The Alexander Technique - A Gift for Sports people
by Michael Stenning

What have British Olympic marathon runners, hammer thrower Howard Paine, many elite equestrians including Australian Olympian Mary Hannah and the entire British team, multi-disciplinarian Daley Thomson and many others in common? They have all used the Alexander Technique to improve some aspect of the way that they function - breathing, freedom or efficiency of movement, balance, dealing with stress, aches and pains or injuries.

In the early l950s, Percy Cerutty, the celebrated and sometimes controversial athletics coach, wrote in a letter to his Alexander teacher, "Alexander is a 'must' for all competing athletes. You have taught me a lot of interesting material about the correct use of the body which I have passed on in my training with marked results eliminating bad use." The Alexander Technique is now being increasingly adopted by recreational and competitive sports people. Athletes involved in sports as diverse as long-distance running, dressage, swimming, cross-country skiing and hammer-throwing recognize the benefits that come with a training in the Alexander Technique. For sports people these benefits can be divided in to three categories:

1. GENERAL FITNESS - how to avoid wasting energy

2. TECHNIQUE - ensuring that you're actually doing what you think you're doing

3. AVOIDANCE AND RECOVERY FROM INJURY - not using your body in a way which imposes unnecessary stresses on joints or other tissue

The Alexander Technique is directly concerned with the working of the "postural reflexes", i.e. the mechanisms that enable us to support and balance our bodies against the ever present pull of gravity while we go about our daily activities. It addresses how to move with an economy of effort and maximize poise and balance. The tensions and distortions that most of us, over the years, build into our habitual way of being and which have thus slipped below the level of our conscious awareness, often create an on-going restriction to the working of these natural postural mechanisms. This restriction renders movement more effortful and less efficient than necessary and can predispose us to injury. In our sporting activities, we are coping not only with these on-going interferences, which give us our "base line" of tension, but also often with further interferences engendered by the situation, e.g. the challenges involved in learning a new skill or the pressure of competition.

In other words, we're making hard work out of simply standing upright, before complicating things with moving.

In training or competition this is often more so, at exactly the time when economy of action and an absence of tension would be most desirable. This interferes not only with our poise and coordination, but also with our perception both of our inner environment - for example failing to notice that we are tensing our shoulders or holding our breath - and also of our outer circumstances - so that for example, distances seem greater, or it feels as if we have insufficient time. Enhancing kinesthetic awareness (awareness of one's inner environment), and learning greater control of one's mechanisms of balance and coordination are an enormous help in any activity.

It is not just the elite who can learn to optimize their way of working with themselves to gain that competitive edge. Sports people who have trouble improving beyond a certain level can also gain. Technical imperfections can easily be unwittingly established as part of one's basic modus operandi, limiting further improvement. Who at some time has not said to themselves, "My brain knows what to do but my body won't do it"?

Discovering that not trying so hard can mean moving further, faster and with less effort, often comes as a pleasant surprise to many people. The Alexander Technique gives us some simple ground rules through which we can observe ourselves, in order to achieve a gradual general improvement in poise and coordination, as well as simultaneously
supplying ourselves with conditions most conducive to the development of a skill and reducing the risk of injury.

"The Alexander Technique gives us all the things we have been looking
for in a system of physical education; relief from strain due to maladjustment, and constant improvement in physical and mental health."
- Aldous Huxley

Michael Stenning is a Canberra, Australia Alexander Technique teacher with a background in music. He teaches privately and also presents workshops and seminars to Government and other organizations, health and sports groups and to the general public. He is a qualified Nordic Ski Instructor and keeps fit by running and in-line skating.
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For more information about the Alexander Technique, click here:
The Complete Guide to the Alexander Technique