though it's good policy to take your attention away from compulsive worry thoughts. Or you can even doze off.
What do I do with my eyes, my hands?
In general keep your eyes open and keep in touch with your surroundings and especially with anything - sounds, light, etc - from outside. By keeping your eyes closed you'd limit the usefulness of your releases by making them a cosy experience isolated from the rest of the world. You'd also very likely be operating within a pattern of progressively weakening your grounding - very harmful long-term.
Your arms and hands are best placed in a position that isn't habitual for you. In nearly all cases the best position is for the hands to be resting lightly somewhere on the upper abdomen, not quite meeting each other. Any tendency for your hands to grip, clench or fidget needs to be set aside. Also beware any sneaky tendency for one or both thumbs to become stuck out, for that can have a major interfering effect on muscular balance in far-removed parts of the body. Check for this quirk particularly if you're speaking.
I should keep quiet and not talk with anyone while lying, of course?
As a general rule, yes, for you need time and space to be undistracted in the attention you give yourself. However, no complete ban on such communication is necessary, provided you think carefully about what's going on for you. If anyone else is present while you're lying down, feel free to continue conversation, provided that you keep part of your awareness to continue monitoring your state and allowing release, and you don't try to continue talking in your old familiar (probably tense) manner. You'd need to pay special attention to not allowing habitual neck-tightening head-wagging responses to accompany your talking, and to check for and interrupt any tendency to stick a thumb out or do any other sympathetic tightening up.
If you attend well to yourself in this way, disallowing your habitual responses while talking with somebody, you may well initially find it quite difficult to speak. Your voice will probably seem strange and somewhat lower than you're used to, and absurdly devoid of your habitual expressive variations. Stay with it like that, however, for that's your real voice that you're beginning to reclaim. You can eventually take that new, less tense, mode of speaking into your everyday life. Of course you'd learn to modify it with subtle expressive nuances, but these would probably be very different from what you'd been accustomed to before.
Can I have music playing while I'm lying down?
That's not a good idea as a regular thing. It can certainly be very pleasant indeed listening to music that you enjoy while you're lying and maybe feeling beautifully spaced out. The problem is that listening to music can work a bit like keeping your eyes closed: it takes your attention rather away from the outer world, directing it to your inner world. In any case the aim here isn't to get spaced out (ungrounded) but to cultivate a certain alert awareness. You need to develop strong mental associations between your improved body state and the actual here-and-now if you're to sustain and build upon the gains made while lying down. But best to be flexible and creative about this. I myself do occasionally have music playing while I'm lying, though as a matter of policy I never actually put on music specifically for the lie-down, and, apart from the exception mentioned below, I'd advise against your doing so. An occasional musical background - perhaps because you just happened to have music playing on the radio anyway - can increase the variety and enjoyment of the experience without significant compromise of the purpose of the lie-downs.
However, that's not the end of the story, because it's possible to make important gains sometimes by having your lie-down while listening to music that has a strong emotional effect on you. There are two ways of looking at this. Such music will probably trigger excess tension, particularly in the neck, upper back and shoulders, and therefore it could be considered to be an undesirable hindrance to your release process. However, you can treat such a musical experience in a positive and extremely constructive way - to use it as a constructive challenge, and concentrate carefully on keeping in a released state those very parts of you that normally tense up while the music plays. While I haven't read or heard this point made by anyone else, I'm convinced that keeping yourself in such a released state while listening to music that otherwise causes you to tense up would bring about very important gains, not only in the way you listen to music, but also in your improved, more thought-out responses to all manner of everyday situations.
Actually for quite some years now my own personal use of the lie-downs has been more flexible than I originally described above, because I incorporated in them some self-healing practice. Thus often during my lie-downs I've been carrying out certain self-healing visualizations and the odd other practice that's compatible with the lie-down and doesn't cause significant tensing of muscles. Until the spring of 2007 I also extremely misguidedly had crystals and healing wands placed on and around myself during lie-downs, but have since come to understand that these were doing me a lot of harm and have disposed of them all. See Sacred Geometry, Wands and Crystals - A Serious Warning.
Getting up from the lie-down
On no account raise your torso directly to the sitting position again, for that would involve a tightening of neck and back muscles that would destroy much of the benefit you've gained while lying there*. Instead, first decide that you're going to get up in a moment, and, while still giving all your inner directions for release, think about how this is going to happen.
The normal best way (subject to minor variations) is, when you give consent for it to happen, to let your eyes look round towards the side onto which you're about to turn. Let your head gently follow your eyes round, leading the rest of the body and also allowing your legs to gently fall over in that direction, thus assisting your rolling over to that particular side. Maintaining the freedom of your neck, and maintaining the improved head-neck relationship, continue the rolling-over movement to bring you into a half-kneeling position from which you rise up to standing. Remain standing there at least a moment or two, and allow yourself to get into a good state of balance and poise. Repeatedly check the state of release in your neck and state of poise of your head upon it.
I find that most people, while getting up like this, forget their head / neck alignment and pull their head back so that they can still be looking ahead. I have to keep pointing out that while their neck is, say, parallel to the floor, then their gaze should be at the floor, not 'ahead', unless there's something specific they have to look at which is ahead. It does take real concentration on that alignment to forestall that auto-pilot 'look ahead' response that pulls the head back in relation to the neck. It really is okay to be looking at the floor briefly while you're getting up - even if at that point you do notice that you haven't vacuumed the carpet lately...
However, my own experience is suggestive that the above isn't the whole story and contains a bit of one of the rigid aspects of AT 'received wisdom'. The point is, there's another healthy way of getting up, which can sometimes be handy if you need to get up very quickly indeed - but it would be very unhelpful unless carried out with all due awareness. I'd use this method ONLY if I'd gone down by means of a direct 'unfurling' of my back, so that I know that my back is strong enough to handle this particular means of rising without gaining strain or undue stress.
For this method, you pivot your head forwards as far as it will easily go, preferably also initially supporting it in that position by both hands on the back of your head. With the clear intent that you're avoiding as far as possible any tensing of the neck, you then reverse your unfurling motion of going down - so, in a smooth motion you somewhat curl up your back and allow it to straighten again as your torso comes into an upright sitting position. Your hands would have almost immediately come away from the head-supporting position as you started to rise, and would have gone to the floor to support you in the rising of your torso. Then, sitting upright with legs straight out in front, you use your hands on the floor to give you a bit of lift to get yourself effectively into the 'getting up from chair' configuration*, which enables you to rise effortlessly in a gentle jack-in-a-box fashion then to a loose and relaxed standing position.
* See 'Sitting' further below.
The doorbell or phone goes - it's okay to get up quickly then?
No. Not that quickly, or you're just stepping back into automatic end-gaining and destroying most of the careful letting-go work that you've just been doing. This may feel difficult at first, but the procedure has to be immediately to set aside the impulse to jump up, and to pause just long enough (just a few seconds) to allow release of suddenly tensed muscles, especially in the neck, and then to direct yourself through your established getting-up procedure. This can be carried out more quickly than usual, so that the total delay as compared with springing directly forwards off the floor would be no more than about five to ten seconds.
By setting aside a habitual response to a startle stimulus you actually make a much more fundamental gain than just the standard gains of a lie-down. That little delay is sure worth making, even if it's a couple of Jehovah's Witnesses at the door or a heavy breathing person of the opposite sex offering double glazing on the phone.
How long do I lie there, and how often?
Anything from a very few minutes to 20 minutes or even longer. Books and most teachers urge you to aim for a good 20 minutes each time. Personally, I often get too uncomfortable lying so long on the floor even with my very soft carpet, and my usual main lie-down duration is 15 minutes. However, a quick lie of even three minutes is much better than no lie. As for how often, within reason the more you do it the more you'd gain - with the proviso that you also need to continue your everyday activities, in which to learn to integrate the better and freer modes of functioning.
Undoubtedly I was a bit exceptional in my dedication. For the first few months I was taking at least 12 of these lie-downs per day, though some of those were very short. I didn't specifically decide to take that many but scheduled them between my normal daily activities, e.g., before and after each meal, and before and after going out in the morning, before and after my late evening reading session, and immediately before going to bed. Nowadays this has reduced to normally four: after each meal and immediately before going to bed - the main one (15 minutes) being after breakfast, and the others usually being anything from about three to seven minutes. An additional lie-down can be taken - and is recommended - when you become aware of a tension that you can't simply let go of otherwise, or if you get the recurrence of a back or neck pain for example. Similarly, it's a good thing to have a lie-down as soon as practical after any upsetting / stressing event - no matter whether it's the receipt of a £597,000,002 tax demand or your house and family just having been demolished in a force 9 earthquake!
I don't nowadays recommend using the AT lie-downs as any sort of primary means of emotional release, as they can tend to be used (or rather, misused) to 'put the lid on' when actually the emotion is better actively released by one means or another. In general, following some emotional upset it's far the best to use a speedy emotional clearance method such as I present in Healing and Self-Actualization - The Safest and Quickest Way first, but then, as part of the clearance process, an AT lie-down can be very helpful and enjoyable.
Of course even one lie-down per day will do a lot of good, but it would then be more important to make it more like the normally recommended 20 minutes if you can possibly manage it.
Excuses for not doing the lie-downs...
But I really haven't the time!
Ah, well that's part of your problem, and you do have to tackle it to make good progress. It's very common for people to feel trapped by their everyday routine because it seems to them that they've so much to do. Note that hideous last word, 'do'. Quite apart from the beneficial physical releases that occur during lying down, a very important effect of the regular lie-downs is that you knock holes in your habit of compulsive routine; you're starting to take charge of your life and say 'Hey, wait a minute, what's all the rush about? I'm taking nn minutes now for myself, and the world can wait for me for a change!'. The very fact of scheduling chunks of time just for yourself is the beginning of a glorious un-doing. You're then beginning to show true respect towards yourself, and are beginning to exert the wonderful force of your reasoning power over the oppressive force of habitual feelings and routine. Yes, in an important sense the AT could be said to be subversive - deliciously so!
Yes, but I really don't have the time! Honest!
that's no worthwhile 'reason' at all. If your time is so committed that it apparently leaves you no time for a lie-down most days, then part of your un-doing process needs to be to cut down on that excessive commitment. If you don't, the latter may well kill you - reason enough for some pretty radical rethinking of what you're doing with your life. In fact you'd achieve more - not less - that was worthwhile through taking whatever time you required to enable you to function better. If you're working silly long hours for an employer, for example, stop saying you can't change anything and instead consider actually what action you will take to improve your life, even if it may involve a decision to tell the employer that in future you will only work more sensible hours, or you even give up the particular job altogether and choose to work for an employer who does respect your needs for a sensibly healthy life. The world doesn't depend on your running around compulsively like a scalded cat, and there's nothing virtuous in doing so, never mind what many an advocate of the so-called 'Christian work ethic' will say.
I keep forgetting or not getting round to taking the time...
The answer is, to schedule your lie-downs as I do - such as before/after meals. Once you've scheduled them around your activities, then treat them as some sort of fixture in their own right, to stop them getting crowded out by your old habitual routine. If you're out at work all day and genuinely have no lie-down opportunity at work, take a lie-down as soon as you arrive home. Perhaps another one after your evening meal, a shortie before going to bed, and another before setting out to work. The most important of those would be the one immediately you arrive home.
I'm just too upset or exhausted to have a lie-down today
Absurd when you stop to think about it, but nonetheless it's a very common excuse that people make. The feeling, of course is very real, but feelings aren't a good guide as to what is reality. If you allow upsets or exhausted, drained feelings to stop you taking lie-downs (or indeed attending lessons) you'd get nowhere fast. It's true that you may seem too preoccupied to pay proper attention to yourself, but it's important still to take your lie-downs and allow as much release as you can at that point - even if you find yourself dozing off when you're lying there. As with the pattern of feeling to be in too much of a hurry, the mere fact of taking the lie-downs will be knocking holes in the habitual tendency to be driven totally by your hurt or otherwise tense feelings. Also keep in mind the wonderful reassurance that however bad the upset feelings are at the moment, your continuing to apply the AT will make you less and less vulnerable to upsets or feelings of exhaustion - and as you appear more and more self-confident to other people they will become less and less inclined to try upsetting or stressful things upon you in the first place.
My back and neck have released now, so I don't need to do the lying down any more.
Oops! No, it's not like that. Because of the interlocking nature of our tensions and other misuses, only so much can be let go of at a time. As we progress with the AT, we find ourselves going through phases of major release in some particular part of the body, followed by possibly a long spell of nothing very obvious happening there while major release occurs in various other parts. It's often said that tension has been laid on - and is removed - in progressive layers like the layers of an onion. Another comparison is with a huge tangle of string. At any one position you can undo only so much at a time, and then you have to undo other parts before returning to that particular bit, and so on. It's a lifelong process.
Also, a very important aspect of the purpose or benefits of taking the lie-downs in an ongoing daily fashion is that they're repeatedly serving to bring you back to your 'home position' of 'dynamic balanced rest', in which you can release tensions and distortions that you'd been accumulating since your last lie-down. Thus, if you discontinue your ongoing daily lie-downs you'd almost certainly be steadily taking yourself 'downhill' in your overall condition, because you'd be allowing tensions and distortions to be progressively accumulating again in your system. So, just suppose you really had cleared all your tensions and distortions accumulated from earlier times, even then you'd still need to be having your lie-downs (albeit shorter) as part of maintaining yourself in good condition and not going accumulating problems again.
Other things you can 'do' outside lessons - a few suggestions
Pay especial attention to your sitting - not only a balanced state with free and lengthened spine but also what your legs are doing. Position your feet so that your knees remain lightly poised directly above them without being held there at all. That involves training yourself to desist from any habit of tucking your lower legs under the chair or sticking them out in front. If knees tend to move inwards or outwards, reposition your feet so that the knees remain over them. I'm talking of your regular, 'home' position here, for you'd need to vary your leg positions from time to time. It's therefore NOT a matter of "you mustn't ever have your feet stuck out in front or tucked away under you"; that would be just following rules rather than applying the real AT principle.
