The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

Opinion & Letters to the Editor

November 14, 2013

NATIONAL OPINION: Sit up and take notice

Friday, November 15, 2013 — Marian Goldberg grasps my head gently but firmly, her hands along my jawbones. Ever so slowly, almost imperceptibly, she helps me rise from a chair in her home office until I'm standing.

That one simple movement, which I probably do a dozen times or more every day, feels slightly different this time. It's difficult to pinpoint exactly why, but it does.

The reason, Goldberg explains, is that this time I more closely approximated the way nature intended for me to get up. I didn't shove off with my hands after hours of slumping over a computer. I didn't lean forward with my torso and drag my lower half out of the chair. With my head and neck leading the way, I gathered myself a little better and stood up a little more naturally, one body part following another, working together, a bit more in balance.

It's impossible to reduce the Alexander Technique, a philosophy of movement more than a century old, to one simple rise from a chair, but at its core is a strikingly simple, easily understood concept: What ails us is the result of bad habits we've learned, from early in childhood, about how we use our bodies. And the best way to rid ourselves of pains in our back, neck and elsewhere is to consciously unlearn those habits.

"This isn't treatment in any conventional sense of the word," says Goldberg, whose Alexander Technique Center of Washington is actually in McLean, Va. "We are re-educating."

In that case, I'd probably qualify for remedial education. I am round-shouldered, a combination of genetics, tension and more than three decades hunched over computers, often under the pressure of newspaper deadlines. I find myself in all manner of slouches in my desk chair, unconsciously seeking a position that will allow a little more time at the keyboard. I don't have the strongest of core muscles.

None of that really matters to practitioners of the Alexander Technique, Goldberg says. Students — in the Alexander vernacular, we are not clients or patients — come to her all the time with severe back pain or posture problems, and all can improve. Some will take a handful of "lessons" and find what they're looking for; others may stay on for 20 or 30 sessions or more as they seek additional guidance in renovating the way they move.

A 2008 study published in the British Medical Journal found the Alexander Technique to "have long term benefits for patients with chronic back pain," and noted that six lessons followed by regular exercises were nearly as effective as 24 lessons. Goldberg charges $65 for a half-hour lesson.

She says most people feel better after the first session, as I did, though I definitely had some stiffness and discomfort the next morning. My first lesson also included Goldberg stretching me on a massage table and "lengthening" my neck and torso muscles, which reminded me of the goals of Pilates.

Repeated practice each day is critical, Goldberg tells me, so my neuromuscular system can learn new habits.

"It's about non-doing," she says. "It's about not doing your habits, learning to do less. Most things are about learning to do more."

It's not just work that imposes unnatural positions on our bodies. As children, we notice, perhaps unconsciously, that Mom tilts her head to the side or Dad dips his shoulders as he walks, and we tend to imitate them. In school we are crammed into small desks for hours at a time. Sports coaches teach us to gather ourselves for athletic effort. Maybe there's a car accident or other trauma in our past.

Goldberg herself found the Alexander Technique in 1978 after she sought relief from back pain caused by an accident, not unlike the technique's founder, Frederick Matthias Alexander. Born in Australia in 1869, Alexander was a successful actor and "elocutionist" — a kind of oratorical entertainer — when he began to lose his voice during performances. Doctors couldn't help him, so Alexander began to use mirrors to observe himself delivering his lines.

He noticed that he held his head and neck in a way that inhibited his delivery and set out to change it, ultimately developing his core theories about proper body alignment and shedding bad habits as he made a successful return to the stage. Alexander's work has been particularly useful to actors and musicians, and is more popular outside the United States, in places such as Great Britain.

Alexander's technique isn't the only one of its kind. The Feldenkrais method preaches a similar philosophy, and as Goldberg demonstrated and explained the Alexander Technique, I was reminded of the little I know about yoga.

All this bodily re-education takes time, patience and persistence, but it seems well worth it if you are suffering and have the inclination. The next time you get up from your chair, take a look at the way you move and see whether it's time to go back to school.

1
Text Only
Opinion & Letters to the Editor
  • taylor.armerding.jpg Obama's equal pay exaggeration leads us all into danger

    The president's claims of national shame over gender-based pay inequity spring from distorted calculations, as well as some convenient political math.

    April 12, 2014 1 Photo

  • Teens trading naked selfies for mugshots

    Will teenagers ever learn? You think yours will. Maybe so. But it's likely that was also the hope of the parents of children who were so shamed by nude photos of themselves that went south - how else can they go - that they killed themselves.

    April 12, 2014

  • Brent Laurenz If you want to vote in primary, you need to register to vote now

    RALEIGH – North Carolina voters will head to the polls on May 6 this year to cast ballots in important primary elections across the state.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • Scott Mooneyham Heeding the voter fraud call in N.C.

    RALEIGH – Legislators found the findings outrageous.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • Doug Creamer Roots

    I took a few minutes over the weekend to enjoy our yard and the arrival of spring. There seems to be so much work that needs to be done, it is hard to decide what to do first. I am excited that I got to run my tiller through the garden. I didn’t go very deep, but I did at least break up the soil. I have a couple of raised beds and the soil in them was in very good shape. I didn’t plant my peas and now after the big rain we got on Monday I realize that I missed a window of opportunity.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • 10 tips for surviving a severe allergy season

    My colleague Brady Dennis reported recently that the arrival of warmer weather will soon unleash a pollen tsunami in parts of the country where the winter has been especially long and cold. Here are some survival tips from Clifford W. Bassett, an allergy specialist and assistant clinical professor of medicine at the New York University School of Medicine.

    April 11, 2014

  • Is a paleo vegetarian diet possible?

    Research shows most people can follow a regimented eating plan for a short time. That's not the challenge. The challenge is finding a healthful eating plan you can follow day after day and achieve your long-term health goals. At this point, it doesn't appear that the paleo eating plan meets these objectives for most people.

    April 10, 2014

  • Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 2.16.35 PM.png Are Americans smart to stop drinking diet sodas?

    Recent data from Beverage Digest suggest many are cutting back on diet sodas. Consumption of diet sodas fell more than that of sugary sodas in 2013. This raises two questions: Why is total consumption declining, and is drinking diet soda harmful to health?

    April 10, 2014 1 Photo

  • To get quality care, it helps to be the right kind of patient

    I am a family physician. Sometimes I must step out of the comfort of my clinical role and into that of patient or family caregiver. Generally, these trips to the other side of the exam table inspire a fair amount of anxiety.

    April 10, 2014

  • Hospice of Stanly County should be the one we support

    Regarding your recent article about Community Hospice relocating its offices from one location in Troy to another, let me point out a few things.

    April 10, 2014

House Ads
Seasonal Content