Alexander The Great: My Continuing Journey with the Alexander Technique

Alexander Technique
Alexander Technique (Photo credit: gordonplant)

So I have been continuing my sessions with the marvellous Kate Martin of AT Body Sense here in Melbourne and marvellous changes have been continuing to occur. It has been a few weeks since I last blogged about my journey with Alexander Technique, so I thought it was about time for an update.

Well, where shall I begin?

I have continued on with my daily semi-supine practice (as described in my initial posts), mostly doing this prior to and following my guitar practice and as a result I am becoming really aware of where I am now holding tension in my body due to well-formed, decades old habits. So not only jaw, neck, shoulders, but I’m also now well aware of right leg aductor, biceps femoris and right glute. Yep, for some reason I really like to hold on with my butt!

What does this have to do with my guitar playing?

Well, by me continuing my old habits of “holding on” and squeezing unnecessarily I’m using energy that I needn’t be using. So by relaxing those areas I’m making much more energy available to concentrate on the playing itself. I’m also taking pressure off of my body and my spine, which means I’m able to move so much freely and easily. More of the right muscles are now doing the right jobs.

I used to get massive tension headaches, sore and aches shoulder blades and so on – in fact I’ve reported on that experience in previously on this blog. Well, those days I’m very happy to say, are gone my friends! Seriously, this is the longest time I’ve gone being pain free and I really believe that the Alexander Technique practice has played a significant part in that.

I’m very conscious now of how I use my body when I’m playing – both in a practice sense and a performing sense. And it’s interesting to observe how the body reacts or acts in its habitual ways in the latter. I’ve used a couple of “safe” performance opportunities to really tune into what my body was doing whilst playing.

And I’m not saying everything is perfect yet – by no means. It’s reasonable to assume it will take a little while to change deeply ingrained and unconscious habits, but I’m seriously happy with my progress to date. For example, when I’m coming to “fast” or “tricky” elements in a performance situation I do notice an increase in tension in the right forearm, which then restricts movement a little of the right hand and does have an impact on tone quality (from my point of view anyway). But by the mere act of observing these things we begins to change them….. And so I continue.

PS – I have actually gotten around to recording and uploading the first podcast in a very long time! Yay! Head over HERE to check it out.

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Alexander Technique – My Progress So Far

Alexander technique
Semi-supine position in Alexander technique (Photo credit: alanpfitch)

At the start of last month you’ll remember that I blogged about my first experience with Alexander Technique – a technique that teaches you to be more aware of tensions in the body and to release those tensions to allow the body to move and work more freely, easily and with greater efficiency. Check out that post here: https://classicalguitarnstuff.com/2012/12/05/alexander-technique-my-first-lesson/

Following my first week or two taking Alexander Technique (AT) lessons and practicing the semi-supine position on a daily basis, I began to become lot more aware of where I was holding tension in my body. I noticed I was holding tension in my jaw – and what a lot of tension there was there! After realising I was holding this tension, learning to notice it more (both in semi-supine position and in normal everyday situations) the feeling of release in the jaw and lower head was a revelation!! I likened it to that post-workout or post-run kind of feeling – like you’ve been working hard, putting your muscles through stress and strain and now you’ve stopped……Ahhhh!

I also noticed a similar tension through my shoulders, and noticed that they have a tendency to creep up around my ears when I’m in an uncomfortable or challenging situation (mentally rather than physically that is), or when I get excited, nervous or agitated. And knowing where this tension exists and when it may occur, or what may make it occur can help then to begin the process of reducing it. The act itself of noticing it begins to change  the habit.

So why is releasing tension in the body important for a guitarist?

Well, if your hand, arm, neck, shoulder or back muscles (even other muscles in other parts of the body, but these in particular) are unnecessarily tense and tight it’s:

  1. taking energy away from the actions you do want to make and the activity muscles you do want working for you
  2. puts pressure on various parts of the body, including the joints and spine which may lead to longer term issues
  3. does not allow you to give you your full self to playing the music as you are literally holding yourself back.

In terms of my playing, I’m noticing some really positive benefits of the AT. First up, I’ll lie in the semi-supine position before settling into some serious practice as it tunes me into my body, where tensions may lie, and relaxes me ready for practice. Then during practice I’m feeling a lot more relaxed through the head, neck, shoulders and arm, which makes practicing and playing much more enjoyable and means I can practice for longer periods of time. When I’m done practicing I also get down into the semi-supine position to help release any tensions that might have crept in and give the spine a rest from the pulling, pushing, tensions and pressures put on it through the rigours of practice.

I’ve done a couple of performances too since starting with AT and I’ve noticed it’s helped significantly with relaxation prior to and during the performance, which makes things a heck of a lot easier!

I have some more AT sessions coming up in January and I’ll keep you posted on my journey into relaxation!