Never sit with your upper legs crossed, however, for that's always harmful. On the other hand, at least one book on the AT says it's okay to cross your lower legs, more or less at the ankles. I take a somewhat different view of that, however. Even though it's not grossly harmful like a full crossing of the legs, it still interferes considerably with your state of muscular balance. By all means cross your lower legs briefly just for a change, but it's best not to regard that as a workable regular rest position.
I must qualify this by noting that having one's lower legs crossed is actually part of one particular seated 'asana' that is helpful, and which I recommend as part of one's self-actualization methodology - an asana that I call the Deepening Awareness asana. However, it's best for that to be maintained for no more than a total of about an hour in a day - both because of the general physical problem over lower-leg crossing and because it's easy for an asana like that to become a habit and thus become actually a hindrance to one's self-actualization process rather than the facilitator that it would otherwise be.
Frequently check with small forward and backward tilting movements of your whole torso that you're free and not fixed in the hips, from where you should be hinging in these movements. In tilting forward there should be no bending over (or back) of any part of the spine, and the head's relationship to the spine should remain unchanged, so that as you tilt forwards your gaze correspondingly lowers (you can use upward eye movement to compensate if necessary). Check particularly carefully, using a mirror sometimes, that when you tilt forward or backwards you really are hinging only at the hips, and that the torso is moving as a complete unit, as otherwise the lower back can easily get involved in the movement without your noticing. A lower back that's hinging isn't a happy one!
Practise rising up and sitting down again in the improved way that your teacher will have demonstrated with you. Check your state in a mirror. Use upright chairs - not low 'easy' chairs.
Your AT teacher would spend some time probably in each lesson taking you through practising a beautifully light and effortless way of rising up from a chair to standing, which harnesses a reflex 'jack-in-a-box' response of your legs to your actually initiating a fall forward from your seated position. For most people this would be very difficult to learn without real-time input from a good AT teacher, because of the need to keep aware of what you're doing with your back and neck during the rising process.
I can't really overstate the importance of learning and always using that improved method of rising from the sitting position. Indeed, as already noted, in early 2010 that method, as well as the AT generally, was the prime factor that enabled me to manage at home (albeit having a fairly rough time for the first two weeks) instead of being laid up in hospital for several weeks, after I'd slipped on ice and sustained a muscle injury in my back.
Take short pauses of standing in a free and balanced state. Once in a while check your state in a mirror. Your feet should be a little apart, not pointing inwards and indeed probably pointing a little outwards - the latter especially if your feet habitually tend to turn over towards each other, collapsing the arches. Check that you're letting your shoulders sit naturally and you're not holding them up or down. As a general rule the shoulders are at about the right height when the collar bones run in a roughly horizontal straight line. The following few paragraphs explain further how to achieve a balanced standing state.
Repeatedly check your state of overall balance by allowing yourself to tilt forwards and then backwards very slightly, hinging at the ankles only, stopping as soon as you feel the slightest tensing up at the front or the back of the ankles. The mid-point between those two limits of travel will be your approximate centre of balance.
As in all body positions, you assist release greatly by allowing yourself to feel as fully as possible the force of gravity. Allow yourself to feel this in the way that a well-functioning body does - that is, not as a force pulling you down, but as 'anti-gravity', an upward force pushing on your body. Let yourself feel to the full the pressure of the floor against the underneath of your feet, and this force being constantly transmitted up through your leg bones to the pelvis and then up your spine, gently thrusting your head upwards in a good relationship with the neck. As you feel this, let everything else just fall away. My own visualization here is of my muscles all falling off like a grossly overcooked chicken being lifted out of the casserole! (That's actually an image lifted from a strange dream in one of my novels.) Entertain yourself with your own mental images; life with the AT well applied is fun!
As your legs and the rest of your body become more released in this way you neither crumple nor fall to the floor but would experience a new, initially very strange-feeling, wobbly state. Attend not only to maintaining a released condition but also, by allowing the very slightest forward and backward tiltings, keep in touch with the best possible balance at your ankles. You should be aware of a multitude of little movements of virtually every bone in your body, as minor adjustments of balance occur virtually continuously. Move an arm about and you will feel wobbly compensations in many other parts of your body.
It should be clear that the state of balance we're talking about here isn't static balance, but dynamic balance. In other words the body isn't fixed into a single position of supposed absolute balance* but is constantly making tiny adjustments that keep it moving within a very narrow area of relative balance. What feels so strange when you start getting into this balanced standing state is that this dynamic balance is not simply of the whole body being balanced on the feet, hinging at the ankles, but a similar dynamic balance existing at most other skeletal joints throughout your body. You feel parts of yourself moving independently as they make compensating wobbles, where you'd always imagined you were just one fairly solid lump.
* 'Supposed' is the operative word here, because a held position would generally not be in real balance at all, for by holding oneself thus one wouldn't be 'testing' to find one's position of maximum balance, and so the held position would only be a guess at best. Generally, people make up for that lack by adding further muscular effort to keep themselves upright, never mind how out of balance they really are. That, unfortunately, is the state of people almost universally.
It was not till I'd achieved this delightfully wobbly standing state that I understood that talk of achieving a 'balanced' state with the AT actually meant that and was not just figurative talk. Naturally, like so many of the better modes of functioning, this balanced standing state will feel very strange and maybe rather scary at first. But you'd find it very restful and exhilarating too, and, some months later, would no doubt be looking back in horror to the stiff, fatiguing way you used to stand.
Sometime in 1993 I read somewhere about the findings of a survey that had been carried out on people's swaying when standing. You might fondly imagine that, as your balanced standing seems to set you constantly on the wobble, people using the AT should have come out high in the swaying stakes. Not so. What made the survey result news was that the AT people all had a much lesser degree of swaying. When you're in a released, balanced standing state your senses have become very much more acute than they were with all the muscles locking you up, and what seem like very large movements of yours are actually minute. To an outside observer your seemingly wobbly state would appear to be one of remarkable stillness and repose.
With the benefits of this dynamically balanced state you can start putting into use every occasion when you're standing in a queue or otherwise waiting for something. For myself, quite apart from queues, I make constructive use of my roadside waits while hitch-hiking to or from major hiking routes. After a hard day's walk I actually become to a certain extent rested and refreshed while standing thus while awaiting a lift, allowing many of the muscular tensions to fall away as I regain that sense of effortless balance.
Most of us move our heads too much and too harshly when looking around at things, and grossly overuse the neck. A good guideline is always to let your eyes move first. Can you see what you want in fact without moving your head at all? If not, then let your eyes lead your head - and only your head - round or/and up or down. Only if you still can't see what you want would you allow your neck and your back to become involved in the movement. Indeed, if you're on your feet it would be better to turn on your legs to keep to a sensible level any need to twist your spine (some degree of transient twisting, however, would be part of a good state, maintaining flexibility). As always, you need to keep all movements to the furthest parts of your body that can achieve the required task; involvement of any part of your torso (including neck) is lower priority.
However, I'd remind here that I don't mean that the spine should be held in a stiff, immobile state, for a certain amount of twisting around of the spine would be part of normal healthy and indeed necessary movement in order to help maintain physical and indeed mental flexibility.
Many books and AT teachers seem to have little to say about one's state in bed, apparently having written the bed off as a useful situation to gain improved functioning. Yet you spend a considerable proportion of your life in bed, so it makes sense to improve your body state while you're in it. If you don't, you'd probably be allowing a wide range of misuses to retain their hold over you longer than necessary, lessening the effectiveness of gains made during the day.
For one thing, see that you have good pillow support. Most pillows are best chucked out, including the specially shaped ones that are supposed to be good for you through giving neck support (even the much-vaunted Pro-Pilo). In general, what's needed isn't neck support but correct head support, with nothing pressing on the neck. Indeed, there's an element of risk about pillows that 'support' the neck, for if you're sleeping on your side, consequently with pressure against the side of your neck, you may suffer some degree of restriction of your head's blood supply. Food for thought!
The head needs to be resting at a height and orientation that maintains good alignment between head, neck and the rest of the spine. Ordinary feather or polyester pillows develop a dent that prevents the head from keeping a good relationship with the neck. The best pillow I've used so far was a thick polyester-filled one graded 'extra firm' (at a B&B in Fort William), which developed hardly any dent and enabled my head to rest horizontally when I was lying on my side. Of course, if you're not suffering neck trouble you may not wish to be so exacting, but it would still be wise to have a better pillow arrangement than the standard highly dentable pillows. Only trial and error will show what's the optimum height for you.
A further complication of the pillow height issue is that at least for broad-shouldered people like myself, optimum pillow height for lying on one's back is less than that for lying on one's side. Yet a pillow shaped to attempt the two tasks (such as the Pro-Pilo) leads to dreadful head positions because you're hardly likely to place your head exactly on the appropriate part of the pillow for your current lying position when you're asleep; usually your head gets into an unedifying and harmful half-and-half position.
There are limits to what you can do for your back while you're lying on it, for the bed is unlikely to be sufficiently firm and supportive. However, when you're on your side you can encourage lengthening of your spine. With your legs drawn up a little, ease your pelvis down towards the foot end of the bed, and thrust your head a little further towards the head of the bed. Check that you're maintaining the notional 'forward and up' relationship of head to spine (albeit now on a horizontal plane) which you'd be maintaining if standing. If you wake up in the night, recheck this and correct the alignment if necessary. If you keep doing this it should not be long before you find that any bad head position ceases to recur (for me it stopped in the first few weeks). Also readjust your torso as necessary to eliminate as far as reasonably possible any twisting that has developed.
I find that, particularly while lying on my side, I can release a lot of neck and shoulder tension through simply allowing myself to feel the pull of gravity as fully as possible. Being a light sleeper who wakes up several times every night, I find this a very constructive and pleasant way of using those wakeful spells. Further, I note that as soon as I gain a more released state in neck and shoulders I become much more sleepy again, and it may well be that by allowing that release I'm actually somewhat shortening the wakeful spells.
Give thought also to how you get out of bed. As with getting up from a lie-down on the floor, aim to arrive at the standing position in as released a state as possible. My own particular sequence, when I hear my bedside alarm and immediately reach out to press the button to silence it, starts with a moment's pause to yawn and stretch the various parts of my body (taking probably no more than five seconds). To some extent this often actually tenses and shortens my spine, so the next step is about another five seconds of encouraging release and lengthening. Then with a single arm movement I pull the duvet half-off the bed and allow a feet-first sideways roll out of bed and onto the floor, keeping attention on maintaining a released state in the neck and maintaining a good head-neck alignment. I pause for a couple of seconds in the standing position to check my state before moving round to start dressing.
Brushing your teeth, and full attention to oral hygiene
A very good example of improvement in everyday usage is in brushing your teeth. Most people indulge in dreadful distortions and excessive effort in this activity. You can learn to stop interfering with your neck and your head's upright poised condition while you brush; you can check yourself in a mirror. You learn to use minimum movement to achieve the brushing, with virtually no head involvement in the brushing movements at all. The work can be done mostly with wrist movement and a small degree of oscillation of the lower arm. Little or no upper arm movement should be necessary, at least most of the time, and the shoulder should not need to be moved at all. You may well need to hold your toothbrush in a new way to achieve this lighter and more efficient method of operation; do experiment.
It's also worth bearing in mind that most people brush their teeth in a skimpy and inefficient manner and with too much force, so it's worth putting some thought to how you might make your brushing more effective while keeping the brushing action light and gentle. For one thing, even the most efficient brushing can't be expected to clean the teeth fully, so improving your brushing is only one step in attending to your dental / oral hygiene.
It would be worthwhile to review carefully how clean and healthy you want your teeth and gums to be, and work out from scratch how you might achieve that. I find that I can't maintain what I regard as good dental and oral hygiene without the use each evening of interdental sticks, standard dental floss, a little bit of dental 'tape' (for cleaning under a bridge, when the available standard floss isn't stiff enough to thread under the bridge), thumb and forefinger for gum massage (to help squeeze gunge from under the gum line) and a handkerchief and length of narrow cotton tape for removing plaque still remaining after everything else has been done, all in addition to the most efficient brushing possible with fluoride anti-plaque formula toothpaste. The somewhat blunt-ended interdental sticks (Boots own brand) are used not only between teeth, but are also used for gently scraping away hardened plaque from my lower front teeth, and in addition are carefully and gently run around in pockets that have formed between gums and teeth at certain sites. No doubt decomposing food left in such pockets is a major cause of many people's bad breath, and even in my case, with twice-daily clearance from those pockets, the gunge that I retrieve can sometimes be quite stinky close-up.
Use the oral hygiene review as an example of the principle you need to apply to all your everyday activities, and, bit by bit, apply the principle. Ultimately it's your choice how thoroughgoing you are about this - I know I'm extremely unusual in the lengths I go to for oral hygiene, for example - but the more you move away from habit and towards thinking through in carrying out regular 'chores', the better will be your overall progress in assimilating the AT, and the greater will be the improvements in your life.
Most people involve the neck and torso by sticking the neck out and bending the shoulders and upper back forwards. Train yourself to remain in a balanced upright seated position, and thus to transfer food/drink to a greater height than you've most likely been accustomed to. When you must briefly lean forward, let yourself tilt forwards, hinging at the hip joints, maintaining your head/neck relationship, so that you're not actually bending in the torso and can lightly hinge back to the upright balanced state.
Remember always to use the so-called monkey position, which your teacher should demonstrate for you at some stage, instead of leaning or bending over. This applies to all leaning or bending forward or down, however trivial. Check frequently that you're hinging correctly at the hip joints, not in the lower back. Also check that in your concern not to let the latter happen you're not overdoing things and actually bending your lower back into a concavity by pulling your bottom up. A mirror will help. Remember too that 'monkey position' is a misleading term, because we're not talking about a fixed position; it's really more of a dynamic state. Your body wouldn't like a fixed Monkey position.
