Alexander Technique and how to be brilliant!

Breaking your neck can be a frightful drag. I certainly found it so. For a start, there are the mobility issues; the doctor told me I shouldn’t ride a bike for 6 months for fear of falling off. I didn’t even get that warning after I got hit by a lorry.
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Reading the above, if you don’t know my history you might be thinking I’m being flippant. And I suppose that, to a degree, I am. I was incredibly lucky, a compression fracture of C7, the same as Christopher Reeve, from a very similar accident; the strength of the muscles in my neck protected me from damaging the spinal cord. And that despite doing some very stupid things in the weeks following it happening. All this for another time. I want now to write about my ongoing recovery.

Over the years, I have had a variety of weird and bizarre treatments for different ailments, from physiotherapy (pretty girls getting me to flex my guns) to faith healing (from a cross eyed farmer, deep in the Irish countryside. His wife and entire family of several children were also all cross eyed, and he accepted no payment except for sweets for the children…). They each had their merits – hey, material doesn’t write itself you know – but I have finally found a treatment that really does work – and at the same time gives you a deeper voice, makes you taller and even makes you more attractive to the opposite sex. Seriously. And this wonderful cure for baldness (ok, it doesn’t cure baldness): The Alexander Technique.

Now some of you may be thinking that, with being called Alexander myself, I am suggesting that I myself am the snake oil. I am not, although I do tell the girls that I’m extremely good for the skin. However, the technique was created by a chap of that name. Otherwise it might have been called the Fred Technique or the Billy Treatment, and what sort of name would either of those be.

I came to this by a circuitous route. My stepfather has a condition not dissimilar to ankylosing spondylitis, whereby his spine is growing nasty, spiky structures on it and fusing together, so that all movement results in hundreds of tiny teeth chewing and crunching into the muscle as the bones grind against one another, as if his own spine is eating him from the inside. This is absolute agony, and he had tried everything to try to remedy it, including having several operations, but the pain was getting worse and worse and really starting to make it difficult for him to even move around, with trapped nerves and shooting pains down his legs.

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Then he found the Alexander Technique, and if you met him today you would hardly know how bad it was. He can move around, go for walks, operate heavy machinery and has the energy and strength of a twenty year old. Ok, not any of that; he will probably never sit on a horse again (and who wants to operate heavy machinery anyway. Well, I do, because I have the mental age of a 9 year old), but it has massively improved his quality of life. I thought, why not try it myself…

I was extremely lucky as, upon looking on the world wide network of interconnected computerised information service, three double ewes – luckily the ram has a good memory – I found the teacher of the technique most local to me, who also happens to be one of the best in the country, having taught and continuing to teach many of the country’s other Alexander Technique teachers. Karen Wentworth is a very sprightly, happy, energetic 73 year old, who has had a fascinating life, and is based near Wandsworth Common.

For over a year I have been doing weekly Alexander Technique lessons with her, and over that time my posture has improved immensely, my voice is more resonant, I stand taller by a good half an inch. I was already massively attractive to the opposite sex, but previously that was just pigeons; now that also includes stray dogs. Most importantly, rather than continuing to gradually worsen, the pain from my broken neck has diminished substantially.

How, you may ask. Or maybe you just take my word for it and just want her number, a closely guarded secret, at the bottom of this article. Remarkably, this technique is based in the science of anatomy and mammalian movement. Why do the very young and people from less developed societies have so much better posture than us in the West? Is it just because we learn to slouch as teenagers? Are we over burdened by the weight of our iPhones and beehive haircuts? Does being Western make God hate us and say “Ha, suffer all ye who have lost touch with the land, and an apocalypse be upon you. By the way, I told the Aztecs this would happen, but Cortes wouldn’t listen because 2012 was too far in the future and he just wanted the gold. Greedy git. I told him he should have been a banker”? (The answers are, ‘uh, tick, and si)

What Alexander Technique does is to teach you to “relax in a direction”. The reason that my stepfather was in pain, and why massage provided him with short term relief, was that, in order to protect him from the terrible damage to his back, his muscles had seized up and locked around the broken area. However, this constriction was pressing on nerves (hence the pain also in the legs, as the nerves from there went through the damaged area) and there was no freedom of space, so that all movement caused even more pain, providing a feedback mechanism that made the muscled tightened even further. By teaching him how to relax those muscles, it untrapped the nerves and also meant those muscles were not working so hard, which was obviously massively knackering. The same went for me in my neck.

Karen has anatomy and physiology books all over the place, skeletons to explain what is happening, and several human skulls lying around to drink out of (I have never seen her drink from a human skull, but if I had them lying round my house, every day would be cocktail hour. I’m projecting aren’t I. I’ll stop now). She uses them to demonstrate what she is explaining, and over the past year I have learnt to relax the relevant muscles and to rebuild the strength of others that means standing with a good posture is becoming more relaxing and making me look both more relaxed but also more comfortable in my own body.

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In effect she is almost turning my skeleton into a comfortable armchair that, because it is perfectly fitted to me (insert oversized cock joke here!), supports me the way that it would do had my muscles been educated by nature, i.e. a more primitive, maybe hunter gatherer lifestyle. And that, your honour, is why I like to run naked down the Kings Road.

How does this affect my voice though? Well, there are many things going on here and you will just have to take lessons yourself, however the simplest way of explaining it is that, by having a better posture, my head acts as a lever, drawing and holding my body up. When it is held wrongly, the vocal chords are over stretched but, when held correctly, they are allowed to relax, allowing them better to vibrate and turn ones head into a more resonant cavity. Karen also works with singers, and it is remarkable the effect of some of the things that she teaches, however I have really started to notice how those people I meet with the more resonant voices also have much better posture. I also notice that when I slouch, my voice looses some of it’s timbre. And being vain, I notice these things…

I am one of the luckiest people in the world; I did break my neck and I am still walking around. I don’t know how many lives I’ve spent in this game of life (I tackled a couple of muggers in Chelsea once and I’m not dead, and someone tried to stab me once and I’m not dead and I was once hit by a lorry on my bike and am not dead. So I’m lucky I’m not dead. Which is good). However, the neck break thing did put many things into perspective for me, and so I think that maybe I now take a little more care, I’ve only nearly died a couple of times this year for instance. Alexander Technique is a part of that. You should try it.

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Other treatments I have “enjoyed”.

Osteopathy (like rattling a skeleton just because you like the noise),
Chiropody (which seems to be the same thing but less painful),
Deep tissue massage (thoroughly enjoyed it, sometimes painful, often ticklish, never make love to a deep tissue masseuse),
Podiatry (toe sucking is more fun),
Ultrasound (the least fun you can have with KY jelly),
Laser treatment (very James Bond),
Yoga (chanting and farting)
Homeopathy (being what it is, you wouldn’t know if you hadn’t),
Crystals (bits of polished geology on a string).

Some of this stuff worked to a degree (the placebo effect is strong in this one), and I don’t want to give any of them the slagging they deserve, my mother would never forgive me!

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Karen Wentworth, amazing Alexander Technique teacher! 020 8673 3853

Wikipedia article on Alexander Technique

Info on ankylosing spondylitis

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