The Alexander Technique
One of the Few Schools That Offer Alexander Lessons for Credit
Since 2001, Denison University has been among a growing number of trend setting universities and institutions of higher education around the world offering study of The Alexander Technique. This list includes The Juilliard School in New York City and the Royal Academy of Music in London. Typically found in Fine Arts departments, the Alexander Technique classes at Denison are offered through the Music Department and are open to students from any discipline, with priority given to music majors and minors. Denison is one of the few schools that also offer individual Alexander lessons for credit.
What is The Alexander Technique?
The Alexander Technique is a widely recognized educational method for improving balance, alignment, ease, flexibility and energy. The Technique offers us insight into the underlying principles that govern human movement. When applied, these principles guide us to a dynamic experience of kinesthetic lightness, wherein thinking becomes clearer, feeling accessible, sensations livelier, and movement more pleasurable. Within this fluid, more conscious condition, we find our actions and interactions strengthened and refined, our sense of time expanded, and our rapport with the environment restored.
More than 100 years ago, an Australian actor named F. M. Alexander discovered that his performance was being unduly influenced by the poor quality of his thinking and by the less then optimal condition of his head, neck, and back coordination. By learning how to “unlearn” harmful habits of thinking and moving, he was able to improve his performance to such a degree that people from all walks of life sought him out for lessons. He eventually moved to London, England where he taught, wrote books on his Technique and developed a methodology for passing on The Alexander Technique via future generations of well trained teachers. Teacher training involves a minimum of three years of study.
Those who faithfully practice the Technique usually experience a general increase in good health. More specifically, students regularly report:
- More ease and fluidity in movement
- Fewer headaches, reduced stiffness in neck, and shoulders
- Better sleep
- More efficient studying
- Reduced performance anxiety
- More comfort at the computer for long periods of time
- Resolution of RSI, TMJ pain, and Carpel Tunnel Syndrome
- Actors, athletes, dancers, and musicians experience more of their full potential in performance
- Just to name a few!
The Alexander Technique at Denison is offered in group classes (Alexander Technique Workshop) and individual lessons.
- Alexander Technique Workshop - MUS 124.01/02/03 (2 credits)
- Alex Tech Private Lessons - MUSP 125.01 (1 credit), MUSP 225.02 (2 credits)
The main difference between the workshop and individual lessons is that during individual lessons the student receives more personal attention and more “hands-on” guidance involving movement and thinking re-education. Individual lessons are scheduled at the mutual convenience of the student and instructor.
Many students take the workshop and/or individual lessons for multiple semesters. This is encouraged, but not required.
A variety of activities are explored in class. Among them:
- How to sit and stand more comfortably
- Walking and running with more ease and less pain
- Performance and presentation practice
- Sleep Constellations: a practical strategy to sleep more restfully
- Simple, practical anatomy for better breathing, speaking, and singing
- How to use “free won’t” as a means to better life choices
- How to Rise to the Occasion and mean it!
- Constructive Rest (“It’s better than a nap!”)
In Their Own Words
At the end of the semester, students are asked to assess their progress with The Alexander Technique. Here are some selections:
“ … The most important lessons I took from the Technique all involve ease: doing less to do more and staying out of my own way … When the semester began, I felt so disconnected from this campus and from myself. My plate was full with demanding classes, a show, work, and graduate school applications. I have pushed myself pretty hard in the past, so I was ready yet again to make myself miserable to accomplish it all. I missed a lot of my friends who had graduated last year and so I felt socially lost, looking for a new source of support and relief. But as the semester went on, I gradually began to find my way, and I credit Alexander Technique for some of that personal revolution. I really latched onto the idea of finding and fulfilling true needs, instead of the things I think I should do, or have always done. I accepted that I could not give my best to both the present and future, so I began to prioritize my real happiness now over my hypothetical happiness later, realizing that they are not mutually exclusive. It wasn’t about giving up – it was a choice to not take the path of greatest resistance every single time. I know that I can, but that doesn’t mean that I always should. And the universe began to respond to my new attitude of optimism and faith – I made new friends, I lightened up, I began to look at Denison with fresh eyes, and my semester turned around from being one of the most difficult to being my favorite. From all the psychology classes I’ve taken, I knew about the idea of self-fulfilling prophecy, but I don’t think I’d ever felt it in action until recently.
My literal physical Use has also improved. I will still have to actively choose to release my tension, but now I am more aware of my tendency to keep tense shoulders, jaw, hands, knees, ankles, and neck. I now know when I am most prone to poor Use, such as reading, at a computer, wearing a book bag, or sitting in a movie theatre. Our physical exercises such as Constructive Rest, Monkey, the Whispered “Ah,” and full body curl have all given me ways to release and rehabilitate those bad habits and improve basic activities such as walking, running, and sleeping.
