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The Edinburgh Alexander and Therapy Centre has been offering Alexander lessons and workshops since 1994.

Friday, 13 March 2015

A Book can Change Your Life

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You can use a book to change your life and you do not have to read it! You just have to put your head on it! The actor Jonathan Pryce testified to this in last weekend’s Guardian, in answer to the question: ‘Which book changed your life?’ He answered, “The one the teacher put under my head during the Alexander technique sessions at Rada. I grew an inch and a half.” What he was referring to was the Alexander Technique practice of lying in semi-supine with your head on a book to prevent you from pulling your head back and shortening and narrowing your back. Semi-supine is in some ways the classic Alexander exercise; it offers a balanced way of resting, or relaxing without collapsing, which leaves you lightly energised and ready to get on. Too often people tensely energise themselves in their daily round of activities and the result is that they get to a point where they collapse in a heap at the end of the day, fatigued and set up for restless night’s sleep. It does not have to be this way. Either in the daily round of activities or in resting. It can be hard not to get tensely energised at points and balanced resting is a way of ‘re-setting’ yourself as one of my pupils puts it. However, balanced resting goes beyond ‘re-setting’ oneself if things have gone wrong, even though it is essential at these points; balanced resting is part of the ebb and flow, between stillness and activity, that makes up life, and conscious control applies to both parts of the cycle, even in sleep.

Application to sleeping is one of the most common lessons I give and I have blogged about this in the past, and learning how to get in and out of semi-supine form the basis of this. Being in semi-supine itself though is what is important; some teachers favour a body scan type approach to this but for me this is not as useful as learning how to lightly focus on the ceiling so that everything lengthens and widens of its own accord as you lie there. That is how you find the extra inch and a half if it is there, and it is not there for everybody. The extra height can be welcomed and sometimes not; however, the real value of this exercise comes with the practice of conscious control in resting with the use of the eyes and the expansion that occurs on the floor.

When you get up you have an experience of more poise and balance, and, more often than not, of things working comfortably again. In addition, the released tension pattern allows you to be more aware of when you tighten and shorten, as you start your daily round of activities again, giving you a chance to use the technique and inhibit and direct so everything continues to flow and you move back and forth between activity and stillness – which is the cycle of life, the cycle of living.

Richard Casebow

Back in the mid-1980s, I started to suffer from severe sciatica that often made walking and working difficult. At the time, I was training in London to become a Chartered Accountant and I left, as I was spending increasing amounts of time off waiting for the pain to subside. Around this time, I also became depressed, as my prospects seemed to darken with little hope of a normal life. In seeking help I found my way both to a psychotherapist and then to an Alexander Technique teacher, both of which helped enormously. The therapy with forming a life plan and understanding myself, encouraged me to dream of the life I have now. The Alexander Technique gave me the practical tool to help realise it and to allow me to rehabilitate myself to lead a full normal life.

The link between Alexander Technique, Psychotherapy and the art of living intelligently became something that has fascinated me ever since and is something I have continued to explore myself and with pupils and clients since. This blog is my attempt to elucidate the links, as well as to talk about Alexander Technique pure and simple and the benefits of therapy.

I founded the Edinburgh Alexander and Therapy Centre in 1994, Counselling Conversations came later after I became a practising therapist in 2003. Professionally I act as the Treasurer of the Personal Construct Psychology Association and sit on the board of the UKCP’s house magazine The Psychotherapist. When I am not to be found working, there is nothing better I like to be doing than spending time on a Scottish hillside, exploring the arts or just spending time with friends and family, including the family cat.