“Not only did [Alexander Technique] … calm me down, but it … brought me back to myself … and less into anxiety brain of like, ‘you're never gonna be able to do it, and you're gonna get a bad grade’ or, I don't know, just kind of catastrophe brain. . . . I…took it out of that loop.” (Kelsey)
This past fall, instead of (or in addition to) stressing about my kids’ virtual school and my messy house, I had the amazing good fortune to conduct a Pilot Study on the Effects of the Alexander Technique in a College Setting (specifically the class I have taught at Lewis & Clark College for the past seven years). It’s not for everyone, but for any other oddballs like me, I can’t recommend strongly enough going back to school during a pandemic while working two jobs and having three kids at home all the time. It is highly protective against rumination and spending too much time on Facebook. I hope to have the opportunity to publish the article I wrote in a peer-reviewed journal. In the meantime, I’d love to share some of the findings with you. In trying to figure out a way that wouldn’t be deadly boring, I compiled the following. It starts with the Abstract (that’s the part we mostly read when it comes to studies anyway, right?) and followed it up with some words of the subjects themselves. One thing to note—these students took the class between 6 months and 4 years ago.
I hope you enjoy it!
How does studying the Alexander Technique as part of their college academic experience facilitate a sense of agency and empowerment among students? As college students report ever-greater experiences of stress, depression and anxiety, the onus is on institutions of higher education to address the crisis in student wellbeing. This qualitative pilot study examines the experience of six subjects who took an Alexander Technique class at a small liberal arts college in the Pacific Northwest. The study utilized semi-structured interviews, which were transcribed and coded to create information-rich case studies. Subjects reported beneficial outcomes with reference to Self-Efficacy/Empowerment, Managing Stress and Social Interactions even months or years after taking the course. They reported that the class helped them meet the demands of their other classes. The study lends support to the importance of Alexander Technique, specifically, and wellness, generally, as curricular options to help students improve their wellbeing.
What THEY Said (all names are pseudonyms):
“I can do what I need to do. And I'm not going to shy away from that. Because I belong in this space.” (Lena)
“I feel a lot more comfortable with just like, occupying whatever space my body is occupying, and feeling less apologetic for it.” (Cormac)
“I think about Alexander Technique every single day, whether … I'm noticing, like, some pain in my neck from the way I've been sitting. Or… it would … help me and my nerves to just like, put both my feet on the floor right now.” (Vivian)
Managing Tension, Stress & Anxiety
“There are… really great moments of like relief… that came along with just recognizing certain ways that I was tiring myself out unnecessarily.” (Vivian)
“When we were … writing … I realized, I hold so much tension in my hand when I write. . . . I felt this like release in my hand . . . . like, oh my god, I don't need to be … straining my hands this hard.” (Kelsey)
“Being able to release… tension… to only use the muscles that are necessary has really shifted how I play [the piano]. . . . Once I kind of figured out like, Oh, I can just release, then… there's a sense of like, Oh, this is just how it should be… it's got the fluidity, the … non-tension.” (Lena)
“It's a great tool for managing anxiety. . . . It's given me some sort of like power over anxiety that I didn't used to have.” (Cormac)
“Alexander helped a lot with mental health. . . . I had a particularly stressful semester where… it felt like… the start of… a panic attack… shortness of breath, and like a tightness, and I do think like Alexander has steered me away from that. . . . For me, it has helped me deal with stress.” (Eric)
Managing Demands of School & Work
“I did… Alexander Technique style breathing… before I gave my thesis presentation, senior year, and that was like, so helpful. It… allowed me to like walk into the room with so much less stress, and I was able to give a presentation that was much more authentic to myself.” (Cormac)
“Before my big recital… I did a … lie down and… when I got up, I was like… I'm here. I'm present. I'm aware. . . . And now I can move forward without any sort of like… [crunched gesture, fingers claw at chest] ah feeling… Stress, tension, however you want to put it. Clenching. That’s a good word.” (Lena)
Interactions with Other People
“I definitely take notice of when I'm nervous around someone… and… what it does to me and how to, like address it in… an in-the-moment kind of way…instead of thinking about it later, and being like, oh, yeah…that was all happening, and I didn't do anything about it. . . .I feel like I have a better sense of what's going on with people. . . it's helpful. We've spent a lot of time in quarantine around…housemates … and everybody dealing with rampant anxiety and stress. . . . So I feel like I'm much more in tune to like noticing people's ways that they deal with that. And like warning signs of people feeling anxious or stressed.” (Vivian)
“I'm so much more observant about how other people use their bodies. . . . That has really changed the way that I see people too, because I realize like, the way they move is also a lot about their history, or how they think about themselves… working with clients that have disabilities…there are reasons why they do certain things. . . . Your whole history, and the sense of self that is connected to your body and the way that you use it.” (Kelsey)
Discomfort Learning the Work
Not everything I heard from the students was enthusiasm. They also acknowledged the challenges of learning the Alexander Technique—the strangeness of paying so much attention to themselves, the uncertainty around whether they were doing it right, the discomfort with change. I also see this with my private pupils. It is very real and very important to acknowledge. Change sounds good in theory, but it can be very hard in practice.
Eric described “an awkward hyper-awareness.”
“I definitely was pretty anxious a lot of the time…just thinking about my body so much put me in a weird, kind of stressed headspace. . . . And I was noticing that my like, body wasn't organized in a way that was like, most efficient, I would be stressed about that on top of everything else.” (Vivian)
“I remember experiencing discomfort, just because it was new… and we were doing things with our bodies that we weren't used to. . . . The body, the self is like such an intensely personal thing.” (Cormac)
“Suppose,” I asked near the end of my interviews, “you were being asked by a college whether or not they should offer a course like this. What would you say?” Vivian: “Definitely.” Linh: “It was…like a refuge for me.” Eric: “I would tell them that Physical Education is… critically undervalued in education.” Cormac: “If [my current school] was asking if they should offer Alexander Technique, I would say absolutely. Here's a bucket list of the reasons why.” Kelsey: “Absolutely!” Lena: “I think everybody should take it.”
By way of conclusion, I cannot sum it up better than the subjects themselves.
“I can be grateful for how I'm…interacting with myself.” (Eric)
“Respect to myself and like to the room. . . . It helped me be a person… in a way that could help me be a student.” (Kelsey)