I appreciate the idea of having trust and faith in myself and the world around me, which I feel like Alexander Technique really encourages. Our societal outlook is typically much more aggressive – “nothing should be left to chance,” “everything is under our control.” Especially in this competitive academic environment, throwing around all of one’s energy and dedication is the way we show that we are dedicated to and serious about our work; “hard working” is a compliment. A moment of stillness seems anathema to success for ourselves and others. But as we learned in Ellen Langer’s The Power of Mindful Learning, intense concentration (lack of mindfulness) is the enemy – narrowing down your outlook until only one thing matters creates a serious sense of unbalance and heightens stress. When we open our minds to other things that are meaningful, we can keep better perspective. With that attitude, no one thing or situation has the power to rend the fabric of a life.
There is so much wisdom that has been brought into my daily life by the Alexander Technique. Small things such as understanding the importance of exhalation for staying calm in tense situations, the concepts of flexibility and spontaneity for helping to absorb or deflect stress, and the intentions of “I have time,” “where is up?” and “let the universe do its work” have been revolutionary to me. One of the most amazing concepts I heard was that we stress almost exclusively about things to come in our day or week or life – but why should we let that interrupt our present, when those things haven’t happened and may not ever? When I truly pay attention, I realize that there is rarely anything to fear in the present moment; combined with inhibition of the habit of not stressing about things I’ve made in my own head, there are few genuinely stressful situations, and even then, I now have techniques for keeping my poise.
The past few months have been challenging but so crucial for my personal growth, and in recent weeks the efforts and hardships I have endured have really begun to pay off. I don’t feel like a new person, but rather a better version of myself – the person I always wanted to be. I accept that this is a process, but now with the help of Alexander Technique, I think I have the tools to best explore myself and improve every day of my life.”
M. H., Class of 2010
“I started out this term knowing very little about the Alexander Technique. I signed up for the class because my friend, E. R. (Class of 2009), left a great impression on me that this class would change my perception of myself, and I knew if I didn’t take it this year, I might never get another chance. I hadn’t imagined that this course would infiltrate my daily life the way it has. I have enjoyed yoga for years now, but had not found a way to bring that body-mind connection out of the yoga studio. I appreciate how practical this course is–it’s not something to add on to an already full life, but to integrate into everything I do. I can apply Alexander Technique to resting, walking, sitting up and down, moving something, and doing work … As I continue to learn outside of this institution, I hope to learn the mindful way, with ease. I would love to try swimming again, without fear this time. The Alexander Technique has renewed my belief that I am capable of achieving great things, and I hope to do such things as dancing, singing, playing instruments, juggling, giving street speeches, and getting to know people with poise and a sense of fun. In my pursuit of authenticity, using the Alexander Technique helps me have a more honest relationship with myself, and hopefully my comfort in my body will translate to making others feel comfortable getting to know me. What else could I want in life?! I hope to continue with the Alexander Technique, and I could even see myself teaching the Alexander Technique someday. I think that would make me a very happy person.“
K. A., Class of 2010
“ … I hope to continue my work with the Alexander Technique because it inspires me to be a better version of myself. More specifically, practicing these strategies makes me want to take better care of my body, whether it be through more (and more mindful) exercise or through trying to stop smoking cigarettes. I think I will be grateful for the opportunity to have studied the Alexander Technique because not only has it given me various strategies for remaining mindful and aware of my body and how to use it better but also because it has given me this renewed sense that change (less stress, less tension, more mindfulness) is possible.”
L. B., Class of 2011
“I would like to start off this self-assessment by emphasizing how grateful I feel for having the opportunity to study the Alexander Technique this semester. In the fall, I came back to Denison with an illness (mononucleosis) that had left me pretty debilitated, both in a physical and psychological sense. I also had gone through a recent “break-up” which caused a lot of emotional (and thus physical) trauma. Basically, I had almost no energy, and trying to work my way through the academic world in this condition had left me in a state of almost constant stress and anxiety. However, I noticed an immediate improvement in my condition after beginning the Alexander Technique workshop. I feel as though I have learned so much about my self and the way that I use my body. I connect more with my emotions and experience them more fully. Although I still find the inhibition of stress reactions difficult, I feel that I now have more control over my stress and anxiety because of the practice of constructive rest …”
M. M., Class of 2014
David Nesmith is an Affiliated Instructor of the horn and The Alexander Technique in the Music Department at Denison University. He is a certified member of Alexander Technique International and a licensed Andover Educator, an organization of musicians teaching the art of movement in music. His specialty is performance enhancement and injury prevention.
As a performing musician, David is a member of the St. Joseph Cathedral Brass (Columbus), the New Hampshire Music Festival, and the West Virginia Symphony. He earned music performance degrees from Capital University (BM) and Indiana University (MM).
David is the author of The Breathing Book for Horn (Mountain Peak Music, 2011) and the creator of Constructive Rest: The Audio Guide Series (SmartPoise Productions, 2011-2013). In his spare time, he enjoys hiking, backpacking, and mambo dancing.