Introduction to Cate McNider and The Alexander Technique, The Listening Body®

I didn’t find the Alexander Technique overnight. It came about through many years of study and work.

Over the past 27 years, my learning on the bodymind has involved a wide range activities, courses and experiences. I’ve been certified in, and a practitioner of, Massage Therapy, Shiatsu, Cranio-Sacral Therapy, Reiki, Contact Improvisation (dance), Iyengar Yoga, Pilates, Body-Mind Centering®, Deep Memory Process®. Each of those disciplines is unique and valuable, and I’ve learned much from each one. My longtime training in movement and dance has played a role too.

Here’s what it boils down to. The mind has no residence without the body — they connect and communicate with each other constantly and intimately. Wounds of the mind take their toll on the body, just as damage to the body affects the mind; to address one without considering the effects on the other causes a larger separation and potential harm. We need to see them as parts of an integrated functioning organism.

This is how we get to FM Alexander’s realization of the intimate and far-reaching effects of the head and neck relationship to the bodymind’s healthy functioning. The brain stem becomes the spinal cord coming through the foramen magnum, through the delicate cervical vertebral column, continuing to the second lumbar vertebra, where it branches out through the pelvis and into the legs. The nervous system is the communication channel for muscles, organs and so on, and for it to go through a delicate balance of the skull with the first cervical leaves open the chance for it to lose its integrity through misuse, bad habits and injury. This is how the brain’s messaging is potentially compromised when this relationship of the skull to the 1st cervical and subsequent vertebra are put out of alignment by the position and use of the head. . .and the ideas that rule the head.

The Alexander Technique was developed through nine years of FM’s study of his own use, and exploring ways to change those patterns with indirect messaging to the nervous system. He had a personal stake in the subject: he was a Shakespearean actor in the process of losing his voice, thanks to his habit of pulling his head back and down, which was stripping his voice of its placement and power. By the means of non-doing, these habits are interrupted. Thinking the head going up followed by lengthening of the spine and widening of the back decompresses the spinal discs and returns the head-neck-back relationship to one of spaciousness and integrity.

We all know more familiar treatments. Massage is lovely and relaxing, and it has its place (I was a licensed massage therapist for 23 years). But when the session ends the underlying problems remain; you’re still moving with the same habits as before, even with the temporary relaxation. Over the years, through all my studies in different areas of healing, I’ve become increasingly mindful of the principles that define the Alexander Technique: awareness, inhibition and direction. My previous modalities taught me other things, like the different quality of the different body systems, energy channels that govern organs or yoga poses that support a deeper relationship with one’s own self. However, none of these truly gave me the facility to pause and look at what I was doing, and return to the state of my neck and back as a refreshing and re-educating message to my bodymind. That’s what the Alexander Technique enables. It has brought a quality of calmness in facing internal and external stimuli, and a peaceful means with which to handle life as it happens.

Looking at how we use ourselves is an experiential science that has been embraced by many disciplines, such as theater, music, public speaking and athletics. It’s providing a new and welcome energy to the alternative healing arts, because the medical philosophy of separation leaves a gaping hole in addressing the health of the whole person. The Alexander Technique is a process that has the power to permanently change your bodymind habits, as long as you take responsibility for your own wellness and apply the learnings daily. It’s not like popping one more pill. It’s an engagement with yourself and with life’s stimuli, and it reveals life’s more interesting and joyful possibilities.