Learning the Alexander Technique: A Personal Account

by Gretchen Ragsdale

Twenty-five years ago I read a book about the Alexander Technique. The photos and detailed instructions opened my eyes to a new and exciting way of moving.

As a teenager in the forties my family was always reminding me to, “Stand up straight.” I would throw my shoulders back and try, but I couldn’t hold that position. Soon I would be slouched down.

Alexander developed a new way of instructing his students that involved a gentle movement of the head before starting any physical activity. I interpreted this to mean I should move my head slightly up from between my shoulders and then move my torso up from my pelvic area. I felt such a lightness and ease that I thought, “This is the answer to my slouching problem.”

Fifteen years later I found the Performance School in Seattle. Seven dedicated young persons, who had learned the Technique from Marjorie Barstow in Lincoln, Nebraska, used their after-work hours and weekend time to instruct others in the Technique.

I observed the miracle of change in the movement of the mostly younger people who participated in these classes. I could also see that learning to think through changes in walking, sitting at the computer, running and other daily activities gave them a look of confidence in their abilities.

Those who wanted to improve their talking, singing, dancing, acting or playing of a musical instrument were encouraged to use the Alexander Technique before starting these activities.

At age sixty my ingrained habits were harder to change. The first instruction to think,
“My neck is free,” seemed an impossibility. Well, I did it! When I tell friends to think
their neck is free, they grab their neck and the look on their faces says, “You’ve got to be kidding.” Believe me it works. Try it!

The next instruction was to think of letting my head go forward and up (the opposite of the slouch). The instructors with a gentle suggestion from their hands slowed me how to do this. Next was to let my body follow. This was also taught was a gentle suggestion of the instructors’ hands on the lower back area just below the rib cage.

Learning the Alexander Technique was difficult for me. The teachers would suggest, “Let’s see if we can find a better way.” But the “better” way sometimes felt strange at first. They often asked, “What are you noticing?” Since the Technique is based on thinking, not just feeling, I had to learn to observe whether my body was moving in a more relaxed, efficient way. This in turn helped sell my mind on staying with the work.

Learning the Alexander Technique has produced good results for me not only in my physical well being but in knowing how to think though changes in other areas of my life where old habits have also been hard to break. I wish teenagers and senior citizens could experience the benefits of the Technique.

For the first time this year (1999) I was able to attend the eight-day Majorie Barstow Summer Institute at Doanne College in Crete, Nebraska. At the Institute, the interaction and observation of a group of learnings being taught by several very different teachers was wonderful.

It was a low-key, marvelous experience living in a dorm, eating in the cafeteria, walking to classrooms across a pleasant campus and becoming acquainted with an interesting group of learners and teachers. An added bonus was the option of doing early-morning Tai Chi and late-afternoon Feldenkrais exercises.

Most importantly I learned so much that was valuable for what I hope to do.

Click here to learn more about Marjorie Barstow's life and teaching

Click here for The Complete Guide to the Alexander Technique Web Site