How Alexander Technique helped me recognize and ease anxiety and depression

How Alexander Technique helped me recognize and ease anxiety and depression

I was raised by two parents who live in a constant state of anticipatory anxiety. When I started my Alexander Teacher Training at ACAT in 1987, I had mild panic attacks, which disappeared over the three years of training.

When I would subsequently experience the physical sensations that came with those panic attacks, I would notice my inner narrative would start to tell me frightening things. Other times I would begin thinking about something that was frightening and the sensations would begin.

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The Alexander Technique: It’s Not Just About Standing Up Straight

*This was originally posted on ACAT's Blog

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When people hear that I teach Alexander Technique, they often comment “Oh, that’s about standing up straight”, or say something apologetic or sarcastic. Then they inevitably pull themselves up into their version of “Good Posture”.

The good news is that gravity is not what’s getting you down. It’s actually your own muscles, over contracting, working inefficiently and pulling you down. When you learn to allow lengthening to occur throughout your musculature, weight falls more efficiently through bones and joints, leaving you more balanced on your skeleton.

Hours spent sitting at a computer, studying, driving a car and other such sedentary activities contribute to being habitually shortened through the muscles on the front of the body. Because we are so used to this shortening, it doesn’t register in your feeling sense as active muscle work. In fact, it probably feels effortless and maybe even comfortable. Fortunately, when you learn to release this excess effort, the natural outcome is more evenly distributed muscle tone, lengthening and more upright alignment through your spine. You can get better results with less effort when it comes to posture.

I have a couple who’ve studied with me since Fall of 2000. He reported gaining a full inch in height at his last check up; and she went from a 1/4″ to a 1/8″ correction in her orthotics for a leg length discrepancy.

Studying the Alexander Technique can help you look taller and feel lighter and easier in upright posture.

I leave you with this quote:

“I am putting into gear the muscles that hold you up, and you are putting them out of gear and then making a tremendous effort to hold yourself up, with the result that, when you ease that effort, you slump down worse than ever.” F. M. Alexander

The Alexander Technique as a Tool for Dealing with Trauma

NOTE: This was originally posted on ACAT's Blog

[*Please note, I am fully healed and my love of dogs is fully intact!]

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The Sunday before Father’s Day in 2005, I was bitten on my right leg in three places by a bulldog in the home of someone I knew. I had met the dog before a number of times over the years, and had entered the home of her owner without waiting for the woman to come to the door without incident many times.

After the dog released me and her owner pulled her away and closed her up in a room, I noticed my habitual reaction was to immediately focus on the idea that “everything is fine.” My parents were there, having arrived before me, and they and the dog’s owner seemed ready to join me in my habit. I was able to stand and walk on the leg. I saw a long scratch down the inside of my calf, which was bleeding; and evidence of bite marks on my calf and the outside of my thigh, which was swelling slightly, beginning to turn red as bruising began; and what seemed like bleeding under the skin where there were obvious teeth marks.

As moments passed, my assessment of the situation was that I had to pursue proper treatment for myself. Those around me were already soothing themselves with the idea that I was walking and the skin was not broken, so I was OK. I first suggested that I go to the hospital, as I imagined a tetanus shot was in order. The others seemed hesitant to take me there, as the wounds didn’t seem serious enough. The owner said she didn’t think I needed to go to the hospital or that there was any worry, as the dog was up to date on her shots and the skin was not broken. (In fact, on later inspection when I got home, I discovered the skin had been broken in five places.)

I did not want to go to the hospital, but I knew that was my habit of minimizing things. I pursued the subject, insisting that I should consult with a medical professional to determine the proper course of treatment. The owner offered to try to reach her doctor on the phone. She called and I thought the line didn’t answer. My mother later told me she believed there was a recorded message with further instructions and another number to call in an emergency, but the dog’s owner didn’t pursue the course beyond her first call. I suggested I call my own doctor, who was out of town. The doctor covering for her called me back after about 15 minutes and determined that the dog and I were up to date on our shots and my concern was infection. He didn’t tell me to go to a hospital, but did tell me how to clean the wounds and what to watch for that would indicate infection.

The owner had provided me with a bottle of betadine and paper towels to clean the wounds. I asked her for some ice as I saw there was swelling, and at first she told me in which drawer I’d find a plastic bag to put the ice in before she stepped in and did it for me.

