The Alexander Method for Graceful Aging

By: Rick Vassallo, Apr 02, 2015

Use affects functioning

When I was a theatre student, we had a movement teacerh who taught the Alexander method of movement. She moved like a ballerina and I like a rhinoceros. She was adamant that people resorted to bad habits in movement and this contributes to early onset of aging in some cases. I was 22 and really could not anticipate the likelihood of this applying to myself. But many decades later I have a better appreciation for her point of view. For the theatre of course, you had to have ample control of all your body movements in order to understand how to create characterization by altering this movement, but also how to preserve the body from a life where the body has to hold up to enormous physical stress.

One basic element of mind body awareness that is not nearly as prevalent as breathing exercises, or examining personally held beliefs, is this form of Alexander method movement. When you move, consider what body parts are in use, and what body parts are in use “extraneously”. The proper “Use” is a key concept in the Alexander Method. ‘Good use” means moving the body with maximum balance and coordination of all parts, so that only the effort absolutely needed is expended. This is essentially how athletes or performers move. They don’t waste effort of any kind. Anyone can improve their ‘use’ of body movement however with practice and with some key pointers.

There are a few fundamentals to this approach. The first is that when you begin any movement, move your whole head upward and away from your whole body, and let your whole body lengthen by following that upward direction.

People, specifically who compress the spine in making movements subject the spine and the nervous system to damaging wear and tear, for example simply by getting in and out of chairs millions of times in their lifetime.

Many people move from a chair by tilting the head back, shortening and contracting the neck and pressing the head down on the top of the spine, where the vertebrae, the atlas vertebrae joins the occipital bone at the base of the skull. Instead, students of the Alexander method learn tilt forward and not thrust the head forward. Alexander noticed that when most people sat down on a chair or got up from it, they drew back their head, stiffening and shortening the neck muscles and compressing the spine. They engaged muscles in the neck that were not required for the movement. As well, as men aged, their head movements become more exaggerated movements that were the result of head and neck contraction.

Rather than lunging or thrusting up that jerks the head back, an “easing up” was suggested. The direction upward should be taken to mean easing the head away from the pelvis, the body following behind, which may on some occasions mean moving the head and trunk in a diagonal, horizontal or downward movement. With this easing up, the spine is freed from compression and the head does not go back to initiate a movement. The benefit of this basic control can be tested simply. Use an ordinary table chair so that you can keep your back straight. Keep your feet flat on the floor and a little apart. Lean forward so that your head, neck and back stay in alignment by letting your head move upwards and your body follow. So the head leads, it is not pushed up from below by the body, as many people would otherwise do the now upwards and diagonal movement of the head continues and takes you on your feet in a standing position. Then, to sit down, you again tilt your head, neck and back forward slightly and lower your bottom on the chair, leading from the coccyx, or tailbone, while thinking of the body lengthening - thus avoiding moving the head back and compressing the spine to sit back down.

“Use affects functioning’. It still holds true. Those who understand and apply this fundamental rule appear to live longer and more healthily. So remember, the head moves delicately upward, letting the body follow behind. To sit down, the head is tilted slightly away from the body and the body moves with the tailbone and the head follows behind the body.

Rick Vassallo is a metaphysical 'change agent', using deep tissue massage, reflexology, energy and sound therapy, hypno/psychotherapy, brain wave technologies, contemplative spirituality teachings as 'modules’ for change. Rick is trained in theater, has a 4 year degree from York University. He is a transpersonal psychotherapist, since 2005 from the Transpersonal Therapy Center in Toronto, and is a certified Hypnotherapist through the Ontario Hypnosis Center.