Indeed, it would be better to drop the term 'monkey position' altogether. As I say, to me it's not a position at all but a sort of dynamic state - in which, with good functioning, all the transient positions we go through (including standing, lying and sitting) could be seen as expressions of "monkey state", which therefore might reasonably be renamed e.g., "better human state".
Ouch! -- This is NOT the monkey position!
So healthily up on a Scottish mountain summit - yet spoiling it all with horrendously unhealthy use of the back. This is the sort of harmful abomination that you say 'goodbye' to when you get using the 'monkey position' in your everyday life.
A very normal habit of people in general is to catch or hold one's breath and to make various quiet grunts or sighs when one indulges in any sort of effort. It's time now to let go of all such practices. Your tasks would be less effortful without them, and you'd be allowing release to occur in the chest muscles. For the most free and released breathing, allow yourself to feel that the air you inhale at each breath is spreading out the sides of your chest, not the front or the back. However, if you're aware of the need for more release and broadening to occur across the front or the back of your upper torso, then within your mind direct the air flow into the front or your chest or your upper back, as appropriate. While this presumably makes no difference to where the air physically passes in the lungs, just to allow yourself to feel as though you're filling your back during an inhalation will encourage actual release and broadening there. You can then revert to directing the broadening to the sides of your chest, so balancing release in front and back.
Learn also to use both diaphragm and chest while breathing. Different AT teachers tell you different things about this. Some emphasize diaphragm breathing, some emphasize chest breathing, some insist on extremely deep breathing. For everyday purposes it's a good enough assumption that normal breathing will use both chest and diaphragm and will be a little deeper and slower than you were accustomed to before taking up the AT. Certainly practise extremely deep breathing, especially to gain release during lie-downs, but for everyday use this would probably be reserved for situations where you'd otherwise have got out of breath. When making good (walking) speed up a steep mountain slope I do find myself breathing very deeply, and virtually never nowadays get to the point of panting.
The better mode of walking feels relatively effortless, and relies on reflex anti-gravity responses. To walk in the better way, firstly you need always to pay attention to maintaining a lengthened spine and lightly poised head. While doing so, you let yourself start falling forward in the required direction. You need to be hinging forward at the ankles only, without any bending or sagging forward. In response to this falling, one leg and then the other loosely swings forward (as distinct from being put forward), with the knee leading and the foot swinging relatively loosely from the ankle. Each trailing leg receives a powerful push forwards-and-up from an involuntary strong flick of the foot caused by a reflex response of the big rear calf muscle. This mode of walking gives you the sense of your head leading you, even though it's not being stuck out in front; propulsion is felt to be coming from behind, rather than there being any sense of pulling or hauling yourself forward by each leading leg. This is such an efficient means of walking that I find I can even walk up steep mountain slopes without losing that delightful sense of falling forward and being propelled forwards-and-up from behind. Walking like this gives optimum leverage to and puts minimum stress on the knee joints, too - so it's really great for people who get knee stress pains of any sort from such walking.
You make this mode of walking easy to tune into if you build into your self-perception the impression that at all times your legs are loosely attached to your torso at the hips, from where they're hanging when you're standing or indeed in any non-lying, non-sitting position.
When you start trying out this better mode of walking you may well find that it sends you racing off in a crazily uncontrolled way. No cause for alarm, though; I did just the same in my first experimentations. At least it shows that the crude principle does indeed work, and all one has to do then is gradually to get used to it so that one re-learns one's innate command of that mode of walking. That sense of letting yourself fall forward is actually an extremely subtle thing; it's something that you need to think but hardly do physically unless you're in a hell of a hurry.
It struck me that even when my pace is very leisurely, the initiation of walking is remarkably like an upright and looser version of the way that competition sprinters start. This has an interesting advantage, in that as you start moving, if you suddenly find that you need to move off unexpectedly quickly or even run, you're already moving in the right manner to start running efficiently without putting a sudden heavy stress on the knees.
While walking in the better way you may be able to correct or at least minimize certain extant or developing foot problems. Pay attention to where on the sole of your feet your centre of gravity passes over. Many people, particularly as they get older, allow the centre of gravity to pass over and press heavily on the ball of the foot - the basal joint of the big toe - which can result in painful problems. As you walk, the foot that's taking most of your weight needs to be oriented so that as the pressure moves to the front it becomes reasonably evenly spread along the foot's hinging axis, which is the line of basal joints of the toes. You may need to turn your feet a little inwards or outwards to make this adjustment. As with other improvements of usage, it may feel awkward at first when you walk with your feet so adjusted, but persistent attention to this will soon lead to the improved way being easier and feeling better than the old habitual way. However, this can be quite a complex matter and it would be a good idea to discuss it with your AT teacher if you have one - or in any case if you use energy testing in a careful and vigilant way you can find out more precisely what's best specifically for you.
Even that's not the end of the story. I find that this mode of walking seems to give me some additional sort of awareness of the state of lengthening of my spine, which I don't have nearly so much while standing or sitting. While walking, even just around town, I use a particular image of mine: I imagine that I have a little tail that's a rigid extension of the bottom of my spine, and I allow it to drop down, so by lever action gently minimizing the hollow in my lower back and allowing release and lengthening there. In that lengthened state I get an exhilarating feeling of a levitational force rising from each propulsive flick of my feet, up my legs to the base of my spine, which transmits it up to the top of my head, which in turn draws me out perpetually in a slightly forward-of-'up' direction. It's not only a wonderful feeling that gives a really buoyant quality even to ordinary town walking, but it's also a clear indication that a very good body state is being easily maintained - and maintained by the elimination of effort!
Looking at my reflection in shop windows as I walk, I hardly see an overall tilt unless I'm hurrying, but what's more noticeable is the looseness of my legs, which can clearly be seen to be applying propulsion more from the rear than in 'normal' (i.e., stressful and distorting) walking.
In the bottom photo the man's trailing leg is just starting its loose swing that brings it forward.
Two further advantages I found in the better way of walking were: (1) once the method was reasonably mastered, my feet were not hitting the ground heavily on the heel as they used to, and (2) there was less up-and-down and virtually no side-to-side motion with each step, which meant that less kinetic energy and thus less effort was being wasted and my forward motion had a smoother, straighter quality - a feeling of rolling or gliding forward.
One element of my own personal experience with the AT is very revealing. From my teens onwards I've always been an unusually brisk walker, even though I'm well aware that there's a fair number of people who can walk faster than I do. Right up to the time that I took up the AT at the end of 1992 at the age of 50, it was a fairly regular occurrence for loutish boys or young men to call out mockingly at me in the street as I passed by, "Quick march, Left, Right, Left, Right!". However, since I took up the AT I've NEVER ever had that called out at me again, never mind how fast I'd been walking. More recently, as clothes fashions have changed, I've had similar callings-out at me, but those have all been things about the (sensible but no longer fashionable) shortness of the shorts that I wear and, more recently, my often walking bare-topped in warmer weather. But still not a peep about the way I was walking...
Oh, except there was one occasion when I was walking at my maximum comfortable rate and passing two men near Exeter Quay, and I heard one comment to the other, clearly directing his attention to me, "Now, there's a nice 'action'!" - presumably remarking on my seemingly effortless, 'gliding forward' way of walking. And there was another occasion when I was ascending the relatively gently rising track towards Coire Mhic Fhearchair on the mountain Beinn Eighe in the Scottish Highlands, and a seated group of people having an 'elevenses' break beside the track called across to me in a friendly amused way, "What's your secret?". When I actually stopped and explained to them that there was a particular reason why I was able to be walking up there like that, in such a seemingly smooth and unstressful manner on such stony and rocky ground, they got really interested!
Despite the loose swinging of the legs - though actually because of it! - you can train yourself to cause each foot's impact on the ground to be very light indeed, even when walking really energetically, with no significant additional effort involved. This is one of the beneficial changes that one needs to make through a process of mentally willing it and not physically trying to do it.
This can happen only if your legs and arms are loosely swinging, for it's only then that you have the much finer muscular control that's required. Otherwise, if you try to make your footsteps light you'd achieve that only through a lot of excess muscular effort in consciously controlling the legs and feet, and you'd still never achieve the delightful lightness and sense of gliding forward that you can get with loosely swinging legs and arms. Note that I mention the arms. They need to be not only loose but swinging too, otherwise you don't have the requisite very fine muscular control of your legs / feet. So, if you're carrying shopping, for example, you'd not be able to get that lightness of your feet on the ground. This is just one of many examples that you can observe, which demonstrate the interrelatedness of our muscular functioning, and thus the need for a whole-body approach even if you're initially concerned to address only one local issue of your body use.
Please note that a prerequisite for you to be able to walk in an optimal way is that, assuming you're not walking barefoot, you're at least wearing sensible footwear. No high heels (at all, ever!), and indeed preferably with NO raising at all of the heel in relation to the forefoot, and, for most people, with no supposed 'arch support' (which is actually arch interference). The sole / heel of the footwear needs to be reasonably shock-absorbing, such as a reasonably firm rubber - nothing hard that gives an audible bang, clop or click as you walk. A very soft or bouncy rubber underfoot, however, is harmful for doing a lot of walking because the rebounds tend to cause repetitive strain injuries in the leg musculature and even around the hips, and potentially in the spine musculature.
It makes sense to train yourself to walk in the better way all the time*. Your teacher should demonstrate it to you sometime or other. While walking, let your arms hang and swing loosely, letting the wrists and finger joints be loose too. Imagine even that you're allowing all the bones to fall right out of their joints. Really free arms will very likely feel a trifle out of joint until you've got thoroughly used to that state.
* With one exception that I've discovered through my own experience - and that's on icy or similarly slippery surfaces. That propulsive flick of the trailing foot in the better mode of walking is an absolute devil on such very slippery surfaces, and on such occasions it's necessary immediately to change to a very careful use of the normal, inefficient 'pick up each foot, put it forward and haul yourself forward' mode of walking until you get off the slippery stuff.
If you go hiking, you may be able to use your rucksack to give you tactile feedback on the state of lengthening of your back. This depends on the design of rucksack. Back-hugging ones will probably be wrongly shaped to hug a healthily lengthened back properly and so may encourage a new bad shape for the back. For a long time I used a Karrimor Condor 50-65 rucksack*, whose only contact with the back was the lumbar pad against the lowest part of the back, and shoulder-blade pads on the shoulder straps, and this worked extremely well as a gauge of the state of my back while walking. Whatever rucksack you use, it's important to resist all the old urges to hunch your shoulders against the weight of the pack, and to let them just sit where they belong. I myself achieved a great deal of release and improved functioning in back and shoulders on long hard hikes during my first six months of applying the AT, thanks to my rucksack, even over terrain 'fit to wreck a king', such as roughest Dartmoor.
* From 2010 I was using the Deuter ACT Lite 40+10 (summer) and the 50+10 version of it (winter), and that 'carried' better on me, and would also be a very good tactile reference for rectifying the rather 'wonky' back alignment that can so easily develop as one's attention goes out to other things on the hike and thus one's own state gets rather neglected.
From 2016 I've been using instead Osprey Kestrel packs - mostly the 58 litre model but sometimes the 68 litre one. I've found these okay but rather less clear-cut in their tactile feedback, because most of the back contact is on a taut sheet of a rather wiry-feeling mesh rather than the more solid contact with parts of the pack body that I was previously used to and which I'd found so helpful.
Back against wall
This could loosely be described as an exercise as it involves a little movement (a very slow bending and unbending of the legs from a standing position). The aim is to encourage lengthening and widening while upright. The point about lying down is that you remove virtually all the normal gravity stimuli that trigger your ingrained misuse patterns. As soon as you're upright, however, old habits of response to gravity start taking over again, and the spine relapses into considerably more than the gentle residual curvature that's genuinely natural and healthy for it. Working on yourself with your back against a wall enables you to work against those misuse patterns in a more active way than you can during a lie-down, and is probably most appropriate when you've already made a fair amount of progress - though this does need to be seen as something additional to the lie-downs and not replacing them to any great extent except where you couldn't reasonably have your lie-downs anyway. It can also help you refine your Monkey position.
Place yourself with feet a little apart, but not greatly so, with the heels just something like an inch (2.5cm) away from a clear space on a wall. Stand in the loose, 'wobbly' way that I've already described, not quite in contact with the wall. When you're ready, allow yourself to overbalance backwards against the wall (i.e., don't go putting yourself there, which would be another 'doing' thing) - and note which part(s) of your body touched the wall first, and also what parts of your torso are still not touching the wall once it's at rest against the wall. Ideally your bottom and both shoulder blades would contact the wall simultaneously, but most likely it wouldn't go like that! Also, put a hand round behind yourself to feel how much space there is (if any) between your lower back and the wall. For most people, initially there would be quite a lot of space there because of the inward, concave, curvature of the lower back.
Wait briefly like that, just being at peace and gathering your intent for your next action. Then, when you're ready, remaining gently leaning against the wall, you allow your torso to start very slowly lowering while remaining against the wall, so that your knees very slowly bend forward. As you allow this to happen, you imagine that your top half isn't descending at all, so that only the lower half of your torso is actually going down. Then, when you've gone down far enough that it's just starting to feel a little stressful for the legs, you very slowly reverse that descent, but now imagining that it's only your top half that's ascending, while your lower half isn't ascending at all.
When you've fully returned to your 'straight' state, put a hand round behind you again to feel how much space remains between your lower back and the wall. You will most likely find that the space has decreased, indeed quite possibly dramatically so. With some repeats of this procedure, all being well, you should find that your 'before' position has only minimal space between your lower back and the wall, and your 'after' position finds you with your lower back flattened against the wall.
