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Right. on with the show!
For those of you who have followed the blog for a while you’ll remember that I’ve been working over recent months to reduce tension and any painful feelings associated with playing (both during and after) the guitar, particularly around head, neck and shoulders.
For those of you who are newer to the blog, or if you’d like a reminder of the journey thus far, here are some of my posts on dealing with the issues:
- Swinging from the trapezius
- Swinging from the trapezius – part deux: Not quite such a pain in the neck
- Giving pain in the neck the cold shoulder – Guitarist’s Shoulder
- Stretches for guitarists
In the last year or so, I’ve made some really great – and noticeable – progress in eliminating the pain and tension issues. In turn I’m very happy to be paying this forward to both your good self, dear
reader, and hands on with my students.
So one of the most recent treatments had dealing with neck, shoulder, head and jaw pain and tension was with some myotherapy. This is an excellent treatment, and makes you feel like you’re floating on air immediately afterwards. However, the effects can be relatively short-lived and that’s because it’s really just treating a symptom and not getting to the cause of an issue. Don’t get me wrong, I think myotherapy is great and good idea to get some work done from time to time, but it’s not really a time or cost-effective answer as a solution to an underlying problem long-term.
This is where Alexander Technique enters. It was first recommended to me by my own teacher, the fantastic Ben Dix, who himself reaped enormous benefits from the technique.
So what is Alexander Technique?
It’s not passive therapy such as myotherapy or massage where you lie on a table and someone prods and pokes and moves you about. It’s a technique that teaches you to help yourself; you do the “work”, or the non-work to probably be more accurate, with guidance from the Alexander Technique (AT for short) teacher.
And it’s a technique that combines both mind and body – it’s all part of the same system after all. It teaches you to understand and be increasingly aware of where you may hold tension in the body. Of course, flowing on from that, releasing that tension so you can use your body more efficiently and effectively.
The key focus in the technique is on creating freedom in the neck and head, with the view that everything else along the rest of the spine (and all the other bits of our body, which of course stem from the spine) will flow on.
My first lesson – thoughts and impressions
Yes, they call it a lesson and not a session or anything else as it really is about teaching you to be more aware.
First up the AT teacher chatted through where I was experiencing tension (or currently aware of tension) and pains, when they occurred, my playing, other activities and work and so on, building a picture of how I use my body on a daily basis.
She then whacked me up on to a table, and I spent much of the rest of the lesson laid on my back in a semi-supine position!
Hah hah! Sounds easy right?
Wrong! Well. Kind of a bit of both.
It was very relaxing in a way. Lying there, focusing on creating looseness, space, relaxation in my head, neck, jaw, shoulders….. Ahhh….just letting go.
On the other hand, the teacher then began to move my limbs – first the legs, then arms, asking me to stop her from moving them.
Then for me to give the full weight of the limbs to her, and to let her move them.
Incredibly challenging! More so than you would think!
This was an exercise in understanding where you may hold onto essentially useless and counter-productive tension in the body built up through years and years and years of habits.
So how has it influenced my playing?
Well, it has only been one week since my first lesson, but I’d say the biggest impact has been in an increased awareness in what my body is doing when playing – such as raising up my knees and/or curling my toes in my shoes when playing something fast or that I perceive as a challenge, and interestingly tension in my jaw more so than neck or shoulders per se. Could this be a key cause of neck and shoulder pains? We’ll see…..
I’ve also experienced that when recognising these things and letting go, it does make the movements flow more easily. And then my brain trips back over into old habit mode after a few seconds and switches on the tension again. And then I pick it up again…. It’s going to take a few weeks, probably months, of working on this to build the new habits in, but I can definitely see that this is a very powerful technique that will have definite benefits for my playing.
I’ll keep you posted!