Saturday, 1 February 2014

On 14:39 by Victoria Stanham   No comments
Apart from being an Alexander Technique teacher, I’m also a Pilates Method instructor and avid Pilates student; so I get to listen in on conversations that Pilates enthusiasts have with each other. One such conversation got me thinking…
This woman, who’d recently started her Pilates practice, was talking to this other woman who was a regular Pilateer, about the Pilates way of breathing during exercise.
Newbie: “I’m really confused with when to breathe, how to breathe, all that stuff that I need to activate, while thinking about the exercise itself.”
Seasoned Pilateer: “Oh, it becomes natural with time and you don’t even have to think about it. What’s best, it works your abs so much! I use it all the time: when I’m walking, when I’m sitting, when I’m shopping. It’s like getting an ab workout 24/7.”
Something didn’t sound quite right to me. Here’s why…
“Pilates breathing” is a way of directing your inhale and exhale during movement. (By the way, singers do this all the time).
On the surface it seems to be about expanding your ribs laterally during inhale, and closing them while contracting your abdominals and pelvic floor during exhale in order to ensure “core control”.
But really, it’s about coordinating your breath with your movement in a way that facilitates torso integration when exerting effort.
If done correctly it helps you keep the full length of your spine and width of your torso while lifting a load against gravity, be it your own weight or another heavy object. Naturally, you want to match the amount of effort you put into your “Pilates breathing” to the effort required by the task at hand.
If you understand what the tool is designed for and how it is used, you won’t be caught exhaling like a whale when all you wanted to do was lift a 1lb weight with your hand.
Using a tool will get you results. With Pilates breathing, because it recruits the abdominal musculature, one of its results is that your abs get toned. That’s a nice extra, but not the original purpose or use of the tool. So, if you are walking to the store inhaling and exhaling like you are trying to shove an elephant out of the way, you’re not only going to look strange, you’re also going to interfere a lot with your original aim of walking to the store. Yes you’ll be giving your abs a workout… but at what cost? And isn’t there a more appropriate tool for that? (By the way, why do abs need a specific workout anyway? If you’re maintaining correct trunk integration and alignment naturally throughout your day, your abs are getting their supposed workout by just doing their job).
So what happens when you start thinking that the tool is some kind of “magic pill” because it has positive effects not only on its original target (which is soon forgotten because it is “cured”) but also on other areas in your life? You might start thinking that your tool’s purpose and use is to improve those areas too. However, though improvements in those areas are wonderful collateral, they are not the specific purpose of the tool. There are surely other tools more appropriate for speedy improvement in those other areas.
Therefore, although your Pilates breathing has surely helped in the development of your flat midriff, it may not be smart to tell your flabby-bellied friend to go around town inhaling and exhaling like a steam locomotive.
What does this all have to do with learning the Alexander Technique?
Well, it’s good to know what the purpose of the Alexander Technique is, in order to figure out if it’s the best fit for your current problem.
The main purpose of learning the Alexander Technique is for you to be able to feel what your reaction to any situation is (measured by the amount of unnecessary tension you generate), and to have clear instructions to give yourself to return to a more clear-minded (and easy-going) state.
At first it may look like you’re learning about correct body alignment and how to perform certain activities you find difficult or painful with less tension (like how can I speak without losing my voice?).
But in time you may find that the effects of being aware of yourself and how you’re reacting in those activities you were concerned about, has percolated to how you think about all other activities. Being aware of how you are reacting has become a habit, and it sparks wonderful discoveries in every other area of your life (like why do I overeat at family reunions?). For some situations, you may find that simply using the instructions you learned for releasing unnecessary effort are all you ever needed to make the whole situation a lot more enjoyable and easy.
However, some situations will not lend themselves to be instructed away. This does not mean that the Alexander Technique has failed you. It hasn’t; it is possible that you have enough awareness to realise that you’re in trouble because you have learned to be aware of yourself in the first place. But here is when trying to “hammer a nail with a screwdriver” is not your best option.
It’s true that, after banging away with your proverbial screwdriver for a while with much effort and tenacity, you can eventually get that nail in. However, wouldn’t it be a hell of a lot easier and more efficient if you could get yourself a hammer?
With the Alexander Technique you can tune yourself to be able to “sense” when your reactions are hindering-you-from rather than helping-you-to overcome a difficulty. You also get a clear set of instructions that can bring you back to tip-top form in no time. In some cases, that is all you ever need. And in those cases when it’s not enough, your newfound self-awareness will allow you to pinpoint which tool would be most effective for the particular task at hand.

Questions? Replies? Comments? Doubts? Objections?
I invite you to leave them in the comments box at the bottom of the blog. I love to chat and exchange view, and your opinion matters to me.

Cheers.
Victoria
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Image attribution: stock images / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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