A couple years ago, a quiet 17-year-old who I’ll call Len, was referred to me by his mother for a course of Alexander Technique lessons. She had heard that the AT could improve his posture and help him focus. Nearly 6’4” – and still growing – he stood and sat with a pronounced slump, which was likely contributing to back pain. His mother also suspected that his slouch was, partially, an attempt to not “stick out” at school.
Being reminded to “sit up straight” was not helping Len. He resisted an upright, healthy posture not only because he didn’t quite know how, but also due to discomfort with his body image.
I am writing about my experience with Len as an example of how the Alexander Technique is uniquely suited for the needs and temperament of young people. Teenagers (and I would include middle school age students in this category) are especially resistant to the agenda of older people and authority figures. For instance, it’s going to be a waste of money if Len thinks he has to change because I or his parents would prefer seeing him in a different shape.
Rather, I try to figure out what Len’s goals are and to frame this process as one that will help his goals, not mine. For instance, I help Len to see how he can feel less stress and pain if he lets go of some of his habitual slumping and tightening. By experimenting within the safe space of the lesson, Len can see how releasing into his full stature actually brings more confidence and energy. He tries adopting this new posture first as if it were a coat he’s trying on. Then, he sees that he actually likes it, not because I told him to but because he experienced it firsthand.
I also encouraged him to bring a basketball to a couple of our lessons and we worked on dribbling and passing using skills of the AT. He happily reported how his playing had noticeably improved with the Alexander influence. Over the course of 10 lessons, Len’s true stature and ease within himself emerged. He learned how, through awareness and conscious choice, he could find an upright, balanced posture that had eluded him for years.
That’s the story of “Len” but I’d like to say, in brief, why the Alexander Technique is well-suited for all young people.
1) In my experience, young people respond quickly (faster than adults) to hands-on and verbal guidance. They are less set in their patterns and more open to change.
2) Given that young people are naturally curious, I find that they can really run with the process of the AT. Rather than having to follow “rules,” students can learn how to manage their own posture and body. This naturally creates confidence and a sense of achievement.
3) Confidence. Though young people are often referred by their parents because of a compromised posture, confidence is usually the second reason. Being a young person nowadays is stressful and they often feel pressure to look a certain way. By slouching, young people might feel they “blend in” and won’t attract undue attention. However, by surrendering their body to tension and slackness, students invariably experience more stress and anxiety because they’ve lost their mind-body connection.
In closing, teenagers are a great candidate for the AT because of the acute pressures they face, their natural curiosity, and their ability to change quickly. I wish it had been sooner than my mid-20s before someone showed me how I could live in my body with more ease and freedom. Young people have such passion and conviction; it’s a wonderful thing to pair that with a little body awareness and wisdom.
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