Stuart Grant writes:
The challenges and fast-changing demands of modern life can so occupy our thoughts that we forget the most important consideration - ourselves.
What is it?
The Alexander Technique is a practical method of learning to release patterns of chronic tension, habits that have slipped below the level of conscious awareness. By adopting the principles of the Alexander technique breathing and speaking become easier; movement becomes freer, lighter and more enjoyable. Learning the technique is fun and opens up a world of never ending possibilities to release the potential of mind and body to their best advantage.
How it can help people who stammer?
I have stammered since childhood, and attended various speech therapy sessions throughout my school days with varying degrees of success. Sometimes my fluency would improve for a short time, but I would invariably fall back into stammering with all the associated stress and anxiety. I reached adulthood with a stammer, which badly affected my social and working life. In my late twenties I again sought the help of a speech therapist but despite their thoughtful and dedicated attempts to help me, I found no real lasting improvement in my speech. I then heard of the Alexander Technique from a speech therapist and decided to go along for a one to one session with a qualified Teacher.
The Alexander Technique teacher did not attempt to work on my speech problem directly, as the technique deals with the use of the whole person. Using manual guidance and verbal instructions he helped me to become aware of the long held muscle tension throughout my body. With his skilled hands and patient instructions, he encouraged me to let go some of this tension, so I could move with more freedom and less effort.
As the lessons continued he would point out how quick and automatic my reactions to any stimulus had become. This was particularly noticeable to him when I attempted to speak. With his help I gradually became aware that when I attempted to talk I would revert to a habitual pattern of tightening in the chest, legs, feet etc., my lips tongue and jaw were tense and held, my breathing shallow and restricted. I would try and force out the words using great effort and strain in my whole body. The teacher pointed out to me that if I could stop this habitual pattern of interference throughout my body and allow the correct use of the tongue lips and vocal organs my fluency would improve.
As the teacher worked on all aspects of my use there was a general feeling of release of tension throughout my body. I felt lighter and more balanced. Movement became freer and easier.
I also realised how easy the old habitual patterns could return. For example when speaking, I would continually revert back to my old habitual response, of reacting too quickly, without any thought of allowing the correct use of the tongue, lips and vocal organs.
I continued having more lessons and although my progress was slow and the wrongful habits of use deeply engrained, by using the technique more and more in my everyday life my speech gradually improved. I slowly began to appreciate how use affects functioning, and how my speech problem was tied up in a habitual pattern of misuse throughout my body, which previous to having lessons in the technique I had never considered.
I would like to emphasise that the Alexander technique is not a cure for stammering as such because if I revert back to my old habitual pattern of speaking with all the associated interference of the voice mechanism, breathing etc. the stammer will return. If on the other hand by adopting the principles of the Alexander technique I can stop the old pattern of interference before it starts and allow the works to work, generally my speech is reasonably fluent and relaxed.
After many one to one sessions with a teacher I decided to train as a teacher of the Alexander technique, I qualified in 2001, and now teach the Alexander technique in London.
What happens in a lesson?
The role of the Alexander teacher is to use gentle manual guidance to help to undo tension and encourage the natural balance to work again. These are explored with simple activities like sitting, standing, walking, speaking or quietly lying. The teacher also uses verbal instruction to help pupils become aware of their own pattern of interference, and how to deal with it for themselves. There are no brisk exercises, and no special clothing is needed. Lessons usually last 30-45 minutes. The Alexander Technique usually has an effect from the first lesson. It is not however a quick fix, and the number of lessons required varies individually. Once you have understood and experienced the principles, you will find you can apply the technique anywhere and at any time.
The Alexander technique has been taught for over one hundred years. In 1958 the society of teachers of the Alexander technique (STAT) was founded in the UK in order to ensure high standards of teaching training and practice, and to promote public awareness of the technique. All members of STAT have completed a 3-year full time training course approved by the society and have to adhere to its published code of professional conduct.
Stuart Grant teaches the Alexander Technique in Scotland and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique (STAT)
Tel: 020 7284 333
Fax: 020 7482 5435
1st Floor Linton House
39-51 Highgate Road
London NW5 1RS