A Blog about the Alexander Technique & Everything
by Andrew McCann
A common reason people study the Alexander Technique is to improve their posture. Many students are therefore confused and even frustrated in lessons when their Alexander teacher seems to change the subject. Rather than telling a student the correct way to stand or defining proper alignment, a teacher will often coach a student to resist the urge to anticipate a movement—such as beginning to walk or sitting down. They will often add that this practice is a key Alexander skill called inhibition. What does any of this have to do with posture?
Helpfully, inhibition (or inhibitory control) is also a key concept in cognitive psychology and neuroscience and there is a growing body of research showing how cognition—how we think—links up with posture and movement. Case in point: a new study published in Human Movement Science …
I talked with Audrey Q. Snyder on her podcast, AudPod, about life as a musician and Alexander Technique teacher. We talk about how I start studying the Alexander Technique, how it changed my violin playing, and a little bit about what lessons are like. Along the way we look at how the Alexander Technique compares to psychotherapy, why pain and anxiety are such taboo subjects in music, and why you shouldn't take a seven-year-old to an exotic kitten breeds convention.
Kyra and I spent the holidays in San Francisco, first with family and then on a belated honeymoon. I’ve only been to the Bay Area a couple of times, and though it’s probably cliche, I’m always astonished at just how much natural beauty is crammed into one locale. I think Chicago is a beautiful city, but its grandeur is man-made—dramatic architecture against the stark expanse of Lake Michigan and the prairie. I wish I could say that San Francisco’s continuous beauty brought out the poet in me, but with each new vista—the first sight of the Golden Gate Bridge, the view from the top of Corona Heights or Delores Park, the white city glistening against the bay and ocean—I just kept exclaiming, “Come ON.”
Travel brings out just how much you’ve habituated to home...
A new study on the Alexander Technique and knee pain was published last month in the journal BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders. 21 subjects with knee osteoarthritis were each given 20 Alexander Technique (AT) lessons. After their lessons, they not only reported a 50% reduction in pain, but showed significantly less co-contraction in their leg muscles during walking. The entire study is available online to read here.
When I first read the study, I was struck by its size. 21 subjects (the study also used 20 healthy individuals as a control) didn’t seem to be that many. I’ve grown used to reading the larger randomized control trials, like the ATEAM back pain study published in the British Journal of Medicine in 2008. The ATEAM study involved 579 subjects. My assumption was that the larger the study, the more robust the findings. What could a study of 21 people really tell us?
After a month of record-cold temperatures here in Chicago, we’re finally beginning to thaw out. Almost as if to celebrate, an infographic appeared on one of the Alexander Technique Facebook groups with advice on how to walk on ice. On the left, the graphic shows how walking on ice with the front foot forward increases the risk of falling. Whereas on the right, there’s a penguin. Wait a second: a penguin? We’re supposed to learn how to walk on ice from a PENGUIN?
One day in the spring of my final semester in college I was in a hurry to check my mail between classes. I started running from the conservatory to the mailroom and after barely half a block, had to stop because my lower back hurt. I am tall and slim, much like my dad. When I was growing up, he suffered from periods of lower back pain, so even though I wasn’t particularly active or fit in college, I didn’t think, “Boy, I need to get in shape.” I thought instead, “Well, I guess it’s my build.”
This way of thinking about pain and discomfort is pretty common: my problem isn’t because of how I do things, but because of who I am. When it comes to back pain, this way of thinking has gotten a boost from some evolutionary biologists. They argue that evolution is to blame for back pain...
I remember when my high school violin teacher first showed me how to work up a passage gradually using a metronome. I thought it was a bit magical. You started slowly and just by moving the metronome up one click at a time, you could get a passage up to tempo!
When I got to Oberlin, I was surprised to find that my violin professor wasn’t quite so keen on working up with a metronome. He thought it was a useful tool, sure, but he had some questions first: was I playing in tune with every repetition? How was my sound? Was it warm and round or harsh and scratchy? Was I thinking of the phrase? It hadn’t really occurred to me to be that careful. I just assumed that as I got more facile in the passage that my intonation and sound would improve as well...
- 99% Invisible
- Alexander Technique
- Body Conscious Design
- Carol McCullough
- Cell Phones
- Chair Design
- Chin rests
- Conscious Incompetence
- Debauched Kinesthesia
- Faulty Sensory Awareness
- Finding the Story
- Forensic Anthropology
- Galen Cranz
- Habit Change
- Knee Osteoarthritis
- Language in Teaching
- Markers of Occupation
- Music in the Mountains Conservatory
- Music Teaching
- Pain Problems
- Parkinson's Disease
- Paul Rolland
- Sitting Disease
- Stages of Learning
- Startle Response
- Teaching Space
- Unconscious incompetence
- Working to principle