That doesn't mean that you need to be walking around with a fully flat back, but it does assist you in letting go of those tensions that have been preventing you from having a really nicely lengthened back when standing or walking.
In situations where it's not practical to have lie-downs, this back-against-wall procedure, if carefully and diligently done (remembering of course your neck / head alignment), can be used instead, to help return you to a reasonable semblance of your 'home position' of well aligned 'dynamic balanced rest'. As already remarked, the lie-downs are still important to do as well, though, when you can do them.
Hands on back of chair
This is another 'exercise' described in some books, and which some AT teachers teach. It's supposed to be very powerful if carried out with sufficient attention to detail, but to my sensibility it's so incredibly boring that it could put some people off from the AT for life! It doesn't make sense to me to make the AT boring rather than fun to be applying; I haven't used this exercise, at least yet, and have no plans to do so.
Some common problems and questions
I don't see how I can possibly 'just let go' of lifelong habits!*
* Nowadays I strongly recommend use of methods that I present in Healing and Self-Actualization - The Safest and Quickest Way - such as the easy and effective combination of Grounding Point and use of affirmations and declarations of intent as described in Some Potent Self-Actualization / Healing Practices to enable you to let go of such beliefs, for by doing that you help free yourself for release of the lifelong habits that you'd thought you couldn't let go of.
No cause for alarm! No two people progress at the same speed, and each lets go of her habits of misuse at whatever rate is possible for her. In practice many habits fall away almost or even completely unnoticed as the body is introduced to better, freer modes of functioning. On the other hand all of us also have habits of misuse that are much slower to eliminate, and these require constant vigilance to step out of them again as they recur. It's still true, however, that for each area of misuse a time comes when the body recognises the better mode of functioning as feeling right and anything else as uncomfortable and wrong - at which point you've made another step forward.
How do I tell when muscular release is occurring?
This can be quite a puzzler for people in their early stages of learning the AT - especially as different people seem to get subjectively different experiences from the process of muscular release. It's all very well to say that it's a sensation of a sort of letting-go or softening, but if you haven't experienced it you're not really that much wiser. If you're such a person, try the following little demonstration.
Clench a fist firmly and hold it like that for perhaps 30 seconds or even a minute, just until you've got used to that degree of continuous effort being exerted on the closed hand, and you hardly notice it. Now slowly let go of the excess force, leaving your hand still closed but lightly so. As you release that excess force, notice the sensations in the hand and lower arm. In a rather crude way, that should give you some idea of the sensation of the releasing of chronically tense muscles. It's a delightful soft gentle feeling. Note that this is only a suggested demonstration, not an exercise you're supposed to do!
I thought my pains were supposed to go, but I'm actually getting new ones!
So, you started using the AT with, say, certain neck and back pains and the first thing you wanted to happen was for you to become pain-free. Novices to the AT are often rather taken aback at the lack of attention the teacher seems to give to the presence of particular pains. In fact very often AT teachers direct attention away from the painful area and may seem to give more attention elsewhere. This is because the AT is a whole body technique because of the interrelated nature of all the muscular tensions and various distortions. You can't achieve much by concentrating on just one part of the body, and indeed if that part is hurting, you're probably making it more difficult to achieve release there by concentrating on it in preference to the rest of the body.
There's no telling how quickly your original pains will go. In some cases such pains disappear dramatically at the first application of AT principles, but even if yours take a long time to go you'd almost certainly find yourself much less troubled by them in the meantime. However, you can expect to get new pains from time to time as underused muscles are brought back into service and certain bones move back into better alignment at the joints. Such readjustment pains are to be regarded as very good signs of progress, and they'd go away again as the particular muscles, tendons and ligaments become strengthened as they're applied to their original function once more. Please note that it's quite normal for readjustment pains in the back - especially lower back - to include sciatica pains, so there's no cause for concern at getting a sciatica flare-up at that point, as it would normally be fading away after just a few days.
It's worth keeping in mind that even your original pains can reappear to some extent, long after you thought they'd all gone for good. It may serve as a warning that you're getting a little careless and allowing a particular misuse to creep in again (in which case the remedy is obvious), or it may be that something has happened that has temporarily increased a level of tension that you can't yet address directly. I know about this because it's happened to me very occasionally with my neck pain. The pain recurred for a few weeks each time following particular situations that increased my basic level of anxiety. This sort of thing is bound to happen less with time as one's level of tension continues to reduce.
I haven't felt any of those signs of release and positive change you were talking about.
For some people, such as myself, the release and resultant feelings of deep relief that speedily followed the taking up of the AT have proved to be a powerful and wonderful - one could almost say dramatic - experience. Many people, however, experience their changes in a much gentler and less spectacular fashion, and some don't get any particular feelings that they could relate to beneficial change. But if you're one of the latter, be assured that this in itself doesn't mean that the AT isn't working for you. As long as you're genuinely applying the AT and are at all open to change in your life, the changes would be occurring, whether or not you can feel them. Check yourself periodically for positive change, by observing your poise and alignment in a mirror, and reviewing the way you're living your life and responding to people and situations. The chances are that when you do such reviews you will realize that despite no particular feelings of release, positive changes have indeed been occurring. Your AT teacher should be able to help you confirm that such changes have been occurring.
However, I say the above on the basis that you're genuinely applying the AT - for plenty of people would seek to convince themselves that they're doing so when they aren't really doing so at all, because they're simply unable to understand what the AT is really about! Such people wouldn't get much real positive change at all.
I feel that I'm not doing very well; perhaps the AT is really too difficult for me.
Apart from the exceptions noted below under Student problems, if you feel that you're not doing well in your lessons it's unlikely to be any fault of yours. Unfortunately some AT teachers unawarely apply teaching methods that are based on the 'trying-to-do' that blights our educational system. An AT teacher with this problem tends to be in a continual state of frustration as he gets his students to try to do things right, to try to let go fully of habitual interference with a limb, and so on. He may well expend a lot of energy coaxing and encouraging his students to get things right, so appearing to his students to be in the right himself. His act is likely to be so convincing that nobody has ever told him of his problem, though many of his students would feel that they aren't doing well, and would assume that the apparent difficulties are their fault, not the teacher's. When compared against other AT teachers he may well be regarded as something of a 'fundamentalist', and be looked up to by many as a true expert. Nonetheless what such a teacher is putting across is in a subtle way the very antithesis of the basic principles of the AT, and this is unacceptable. The underlying problem is an ingrained 'authority' or 'teacher' pattern, and such patterns are very difficult to interrupt and release*. Unfortunately making sure that your teacher has full professional qualifications gives you no guarantee that you'd not encounter this problem**.
* Actually, any such teacher, if motivated to do so, could dissolve such a pattern simply and easily, using the methodology that I present in Healing and Self-Actualization - The Safest and Quickest Way.
** Unfortunately it appears that there are many qualified AT teachers with this sort of problem, who had not been filtered out as you'd reasonably have thought would have happened during their training courses. This actually puts a great big question mark over the integrity of the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique (STAT) in its implementation of its training courses. The STAT tries to keep AT teaching restricted to just those who've been on its training courses, yet they charge big fees for those courses and, I can only surmise, are reluctant to deny qualification to any of their students except in cases of gross problems - not understanding that an ingrained 'authority' or 'teacher' pattern is a serious contra-indication for teaching the AT, and can't readily be dissolved by use of the AT.
Indeed, the only people who could be fully suitable to be AT teachers are no-soul people, who are actually quite rare - and I can virtually guarantee that nobody at all in the STAT has any inkling about what no-soul incarnations are and what's the special significance of being in a no-soul state - so they don't have a dog's chance in hell of reliably selecting the most suitable people to be AT teachers.
Notwithstanding that, if the STAT made ongoing use of The Work, or indeed methods of my own presented on this site such as Grounding Point and Self-Power Walking, as part of the training for all their students, then a much higher and more consistent standard of new AT teacher would result.
As I've already implied, with the AT as in any true healing or self-actualization method, what really counts isn't professional qualifications but the experience, awareness and integrity of the individual teacher - something that can't really be taught, because so much depends on the would-be teacher's depth of awareness and lack of garbage programming (which is what the soul holds). I myself have had no professional AT training and don't run a formal AT teaching practice, yet I've informally taught the AT to the odd friends and healing clients, and this has been extremely effective. There must be other people who have a deep understanding of the AT, based in experience, who are already effectively or potentially AT teachers, who actually wouldn't be much improved by professional training because they've already 'got it' and are already better than the many AT teachers who are professionally trained but still haven't really 'got it' (i.e., who've learnt all the rules and methods but still lack the deep awareness and insight that makes a truly good AT teacher).
The only reason why I haven't offered to teach the AT formally is that then I'd need to have insurance for it, and, as I understand it, I'd not be able to insure myself in such a practice, at least with a reputable insurer, without having a formal AT qualification. Crazy!
If you have a teacher with such an authority or unawareness issue, just more encouragement isn't what you need. Sure, it would be best for you to tell the teacher of the problem, just in case he or she can change his/her whole teaching approach, but you'd almost certainly need to change to another teacher. Any good AT teacher wouldn't have you trying to get things right (and thus feeling that you're failing). Trying to 'do' an un-doing is an absurd contradiction. In good AT teaching, the teacher takes you as you are and rejoices with you in whatever degree of release and new insight you do achieve. In each lesson a good teacher would be taking you on an enjoyable journey of self-discovery, which is far removed from trying to do things or get things right. Such a teacher will sometimes point out particular habits of body misuse that you have, which interfere in your gaining improved functioning, but would encourage you to regard these observations as good news because they represent areas in which you will eventually get great improvement.
You would thus come out of an AT lesson feeling that you've had a most enjoyable and both relaxing and invigorating experience. You'd come out of the lesson feeling good about yourself. Both in and outside of lessons your AT experience would be one of allowing and observing, not trying. It's up to you to ensure that you have a teacher who helps to make it like that for you.
Any AT teacher, whether good or indifferent, may recognise that a particular student has seemingly intractable problems in coming to terms with the principles of the AT - perhaps a student who through no fault of her own and despite the teacher's best efforts persistently misunderstands certain key elements of the technique. In such cases there are limits to what even the best of teachers can do. In some cases it may be possible to enable the student to gain release in certain areas that actually result in a clearing of the mental block, but a teacher may decide to ask a student to discontinue the lessons if it appears that the problem is going to continue blocking progress for the foreseeable future. No responsible AT teacher would keep accepting fees from students who are clearly wasting their time and money.
There can also be another situation, where everything seems to be going right with the teacher, except that you feel that you're not getting enough expressions of approval by way of encouragement. You long for lots of 'Well done!' and 'My, you have grown since last week!' comments on your progress.
In all fairness, the problem there may be that you have the wrong expectations of your teacher. The sort of accolades that you treasured or longed for from your parents and schoolteachers were part of an oppressive end-gaining power game. With your AT teacher you need to set aside the expectation of that sort of personal approval (which implies the possibility of disapproval), because if your teacher is any good she inherently accepts you and delights in your progress as a voyage of self-discovery rather than the achieving of particular goals as part of an end-gaining strategy. Nothing in the AT is about striving to please Teacher, so it's not appropriate to expect specific 'pleased Teacher' responses to encourage you. Of course, if your teacher really doesn't seem delighted in you, or actually communicates frustration over your difficulties, then refer back to the previous paragraphs on teacher and student problems.
Problems with your everyday progress
From time to time it may seem that the momentum has gone from your progress. You're 'doing' all the right things - lying down sessions and operating in various improved ways in everyday life - yet little more seems to be releasing or opening out now. If that's the case, don't despair! There are several possible reasons for your observation.
It's very, very normal to have surges of progress and then rather disconcerting periods of apparently little change. However, if you've finished your regular lessons and so aren't normally taking lessons any more, a period of apparently little progress might be a sign for you to book a one-off 'booster' lesson to help check that you're still operating on the right lines. It might be, too, that at that point the teacher could put you in touch with a new area of release that was unavailable before but is now ready and just awaiting a gentle prompting from outside. In the meantime you can rejoice in the fact that you're consolidating previous gains, and, in whatever time is right for you, new major releases and other changes would occur.
An apparent plateau in your progress could also be a sign that your next important step is some new and positive decision in your everyday life. You may well find that by making some bold decision that you'd not quite dared to before (or maybe hadn't even thought of!), you set off a whole new layer of release and physical improvements.
It's also worth checking that you're not stifling your progress by fixing yourself in stiff facsimiles of 'Alexander positions'. Quite a lot of people do. Such people are sometimes referred to as Alexandroids. These are people who've got it fundamentally wrong about the AT, and follow all the rules and tips to the letter, except that they've failed to understand the flexible and dynamic nature of the free, balanced state or of the process that gets you there. A lesson with a good AT teacher should quickly point you in the right direction if you're beginning to get stuck into 'Alexandroidism'.
Another cause of apparent lack of progress that might explain your problem is that - paradoxically - you've fallen into the very common habit of trying to make progress. Even an AT teacher who doesn't overtly urge students to try to make progress or get things right can inadvertently trigger your own 'trying' habits. Usually a good teacher would recognise that this is happening and direct you to set aside the whole idea of trying to make progress or trying to get muscular release, etc. But even if your teacher hasn't addressed this possibility, it's up to you, if you want to maximize your progress, to check and recheck that you're setting aside the trying urge. The mere stopping of the 'trying' habit is an important un-doing that would allow further physical release to occur. Think about that!
Finally, it may well be that your lack of progress is imaginary. To some extent this happens to all of us from time to time. As we become accustomed to improved modes of operating, the initial sense of novelty and often of exhilaration and relief ceases to be 'news' as ongoing improvements become taken for granted. Also, our ever-increasing self-awareness gained by use of the AT means that we notice our remaining body misuse more acutely, so that subjectively it can seem that our misuse is actually increasing. It's then very easy to fail to realize that we're still eliminating misuse. This is reason enough to seek to remember carefully all manner of detail about how you used to function and the changes that you've brought about. Keeping a log of your progress is a good idea.
