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Alexander's great for a 'lift'


Rrishi Raote  |  New Delhi 

The thespian's guide to dispelling tension, creative or otherwise.
In the first few years of the 20th century, a young Shakespearean lost his voice. Born in the Tasmanian outback, Frederick Matthias Alexander had been a premature baby, and ill throughout his childhood. As a young man, he formed a one-man Shakespeare company, taking his act around Australia. At some point, he found that his voice had begun failing. When the doctors told him they could do nothing, he decided to mend himself.
Alexander set up mirrors, in which he watched himself sitting, talking, reciting as he would on stage. Over time he realised the problem lay in the way he held himself, and the degree to which muscular tension was inhibiting his voice. Once he had figured out what was wrong, he was able to correct his posture and method. His voice came back, his old breathing and digestive problems vanished "" and he found himself a new career.
Thespians and musicians eagerly sought his help, and with the experience he gained Alexander developed his ideas into the rudiments of today's Alexander Technique (AT). It's a favourite among the cultural classes, who are old habitues of creative tension. AT is used in New York's Juilliard School of Performing Arts and the Royal College of Music in London.
AT practitioners don't make grand claims. What they offer is their knowledge of the neuromuscular system and how it is designed to work. Observe young children, AT says, because they have instinctive natural poise: the head of a child is large, but nevertheless stays well balanced, the joints free, and the spine straight. Simple rules which we adults have forgotten, because, as AT therapist Richard Brennan observes, "our minds become more and more concerned with the future and the past and our awareness of the 'present moment' diminishes".
An AT therapist starts by observing basic movements like sitting, standing and lying down, to understand where the inefficiencies manifest. Then, by words and gentle touching, the therapist shows where the tension is, and how to release it (called "rising" or "lifting"). For minor problems, in 6 to ten sessions you can learn how to use AT yourself.
Bad posture is the bane of our existence. AT is a non-invasive way to sort it out for ourselves, without troubling with a doctor.

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First Published: Sun, December 02 2007. 00:00 IST