Once a student came to me and she was struggling with back pain. She said, I don't understand what's wrong since I work really hard on my posture. She worked by day as a counselor and was either at a desk taking notes on a computer, or seated in an armchair with a client. For fun she'd go on long hikes with her dogs, she loved being outdoors. But she associated sitting still with back pain. She told me she tried yoga and physical therapy, massage and acupuncture but that she still couldn't figure out how to sit in a chair without hurting after a few minutes.
When we worked together and I put my hands on her back I could instantly sense her effort. She was trying so hard to hold 'good posture' that she was actually overworking everything and it is no wonder she was hurting. She was convinced that if she sat up straight enough it would get easier and her back pain would go away.
I related to this struggle deeply because for about 6 years I lived with persistent and seemingly elusive back pain. It was often in my low back but also it was upper back. And due to a somewhat mismanaged shoulder injury at age 23 it was middle of my back as well. I also thought that I'd tried everything. I would stretch constantly, tried swimming, had x-rays taken and went to a chiropractor for years. I replaced an office chair at least a dozen times and got a headset for my phone. And still there would be mornings that I could barely lift my head without shooting pain. Rather than sitting up straight though, I'd twist myself up. Because I was very flexible it felt more comfortable to sit with my legs entwined under me. But then I had to shift frequently to avoid going numb or tightening up (or both).
The one thing neither of us had tried, was to stop. We were both doing so much, doing too much, in very different ways. And we, like so many who are suffering from chronic pain kept looking for a solution, for something to do to reduce symptoms and kept piling on unsatisfying results.
What I taught my student, was what my teachers taught me, was also what FM Alexander taught himself when his chronic hoarseness persisted. Rather than ask, what can I do? Start thinking what I can I prevent? Which is very difficult to discover until you learn how to stop.
'Nothing to be done'
- Waiting for Godot
When we first learned how to walk, and sit in chairs we were more curious about balance than effort. And certainly not a list of things we should be doing. Instead we were simply engaging with our surroundings differently than we do as adults. Watching a child move can be one of the nicest reminders of how much freedom and ease humans possess before we complicate it. Once life takes over it is so easy to lose awareness, to develop inefficient habits which accumulate and frequently lead to pain.
Alexander Technique is a psycho-physical reeducation process. Pain doesn't need to be an inevitability of age, or work, or stress. But so many people think otherwise and feel resigned to it. Anyone can relearn how to do less in order to improve efficiency. You likely haven't even forgotten but maybe could use a reminder.