I myself haven't kept a log, but at least I can remember some of the dreadful abuses I was wreaking upon my body at the beginning. Some six months after starting to apply the AT, during a hike on Dartmoor I tried walking in the way that I used to, just for a hundred metres or so, and was appalled and amazed that I'd previously regularly managed to complete 15-20 mile routes on difficult terrain while thrashing my system like that; no wonder my knees so often objected! Also, in the course of explaining to people about the AT I've sometimes sought to demonstrate some of the postural distortions of the spine that I'd been habitually inflicting upon myself in my pre-AT years; again it was an amazing and uncomfortable experience, sticking my neck and head into those dreadful positions into which I'd been meekly defaulting before.
Actually there's another consideration. My life experience very much suggests that it's best and most efficient not to have all your eggs in one basket with regard to self-actualization and self-healing methods. Even though theoretically the AT alone could be used as a complete self-actualization method or 'path', this isn't realizable in practice for anyone, and your progress in the AT, and indeed your whole self-actualization process, would be speeded up by using additional self-actualization and healing methods on yourself - particularly methods enumerated in Healing and Self-Actualization - The Safest and Quickest Way, which give you amazingly simple and speedy ways to let go of any mental habit, including ones that are blocking your progress in the AT.
What my teacher says is a better head position feels all wrong and lopsided!
That would mean that you were accustomed to a distorted, lopsided head position, and of course it will initially feel strange and even 'wrong' to give up the distortion. In time, however, if you keep disallowing the old apparently comfortable habit, you will find that not only does the improved state of poise begin to feel right, but increasingly you'd find any reversion to the old way distinctly uncomfortable. For me in my early stages of learning the AT a good poised state of the head meant seeming to have an absurdly low line of gaze* - but nowadays to pull my head up and back as I used to do feels horrible, and it almost hurts me to see other people doing it and no doubt cooking up future neck problems for themselves in the process.
* Actually, in 2018 I found that I'd been overdoing that lower angle of gaze, and have had to retrain myself to have a slightly higher default angle.
You should be able to correct habitual poor head / neck alignment on your own with the help of checking yourself in a mirror.
My teacher has told me not to extend my neck so much; surely every bit of lengthening is a Good Thing.
Over-extension is a product of interference, of trying-to-do; it involves the use of effort to try to extend and over-straighten the spine. It's counter-productive, because it is a 'doing' involving application of excess effort, which is the very sort of thing that the AT is supposed to be undoing. Also, over-extension of the neck causes tensing and narrowing of the upper back, so that it goes against overall lengthening of the spine. Therefore when you direct your neck to release and your spine to lengthen you need equally to direct your back to broaden - in particular the shoulders to spread out away from each other. Remember that 'directing' isn't a matter of trying to make anything happen but simply projecting instructions and images in your mind.
When I lie down I find myself looking up at the cracks in the ceiling, thinking that they badly need attention.
Okay, you realize that compulsive dwelling on such things is a habit that itself needs letting go of. Initially it certainly can be a distraction to matters in hand during your lie-downs. But look at it another way. If for the moment you're going to keep looking at those cracks and bothering yourself about them, you might as well learn to bother about them with a beautifully released neck rather than with a tense one. So, if you can't get something off your mind for the time being, just continue your lie-down and accept the thing on your mind as part of today's wallpaper and get on with allowing release in each part of your body while you also allow your worry thought to run in its funny little circles. That way you're already beginning to distance yourself from the worry and are on the path towards being in control over such nuisances.
In any case there's a most elegant, simple, easy and quick way to release yourself from such worry thoughts - and that's ongoing use of certain of the methods that I give in Healing and Self-Actualization - The Safest and Quickest Way, including The Work and the Grounding Point and Feedback-Loop Zapper procedures.
It's all very well saying 'keep your eyes open during lie-downs', but I keep dozing off.
So do I - well, at least quite often. For me as for you, it would normally be a sign of the need to get more sleep at night, but in the meantime there's no point in fighting the doziness, or you'd be getting tangled up in a trying-to-do exercise. Just continue your lie-down for whatever period you've allotted, attending to your body state as far as you can while you're sufficiently awake. The time certainly wouldn't have been wasted, even though it could have been more 'actively' used if there had been no intervention of drowsiness.
Yesterday I had a long cry. How can I avoid that happening?
Not altogether the right question! It's best to allow the crying for a little if it's coming out genuinely spontaneously, and learn to use and even enjoy it! Unfortunately, mainstream AT doesn't recognise the nature and purpose of crying or related processes. Crying, trembling and laughing are powerful built-in emotional healing processes, though distorted facsimiles of laughter with unhealthy social reinforcement functions are produced by and widely accepted in our culture. Thus all the fears and negative feelings about crying and trembling, in which our culture are steeped, are rubbish to be set aside. For practical reasons it's wise to be thoughtful about where you have a cry; there's little point in upsetting people who, through no fault of their own, have no idea that you're allowing a wonderful healing process to occur. Even your best friend, while meaning to be supportive, may find every possible means to comfort herself by stopping you from crying, which isn't a response you need, and can make you feel very lonely and let down.
However, with your use of the AT you can greatly increase the effectiveness of any of the emotional healing processes. We all have masses of habits of misuse and negative feeling associated with crying and trembling, so while either of these is occurring we need to pay especial attention to our body usage, and can also help a lot by directing our minds to set aside the negative, reactive thoughts and pay proper attention to what's going on.
Typically, crying and trembling both seem to pull people down into a tense, shortened state. This isn't inherent in the processes, but is misuse that became associated with them during growing up. Therefore, as always the need is to pay attention to your 'primary control'. Allow absolutely no slumping over a table or head-in hands. Ensure that your whole spine is nicely lengthened, with head lightly poised and free-moving on top; your shoulders need to be loosely sitting in their balanced 'home' position. Your hands need to be free and not fidgeting or gripping, though you may need to use one to hold a muffling object such as a crumpled handkerchief to your mouth if you want to avoid your immediate neighbours hearing that you're crying. Your legs of course would also need to be in a free balanced state. You need to keep part of your mind on the subject of the crying or trembling while you pay attention to and maintain a good state in the various parts of your body. It's so much more pleasant, and effective in healing terms, if you cry or tremble in this lengthened, released state with your mind systematically observing what's going on and constantly putting in little improvements.
It may well be that the subject - especially of crying - is itself something that seems negative and only fit for wailing and wallowing in misery. The feeling is real (but not at all an indication of how things really are!), and it's best not to attempt to suppress it. Allow the feeling, but continue observing what's happening, also ensuring that your neck muscles are still released and your spine still fully lengthened. In that physical state you'd very likely also find yourself starting to work out a similar strategy on the emotional plane. This involves noting all the negative images associated with the hurt feelings and settling on positive ways to view yourself and the original hurt, with all those habitual negatives completely set aside.
Particularly significantly, this thinking process may continue, even during the crying spell, as positive thinking through a chain of associations to major elements of your life and outlook. Indeed, it can easily happen that you start what seems a miserable and desolate cry, and end up an hour later elated and excited that you've thought through to a major change of direction that you've decided to make in your life. If it happens to you that way, then stick with what you've decided, subject only to modification in the light of practicability on the ground, and, paying careful attention to the means by which you will accomplish it, go ahead with it!
Even if you've cried quite a bit before, you'd probably find that you'd not spend long on this once you're experienced in the AT, and may well find that it becomes a rare and fleeting phenomenon. While crying is usually best allowed wherever possible when it presents itself*, you'd find that the AT's elegant way of simply letting go of habitual responses and attitudes would allow you to short-circuit the need for a lot of retrospective crying, and would make you less and less vulnerable either to new hurts or to the restimulation of old forgotten hurts.
* Actually that's true only for people in their earlier stages of use of the AT, who don't yet have fast-track means of clearing emotional issues - and in any case 'wherever possible' actually wouldn't be appropriate for people who frequently become tearful, for they generally need to gain greater balance and groundedness: more attention upon supportive 'present time' and less on their particular emotional issues. In such cases more minimal and less frequent allowing of crying would be better, with more attention to their positive processes in the physical 'here and now'.
Trembling is rarely so productive of mental images as crying. It's the healing of fear. Just as crying is often mistaken for a grief rather than the healing of a grief, so trembling is often mistaken for fear. Most medical practitioners are so conditioned that they will inject harmful sedatives or tranquillizers into a person just to stop this healing process. How deluded can our medics be! Never allow this to happen to anyone if you get a chance. It's great and smart to shake! However, the same provisions as annotated above for crying also apply to allowing trembling.
If you're trembling, let yourself enjoy really getting into it. Just attend to your body state, not allowing yourself to start pulling down and tensing up. If you're aware of what scared you, or at least have some scary image in mind, then hold onto it, but also keep another part of your attention on light, positive things in your surroundings. Allow yourself to laugh and joke about or at it, too. If you have a good view out of your window, place yourself so that you can gaze out at that while you enjoy the relief of a really good shake as you allow the healing of a chunk of old fear.
The really smart way, however, to clear all those emotional issues fast is through ongoing use of the appropriate methods that I present in Healing and Self-Actualization - The Safest and Quickest Way. Then you wouldn't need to spend a lot of time on emotional release even if you're carrying major stresses or traumas. You can then spend a much higher proportion of your time experiencing the sheer delight and enjoyability of life itself.
Out in the cold, should I still allow myself to hunch up the way everyone seems to in the cold?
It's unhelpful to do that. The healthy approach is to maintain your lightness and sense of rising in your upper parts, and completely disallow any hunching urge. That hunching up doesn't keep you warm. Indeed it seems to interfere with your body's proper handling of the cold, and is also part of a pattern of painful emotional response to it. You will feel the cold less and enjoy cold winter days much more once you've shed that hunching reaction and allow yourself to remain extended to your full height. Of course you need to make sure that you're dressed adequately for the cold, but even if you're not, it is better to be cold and in a light and extended state rather than cold and in a miserably hunched state. Be sure to allow any urge to shiver, however, as that's the body's means of producing extra body heat from the muscular activity.
A very helpful way to release yourself quickly from any belief that you need to hunch yourself in the cold is to put that belief to inquiry using The Work. "I need to hunch myself when it's cold / I feel cold" - put that belief to inquiry using The Work, and that would enable you to let go of your attachment to that thought or in other words to 'un-believe' it. It would then be much easier for you to let go of the physical habit of hunching in response to the cold. Alternatively, and, in my experience more efficiently, you could 'zap' that belief with the Grounding Point procedure.
It seems that the AT is mostly about releasing tensions, but I don't really have any to speak of; does that mean I can't do much with the AT?
No, theoretically you can still make great gains. If you think you have few or no tensions there are two possibilities that are much more likely than your really having no issues that the AT could help with. One is that in fact you have plenty of tensions but are more or less unaware of them. We're all to some extent unaware of many of our tensions, especially before we start applying the AT. Lack of obvious postural distortions doesn't in itself mean you're free of tensions; it could well be that your particular tensions just happen to be relatively well balanced. They'd still be doing you plenty of harm. The other possibility is that indeed you have relatively few overt tensions, but your main misuses lie more on the side of muscular collapsing and over-extension.
If the problem is simply unawareness, as long as you have sufficient awareness / intellect to understand that you probably have tensions of which at present you're unaware, then you should not have too much problem in using the AT, for you don't have to be able to feel a tension to be able to let it release. Indeed for all of us the sensation of release is often our first direct intimation that a particular muscle group had been tense in the first place.
If your particular habits of misuse are more to do with slumping and slackness than obvious tension, then it's more difficult, though still possible. You'd then have to learn to hold yourself in a semblance of good, balanced positions in order to tone up the slack muscles. On the face of it you'd thus have to work counter to many of the normal recommendations. As your body got used to the more positive states you could then attend to releasing any excess tensions that you'd been applying.
I've been recommended to get a Balans chair because it's good for your back. Should I?
Opinions are divided about whether Balans-style (kneeling) chairs are a good thing. For somebody who has no other means of improving his/her sitting posture, they superficially appear to be. When I took up the AT I nearly bought one myself. My AT teacher advised against it and now I'm glad I didn't get one. On balance, like my teacher I've concluded that they're best avoided, especially for anyone using the AT. Those chairs rely on the tucking-underneath of the legs to make it relatively easy to sit upright without back support. If you're using the AT you should before too long be able to sit in a good upright state on an ordinary upright chair anyway, in a state of lightness and balance, and with your legs in a similar state of lightness and balance, which you wouldn't get while sitting in the Balans position. In any case, Balans chairs are horrendously overpriced, and you can't take your Balans chair around with you wherever you might want to sit down, so it's better to train yourself from the outset to sit healthily on any level surface, just as you were once able to as a small child. Reclaim your birthright!
Additionally, my more recent inner inquiry using energy testing points to there being a problem for your non-physical aspects when you sit with your legs tucked under yourself like that for extended periods. There's no harm in your legs being positioned like that for the odd brief periods - it could be all part of a healthy changing around of sitting position - but if your legs tucked underneath you in 'Balans' position is actually your norm for sitting, or at least is used for extended periods, that has a distorting and weakening effect in your non-physical aspects, and that would translate through to both physical and mental problems developing over time.
Is a walking stick ever a good idea?
Some AT teachers can be quite dismissive about these, taking the view that as you gain through use of the AT you become more balanced and really should not need a stick - and undoubtedly using a stick does somewhat interfere with the full freedom and balance of the body while walking.
These points are perfectly valid for most people while they're walking on firm and not too uneven ground. I know from my own experience that using even a light stick does interfere a little with the full balance and co-ordination of a really good mode of walking. However, against this cost must be weighed the cost of not using a stick in any particular situation. On really rough or steep ground this cost can become considerable over a long period.
