After 30 years, a new "technique" for living
Along my thirty-year career path I created a $100 million dollar business, a great deal of stress for myself, and discovered the Alexander Technique.
My goal was to retire early, so that I could realize my passion for teaching English. I was commuting a minimum of two hours a day from the peaceful small suburban town of Novato in Marin County all the way upstream and across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge to Berkeley and back again. I was happily involved in training for marathons. I ran about 8 of them over a period of about six years. Some were in stunning locations like Big Sur on the California coast or in Napa along the Silverado trail. I combined my love of travel with a couple of others like the New York Marathon and the Moscow International Peace Marathon. Just before I had to end my love of running I began enjoying Cajun dancing and learning to play the violin. During the last eight years in my job, I took some serious falls on my back and became very familiar with chronic pain.
I drove to work in the mornings massaging my neck and shoulders, and returned home each night ready to cry from the lower back and hamstring pain that grew inflamed each day. I visited a long list of medical practitioners including some I had never heard of before like a physiatrist and an osteopath. I tried acupuncture and was also tested by a neurologist. I was scared off by offers of tests involving needles along my spine and lifelong anti-seizure medication that would make me forgetful. Finally, after feeling like a hypochondriac in search of a diagnosis and a cure, I was referred to a teacher of the Alexander Technique (AT) and a new path opened up for me.
I knew almost nothing about the Alexander Technique. I had seen it referenced in fitness magazine articles and more recently in music publications. It was my chronic Alexander pain and desire to continue playing the violin that motivated me to try Alexander “lessons.”
Matthias Alexander, the Technique's creator, was a Shakespearean actor who suffered from acute chronic hoarseness only when he was acting. When doctors could not “cure” him, he realized it had to be something to do with the way he was using himself when he acted. He used a mirror to observe his own habits. Through the process he learned that his body and mind operated as one, as the “self”. Every action was attached to a thought — including everyday actions like standing up, driving, typing.
John Baron, the Alexander Technique teacher, had a studio in Sausalito. It was not
exactly on my route to work. I had to take time off of work every Thursday morning
for my lessons. John turned out to be extremely well qualified. He had trained in London 20 years ago and had worked with a variety of people including opera singers in Italy, symphony performers and corporate office people like myself. John gave me an introductory lesson that immediately made me aware of the unnecessary amount of tension that I created in my neck when sitting and standing.
Nearly all of my lessons involved stand-to-sit and sit-to-stand activity because it is a common
everyday activity. The lessons varied depending on what I was getting out of the previous lessons or how I might be doing when I walked into the studio.
John, as an Alexander teacher, was amazingly observant of how I was standing or walking or talking with or without undue tension. The most incredible part of the experience, especially in the early lessons, was the table work. I would lie on my back while John rearranged my arms, legs, neck and torso while discouraging any muscular engagement or reaction during this part of the session. When I got up, I would feel like I had grown taller. It was such a wonderful feeling of ease in my body that when I went out to get into my car I really did not want to shorten myself to get into it.
For the first six months, I continued to understand very little about the technique, but my neck and shoulder pain was disappearing. I felt a sense of lengthening and a new hope for control over my pain. As I began to understand more about the technique, I became fascinated with this profound and yet commonsense approach to helping me heal myself. Alexander is a self-care technique, but one well worth the investment in time spent with a teacher. That teacher can shorten the route to helping you discover the cause of your pain.
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