Walking well with the Alexander Technique

by Ethan Kind

Defining the Technique

The Alexander Technique is an educational process that uses verbal and tactile feedback to teach improved use of the student’s body by identifying and changing inefficient habits that cause stress, fatigue and pain. A large part of my work as an Alexander Technique teacher is to show students how they can let their legs do the appropriate work in any movement including waling. Most people have a side to side sway when waling which stresses their lower backs, their neck and their shoulders.

Head Leads

The fundamental tenet of the Alexander Technique is that the head leads a lengthening spine which leads the body into integrated movement. Therefore, as a student is standing before me facing way, I have them close their eyes for a few moments and feel their head gently leading their body up towards the ceiling. Just this frequently reduces the effort of standing. I then ask the student to find their feet on the floor, which means to sense both feet wholly on the floor with an even weight distribution from the front to the back of the feet.

I point out areas of the body that are held, and I keep returning to the head - asking that it continue to lead the spine into lengthening. I then ask that the knees be easy, just slightly released. Locking the knees tightens the thighs and kicks the whole b body out of alignment, usually creating a sway in the lower back.

I next ask that the ankles be released to show the student that they don’t need to lock their ankles to stand. Then I ask that the muscles in the lower back, right at the top of the buttocks, be easy and not to tighten the buttocks. This allows the student to have movement in the body rather than standing rigidly upright.

Shoulder Girdle

The shoulder girdle is designed to float easily on top of the rib cage with the arms hanging freely to the sides. With my hands resting lightly on the sides of the ribcage of the student, I make him aware of his breathing and ask him not to interfere with it. “Simply let your breathing move the ribs gently on the sides and back as well as the front.” This is the basis of gentle, balanced movement in the torso and allows breathing to act as an inner massage of the muscles of the back and shoulder girdle.

From the Calves

Most of us think walking comes mainly from the front of the thighs - which lift the legs as we walk - but the initial movement in waling starts behind the leg. The calf lifts the heel off the ground, which places the foot on the ball of the big toe, as the legs bends easily at the knee and hip joints.

At this moment, with no intention of walking, but of only experiencing our weight on the ball of one foot and the other foot fully on the floor, we don’t have to shift sideways onto one leg for balance. Then we can allow the leg on the ball of the foot to push off, and the opposite lower leg will swing forward. The calves then take the heels off the ground, allowing the foot room to swing through.

All Together

In integrated waling, the head floats up gently, as if it has so much helium in it that you couldn’t fall over even if you wanted to fall. The body flows under the head in alignment with all of the bones stacked above each other. The knees bend easily (as if on a bicycle), and the torso is supported (as if you are on a bicycle seat) and the torso releases up in an upward direction instead of lumbering side to side. The arms swing freely at the sides. Compression of the spinal disks eases because the back is moving upward as the legs carry the body forward.

It’s a remarkable experience to walk in this way, feeling as if the body is suspended under the head and the feet lightly making contact with the earth.

Ethan Kind holds a master’s degree in performance on the classical guitar and is a certified teacher of the Alexander Technique from the American Center for the Alexander Technique in New York. Ethan Kind lives in Nashville, TN, where he has a private Alexander Technique practice. He can be reached at (615) 353-9915 or ethankind@hushmail.com

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