A Simplified Intro to the Alexander Technique & Singing by Audrey Luna
Walter Carrington: “…behaviour is most effectively controlled by the development of the conscious powers of reason and intelligence which are able, through the normal processes of nervous physiology, to direct and control the use and functioning of the organism as a whole.”
The thought of an activity triggers muscle tension. Therefore the muscular effort that we use from the most mundane to the most complicated activity, begins before we are aware. (The horse has left the barn.)
1) Inhibit the thought of the activity. Begin from neutral.
2) Balance, calm, easy.
3) Listen to what is going on in your system from the inside out.
4) Direct with specific verbal instructions.
Begin with the Basics
FM Alexander sought an answer to explain his voice loss. He studied his body and discovered a pulling of the head back that initiated most of his movement. This sparked his interest in the study of the nervous system. Alexander studied the work of Rudolf Magnus, esteemed neurologist, physiologist, and pharmacologist, who spent his life engaged in research about the postural reflexes. Magnus said, “the head leads and the body follows”.
We have nerve reflexes that coordinate our posture and movement. FM extrapolated that misuse/habit interferes by engaging large muscle groups that override the reflex network resulting in tension and effort. He realized that the relationship of our head to our spine and back were primary to healthy functioning.
When our head is poised on top of the spine with minimal effort from the neck muscles, the muscles of the back are supple and released into width and length, and the legs free from the hip joint, we have the hope of allowing the reflex network to take over some of the effort that we have layered upon ourselves from a lifetime of activity and reaction to our environment.
The relationship of the head, neck and spine affects how the reflex network coordinates movement.
The misuse of the head, neck and spine interferes by tensing muscles that we don’t need for the task at hand.
Becoming aware of unnecessary interference for a given activity allows our interpretation of the activity to become more accurate.
In time, as our perception becomes more aligned with what we are actually doing with our bodies, what feels right begins to shift.
The old way loses the power it had unconsciously, in order for us to create a path for a new way.
We perceive things based on input whether visual, aural, smell, taste, or touch, and we assign meaning to this input.
We can only know what our sensory perception allows us to perceive. We as teachers offer perceptual training to reroute what we have incorrectly learned and now believe to be truth.
Why Hands on?
We need accurate information about what we are doing in order to make change.
We have been assigning meaning to the information that we have accrued from a lifetime of experience for so long, that we believe we understand why and how we do the things we do. Some of this information is conscious and some is unconscious.
Because we use words to assign meaning, name, interpret and explain, we already have an unconscious response physically to how we have interpreted our experience. Therefore, If we only used words to teach, we would be limited by the stimulus created by our verbal instructions. Words become a limiting factor for accurate perception. Hands-on offers an accurate kinesthetic experience that can help students understand what they are doing.
Touch transmits information which translates to awareness.
Alexander Technique teachers train for three years to learn the best ways of making hands on contact with the body to facilitate more accurate proprioception (awareness of where our body is in space and how we are using our bodies), to teach release, to help undo old habits, and then to help form more healthy, coordinated habits.
Why AT is Helpful for Singing
We are so kinesthetically oriented that we want to feel what is going on and recreate the feeling in order to recreate a moment that we have experienced as “free”. How often do we practice, trying to recreate the feeling we just had in a lesson? The feeling is the result, not the start.
AT offers accurate information about how we are using our bodies. It offers accurate information about the mechanisms involved in singing. It helps students un-learn habits and thought patterns that are not serving them to sing their best. It helps the student physically experience the coordination of the inner reflex muscles by discouraging the effort of the large muscle groups. Often, large muscle groups (the strap muscles of our neck, our jaw, thighs, lats, pecs, or traps, for example) try to do all of the work associated with an activity, rather than allowing smaller muscle groups (like the intrinsic muscles of the larynx or the inner postural muscles along the spine) to do their work as well. When we coordinate these muscle groups to work together in balance through the processes listed above, we maximize our resonance to effort ratio. Our singing becomes more beautiful, more resonant, more powerful, more effortless, and more fun!