The Alexander Technique can be used by anyone, as it is characteristically a method to improve the way we use our bodies in whatever we are doing. This may sound simplistic and in a way that is the beauty of the work. It is practical, accessible, and portable (you can practice it anywhere at any time!). In this article I will address how massage therapists can benefit from the education and its application, whether for keeping you out of discomfort while giving massages or helping manage stress and pain that may result from the job itself. Typically, these can be sore thumbs, carpal tunnel syndrome, strained backs, tendonitis, fatigued arm muscles, etc.
I enjoy working with massage therapists because you are educated in anatomy and are used to talking about body awareness with your clients. But who is taking care of you as the therapist? Self-care is essential for practitioners who are giving so much of their physical and emotional attention to clientele; often leaving you feeling depleted, as well as possibly injured or debilitated, whether mildly to chronically. That is where the Alexander Technique can fit into your life. It is an educational awareness that is taught best through lessons (rather than a book) but is then something you can do yourself as prevention, pleasure, or rehabilitation for any kind of issue.
What is it specifically? F.M. Alexander’s discoveries and applications were unique in that they focused very much on the joint made by the skull (occiput to be exact) and the top of the spine (atlas), known as the atlanto-occipital joint. Not only is this joint almost never addressed in any kind of fitness, physical therapy, or medical treatment, but on a personal level, it is something most of us are not even aware exists (or is not where we imagine it to be)! And if we were to think about it, it would never occur to us that because a joint is a place where two bones meet—which means it is a juncture of release and ease rather than stiffness—the occiput and atlas are meant to be released in relation to each other. When I say released, I mean that before habitual tension patterns set in, as in when we were very young, the skull almost bobbled on top of the spine in an effortless fashion that allowed for its dynamic, tension-free behavior to play a major role in coordinating the whole skeletal structure, keeping it in balance and facilitating flexible movement at all the joints.
As massage therapists know, bones and muscles work in tandem in our neuro-muscular system—among other tissues of course. So, another key function of the Alexander Technique is to teach us how to release muscle tension through awareness. In order for joints to fold where they are supposed to (and not where we mistakenly imagine them to exist), muscles need to be released. A nice way to think of this is that when muscles are at rest, they are long. I say this because a misperception in our culture is that there is something we need to do to lengthen our muscles. In fact, fabricating their lengthening is actually contracting them, distorting their natural state. So, this work encourages our muscles to lengthen (naturally), aka, to be in a state of ease and rest as to allow bones to release fluidly where they meet other bones. Bones releasing in relation to each other—including the occiput and the atlas—restores the full-body coordination we had when we were young. It also creates an internal environment where muscles are not strained or being relied upon to do things they were not designed (by nature) to do. When bones and muscles are permitted to fall back into their loose and easy manner (picture a toddler or a cat), other issues tend to drop away. This becomes an ongoing awareness and practice, applying it to any moment of your day, not only for the purpose of giving a massage or an isolated exercise. Though the latter is encouraged, the purpose of the work is to integrate it into one’s activities whenever possible.
These are some of the basic concepts of the Alexander Technique which must be experienced to realize the full implications of the freedom that is available, that no one ever told us about before. Because it is education, practice is essential, but it gives one tools to manage their own conditions. This is a phenomenal awareness that is eye-opening and life-changing on many levels, so I take any opportunity to share it!
For Alexander Online Lessons click HERE