The Washington Times-Herald

Community News Network

November 13, 2013

Sit up and take notice

Marian Goldberg grasps my head gently but firmly, her hands along my jawbones. Ever so slowly, almost imperceptibly, she helps me rise from a chair in her home office until I'm standing.

That one simple movement, which I probably do a dozen times or more every day, feels slightly different this time. It's difficult to pinpoint exactly why, but it does.

The reason, Goldberg explains, is that this time I more closely approximated the way nature intended for me to get up. I didn't shove off with my hands after hours of slumping over a computer. I didn't lean forward with my torso and drag my lower half out of the chair. With my head and neck leading the way, I gathered myself a little better and stood up a little more naturally, one body part following another, working together, a bit more in balance.

It's impossible to reduce the Alexander Technique, a philosophy of movement more than a century old, to one simple rise from a chair, but at its core is a strikingly simple, easily understood concept: What ails us is the result of bad habits we've learned, from early in childhood, about how we use our bodies. And the best way to rid ourselves of pains in our back, neck and elsewhere is to consciously unlearn those habits.

"This isn't treatment in any conventional sense of the word," says Goldberg, whose Alexander Technique Center of Washington is actually in McLean, Va. "We are re-educating."

In that case, I'd probably qualify for remedial education. I am round-shouldered, a combination of genetics, tension and more than three decades hunched over computers, often under the pressure of newspaper deadlines. I find myself in all manner of slouches in my desk chair, unconsciously seeking a position that will allow a little more time at the keyboard. I don't have the strongest of core muscles.

None of that really matters to practitioners of the Alexander Technique, Goldberg says. Students — in the Alexander vernacular, we are not clients or patients — come to her all the time with severe back pain or posture problems, and all can improve. Some will take a handful of "lessons" and find what they're looking for; others may stay on for 20 or 30 sessions or more as they seek additional guidance in renovating the way they move.

A 2008 study published in the British Medical Journal found the Alexander Technique to "have long term benefits for patients with chronic back pain," and noted that six lessons followed by regular exercises were nearly as effective as 24 lessons. Goldberg charges $65 for a half-hour lesson.

She says most people feel better after the first session, as I did, though I definitely had some stiffness and discomfort the next morning. My first lesson also included Goldberg stretching me on a massage table and "lengthening" my neck and torso muscles, which reminded me of the goals of Pilates.

Repeated practice each day is critical, Goldberg tells me, so my neuromuscular system can learn new habits.

"It's about non-doing," she says. "It's about not doing your habits, learning to do less. Most things are about learning to do more."

It's not just work that imposes unnatural positions on our bodies. As children, we notice, perhaps unconsciously, that Mom tilts her head to the side or Dad dips his shoulders as he walks, and we tend to imitate them. In school we are crammed into small desks for hours at a time. Sports coaches teach us to gather ourselves for athletic effort. Maybe there's a car accident or other trauma in our past.

Goldberg herself found the Alexander Technique in 1978 after she sought relief from back pain caused by an accident, not unlike the technique's founder, Frederick Matthias Alexander. Born in Australia in 1869, Alexander was a successful actor and "elocutionist" — a kind of oratorical entertainer — when he began to lose his voice during performances. Doctors couldn't help him, so Alexander began to use mirrors to observe himself delivering his lines.

He noticed that he held his head and neck in a way that inhibited his delivery and set out to change it, ultimately developing his core theories about proper body alignment and shedding bad habits as he made a successful return to the stage. Alexander's work has been particularly useful to actors and musicians, and is more popular outside the United States, in places such as Great Britain.

Alexander's technique isn't the only one of its kind. The Feldenkrais method preaches a similar philosophy, and as Goldberg demonstrated and explained the Alexander Technique, I was reminded of the little I know about yoga.

All this bodily re-education takes time, patience and persistence, but it seems well worth it if you are suffering and have the inclination. The next time you get up from your chair, take a look at the way you move and see whether it's time to go back to school.

1
Text Only
Community News Network
  • Victimized by the 'marriage penalty'

    In a few short months, I'll pass the milestone that every little girl dreams of: the day she swears - before family and God, in sickness and in health, all in the name of love - that she's willing to pay a much higher tax rate.

    April 15, 2014

  • Allergies are the real midlife crisis

    One of the biggest mysteries is why the disease comes and goes, and then comes and goes again. People tend to experience intense allergies between the ages of 5 and 16, then get a couple of decades off before the symptoms return in the 30s, only to diminish around retirement age.

    April 15, 2014

  • treadmill-very-fast.jpg Tax deduction for a gym membership?

    April marks another tax season when millions of Americans will deduct expenses related to home ownership, children and education from their annual tax bill. These deductions exist because of their perceived value to society; they encourage behaviors that keep the wheels of the economy turning. So why shouldn't the tax code be revised to reward preventive health?

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • bomb1 VIDEO: A year after marathon bombing, Boston remains strong

    The City of Boston came together Tuesday to honor those who were injured and lost their lives at the Boston Marathon on the one-year anniversary of the bombing. While the day was sure to be emotional, those affected by last year's race are showing they won't let the tragedy keep them down.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Google acquires drone maker Titan Aerospace to spread Internet

    Google is adding drones to its fleets of robots and driverless cars.
    The Internet search company said it acquired Titan Aerospace, the maker of high-altitude, solar-powered satellites that provides customer access to data services around the world. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed.

    April 14, 2014

  • E-Cigarettes target youth with festivals, lawmakers say

    The findings, in a survey released Monday by members of Congress, should prod U.S. regulators to curb the industry, the lawmakers said. While e-cigarettes currently are unregulated, the Food and Drug Administration is working on a plan that would extend its tobacco oversight to the products.

    April 14, 2014

  • Search teams will send unmanned sub to look for missing Malaysian airliner

    Teams searching for a missing Malaysian airliner are planning for the first time to send an unmanned submarine into the depths of the Indian Ocean to look for wreckage, an Australian official leading the multi-nation search said Monday.

    April 14, 2014

  • Why Facebook is getting into the banking game

    Who would want to use Facebook as a bank? That's the question that immediately arises from news that the social network intends to get into the electronic money business.

    April 14, 2014

  • Screen shot 2014-04-11 at 4.49.09 PM.png Train, entertain your pets with these 3 smartphone apps

    While they may not have thumbs to use the phone, pets can benefit from smartphone apps designed specifically for them.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • Stepping forward: The real Colbert

    Letterman changed the late-night TV game between his run on NBC's "Late Night" and starting the "Late Show" franchise in 1993. And while it's tough to replace a pop-culture icon, Colbert, in terms of pedigree and sense of humor, makes the most sense.

    April 11, 2014

Featured Ads
AP Video
Facebook
Clicker Ticker
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide