How to Embody Mindfulness with the Alexander Technique
Mindfulness has become the biggest buzzword among corporate folks dealing with stressors, and with hipsters sipping their yerba mattes at the hottest caffeine-bars. Yet mindfulness is nothing new. It has been part of meditation and alternative mind/body modalities, such as the Alexander Technique, for a long time.
If you somehow missed the mindfulness train, here are a few definitions to catch you up:
According to the organization Mindful, “Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”
Finally, Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of mindfulness-based stress-reduction meditation courses describes mindfulness as “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.”
The common threads in all three of these descriptions are awareness—in the present moment—without judgment.
Alexander Technique—Mindfulness Embodied
One modality that is coming into the light due to the popularity of mindfulness is the Alexander Technique. This work could be described as “mindfulness embodied.”
Developed by FM Alexander in the early 20th century, the Technique helps people to experience more ease, less tension, and improved posture in their everyday activities.
People can become aware, or mindful, of physical and mental habits that have been causing misuse of their bodies for years through lessons with a certified Alexander Technique teacher. This misuse can cause tension, poor posture, alignment issues, lack of coordination, and pain.
Mindful Steps for Change
Students mostly take Alexander Technique lessons to make physical changes. Often they are surprised to learn there is a deep, yet subtle process to making these shifts. To make a change, students and teachers work together on the following steps:
- Become more aware, or mindful, of mental and physical unconscious habits
- Once aware that they are going into their pattern, see if they can stop themselves from going into it
- Consciously choose a more healthy or directed way
- If the conditions are favorable, proceed in the newly directed way.
Simple, but not easy. This process can be applied to anything. However, in Alexander Technique lessons it is used explicitly to allowing for more ease in everyday movements, such as sitting, standing, and bending.
Simple Movements—Big Applications
Teachers begin lessons by taking students through simple movements to begin to shift their habits. Students are often shocked at how much they unconsciously tighten their necks to do easy movements such as standing or sitting. With the teacher’s guidance, however, students learn to move using less tension and more efficiency.
Early on students sometimes think the work is about merely sitting and standing because that is much of what occurs in lessons. However, those simple movements are just a way for the habits to come out and get consciously reprogrammed directly. It is much like when Mr. Miyagi in the Karate Kid teaches Daniel to “wax on, wax off” and “paint the fence;” he later uses those movements to show good form for the more difficult Karate.
The same is true for the Alexander Technique. No, there’s not any fighting. Instead, teachers apply what is learned in the “chair work” to other activities such as folding laundry, cooking, running, working at a computer, or playing an instrument. The underlying principle behind it all is mindfulness. Being aware of habitual responses, saying “no” when habits pop up, and then choosing a new way of embodying ease embodies mindfulness.
How to Learn
By learning the Alexander Technique, you will have a leg-up on the mindfulness crowd, as you can say (tongue-in-cheek), “Yes, but are you embodying your mindfulness?” Actually, please don’t do that. Just let your body be at ease and enjoy your newly found kinesthetic freedom.
If you would like to learn the Alexander Technique, it is best to study with an AmSAT certified teacher. Teachers who are certified have completed a three-year, 1600-hour training course in the Alexander Technique. For more information visit https://www.amsatonline.org/.
Kris Sutton is an AmSAT certified teacher. Contact her here.