For good reason I myself used (note the past tense!) a light alloy telescopic stick - a Leki Wanderfreund, obtainable from some hiking gear dealers - for all country walking involving stretches on uneven ground. I learnt the hard way how much damage could accrue to ankles during long walks on rough moorland and mountain terrain without having such support at hand, and I actually recommended anyone of any age to use one of these sticks for rough walking, never mind how wonderful their body use.
The important point here was that on very rough terrain improved body use and balance wouldn't stop you stumbling here and there, and use of the stick would usually enable you to avoid putting all your weight onto a turned ankle and causing potentially serious damage. On very steep descents, especially on tricky loose mountain terrain, the stick could make a dramatic difference to your stability and safety, and could take a lot of stress off the knees.
However, more recently I gained a new angle on this, and my recommendation had to be modified. It turned out that the real problem for me was NOT so much that I'd been walking without a stick for so many years, but that my ankles had become weak and unstable, and so for that reason I'd been needing to use a stick. But of course the real need was not to just try to prop myself up in my weakness, but to do something effective about that weakness. In the event, during my years of using spiritual healing (from 1998 onwards), despite all the serious problems that that brought me, one gradual positive change that did occur was that my ankles became increasingly stable.
However, I'm not fully clear as to what extent my spiritual healing methods were really responsible, because there was also another change I'd brought in at about the same time - for all my coast path hikes I'd switched from hiking boots to stout hiking shoes. The boots would have been interfering particularly badly with the proprioception of my feet - an essential element of my ankle stability mechanism - and would have been resulting in increasing weakness of the stability mechanism and indeed of the muscles that support the feet and ankles in walking and standing, so it could be simply that my stability mechanism was getting more healthily exercised and thus strengthened on each of my coast path walks once I'd switched to using shoes for them. On the other hand, during that time I was also doing a lot of walking on Dartmoor, and for that I was still always wearing hiking boots. By the time I stopped walking on Dartmoor, so that all my hikes were in shoes, my ankles had already become strong enough that I really didn't need the walking stick for most of my hikes.
Although the use of shoes would undoubtedly have been helping on my coast path walks, actually my use of the walking stick on all the hikes would actually have itself been interfering with my stability mechanism quite considerably, although in a different way from the wearing of boots.
Even now I'd still use the stick, however, on Dartmoor-type terrain, when traversing its really rough and more or less trackless parts, and also I use it on the roughest stretches on the coast path on the Land's End peninsula and part of the east side of the Lizard peninsula, because of the exceptionally rough and uneven coast path terrain. For all other walking, the stick stays attached to my rucksack, available for emergency use in case of an accident. There was in fact one occasion, in 2009, when I did have such an accident (an absurdly small accident but causing a major tear of my right quadriceps), and, after an essential 20-minutes' initial 'settling down' period of non-movement of that leg, my use of the stick enabled me very gently to walk the last 2 to 3 miles of the hike, so that I could then hitch-hike back home rather than having to have a passer-by with a mobile phone call the emergency services.
The stick needs to be held and used as lightly as possible, not normally as a prop (except during some steep descents) or as a thing to push you along, but as a passive reserve leg upon which you can at once put weight if you stumble or turn an ankle or maybe even put a foot down a hole. Some concentration is required to ensure that normal use of the stick doesn't involve the shoulder all that much. The length of the stick must be set so that a comfortable and workable hold on its handle doesn't cause any turning-upwards force applied to the wrist, otherwise troublesome repetitive strain injury is liable to develop. Ski-pole type handles aren't ideal in this respect, for they can put quite heavy sideways stresses on the wrist.
The very fashionable use of a pair of trekking poles is distinctly problematical, because they prevent you from allowing your arms to swing freely at all, and they give a lot of effort and stress to the arms, wrists and hands. In doing this they also at least largely disrupt the light, relatively effortless mode of walking that the AT enables you to use, and they interfere hugely with function of the muscles that give you ankle stability - so although people claim that they take stress off the legs, for anyone who is using the healthier AT mode of walking, a pair of trekking poles will actually increase the overall effort of walking and generally be disrupting your AT progress, and building up ankle stability problems and increasing tendency for various calf muscle strains. They may be helpful for descending very steep ground, BUT using them for that simply prevents you from maintaining the strength of the muscles that are most used in such situations, so that you become increasingly dependent on the assistance of those poles.
When can I expect to be clear of all tensions and other misuse?
Very likely, never within this lifetime! But before you throw up your hands in despair, take heart that this is good news. The AT is a lifelong process. As far as we know, nobody has completely cleared every single excess tension and other habit of misuse, especially as it's so easy for new habits to creep in unannounced even while you're conscientiously clearing out your old ones. This means that as long as you continue using the AT, life continues to benefit from the challenge and excitement of self-discovery and improved functioning. You don't end up stagnating in a boring physically 'perfect' state in which you've attained a glorious height from which you can only experience a worsening. Even as old age restricts your physical capacity in some ways you'd still be gaining improvements and new insights, which make the ageing process feel much more like a continuing opening-out rather than just a slippery downward slope.
Heresy time - Let rules be our servants, not our masters!
It's very easy to get the impression that you just need to do the things that Teacher says, or follow the instructions and guidelines given in a book, and you'd make good progress. Maybe you would, maybe not. Another element is needed too - your own creativity and motivation towards self-discovery; and that means also, your having sufficient mental flexibility and depth of awareness. To make the best possible gains and progress with the AT, you have to discover the Technique yourself, in your own way, because it's basically a process of self discovery and self recovery. What's important ultimately isn't a set of psycho-physical procedures named after F.M. Alexander (1869-1955), but YOU. You yourself are what's important. You'd do well thus to regard teachers and books, and indeed the AT itself, as being only adjuncts to that end of liberating yourself and manifesting your full potential.
We have already noted the general guideline that you don't hold yourself in a 'correct' posture or haul yourself into one, but instead you allow this to develop through letting go of the distorting forces. In fact, in real life there are actually situations where it can be helpful to hold a part of your body in a semblance of the better state. This isn't incompatible with application of the AT as long as you're clear about what you're doing - that it's simply a step in a longer-term strategy.
For example, I came to the AT with neck trouble sufficiently bad to start blighting my life and threatening my hiking and various other activities, and I realized that I could improve the usage of my neck considerably without waiting for major release to occur there. I trained myself to keep my neck extended in approximately the position it would adopt in time as its muscles released, and certainly managed to free my neck from much of the overuse that I'd previously been inflicting on it. An important point was that I was under no illusion that my neck was now 'free', and regarded this held position as merely a step on the way. In the event, because I was holding my neck in a much more balanced posture, and was also projecting the image of a reasonably optimal head-neck relationship and a freely movable balanced head, I didn't find this difficult to maintain, and indeed it quickly came to feel right. My AT teacher noticed that in my eagerness I was actually over-extending my neck a little, so she advised me just to go a little easy on that, which I did. Subsequently major muscular release occurred and the usage became still better; the 'held' element of my neck positioning quietly evaporated over a period, leaving me simply with relatively good use of my neck.
Similarly, you may need to hold yourself initially in a semblance of a good balanced upright sitting position to speed up improvement of usage of your spine. As long as you keep aware of what you're doing, and also are working on releasing the tense and over-shortened muscles involved, you should not get stuck with the problem of a new fixed posture.
Let me say it again (and again!) - if you're not being creative and flexible in your application of the AT, then it's arguable that it's not really the AT that you're using.
What is the Alexander Technique? - Another look
The individual physical gains you make from your lessons or by yourself in a particular period, while important, aren't the most important aspect of your taking up the AT. Indeed, if you concentrate just on your physical improvements and seek to retain your habitual ways of responding to people and situations, then you're actually neglecting the most fundamental aspect of the AT, and that neglect would in turn hinder your physical improvements. The way that the AT works is one of the best possible demonstrations of the inseparability of body and 'mind' on a functional level. Here, then, is another - and in my view the most basic - definition of the AT.
The AT is a process of letting go of habitual, end-gaining responses to stimuli, so allowing oneself to pay consistent attention to the means by which each goal is achieved.
Note the general and implicitly far-reaching nature of the statement, with no mention of the body at all. If you look at the AT like this, it becomes clear that replacing habitual with well-thought-out responses to all manner of stimuli, including people and situations, is every bit as valuable as the physical improvements that a teacher will mostly dwell upon, and indeed works hand-in-hand with them. The body's functioning can be seen as merely a subset of the individual's responses to stimuli from situations, which, after all, include the state of the body. Indeed, at its most advanced and subtle level of operation in a very self-aware person, the AT can be effectively a high-level and remarkably direct means to enlightenment, requiring no beliefs and not requiring a guru*. This is true because the perfection of the enlightened, optimally self-actualized state is the true nature of each one of us, and by letting go of habitual tendencies we gradually reveal and actualize more and more of that innate but obscured perfection. That's why the AT is potentially so incredibly powerful.
* Actually the widespread notion that the gaining of enlightenment involves having particular beliefs, doing lots of ongoing regular meditation and having a guru is seriously mistaken, for what all that is about is spirituality, not self-actualization, in which latter direction genuine enlightenment most readily occurs. Generally spirituality points one away from enlightenment or ensures that if one does become enlightened, it's within a seriously harmful distortion of what self-actualization is really about, and so can't then be the real liberation that it would be without all that actually obfuscational 'baggage'.
However, only a tiny minority of people would be able to use the AT in that really full-blown way and gain such an ultimate benefit from it. That's because the soul programming of the vast majority of people, through limiting the depth and breadth of their awareness, would block both their ability and their motivation to use the AT in that way. They'd generally not be able nor motivated to go beyond the body-focused approach of mainstream 'qualified' AT teachers - and indeed most wouldn't even have much clue about that. The people who would be in a position to use the AT as a potent means toward enlightenment and certain aspects of self-actualization would nearly all be no-soul people, for they have no soul programming to limit their comprehension and motivation.
The prospect of such fundamental change can seem daunting - even overtly frightening - but it should be emphasized that each person has his/her own speed of change, and can't know in advance how things will be in a year's or ten years' time. If you happen to be one of the people who do find their own speed of change unsettling, that's where a teacher can assist by drawing your attention to how things were for you; not many people would really want to return to their original quota of misuse, once they remember clearly enough what they were doing to themselves. The teacher may well in such situations suggest a more laid-back approach to achieving change, to allow more time for accustomization to the current state of improvement.
On the other hand, some other people are glad to maximize their rate of improvement, shaking off the shackles of a lifestyle that they've recognised as unduly restricted. In such cases a lot of attention can be applied directly to making better, thought-out responses and decisions in everyday life, without waiting for such changes to creep in quietly as body use improves. Such people would be learning fast the basic technique of setting aside habitual behaviour, and therefore should gain particularly rapid improvements in body use as well, provided they aren't getting snarled up on an end-gaining 'trying' habit.
It seems a crying shame that AT teachers are usually found alongside practitioners of disciplines of much lesser consequence at complementary health centres, with no indication that the AT is altogether on a higher plane of importance. Similarly in bookshops you'd probably find books on the AT in the Complementary Health section, sandwiched between Acupuncture and Aromatherapy. No wonder that in the general public eye the AT is still associated with fringe medicine and semi-quackery (and indeed outright quackery!).
I don't mean to decry the various complementary health therapies, many of which appear to have their place for particular people - especially if we bear in mind that there are many people who wouldn't take up the AT anyway. Indeed it can be seen as little short of scandalous that some therapies, like chiropraxy and osteopathy, are still not an integral part of the NHS alongside physiotherapists. But even the best of these therapies have limited goals. Think of them as being a bit like corn plasters: they do their particular job okay as a short-term 'patch-up'. The more useful of these various therapies are therefore worth being taken seriously, but are still best regarded not as any sort of alternative to the AT but as occasional adjuncts, which may or may not ever have to be called upon, to deal with the odd injury problem that apparently needs immediate direct attention. Very often the most valuable thing about a consultation with one of those practitioners might be simply to get an accurate diagnosis of the injury or other problem in a specific part of the body, so you understand better what problem you're dealing with. But at least long-term recovery and protection from re-injury must lie in improved body use. That's the province of the AT.
In practice (sic), most people who've properly taken up the AT after keeping on visiting physiotherapists, osteopaths, chiropractors or acupuncturists for their spinal or other physical problems have found to their relief that they've had no need whatsoever to return to those therapies. With improved and improving body use, it's possible to recover from many minor back and neck injuries without outside assistance, though obviously it would be straight common sense to get any potentially significant injuries in these areas checked out through normal medical channels so that at least you know what the overt damage is. A person using her neck really well should not need a restrictive collar except initially after a really significant neck injury.
If the AT were taken up in the National Health Service and fully publicized, and AT lessons made a standard part of everyone's education, then our NHS budget could well be halved or even quartered without reduction in services to those who actually need them. As the AT makes it easier for people to give up smoking, and the clearer, less habit-prone thinking that's freed up makes people less inclined to be attracted to the habit in the first place, a huge saving in health budget could result.
Road traffic casualties would also be considerably reduced, for a large proportion of accidents is widely recognised to be caused by impetuous, reactive end-gaining attitudes of drivers. Driving is an activity that cries out for the most basic AT principle - having decided where you're going, you then attend fully to the means by which you get there - and that includes your immediate driving technique, your overall attitude to your driving and the journey and other motorists, and of course also maintaining a good body state, which latter is difficult in the majority of car seats, which currently are made for animated jellyfish rather than well functioning humans. Indeed you might get thinking so well that you allow yourself a slacker schedule and use public transport or indeed walk instead (i.e., where that's physically possible)!
If the majority of employees in all our workplaces were using the AT, absenteeism from work would be bound to drop to a tiny fraction of what it is today, for there would be very little back or neck trouble, repetitive strain injury or stress-related illness.
