What is the Alexander Technique (AT)? Although it is becoming more widely known and practiced, its essence is often misunderstood. It’s not a form of relaxation treatment, massage, or a set of exercises designed to correct bad posture -although it is often used to reduce stress and improve poise. The Technique is primarily a method for teaching us to develop conscious control over a particular set of reactions, which are seen as the source of unproductive habits. The fundamental tendency is to pull the head back and down, either in response to an unpleasant stimulus, or simply because the movement has become an unconscious habit. The effect of this movement is to set in train a series of involuntary and unhelpful patterns of behavior. Automatic physical reactions, with potentially negative effects on both mind and body, are not normally under our conscious control. They are habits into which we fall without thinking, unwittingly developed as a result of pressures imposed on us from infancy. They develop into a tendency to react to situations in ways over which we exercise limited conscious choice.
The Alexander Technique teaches us to re-assert effective command over the way we think and act. It starts by making us aware of how a balanced relationship between the head and back can have an important influence on the body as a whole. It gives us a means of intervening to inhibit the actions that disturb this balance, and so provides a foundation for us to prevent the unhelpful patterns which arise in consequence. It has been described as ‘unlearning the habits of a lifetime’, habits which perpetuate an unhealthy fragmentation of the self. We invariably go wrong when we divorce our mental processes from our physical being. The AT is a practical method for putting us back in touch with our bodies, and thereby bringing about a psycho -physical re-integration, which is particularly helpful in overcoming habits that impede the development of new skills. These principles are applicable to diverse activities in daily life: the AT is used in areas ranging from acting, riding, and golf to learning to play musical instruments and giving birth. The beneficial effects of the AT are widely recognized, and it is recommended by doctors and physical therapists as a method of alleviating a range of common ailments from stress to back pain.
Not only are unconscious habits an obstacle to mastering any creative activity, but they get in the way of enjoying the experience to the full. This is as true for swimming as for any other activity. Swimming can easily become boring if you plough through the water automatically, without any sense of development and exploration. Incorporating the AT brings the whole process to life. By opening ourselves to greater awareness through practicing the Technique, we can discover in swimming a tremendous opportunity for continuing development and endless self-exploration. While AT phraseology sometimes reflects the Victorian era in which the Technique originated, the principles of the Technique have enduring and far-reaching implications for the art of swimming.