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The Alexander Technique: Changing Habits that Hurt Us

An Interview with Deena Hyatt

By February 20, 2015 April 3rd, 2019 No Comments

This Sunday afternoon, Marian Goldberg and Deena Hyatt are teaching an introductory class on the Alexander Technique at the Teal Center from 1:30-4pm.  They'll teach about the history, practice, and principles of the Alexander Technique with live demonstration and some hands-on work. Learn more about what inspired Deena to learn this approach in this interview.


How will participants benefit from your workshop?

Everyone realizes there's at least a little room for improvement. We catch ourselves slouching, we notice our posture has gotten distorted, we sometimes become aware of bad habits and we suffer neck pain, back pain, and other pains as a result. People tell me, “I know I did this, but I don't know what to do.” Learning the Alexander Technique can help. Unfortunately, many times people are not even aware of what they're doing until they have gotten themselves in a real jam. Carpal Tunnel, RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury), TMJ and so on all seem to creep up on us, but these relatively new problems, which can be debilitating, are entirely preventable and with Alexander Technique, often times reversible. For more than 100 years, Alexander Technique has helped people approach every day activities with less tension and greater ease by teaching us how to undo the bad habits that prevent many people from reaching their full potential. Alexander teachers and students know that it's not just that one hour you spend with a practitioner, it's what you're doing all the time.

Many people don't know what Alexander Technique is and because it is unlike anything else, it's hard to find a reference point. Just like trying to explain a piece of music, sometimes you just need to listen and experience it to understand. This workshop will allow people to learn about the history, principles, and practice of the Technique and experience some of the work. Joining me will be my teacher Marian Goldberg who has over thirty years of experience.

If you were to give a single piece of self-care advice to the general public, what would it be?

Simply to stop. Stop yourself when you catch yourself doing things you know are wrong. It's hard, and after six years of studying the technique, I still find myself slouching and tensing at the computer, especially under a deadline. When you say no to your automatic reaction to something, it allows you to explore a new way of reacting. We pick up bad habits for many reasons, sitting at desks for long periods, or learning quirks from how people around us move. Before we can create a new neural pathway, we have to inhibit our habitual response which sets off a chain of reactions. It takes some discipline, but like so many things, it becomes easier with practice. 

John Dewey, the acclaimed educator and philosopher — and also a proponent of the Alexander Technique — describes what Alexander meant by inhibition and reconditioning as “empowering the person to take responsibility for his or her potential.” When you allow yourself to stop, you are no longer enslaved by your automatic reaction to external stimuli. Now you have a choice to change, what Alexander calls “vital freedom in thought and action.”


What sorts of habits contribute to living a fulfilling life?  What's the most common obstacle? What do you do to overcome obstacles in life?

Once you commit to working on yourself — you'll always find new ways to improve. Like peeling an onion, there are so many layers and it's an incredible process to remove one layer and reveal another layer. Self-improvement is a life-long journey.

Don't be hard on yourself but don't be easy on yourself either. It's a tough balance to strike.

Make a choice to create the habit of doing some lying down work each day. We'll demonstrate and explain its benefits at the workshop.

How did you become interested in the Alexander Technique?  

I was in chronic pain for about three years from the neck down the right arm to the hand. By the third year, I stopped being able to use my right hand at all. At the time I was trying to graduate from college. As an English major having to write a lot of papers this was very difficult. I tried to learn how to do things with my left hand, and was decent at it, until the pain started on the left side. I had no idea what was going on or why this was happening and no doctor, physical therapist, or healer could explain it to me. My first mistake was not taking responsibility. It's amazing how we ignore so many obvious things. Now when I look back at photos and videos I can see exactly what I was doing that was causing so many problems. It's a common neck-forward pattern we get hunching over the computer. And the amount of tension I was putting into my wrists! So unnecessary. 

They ended up diagnosing me with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome and took my first rib and part of my scalene muscle out to “create space” due to compression. Why was there compression though? No one could say why. No one actually looked at what I was doing. When they took my rib out it was slanted severely vertical instead of horizontally seated as it normally would be. After healing from the surgery I tried to go back to the graphic design job I had, with hope, but the pain persisted, because guess what — I was still doing what I had been doing before. Researching I came upon the Alexander Technique and found The Washington Center for Alexander Technique and started studying with Marian Goldberg.

