Ever get that feeling that you’re living in a brain with someone else’s body attached? Or that your body takes over while your brain’s not looking? It’s easy to feel like you’re carrying two people around, not one, and that they’re often at war with each other. No wonder we so often feel anxious and exhausted. Wouldn’t it be easier to feel like one whole person? That’s what learning the Alexander Technique can give you back.
FM Alexander derived the Alexander Technique over 100 years ago from self-experiment and personal experience, to resolve a problem in his own health.
At its heart is what he termed “psychophysical unity” – ie the mind and body are indivisibly interconnected. Importantly this works two ways – what you think affects your body but also what happens in your body affects your mind.
Intuitively we probably grasp the former – if we feel sad and anxious we find it harder to move and may feel physically heavier – and now it seems scientific research is at last catching up on the latter.
Two items were in the paper this week – firstly a trial treating schizophrenia by treating physical immune responses in the brain (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/nov/03/radical-new-approach-to-schizophrenia-treatment-begins-trial )
and secondly a book based on studies of the gut bacteria or microbiome ( https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/nov/06/microbiome-gut-health-digestive-system-genes-happiness ) that suggests gut health, via chemical signals generated to the brain, may be involved in effects as varied as anxiety, appetite and weight gain, athletic performance and sleep patterns.
FM’s key idea of conscious control works the first way round – we can consciously think instructions to our muscles to release tension and stop learned patterns of movement that are causing damage. But equally important was the discovery he termed ‘primary control’ – that the neck muscles must allow the head to balance so the spine can release to its full length. He found via repeated experiments that implementing primary control is necessary to allow conscious control to really happen, as opposed to merely thinking it has happened. This is an example of the second way round- our body enabling our thinking to take effect. As you let go of tension the body regains its balance, literally and metaphorically, allowing you to release more tension.
Practising AT helps you freely inhabit your body. But as many who have tried it can tell you, it can also affect your mood, calming stress and anxiety, leaving you more confident and open to the world.
And why the coin in the photo you ask? I’ve used it sometimes in workshops to illustrate this subject – I give a coin to each person while we’re sitting in a circle, then ask them to pass the heads side to the person on their right, and at the same time pass the face side to the person on their left. You can’t of course. Yet we happily divide people up into mind and body, treating body and mental illness separately.
If you want to find out more about keeping both sides together, our next workshop, called Calm and Composed, is all about the way changing how you use your body can help your mood. It’s on Sat 25th November, 2-4 pm and there’s more detail on our Events page.