If the AT were made a part of everyone's school education, it would not only benefit individual students directly but would also force a radical change of the whole educational system towards providing for individual needs and nurturing powerful individual thinking rather than using empty end-gaining pressures merely to drive individuals to fit into pre-set slots to feed a faceless economic machine and satisfy antiquated social norms. A generation of politicians would emerge who understood that an economic or political system must be the servant, not the tyrant, of the mass of individual people who make up the British, and indeed the world's, population. This of course is one good reason why the AT wouldn't find favour with today's generations of politicians.
There are many books on the AT, of varying substance and quality. The following seemed to me particularly helpful - though this list is decades out-of-date.
- Your Guide to the Alexander Technique, John Gray, Gollancz, 1991.
An excellent, adequately illustrated guide to learning the AT. This was the book that started me off, and it's still the soundest, most informative practical guide that I know of. Some people, however, may prefer a punchier, more lavishly illustrated book.
- Body Learning, Michael Gelb, Aurum Press, 1994.
A well thought out and informative general account of the AT. It's more an introduction than a practical guide.
- The Alexander Principle, Wilfred Barlow, Gollancz, 1990.
A classic work, though for most people it would be best read after having spent some time learning the technique. The book isn't so much a direct guide to applying the AT but more of a general account. Nonetheless, it provides many useful explanations and clarifications that could directly help you in using the AT. Written by a medic who was trained by Alexander himself, it contains the odd bits of medical jargon, and rather labours some of its explanations, but for the most part the book's glossary should save the day if you don't know all the terms.
- Back Trouble: a New Approach to Prevention and Recovery, Deborah Caplan,
Triad Publishing Company (Gainesville, Florida), 1987 (paperback).
Particularly aimed at those with back and/or neck problems, the contents of this book are supposedly firmly based on the AT. A range of exercises and other preventive measures is described, all of them allegedly compatible with the AT - though I do have to say that I've had no cause to use any of them, and I rather suspect that they're at best unnecessary for a person who is making really good use of the AT. If this book is of any use at all, it would be for people who have particular acute back problems prior to their use of the AT getting them 'sorted out' and thus rendering the book most likely more or less redundant.
For further information about the AT
and locating qualified AT teachers in your area,
visit the site of Alexander Technique International
or the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique (U.K.)
or The Complete Guide to the Alexander Technique
(a particularly excellent information resource)
Or use a search engine,
which should come up with other links more appropriate to your country.
My own status as a de facto Alexander Technique teacher
It would undoubtedly draw fairly widespread opprobrium from formal AT teachers, and especially ones who have STAT accreditations, that I even hint that I may be an effective AT teacher, and - horror of horrors! - have actually been giving the occasional individuals AT tuition, without my having been on any sort of professional AT teaching course. However, as I've already noted much further above, my observations indicate that the most fundamental qualification for being a really effective AT teacher simply can't be picked up on any sort of formal training course, no matter what big bucks have been paid for that training. That most fundamental qualification is a quality that's intrinsic to the person*. In some individuals that quality - a certain great depth of awareness and clarity of perception - is to a reasonable extent manifest and 'open', while in the majority, even of formally qualified AT teachers, it's more or less unmanifest and 'closed'. Such people have learnt, and can thus pass on, only a set of rules** - not the deep understanding that makes a really effective AT teacher.
* That I have a very genuine special quality or aptitude in this respect is demonstrated by my first formal music composition - the highly accomplished and compelling Symphony 1 (Sagarmatha), which I composed in 1995 with no formal musical training (apart from some piano lessons, which I hated, for just a year or so when I was a young boy). If you have this aptitude, in certain subject areas you can quickly learn for yourself what most people have to be formally taught even over many years or indeed decades, and indeed at least potentially you can go beyond them altogether, never mind how much teaching / training they've had.
** Because of their more rule-based outlook, it's such people who would be among the first to criticize and dismiss me for even the smallest bit of AT tuition that I give to anyone without my having had any sort of formal training. They'd never be able to understand the openness, flexibility of outlook and freedom from rules that comes with the fullest and deepest understanding of the AT.
I've found that I'm effective in 'teaching' ('passing on' would be a preferable term) the AT, simply from my practical experience of experimentally giving informal 'lessons' or training sessions to various friends and the odd healing clients who came to me. My own qualification is my ongoing experience of learning and using the AT for myself and occasionally demonstrating aspects of the AT to others or giving them tuition - this underpinned by my own exceptional level of awareness and clear perception as what I call a no-soul person - something I've already commented on much further above.
Because of not being able to get insurance for a formal AT teaching practice, for insurers would require me to have a formal 'qualification' (regardless of its real value or otherwise), I've never run any sort of formal or 'official' AT teaching practice, and have no plans to do so.
However, I still do give informal AT tuition sessions to the odd individuals on a friend-to-friend basis, on the clear understanding that I make no personal guarantees and I'm not covered by insurance for the purpose, and that any number of formally qualified AT teachers would undoubtedly dismiss me and my work out of hand, on the simplistic basis that I don't have a formal qualification and thus must be 'crap' and even 'dangerous'.
My willingness to give such sessions is generally limited to individuals who I've already got to know on some friendly basis - though very occasionally when out on my 'travels' I've given somebody who I encountered a brief impromptu AT session by way of demonstration of the effectiveness of the AT.
My approach to 'teaching' the AT isn't that of the average professionally 'qualified' AT teacher, because my emphasis is on showing the 'client' how to apply the AT him/herself and thus to be self-sufficient in using the AT and no longer to be anyone's client. So, I have no therapists' couch / table and instead direct the person for executing the lie-downs and other procedures just as they would at home.
One thing that particularly struck me was how, on the Complete Guide to the Alexander Technique website's Resources page, the link to this page is described as "Lengthy introductory site by a serious student of the Technique". That tells us something about the attitude of people who are seeing themselves as AT 'teachers'. The vast majority of AT teachers are attached to their self perception and social status as 'teachers' to such an extent that they can't acknowledge a de facto AT teacher when they see one, unless (s)he has a formal qualification to teach the AT (and which, as I've already pointed out, isn't at all a reliable indicator of the ability of a supposed AT teacher anyway). Indeed, worse than that - individuals who are not formally qualified AT teachers are typically not regarded even as authentic 'practitioners' or 'users' of the AT, but as 'students' of it, as in the above-quoted description of this page. They have to be seen as 'lower' and less accomplished than the teachers, even though they aren't universally so, and I'm a case in point!
Of course, fundamentally all users of the AT, including ALL 'teachers' of it, are, or need to be regarding themselves as, students of it, because a major and intrinsic aspect of it is a learning process. However, when an AT teacher refers to people who aren't formally qualified teachers themselves as 'students', something else is clearly meant. I'm thus described as a 'serious student' of the AT in order to try to cover up the embarrassment or discomfiture of AT teachers in acknowledging that well functioning AT practitioners don't require teachers other than themselves, thank you very much! Why couldn't I have been described at the very least as a 'serious practitioner / user' of the technique or even a de facto / ad hoc / impromptu / informal teacher of the AT (which is actually what I am, just as much as a student / practitioner)? I myself wouldn't care (well, all that much) even if they called me a hippopotamus, but I'm using this point to underline the blight of personal status issues that pervades at least the vastly major part of the AT teaching 'fraternity', and which would always seek to diminish the abilities and integrity of individuals who in some way implicitly call into question their own perceived superiority and personal status as qualified AT teachers.
To clarify about how I came to 'teach' the Alexander Technique...
I'm well aware that various individuals - particularly among the ranks of professionally 'qualified' AT teachers - would regard me as a 'wannabe' amateur with ideas well above my station (and thus, self evidently, as 'crap'), so let me explain something quite important here.
First, I came to AT 'teaching' actually without ever thinking of or wanting to teach the AT! When I took up the AT I was certainly excited about it, and indeed wanted other people to benefit from it too, but had meekly taken on board the standard line (indeed I'm inclined to say, 'standard bullshit'), that nobody at all would be able to teach the AT without going on a very expensive and demanding training course run by STAT.
A few months after I'd started with the AT at the beginning of 1993, by which time I'd already integrated it reasonably thoroughly into my life and gained great improvements, one late morning there was an unexpected buzz on my door intercom, and the caller turned out to be DP, a delightful woman, then in her 70s, who used to attend adult education courses on natural history that I used to run in Honiton in the 1980s, using my nature photography. She'd always particularly appreciated my approach to seeking to inspire people's interest in nature, and had kept in occasional contact with me after I stopped doing those courses in Honiton sometime in the late 1980s. I hadn't seen her for perhaps a year or so by this time, in 1993, so it was quite a surprise and pleasure to see her again.
She lived in Feniton, but was just passing by, having some shopping to do in Exeter - so this was just a friendly visit for a quick exchange of our own personal news. As always, DP was particularly keen to hear my news, as she always seemed to find inspiration from my positivity and creative 'energy' - and of course I told her how by the end of the previous year I'd been on the point of giving up my hiking because of the trouble with my back and especially my neck, and had been getting to feel frightened and a bit desperate about that, and then had been saved by my taking up the AT, and indeed how, that May, in a single day I'd once again walked the 26 miles from Corrour station across Rannoch Moor to Ben Alder, then its neighbour Beinn Bheoil, and down across Rannoch Moor to Rannoch station in very good time for the evening train back to Fort William. Quite something to report after having been in such a seemingly desperate state so few months before, and, by then, being just into my fifties!
I still remember her 'galvanic' response at that point. "Philip, tell me more!", she demanded, with an almost startling intensity of gaze and voice. Then she told me how she herself was, right then, feeling frightened and desperate because of her own spine and particularly neck trouble. Her doctor had 'diagnosed' osteoporosis (without any supporting X-ray to back up that diagnosis) and told her that that was what was causing the pain in her neck, which was driving her to distraction, and he'd claimed that there was nothing that could be done about it (i.e., it was 'just her age', and so she was 'written off'). So I then explained a little about the AT and how it had turned my whole situation around.
DP naturally asked me what happens in an AT lesson, and so I told her the sort of things that the teacher does - but, in order to make that more meaningful for her, it made sense for me to illustrate what I was saying, by actually demonstrating the odd things that an AT teacher would do. As she was seated, I illustrated only the odd things that the teacher would do to the student while seated, including manipulation of the shoulder blades to encourage the tension that's pulling them together to release, and gently moving the person's head on top of the neck without the normal involvement of neck movements. I was quite timid in doing those demonstrations, and inevitably I was comically clumsy in my diffidence, and at one point I almost let her head slip out of my hands when I was moving it (because I was not expecting her head to be so heavy), but anyway, in my 'amateurish' way I'd succeeded in giving some sort of demonstration of what she could expect, such time as she took some lessons.
That was really all there was to it that day. I'd simply told DP about the AT and what might happen in a lesson, with a little crude demonstration by way of illustration - and vaguely hoped that she'd find an AT teacher.
The following day I had an unexpected phone call from DP. "Philip, you won't believe this!", she started - the news being that her great and troublesome pain, which no doctor nor 'physio' nor chiropractor had been able to budge, had GONE, as though by magic! Having had such a dramatic effect from my very crude and tentative little demonstration, she was then asking if I myself would consider actually teaching her the AT, however much or little I could manage to, because she simply didn't have the money to pay the sort of fees that AT teachers charge. All she could offer me was the odd little items of produce from her quite large garden, in which she grew vegetables and kept some chickens, a goose, and, I think, some ducks.
Now, what sort of 'sanity' would it have been, for somebody in my position then to refuse, with the lame excuse that "I'm not an AT teacher, and only qualified AT teachers could do such a thing"! If I'd already helped her so much with my very first and laughably clumsy attempt at a demonstration, surely I'd benefit her further by imparting whatever I could of the AT to her, never mind how any particular professionally 'qualified' AT teacher would view the matter!
So it came about, that we agreed that she'd come to me in my flat weekly for AT lessons, on the understanding that she'd be a 'guinea-pig' for me to gain experience of teaching the AT, and she'd have to 'take the thick with the thin' with all good grace and good will. Although even then I had no particular designs upon being a formal AT teacher, there was clearly a very basic good sense in being able to pass on the AT to the odd individuals who crossed paths with me, so that at least they wouldn't get the distorted 'teaching' that, sadly, came from various formally qualified AT teachers (including my own first AT teacher, despite his STAT training and accreditation and being widely looked up to as a real 'expert').
I gained confidence extremely quickly, for DP was such a great 'experimental subject' and, in an important sense, she was my teacher of AT 'teaching'. Our sessions were full of humour, with many laughs, and I didn't worry myself about making mistakes, because making and immediately owning up to particular mistakes was all part of being a really effective teacher (and indeed in an important sense it's intrinsic to the AT itself!). That way I could inspire DP or any other 'student' of mine not to worry about 'making mistakes' and simply to learn fully from whatever did happen, all 'mistakes' included.
She eventually moved out of the country, but remained in occasional contact for many years (I assume having died by now), and never reported any significant return of her bad spinal troubles, even though I very much doubt whether she ever fully took the AT on board. Like people in general, she tended to see the lie-downs as being the AT, no matter that I repeatedly explained to her otherwise, and I never got clear signs that she'd anything like fully taken up the mental discipline in everyday life, which is the real core of the AT, despite all my explanations and exhortations about that.
After that, it came naturally to me to give the odd AT demonstrations or lessons when the odd individuals started coming to me for 'spiritual healing', from 1998 onwards - for I saw my real 'healer' function to be as an inspirer and 'teacher' of self healing, so that people could get on with healing themselves without requiring an external 'healer'. As part of that I put a big emphasis on encouraging these individuals to take up the AT, and I'd often include an AT lesson when particular individuals came for hands-on healing (in fact usually healing exchanges rather than one-way sessions). But I was still not claiming to be an 'AT teacher'. Rather, I was seeing myself simply as a healer who would pass on some degree of AT awareness / practice as a particularly important part of my 'giving healing'.