Here is a photo of me in 2009 (L) when I first started lessons and then in 2015 (R). You will notice the difference in posture, and the way my jaw lines sits.

It didn't take long though for me to realize the habits I had that were at the root and I started experiencing periods of relief and the signature “lengthening” and “widening” Alexander students talk about. I soon came to realize why my rib was out of place: since I was pushing my head out, I didn't have the support of my back for my arms, and I was overusing my scalene. The scalene muscle kept shortening and shortening, and since it's attached to the first rib, it kept pulling it and pulling it the rib out of place. I could have done the Alexander work and got myself back in better coordination, lessening all the pulling and shortening and encouraging the lengthening and widening, and slowly the rib would have gone back to place, but I got a useless surgery instead.

The windows of pain would get smaller, then I'd get myself in a jam again, under stress, but the amount of time it took me to recover from the jams became shorter and shorter. It took about six months to be out of chronic pain completely. Real change doesn't happen over night.

Feeling better, I then moved back to Austin and started studying under Sumi Komo who encouraged me to become a teacher. Since I wanted to study the technique as much as possible (I recognized there was still so much “undoing” to learn), I thought it wise to join the  teacher training. Habits are hard to unravel so studying five days out of the week certainly helps. I ended up returning to finish my certification under Marian Goldberg and graduated in four years. An indirect benefit: it also helped me with my voice as a singer and voice actor. I also learned ways to handle the pressures of performing. Now I'm happy to bring the work to more people! And it's funny to call it “work” because essentially you're learning how to do less, but, sometimes non-doing is just as hard when you're used to over-doing.


Where did The Alexander Technique originate?

It's interesting because I've found a lot of people lumping The Alexander Technique into “new age” type movements, perhaps because Alexander teachers also talk about the mind/body connection. However, it originated at the end of the 19th century.

FM Alexander, who was born in 1869 in Tasmania, Australia, founded the technique in the early 1890s. He was a Shakespearean actor, orator, and elocutionist. Unfortunately, Alexander began to suffer from hoarseness and sometimes after a performance could hardly speak. After consultations and advice from doctors and voice trainers did not gain him any insights, he began a process of self-examination with mirrors into his speaking habits to see if he could determine the cause. He did a lot of stimulus and response experimentation to figure out his reaction patterns and found ways that he was habitually distorting his head / neck / back relationship.  With time, he found that by using “conscious control” of actions, by inhibiting wrong movements rather than trying to “do” correct ones, his vocal and longstanding respiratory problems vanished. He started teaching others the technique and soon doctors were sending him asthma and tuberculous patients as he became known as “The Breathing Man.” 

He moved his practice to Britain where many notable people came to see him such as Sir Stafford Cripps, George Bernard Shaw, Henry Irving and, among other stage grandees, Lord Lytton. The American philosopher and educator John Dewey and the anthropologist Raymond Dart both endorsed the technique.

We'll talk more about his discoveries and the principles in the workshop and you can read all about it in The Use of the Self, the first of his five books.

FM Alexander working with a student.


What are you passionate about?

Changing the paradigm of the office environment, how we can be productive without hurting ourselves, and what “progress” really means. 


 

An Introduction to Alexander Technique with Marian Goldberg & Deena O. Hyatt

Date: Sunday, February 22
Time: 1:30 – 4 PM
Cost: $45 (Sliding scale for students and lower income please contact Deena if you qualify)
*Limited to 15 people:  RESERVE YOUR SPOT HERE
Contact Deena O. Hyatt: deena.hyatt@gmail.com

Come learn about how The Alexander Technique can help you. This class will cover the history, principles, and practice of The Alexander Technique with live demonstration. About the Instructors: Marian Goldberg has been an Alexander teacher for over 30 years and is also certified in Cranial Sacral Therapy and the Feldenkrais Method. Deena O. Hyatt found relief from three years of chronic pain through the Technique and has been studying for six years; it also has helped her as a singer. She recently graduated from the three and a half year teacher-training course. Both teachers are fully certified through The American Society For Alexander Technique.

Learn more about Alexander Technique: http://www.alexandercenter.com/ | http://www.amsatonline.org/ | http://www.stat.org.uk/

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Brenda Teal

Author Brenda Teal

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