As a beauty and wellness editor, I get inundated with hundreds of press releases titled ‘next big wellness trend’. That’s usually when I start to sigh or eye roll. Because, while some new wellness trends are backed by scientific and profound evidence, others, such as ‘weight loss teas’ and the celebrity endorsed ‘vagina steam cleaning’ are not only ludicrous and a waste of time, worryingly, they can negatively impact our health.
There is one wellness trend however, that I will preach about at any given opportunity. The Alexander Technique. Although fairly under the radar its been tried and tested for over a hundred years, and as a new mum, AT has neatly helped me to ride out the overwhelming physical and psychological changes that constantly ripple through me whilst trying to navigate motherhood. Now relentlessly time-poor soul-soothing self-care rituals seem a distant memory, and when a glass of red wine isn’t always a viable option (like at 11 am in the morning) this healing practice has been my one true saving grace.
First some background. Founded by actor Frederick Matthias Alexander in the 1890s, he devised the technique after suffering from vocal problems. He realised that when reciting he would strain his vocal organs and after observing himself in mirrors, he noticed he pulled his head back and down, depressed his larynx, and also gasped for air when trying to speak. While this was the root of the problem, he realised it this was part of a bigger pattern of tension involving the whole of his body, that manifested itself at the mere thought of reciting. To heal, he had to re-educate both body and mind, to resist his instincts and learn new behaviour.
Whilst I’m no singer, I benefit so well from AT because I to have developed tension patterns since having my daughter. A career sitting at desk meant that my posture was out of shape to begin with, so being held hostage on the sofa breast-feeding for hours on end, to pacing up down the living room trying to rock her to sleep at 3 am has only served to amplify it. These repetitive and often at times uncomfortable movements not only cause me physical pain in my neck and back, but also bear down on my mood, making me feel foggy, weary and irritable.
AT teacher Brita Forsstrom explains why: ‘The underlying coordination and freedom of movement in the natural balance of the head, neck and back works as an integrating principle in everything we do. If we disturb this balance with excessive and inappropriate tension we interfere with the most efficient use of our bodies.’ AT works by restoring natural balance in body. ‘In essence what you learn is a form of ‘embodied mindfulness’. Being more aware of how we react to the demands of motherhood we can learn to prevent excessive muscular tension and also feel calmer and clearer in our minds,’ adds Forsstrom.
Since having my daughter I have two sessions 2-3 times a month with my veteran teacher Jean. Well into her seventies, she is a complete powerhouse and her healing hands have on more than one occasion worked miracles on my malfunctioning lower back. The first part of the 45-minute session always involves a few minutes learning how to sit down and stand up from a chair with Jean helping me to realise how my habitual reactions contribute to my bad posture and pain. It sounds easy and simplistic and yet getting to grips with ‘unlearning’ 20 plus years of slouching, overusing some muscles and neglecting others, takes time. This is followed by hands on guidance where I lay on a table and so that Jean can loosen all the tension in every single muscle, allowing my back to lengthen and chest to open, which is turn helps my breathing to regulate and my mind to slow.
I often leave an AT lesson, feeling not only taller, (thanks to my spine being lengthened) but as if the mountainous problems I had prior to the session have suddenly shrunk down to nothing. Sleep deprivation seems less torturous and I’m less anxious about work deadlines. I have total emotional and physical equilibrium, and I savour every second of it while it lasts.