Postscript - Perfect companions for the Alexander Technique
I've made the point in this guide that the AT, although officially little more than a method for sorting out issues related to the use of one's physical body, when used in a thoroughgoing fashion is actually theoretically something of a full self-actualization method, releasing at least partially various emotional issues. However, for virtually anyone, including myself, use of the AT alone for breaking patterns in order to resolve ALL one's emotional issues and karmas and achieving optimal self-actualization is a pretty tall order, although it can take you some of the way. I therefore found that various other self-actualization and healing methods, including emotional healing / clearance methods, brought me on in leaps and bounds in major aspects of my life that the AT could hardly touch - though by the same token, my having the AT has always been a great facilitator in my use of those other self-actualization methods, and indeed in all aspects of my whole self-actualization process.
For your perfect companions to the AT, therefore, please see Healing and Self-Actualization - The Safest and Quickest Way.
Enjoy your exploration...
Some user questions answered and issues raised
I intend to add here the occasional question and issue that has come to me from AT users who are looking for clarification or expansion on points that I've raised in the account of the AT that I've given above.
The big trouble about being an AT 'teacher'
One person, X, wrote in to me as follows, referring to what I say in this Guide:
Paradoxically, that shows that X actually has more self awareness (and what I'd call 'self honesty') and thus self-actualization potential than the vast majority of those along with whom she's categorizing herself!
You wrote "the situation exacerbated by a high proportion of AT teachers not having sufficient depth of awareness ever to fully understand what they're teaching, beyond an intellectual understanding of the physical aspects and a certain competence in following and teaching the instructions and rules that they'd been taught.."
I have to agree, I'm afraid I'm one of these people. I actually trained twice, one year with a Patrick Macdonald grad, and 3 years with a Walter Carrington descendant. Very different approaches, the first more "force with direction" the latter extremely light hands.
Though I have good use, I can spot misuse, bringing a change about in others seems so elusive, without a feeling of doing, and doing too much! Sometimes I feel like training again! I will be going to refresher courses, etc. I was trained by 2 long time amsat teachers who went "rogue" so I'm in. ATI. One of my sponsors (you need 3 in ATI and proof of a training course) was Michael Fredrick, who told me I should approach amsat, but I really just want to be a good teacher of the technique whatever camp I'm in.
I'm writing as that first sentence you wrote grabbed me! I also came to the technique from an esoteric school, where pausing 3 seconds before responding ( inhibition ) and being aware of myself (e.g., next time you go thru a doorway know you're walking thru it, don't be in the kitchen already)... So already processes were developing in me. Adding the directions made it all work. In the past I'd pause 3 sec then still have the same tension, so the technique was lovely to catch myself getting uptight in a conversation and then lengthen and widen etc.
I guess my question is: what is the elusive quality I know I'm missing. Or is it even possible to put in words?
In response to her question, I think a very fundamental level of answer to it would be that, like nearly everyone else who gets into the AT, either as 'just' a user or a supposed 'teacher', she has, at least to a fair extent, 'bought' the bullshit, that the AT is something that's taught rather than learnt*. The reality (i.e., as I see it from my own experience) is that the AT is something that's learnt and used by oneself, and needs to be just one aspect of a much broader genuine self-actualization methodology and process if it's going to be maximally effective. That latter is what this whole website is all about.
* After I'd got clear of my first 'official' AT 'teacher', who really had got it badly wrong, my next AT teacher, who in relative terms was very good indeed, described the AT in her printed publicity material as "A teaching method in which..." - which informed me even then that there was something seriously screwy about her very perception of what the AT really was. Even she appeared to regard the AT as something to be 'taught' rather than used in everyday life! -- Barmy! That actually made little difference for me because I was intuitively teaching myself anyway, so my relationship with any AT teacher was bound to be quite different from how it would be for AT 'students' in general, and I simply recognised and filtered out what I could see to be distortions or weakenings of what was genuinely helpful in the AT.
Yes, particularly in the initial stages learning of the AT can be greatly assisted with the right input from individuals who are already proficient in applying the AT in their everyday lives, BUT those individuals in turn need to have been ones who've learnt the AT (i.e.,'discovered' and 'taught' it to themselves) rather than relied on it being 'taught' to them by somebody else. That's the only way to gain the deep insights that make the AT fully meaningful and effective as a self-actualization tool. -- "Observe and Discover! -- Discover and Observe!"
Then such people spontaneously encourage and inspire that sort of deep learning in other people. On the other hand, if they've been extensively taught and have become proficient in teaching what's claimed to be the AT, what they really pass on to others is that either the latter are just students (i.e., not 'real' AT users) or/and the AT is really all about one's being seen by others as an AT teacher and therefore supposedly superior.
Thus, with a teacher-student relationship there virtually always comes at least some degree of disempowering dominant-submissive role-play and power/control agenda, and there's little or nothing in that to point the 'newbie' towards working from his own deepest awareness and insights rather than trying to follow 'received wisdom' (more a set of rules than anything to do with one's deep awareness and gaining one's own all-important insights).
So, what I'm saying is that the whole CULT of AT teaching is one big problem and helps to ensure that, apart from the odd rare individuals with really deep awareness who've 'broken from the mould', neither teachers nor other (notional) users of the AT are getting to the core of making the AT not only effective physically but actually an intrinsic part of a genuine and comprehensive self-actualization process.
The self-actualization methods given on this website greatly assist one in clearing awareness blocks, and, especially if one is making effective use of energy testing, one is cultivating one's own ability to be self-sufficient and self-commanding in one's use of any worthwhile method or technique. It would thus become progressively easier to improve one's use of the AT and make much more effective any 'teaching' of it that one may carry out, in such a way that any 'teaching' would be more in the nature of facilitation of the person's own learning rather than the disempowerment and putting 'students' in their place that appears to be such a feature of formal AT teaching generally.
Finally, it's well worth pointing out here that the whole field of formal AT 'teaching' is plagued by similar issues to those that are such a problem in the various versions of spiritual healing and supposedly holistic therapies (and indeed in all branches of 'Education'). Basically, people are motivated to work with 'clients' or 'students' in order to feel that they have a certain perceived superior status through 'teaching' or 'helping' others, whereas their real need is to put their primary priority upon fully addressing their own issues and clearing from themselves whatever emotional issues cause them to strive to be seen as superior and place themselves in formal teaching positions in the first place. While the odd ones do have sufficiently deep awareness at least to have an inkling that what they're doing is unhealthy both for themselves and their clients / 'students', most have sufficient blockage to their deeper awareness that they would never hold their motivations up to deep and honest scrutiny, and so would take some degree of umbrage at awkward old cusses like me pointing out such 'inconvenient' home truths.
"I don't need the Alexander Technique because the Bowen Technique already does the same sort of thing for me"
What rubbish! Once in a while somebody or other trots that one out to me, showing complete unwillingness to look outside their own narrow little rut and actually understand how much more the AT offers. They all like to make out that the Bowen Technique is 'very similar' to the AT (i.e., presumably as I'd described it), but that notion is just a product of their own self-deception.
The Bowen Technique is a therapy that a practitioner applies to a client. It's simply one of the better therapies on offer. What it's not is any sort of means to take command of your life and self-actualization process. It's not that the BT is bad as far as therapies go, but rather, that having 'body-work' therapies applied to one at all is harmful, regardless of their often feeling wonderful and probably having various short-term beneficial effects - because they're all diverting you away from taking full command of your life and properly sorting yourself out, resolving your various underlying issues that are causing the superficial issues that you consciously experience.
The AT isn't a therapy, at least in that sense, and, as I've sought to make clear on this page, it's a mental discipline that you incorporate in your life to improve it in all sorts of ways, including a whole range of physical function optimizations, without need for further input from therapists / practitioners, and thus rendering the latter generally redundant.
Thus, with the AT you have a tool for ongoing and potentially radical life improvement in many fields, with minimum financial outlay (just some lessons to get you started), whereas with Bowen Technique you're in passive, cop-out mode, and would depend on receiving ongoing BT sessions, thus with an accumulating financial cost. - And of course all that would be feeding your pattern of passivity and unwillingness to take responsibility for your life - hence my describing such therapies as harmful. Your whole life quality would therefore be rubbish compared with what you'd get through active engagement with your life process (including taking up the AT), and you'd have little or no motivation to take charge of your situation later on in your life when further issues arise, and would simply make a bee-line for one or other sort of therapy or 'treatment' in an attempt to get more comfortable again without ever taking on the self-command and self-responsibility that's necessary to genuinely resolve your issues and lead a vibrant and rewarding life.
But then, naturally the BT would be greatly more appealing to the vast majority, who are 'sheep', who would never get their heads around the notion of being self-sufficient in improving their lives, and who could never relate to any notion of their incorporating the AT or indeed any sort of genuine self-actualization method or process into their lives.
A salutary personal experience - losing the plot, and then finding it again!
Over the years I thought I was doing just great with my application of the AT, even though always having an open mind about it so that I could pick up on any sloppiness that I developed in allowing misuse to creep in. But yet, as I came to recognise in June 2018, I'd been letting something major slip for many years! Yes, I really had been applying the AT well with regard to many aspects of my functioning and body use, yet there was something I was persistently sort-of noticing but then turning a blind eye to.
In late 2009 I had somebody take a number of photos of me, supposedly to demonstrate using monkey position and also good and bad walking technique - and I was a bit shocked to see how I was tending to droop my upper back even when thinking I was healthily upright. But I let that drift, just assuming that by intending not to droop I'd not do so. Then in 2016 somebody took a few photos of me near Porthcurno, and I was rather horrified to see that I, imagining that I was standing healthily upright, was showing quite clearly an 'old man stoop'. Ouch!
Yet still I just shrugged my shoulders and hoped the issue would somehow resolve itself. Also, over the last several years I'd been finding my upper back muscles increasingly stiff and achy by the end of each hike, so when I had a lie-down afterwards I'd have a few minutes' considerable discomfort as the upper back let go of its distortion and the muscles started readjusting for decent alignment again.
This, together with shoulder painfulness caused by the weight of my rucksack, had got so troublesome by the spring of 2018 that I started probing around, wondering what the hell to change to get myself into a decent state again. For a start, I tried the back-to-the-wall exercise, which I hadn't used for years. I was surprised to find that whereas previously my right shoulder-blade had always made first contact with the wall, now it was solidly the whole of the left side of my back, and it was very difficult initially to make any balanced back contact at all with the wall. There appeared to be a twist of the spine that I'd been allowing to develop.
Initially I sought to counter that twist on a strenuous hike, and it did actually reduce the shoulder pain, but my inner inquiry indicated that it would be best overall for the time being to concentrate on undoing the stoop, which should to a fair extent enable other distortions to resolve without direct attention to them. So, I experimented and found that what was not helpful for me at that time was to think of myself lengthening or being drawn out from the crown, even though that was still what I was intending. Instead, the most helpful focus was on my shoulders and chest. Basically, my shoulders needed to be a bit further back in relation to the chest, but of course without being rigidly held in any particular position. So, it was (and is) a matter of gently moving them back and NOT directly holding them there, but then using my breathing to draw attention to the chest being more prominent once more, and building that improved alignment into my self-perception.
Thus, when walking, now it's both my chest and my crown that are leading me - not just the crown as before. Also I'm mindful that any measure to keep the shoulders a bit further back would tend to be associated with a narrowing of the upper back, caused by over-shortening of the muscles between the shoulder blades. My counter-measure for that has been to add that into the 'chest-forward' breathing visualization. So, not only is my chest sticking out more with each inhalation, but simultaneously my shoulder blades are drifting apart, so widening the upper back. So far this seems to be working well. Yes, on occasions I still catch myself surreptitiously drooping, but it's much easier now to notice, and it feels so much better to gently get myself out of it with the chest-forward and shoulders-back breathing visualization, so that I now have much more incentive to notice and counter any relapse. Initially this resulted in a few days of considerable back painfulness and right-side sciatica, but I recognised that as adjustment pains, and, sure enough, it all dissolved rapidly after those few days - and then I was getting much less back aches during and after my hikes.
But then I had to undergo the purgatory of the adjustment back pains all over again because I'd then become that bit more aware and had noticed something blatantly obvious in looking at myself in a long mirror, which must have always been the case but I'd never properly noticed. Would you believe it, having felt my lower back and realized that it had a quite distinct scoliosis (lateral double-bend), on looking at myself in that mirror I saw clearly that when I was standing 'straight' my pelvis was tilted from right to left because my right leg was about an inch longer than the left one - so, no wonder I had that scoliosis! Decades ago two successive osteopaths had told me that one leg of mine was longer than the other, but I'd never noticed that by direct observation, so it had always seemed to me to be rather an academic consideration.
Since that observation, I've tended for much of the time to allow my right leg to be slightly bent when standing 'straight', and slightly more bent when both legs are bent, and my body, after the few days of initial back pains and sciatica all over again, feels much better in that much straighter and less 'scoliotic' state. The only trouble of course is that it isn't good for my legs for me to be using them differently like that.
Here the real need would be for an operation to shorten the longer leg or lengthen the shorter one. In practice I'd go for the shortening because that's a much less severe procedure. However, the catch is that now (July 2018) I'm nearly 76, and it wouldn't make good sense to have such an operation now, because it would necessitate a quite long period of little use of the legs, and at my age I could reasonably expect to find that I couldn't regain all that much of the muscle mass that I'd lost during that period of minimal use of the legs. Having a specially designed shoe for my left foot, to add the extra inch, isn't a workable option, because that wouldn't be flexible enough for the vigorous sorts of walking that I do.
So, it looks as though I shall have to make do with the various issues that may arise from the slightly awkward walking and standing, normally with the right leg more bent than the left one. However, on the plus side, the better-aligned spine causes me to feel much better not just physically but mentally too, so, that in itself amounts to a significant increase in my quality of life.