The Alexander Technique and Neck Tension.
In 1998, just prior to learning the Alexander Technique, I developed severe, debilitating neck pain. This pain, which started in my hand, lasted months. It was caused by hunching over my musical instrument, for decades.
I tried just about everything for relief, and was even contemplating risky neck surgery.
One of the worst times during the day was when I had to walk. Although I was walking as smoothly as possible, every step brought spinal compression which was excruciating. Even back then I noticed that if I walked slightly faster and more rhythmically, it was easier on my neck.
The Alexander Technique and Back Pain.
As an Alexander Technique teacher, I notice similar occurrences with my students. Recently, a student with lower back pain, who had been making steady progress, noticed his pain worsened every time he went to a museum. We eventually discovered that it wasn’t the amount of time he was on his feet, or walking to and from the museum, or even the way he was looking at the paintings. His pain recurred because of the way he was walking in the museum. He was walking very slowly, for a few steps at a time, with a lot of “down”. He was doing the “museum walk”.
At our Alexander lessons we often practiced walking at different rates, but we had never specifically practiced very slow, short-distance, start-and stop walking as a practical goal. (In New York City, if you walk slowly, then stop, you will be trampled.)
Slow, start-and-stop walking tends to turn into a plodding, sluggish, lead-footed, flat, sinking movement.
The Alexander Technique and the Museum Walk.
When we mimed walking around the studio very slowly, pretending to look at paintings, we noticed he was adding uneccessary weight to every step. This contrasted with the way he walked on the street, which had momentum and was faster, smoother, and with a forward and up orientation.
We noticed when he did this museum walk, (which is also a kitchen walk), his torso was going forward and down instead of back and up. Additionally, when walking slowly for short distances, there was less of a natural spiral of the torso and less arm swing. This lends itself to tightness, rigidity, holding, extra downward pressure, and the concurrent mental attitude.
There is little rhythm or forward momentum when we do the museum walk. Our weight is slowly shifting from one foot to the other, and we may overplay the sway. An exaggerated sway leads to a downward pressure on the spine and the joints.
To underplay the sway, or downplay the sway, or keep the sway at bay, go up.
Think about your head moving up away from the top of your spine, yet taking your spine up with it. Peel your heel off the floor, and let your knee move forward. Continue the “up” thoughts as you shift your weight to your front foot, while still “falling upwards”. Fast or slow, let the “up” minimize the sway, the falling, and the sinking.
My student implemented these changes. Now, he can’t wait for the next exhibit to omit, inhibit, quit, and prohibit his habit!
Enjoy the museum!
Mark Josefsberg is an Alexander Technique teacher in New York City.