What’s the Use…of the Alexander Technique?

There’s not a lot of jargon in the Alexander Technique, but the word “use” – as pronounced in the title above – has a special meaning that’s worth thinking about because it relates directly to just about everything we do.

Use, in Alexander parlance, is a kind of shorthand word for the quality of how well, or poorly, we use (rhymes with loose) ourselves in all our daily activities.*  Putting it another way, how efficiently we perform those activities and how little, or how much, unnecessary tension we create while doing so.

Helping our students learn to improve the overall quality of their use is one of our major goals as Alexander Technique teachers.

One of the most important discoveries of F. Matthias Alexander, the developer of the Alexander Technique, is that our use patterns tend to manifest across a range of activities.  For example, someone who over-tenses their neck in order to speak is very likely to doing something similar while walking, or chopping vegetables, or working at a computer.  Helping a student improve their use in one activity often carries over into others.

I’ve found it’s helpful for my new students to be on the lookout for examples of good use and poor use.  Sadly, examples of poor use are all to easy to spot these days – hunched shoulders, shallow breathing, clenched jaws are a kind of modern day epidemic.

What about examples of good use?

My personal favorite is the late actor, dancer and singer, Fred Astaire.  His movies are always available on TV and I urge my students to record one or two and then make a point of watching Astaire in scenes where he is not doing his spectacular song and dance routines – ordinary scenes where is just walking, or talking or doing other mundane activities.

I suggest they turn the sound off, so as not to be distracted by the plot, and gently focus on how he moves.  If you try this yourself, you’ll soon see just how smoothly and effortlessly he carries himself, with absolutely no wasted energy.  You may find, as have many of my students, that just watching him in this way actually triggers a bit of release in your own tension level.  You may, for example, sense your breathing becomes a bit easier or your body feels a bit lighter.

Here’s a nice clip you can watch right now to give this a try.  Notice how seamlessly Astaire transitions from walking and talking into singing and dancing and how he makes those transitions without adding any unnecessary tension to his body:

Let me know what you experience – I’d love to hear from you!

*There’s a bit more to be said about the term use and if you’d like to explore the topic further, What’s the Use is a good place to start.


Comments

What’s the Use…of the Alexander Technique? — 8 Comments

  1. Really appreciate this explanation, Robert. I also tried out your suggestion of watching the video without sound. The ease and poise of Astaire’s movements is truly remarkable, and without sound even more obvious.

  2. I loved watching Astaire with no sound. I think there may have been a little tell-tale head tilting without whole body once or twice–but look at those joints a-movin’!

    Thanks for posting this. I’m dusting off my dancing shoes.

    Mary

    • Thanks for the feedback Mary. I once was watching an old Astaire movie on late-night TV. There was a scene where he was standing up from a couch and the camera showed his whole body from one side. About half way up, he tightens his neck a little. I was about to yell out “Freddie, your neck!” but before I had a chance, he’d released it!

      I doubt it was at a conscious level for him – my guess is that he had so much awareness of his body that even the smallest unnecessary tension was quickly released, seemingly automatically.

      Another thing: Astaire was born in Nebraska and, well, there’s something about the water and air here. Just saying…

  3. Fred Astaire! I direct all my new students to YouTube to watch Mr Astaire, as do many of my colleagues. The grace and efficiency of his movement is always a wonder to behold.
    I shall now suggest watching with the sound off, too. Thanks for the tip!

  4. I noticed how Fred Astaire kept his spine straight through it all. I noticed my ribs relaxing seconds into the video clip. Praying I can get back to dancing after some yoga and practicing the Alexander Tecnique.

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