I noticed throughout that I was in mild shock. My hands were shaking, and I had lost my appetite, even though I had been hungry when I arrived. I felt an energy of wanting to move, to get away from this environment, even though I stayed where I was. I was also acutely aware that I found the behavior of my parents and the dog’s owner contributed to my discomfort. I felt a distinct attitude coming from them that the event was over and all was fine now, while I was still very shaken. I felt unsafe in their presence and that any display of upset or fear would be met with a non-reaction.

When I arrived home a couple of hours later, my husband expressed what felt like an appropriate level of horror and concern and outrage that this had happened. I knew his response had an accurate level of energy and urgency to it. It took me a couple of days to feel the full intensity of my physical and psychic disturbance, and all the while, I had to keep recognizing my habit to minimize the events, my feelings, my thoughts and use my Alexander principles of awareness and direction to keep myself in the reality of the situation. My parents also woke from their somewhat numbed reaction and became more upset upon seeing my injuries in full color, and in response to how the dog’s owner had minimized the seriousness of the events.

For a few days, whenever I thought about the actual attack, I could feel the pain of the dog’s jaw biting my leg vividly. I could feel my fear and shock setting in as I struggled on the floor, calling for help and trying to scramble away from the dog. I wondered if I would have flashbacks and residual stress from the event. That didn’t happen and I believe it was because I sought out contact with people who would express the outrage, and empathize with me, whether or not they saw the actual wounds or had ever been bitten by a dog themselves.

Acting against my habit in this case has had many benefits. I have been much more proactive in dealing with many different circumstances that I would habitually avoid or let go un-addressed at the expense of my own comfort and well-being.

About a month later, on July 7, 2005, I was watching a film clip of a man injured in the subway bombings in London. As I watched the police help him walk and saw the cuts on his face and his bandages, I recalled the shock and mild trauma that I had experienced from the bite, and felt I could empathize much more fully with the pain, fear, and shock he must be feeling. I could touch into those feelings, while not re-living the moment as real or losing my present self in the memory. I fully credit my skill in the principle of the Alexander Technique with my ability to feel more fully and know I was safe.

"Reality Check": How to think constructively to manage fear and stress

*This was originally posted on ACAT's Blog

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When I began my training as a teacher of the Alexander Technique, my biggest "symptom" was not pain, it was anxiety.   I had started to have panic attacks, where I felt light headed and would begin to hyperventilate, and I was afraid I was dying.  Often, the fearful thoughts centered around having an allergic reaction to something that would prove fatal.    (I have had three incidentsof strong allergic reactions, one to medication, one to food and one undetermined, none of which has been fatal.)

During the second year of my training, I noticed that I had not had any "incidents" in recent memory.  A couple of years after I graduated, I recall watching a panic attack come on while I was riding the subway.   I felt a flush of heat rise from my heart up to my ears (adrenaline rush?), my heart started pounding, and I began to think "I'm having trouble breathing".  As I observed myself, my mind remained calm, and I thought to myself "Wow, your body is experiencing sensations of terror.   Yet, I don't feel afraid.   I am remaining conscious, I can breath even though I have concerns that I can't.   Wow, this is so interesting."  As fast as the symptoms came on, they subsided.   The event made a strong impression on me because my reason stayed clear and I did not mistake the symptoms for something dangerous.

The process of training in the Alexander Technique gave me skills to refrain from my habit of anticipatory anxiety.   I would not have realized this pattern of behavior if it weren't for the contrast I noticed.   Over the years, I have seen how my focus on releasing physical tension from my body has had a beneficial influence on my mental state as well.

Try This:

Notice a topic you may be concerned about, or worrying over.  (There's plenty of issues facing us, such as the state of today's economy.)

Write down the thoughts of concern or worry you are experiencing.

Which ones are based on current facts/circumstances?   Which ones are based on what might or might not happen?

Now, take a moment to think of allowing your shoulders and jaw to release some tension.  Notice what that is like.

Now, think about something you are concerned or worried about.

Return to releasing your jaw and shoulders.   You may have noticed that they tensed again when you put your attention on your concerns.

Continue to move back and forth between actively releasing tension in shoulder and jaw; and thinking about things that worry you.

What's the next step?

This activity is beneficial in and of itself, as a way for you to see how your thinking affects your tension levels, and that when you put your attention on your muscular tension, you can find some relief.

The next step you might explore is to consider the source of your worry or concern.   Which thoughts are based on current facts, and which are the result of anticipatory anxiety?   For those that are based on facts, what actions can you take to address the concerns?   For those based on anticipation of what might happen, go back to working with your muscle tension as a way to reduce the impact this habit of thought has on your stress levels.