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By Rick Brennan
The Alexander Technique can be particularly helpful to musicians and actors because many of them unknowingly hold far too much tension while playing their instrument or when playing a particular character. The musician, for instance, may be unconsciously gripping his or her instrument while the actor may also be taking on the postural traits of a particular character even when they are off stage. Many of the major music and drama colleges throughout the world employ Alexander Technique teachers to help to combat these types of problem.
The Technique can help musicians or actors to become more aware of balance, posture and co-ordination while performing. Being aware of tension and strain is the first important step in being able to let go of the nervousness that interferes with performance. The technique can engender a sense of calm that can help a performer to act or play with greater spontaneity and freedom of expression.
We all have a series of reflexes throughout the body that support us against the force of gravity and naturally co-ordinate our movements with the minimum of effort. Unfortunately because of the way many musicians hold their instrument, or actors play a part, these natural reflexes may be obstructed to such an extent that a performer can hold four or five times more tension in their bodies than is really necessary. In fact, without realising it, they make the work of performing much harder than it really needs to be.
I have worked with violin or guitar players whose shoulders have become permanently hunched, or with actors and actresses whose necks have become extremely stiff from playing a certain character, so that they hold themselves unconsciously in a very rigid position. The harmful effects of this tension may not be felt for years, when they start to suffer from pain or restricted movement, but eventually, in extreme cases, a performer may have to give up their career altogether.
The Alexander Technique can help musicians and actors to be aware and let go of the muscle tension that is at the root of their problem. This will be achieved by verbal instructions and with help from the teacher’s hands. Students will be taught new ways of playing a musical instrument, or of projecting their voice, that will put less pressure on the joints and muscles. Learning new ways of moving while performing can help dramatically to reduce the strain on the body, thus helping it work more efficiently. F. M. Alexander himself was an actor whose own tension caused him to lose his voice while performing, and this is where the Technique first originated. By becoming aware of how he performed was able to return to the stage with renewed confidence.
In fact, many people who practice the Technique experience a general feeling of lightness throughout their bodies and even describe the sensation as ‘walking on air’ or moving with no effort. Since our physical state directly affects our mental and emotional well-being, people often say that they feel much calmer and happier even after just a few Alexander lessons, often resulting in a greater ability to cope with life in general.
Richard Brennan is the author of several books on the Alexander Technique: he is also the director of the Alexander teacher training college, Ireland. He is the Irish national contact for Alexander Technique International (ATI) and co-founder of the Irish Society of Alexander Technique Teachers. (ISSAT) Further information at http://www.alexander.ie