Stronger than I think I am?

Learning the Alexander Technique can challenge some of our preconceptions and beliefs. Many of these ideas have been subconsciously absorbed from our culture and upbringing.

Man with biceps and six pack
Photo credit: Dreamlense, Pexels

Let’s take the example of how we perceive strength and fitness. We tend to think that the bigger the biceps and the six-pack, the stronger the person. On one level this is certainly true – if the main aim is to be able to pump weights in the gym then bigger biceps generally mean that one can lift heavier weights.  

So, as someone who has never had prominent biceps I may perceive myself as rather weak. However, through my training in the Alexander Technique I find that I can now achieve more with less effort. And that’s because I know how to employ my whole self in whatever I’m doing, rather than thinking my strength lies mostly in my arms. A simple example is using my own weight to open a heavy door – leaning into it to push it open, or holding the handle and taking a step back to pull it open – rather than just pushing or pulling with my arm.

We can access a powerful sense of strength through having an appreciation of what it means to be vertebrates. If we understand how our head and spine form the core of our strength, we can work with our anatomy rather than against it. Allowing the head, neck, back relationship to operate freely and dynamically, we can experience real strength. I’m aware that these words probably won’t mean a lot unless you’ve already had some Alexander experience. So, if you haven’t, why not find a local STAT-registered teacher and give it a try?

Women carrying water on heads
Women in India carrying water pots; Photo credit: Leprosy International, Wellcome Collection

You can see the power and poise which comes from integrated dynamic head-spine alignment in these photos of women carrying huge weights on their heads. In many cultures, head carrying has been common for hundreds or thousands of years. In some rural areas, women still have to carry water for several miles every day (about 20 kg, equivalent to a heavy suitcase). It would be naïve to imagine that this never causes any problems, yet in photos and videos it looks pretty effortless. Now to me that’s strength!

Malagasy women carrying water
Malagasy women carrying water (and a child); Photo credit: Wellcome Collection

So, yes of course we can build up specific muscles through repeating specific exercises through a few hours at the gym every week. But for most people in industrialised countries, our postural support system is not working well after years of adapting ourselves to this world of desks, seats etc. So, no matter how big your six pack and biceps are, it would probably be dangerous to put a 20 kg weight on your head, unless you have the alignment and balance that allows the weight to transmit straight down into the ground.

If we can re-learn to use the whole of ourselves in our daily activities we’ll find we’re stronger than we think we are – that’s what we can discover through the Alexander Technique, so that we can do more with less effort in all aspects of life.