Taking Mr. Alexander for a Drive
The late Alexander Technique teacher Marjorie Barstow had a special interest in the way automobile drivers carried their heads on top of their spines. She would frequently suggest we take time to look at other drivers while we were stopped at a traffic light. “You’ll be amazed at what people do to themselves in a car” she would say. And whenever I’d drive her somewhere – often to her favorite steakhouse – she would comment on the bizarre postures she observed in the cars we passed.
It’s actually a pretty interesting exercise. And a useful one particularly if you ask yourself: “Could I be doing that too?”
Some of us spend a lot of time driving and there are all sorts of opportunities to tighten our necks, restrict our beathing and clench the steering wheel in response to traffic conditions, other drivers’ bad behavior, the weather, the news on the radio…the list goes on and on. And of course as texting and talking on cellphones while driving becomes more common, the opportunities for distorting ourselves have expanded significantly.
A few years ago, I’ve started to notice that I was clenching my jaw and tightening my face and neck while behind the wheel, even when there was no obvious source of stress. I realized that just the act of sitting in the driver’s seat was enough of a stimulus to cause me to create some unnecessary tension in my head and neck – tension that rapidly spread to the rest of my body.
Even here in serene Lincoln, Nebraska, recently voted the happiest city in the whole USA!
I decided that driving was the perfect opportunity to give myself some useful Alexander Technique preventative directions.
I found that negative directions worked best for me because in addition to being highly effective, they require very little mental energy and were less likely to take my attention away from my surroundings, whether I was driving on city streets or on the Interstate.
In addition to the classic, “I’m not tensing my neck” I often use, “I’m not compressing myself” and, “I’m not tightening my face.” Sometimes, “I’m not frowning.” After a few weeks of this kind of self-directing I found that I was generally less tense while driving and that I could usually let go of any in-the-moment irritation when, say, another driver cut me off.
Of course the same sort of thing holds for other forms of transportation like bicycles, buses, trains, planes and feet. Not to mention horseback riding, which F. M. Alexander, the developer of the Alexander Technique, was so fond of. They all provide wonderful opportunities to explore his discoveries.
As one Alexander Technique student recently mentioned on Face Book, even while commuting on the New York City subway – “sardine city” as she nicely put it – a little self-directing can go a long way.
Here’s a podcast interview I did with Mark Josefsberg about external stress. and internal tension, and how the Alexander Technique can make it more likely that the first of these won’t cause the second:
Have you experimented with Alexander Technique directing while traveling? What did you notice? Did you encounter any unique or unexpected challenges?