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Listening to the Wind of Change

Anticipating change can be disconcerting, especially because the unknown doesn't give us the same security as our routine. However, changes abound all around us and rarely do we pause to reflect on the natural progression of change. For example, when seasons change, they don't make us feel insecure or uncertain about the future. In fact, many of us look forward to what the new season has to offer and accept it as part of the course of nature.

When we look at change as a natural course of life, it lessens the feeling of not being in control that often accompanies uncertainty. Neither the good times nor the bad last forever. Finding balance means being in a place that helps us weather both. What's more, we have a choice in the way we react to change. Rather than trying to control change, we benefit from recognizing, examining, and listening to what it is telling us.

Students often come to me for Alexander Technique lessons because they notice changes in their body. Usually they feel some form of pain, or want to improve something that isn't working for them. By recognizing these symptoms in their bodies, they are listening to the underlying changes that are taking place.

It is not unusual to listen to our bodies when we are in pain, but why do we only stop to listen when we are alerted with pain signals? Part of the problem is that we aren't body educated, particularly as we get older.

Children, on the other hand, are taught to think about their bodies, and consequently are quick to speak up when something bothers them. They are given a great deal of information about their bodies starting from their birth. Newborns are lauded for their cute fingers and toes. They are later lovingly told the names of their body parts. As they develop, infants are cheered on as they start to crawl and toddlers are applauded when they take their first step. Later, kindergartners are praised when they think about their bodies as they move and learn about personal space. Unsurprisingly, when they fall or hurt themselves, even if the pain isn't severe, they make a big fuss out of it, because they learn to revere their bodies.

Why do we lose this reverence for our bodies as we get older? For starters, we don't talk about our bodies as adults unless it's in reference to something we notice superficially like weight loss, weight gain, or general fitness. This is a shame because it doesn't allow for discourse that could examine how our bodies are actually changing in other ways. Why should we wait until our bodies are alerting us with pain in order to pay attention? Furthermore, why do we associate body accomplishment or failure with weight loss, weight gain or muscle tone?

When I began studying the Alexander Technique I was a bit overweight. The only thing I could focus on in my early lessons was how I looked in the mirror. It was hard for me to notice anything other than my big belly. My own superficiality overshadowed the underlying issue. My body was not functioning optimally and my bulging belly was merely a symptom of how I wasn't using my body efficiently. The answer was certainly not to do more sit-ups or crunches! That would have severely aggravated my situation. The root of the problem was that I was carrying out activities in ways that were causing me tension, and this tension was a result of overusing certain muscles. Meanwhile, other muscles that could have been utilized to help offset this tension, were neglected.

With each lesson, I learned more about the principles of the Alexander Technique. I began to recognize how I was holding excessive tension in my body. I also understood that I could do less in simple activities to create more freedom in my movements. Prior to Alexander Technique lessons, I thought that by doing something--such as extra exercise-that any body issue would be resolved. However, as my lessons progressed, I was less interested in my belly and more intrigued with my newfound fluidity and ease of movement--both of which I never thought I would have.

Today, when students come to me inquiring about the Alexander Technique, they are filled with questions. They ask me if this method will help them with their back pain. Will it fix their posture? How long will it take? What exercises can they do?

These are honest and valid questions. But the answer cannot be summed up in a simple yes/no format, time frame estimate, or exercise plan. Looking for quick answers often underscores the problem. First, we have to recognize what we were doing beforehand that got us off-balance. If it took a while to develop habits that changed our bodies from nimble toddlers to sedentary adults, it will take time to educate ourselves and relearn how to use our bodies efficiently again.

While many people today are mindful about their health, there is more to body education than just diet and exercise. Let's take a look at someone like Bruce:

Bruce works from 9-5 at the office. He commutes an hour each way to work. He doesn't take a lunch break and eats at his desk. When he gets home he wants to go to the gym but is too tired, so tomorrow he'll work out twice as hard. He orders a pizza for dinner and watches TV for a few hours. Then he surfs his laptop, then his phone, and at around 11pm goes to bed. But he has a hard time falling asleep so he's back on his phone for a bit. At around 2am he finally doses off. The next evening he forgoes working out to go grab some drinks with his buddies. But on the weekend he lifts weights for a few hours at the gym. The next week Bruce is in a lot of pain. His back hurts. His neck feels tight. He doesn't know why.

Bruce's story is not uncommon. While it might be easy to point the finger at the calories in the pizza or forgoing exercise to hang out with some friends, neither of those are the brunt of the problem. Bruce sits for at least 10 hours during the day, in addition to the time he's in a sedentary position watching TV and perusing electronic devices at home. His body isn't mobile, so when he hits the gym hard on the weekend, his body literally doesn't know what hit him. He's gone from zero to sixty and his body can only do one thing: SCREAM with pain.

Rather than think about what one can do to improve one's pain or problem, why not think about what not to do? I ask my students to think about what they did right before they started to feel pain. Usually it's some form of exercise that may not have been done with a lot of thought or recognition as to how it was carried out. Namely, were they tightening their necks while swimming or lifting weights? What about tension in their lower backs? What's more, if they were engaged in long periods of sedentary activity beforehand, is it any surprise that the body is responding with pain?

The Alexander Technique is not a quick fix solution but rather a long lasting method for reducing pain, reintroducing ease and fluidity, and improving quality of life. Unlike medicine or surgery (which don't address the poor habits that lead to back pain and poor posture), the Alexander Technique is an an educational tool. The learning process takes time, and therefore the results are better retained. Furthermore, the principles of the Alexander Technique can be applied at any time to every activity.

This spring, I have been busy listening to my own wind of change. My family has recently moved to Melbourne, Florida! I am delighted to explore this lovely community and welcome new students to discover the many wonderful benefits and changes the Alexander Technique can bring!

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