Last week I had a session with a very difficult new student. He had come to me because whenever he became stressed, he invariably experienced pain in his neck, upper back, and shoulders. Chiropractic helped the pain, but he was pretty convinced there was something he was doing to himself that was the root of the problem.
It was obvious to me he was interested in the Alexander Technique and was very willing to learn, but as soon as we started our lesson he grew very defensive very quickly. He became frustrated when I told him the first step in the process had to do with allowing his neck to be easy and free. Not only was he unable to let go of the tension in his neck, but he couldn’t explain to himself why he could not “loosen his neck” as he put it. The more frustrated he became, the more difficult it was for him to let go.
I knew this work would do wonders for him if he could stop being so hard on himself. If he could let go of the need to “get it right” and simply be curious about what he was experiencing I believed this frustration would abate on its own. I decided to put him on my massage table for what we call a “table turn” so that he could practice releasing unnecessary tension while lying down. I encouraged him to let go of his head and let the table support his body while I moved his arms and his legs. The expression on his face changed and he grew quiet and thoughtful.
“How are you doing?” I asked.
It took him a long time to answer. “I feel sad and I don’t know why.”
“That’s okay.” I told him. “Whatever you are feeling right now is alright.”
And with that he began to cry. We kept working quietly, me helping him release extra tension through his neck and across his chest, him noticing and observing his breath and his reactions.
Most people have no idea how much of their emotional life is locked up in their breath and their musculature. It’s very easy for us to roll our shoulders back and tighten our chest or abdomen against negative emotions like fear and sadness. We don’t want show the outside world what we are feeling. This armoring is not a bad thing in itself; things happen and it is imperative we develop coping mechanisms. The problem arises when the instinct to shield ourselves becomes habitual and subconscious. The problem arises when we don’t give ourselves a choice as to whether or not we express our emotions.
Adam Bailey, an Alexander Technique teacher who holds a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology from the Harvard Graduate School of Education has this to say:
“For some people, their unconscious minds and their bodies may be the containers for feelings, memories and experiences that they’re unaware of. They may have “forgotten” about these emotions because of the demands of growing up in modern society – or because the original experiences were painful or the environment didn’t support their full expression of their feelings. This material is then stored in their bodies in the form of muscle tension, and may result in chronic pain, among other symptoms. Thus, these people, when they begin Alexander lessons, may experience deep emotions and memories from the past. For them, the Alexander Technique provides a safe, grounded means of dealing with this material as it emerges.”
I need to specify here that Alexander Technique teachers are not therapists. We’re not interested in why these emotions have become buried or what experiences led to the holding and tensions that cause pain or stiffness. What we are interested in is helping students recognize these habitual patterns and strip them away so that they feel freer, lighter, and hopefully–pain free.
My student was pretty shaken up from his experience and though I’m afraid he left with more questions than answers he appeared lighter on his feet and more relaxed than when he walked in. “I’m don’t know why, but I feel like this weight has been lifted,” he exclaimed as he was getting on his shoes. I knew why. The downward pull in his chest and stiffness in his arms was gone.
Bailey, Adam. “The Alexander Technique and Psychological Growth | Alexander Technique Boston.” Adam Bailey | Alexander Technique Boston. Web. 24 Oct. 2011. <http://alexandertechniqueboston.com/the-alexander-technique-and-psychological-growth/>.