“Please give patient Alexander Technique handout.”
This is a frequent direction to my staff for my patients as they leave our office on Main Road in Westport.
I have benefitted firsthand from my lessons with Mary Derbyshire in Little Compton, so I am eager to introduce my patients to it.
In fact, it was a patient who introduced me to it a few years ago. Her story is remarkable. At an advanced age, she suffered a fall and fractured her neck, resulting in what the neurosurgeon deemed an unstable situation. He offered a surgical fixation so that slippage would not cause quadriplegia, but the patient declined.
She did not want to be impaired by the side effects of narcotics, so she called her friend Mary, who through the Alexander Technique gave her the tools to control her pain.
She was also regaining range of motion, and it was healing slowly by itself. With no drug side effects, she was mindful not to trip or fall again.
I thought, “I need to meet this person!”
I was eager to learn more, and also curious to see if I could experience relief of some chronic shoulder pain, so began my lessons with her approximately 18 months ago.
I recall her assurance early on, as she gently moved my arm, “Oh, you will be pain-free,” as I recounted how long my shoulder had been hurting.
Our lessons are a wonderful mix of bits of information, experiencing passively and actively what release of tension and effortlessness in one’s own body feel like, and collegial sharing.
Changing habit patterns of held tension, creating new patterns that serve me better, attending to breath and body, letting my skeleton support myself with less efforting on the part of my muscles and connective tissue are all part of the technique.
I am getting lessons in residing in my human body so that there is still freshness and energy at the end of the day, for the spontaneity that my role demands, so that my true character is expressed.
What is truly remarkable and reassuring about all of this is the way that it dovetails so perfectly with the other practices I am studying for my own health and that of my patients.
Alexander Technique is also very much about head and neck structures, tongue, vocal cords and temporomandibular joint, so about “finding your voice.” It also makes it possible to reject the inevitability of aging with pain and loss of mobility.
If you are one of my patients, you probably already know why I ask “Where is your tongue?” I still marvel at how simple a tool that is, and how profound the consequences of practicing what Mary calls “good use” actually are.
Cathleen S. Hood, MD
Primary Care Partnership
I have found as I advance into my nineties—that Mary you have guided my thinking so that with a sense of peace, calm, and wonder I can use my mind to know how to let go —that I can proceed without pain even when I exercise to improve my balance, movement, and coordination. I can use my mind to know how to let go –how to find beauty, joy, and laughter— This is so especially needed the older we get!
Janet, Librarian and Bookbinder, 91.
I can now walk several miles without stopping every few hundred feet due to back pain. Thank you, Alexander Technique for hugely improving my quality of life. I have been managing back pain for decades and have had excellent treatment by my orthopedic surgeons and physical therapists. But after going the limit with surgery, PT, and yoga, I still had lower back and neck pain that severely limited my function. Since being a student of the Alexander Technique, I can walk and stand without suffering, and I have not needed spinal “nerve block” injections to alleviate the leg and shoulder pain associated with the vertebral collapse. I regret that I was not introduced to the Alexander Technique 30 years ago. I can only speculate about how my life would have been different. I have to give all credit to Mary Derbyshire, my Alexander Technique teacher. Her knowledge, perceptions, patience and communication skills, have made my journey an absolute pleasure.
George, Pediatric Dentist, 69
I first heard of the Alexander Technique when my daughter was getting a music degree in college. It was, I assumed, primarily for musicians and performers.
Years later, while taking an exercise class from MaryDerbyshire, I learned the true scope of the practice. I have long accepted the connection between mind and body, but thought of it as more of a one-way street: that the mind can influence the body. It wasn’t until Mary started talking about how our body can get stuck in a “fight or flight” state, which seemed to perfectly describe the emotional state I was in at the time, that I began to see that the process might go both ways. I knew people went to see Mary for physical issues and hoped it might help with my emotional ones. I initially worked with Mary weekly for about 6 months. At first I could not detect any particular changes, but Mary is so passionate about the Alexander Technique, and I was so desperate, that I just kept going.
And then I began to notice that things had changed. I got a phone call dealing with a family matter that would normally have floored me. I was fine – I handled the situation calmly with barely a hint of anxiety. I started playing the piano again and found that my shoulders were not jammed up under my ears and that I had a much better sense of where my hands were so that I wasn’t looking down as often. I was standing next to a friend during a chorus rehearsal and she turned to me and remarked that she had never heard so much sound come out of me.
So I’m a believer. I go back every year for a few tune-up sessions and never fail to get new insights. It never ceases to amaze me that such a gentle touch can produce such dramatic results.
I suffered a stroke 3 years ago, and shortly afterward, a friend suggested I look into Alexander Technique to enhance my recovery. This non-invasive, educational method of teaching people the use of the mind to encourage change in the body has been extremely effective for me. I was, and still am, highly motivated to get better and was fortunate enough to know Mary Derbyshire. I try to stay open-minded to what Mary teaches me, and the results have been an increase in mobility, confidence, and relaxation. We work one on one, and Mary’s immediate feedback helps me learn about my patterns and responses and how to help me change them in order to heal myself. My reactions and movements have changed. My physician, family and friends often remark on my continuous improvement and my ability, as a result of Mary’s guidance and encouragement, to focus on, heal and influence my body.
Ralph, Businessman, 88
Due to arthritis I have pain issues in my lower and upper back and neck. After the first lesson with Mary I noticed a marked improvement in my pain level. It seemed so simple yet so profound. It has improved my life in many ways. I have taken her exercise class twice a week for many years. Mary teaches the class using the Alexander Technique, which makes the exercise so much more beneficial. In short, I can’t say enough good things about Alexander Technique and Mary’s teaching style.
Nancy, Artist, 69
I am 65 and have been physically active all my life, for the last 14 years a student of Taekwondo. I also run, ski, and cycle. Going back some 3 years I had developed progressive stiffness in my neck and pain and discomfort throughout my upper back. CT imaging of my cervical spine also revealed moderate degenerative arthritis. Within days of starting Alexander lessons with Mary, I was able to achieve a level of sustainable relief that chiropractic, massage, and specialized physical therapy did not. Alexander is profound in its straight-forward simplicity. It works not only as an approach to pain management but also as an orientation to all physical activity, from standing and sitting to jumping, turning, and twisting kicks in the air.
Tucker, Martial Artist, 65
I DON’T TRY. I have made the connection between those words and my shoulders dropping down (relaxing, swinging, playing). This affects the way I walk. My back becomes looser, I feel like dancing. It affects the way I feel. I leave walking much more fluidly. I love my life!
Helen, Artist, 89
I was introduced to Alexander Technique before I knew anything about it. I had started playing Baroque flute and was getting better. I attended a Master Class where 5 students spent a week, an hour every day, with a Baroque flute teacher. One day it was my turn to play a solo for the others. While I was playing the teacher, Janet, stood behind me and put her hand near my neck. I could hear my sound improve, getting clearer and stronger. I was also very surprised to see the other students sit up in their chairs and listen more intently; they had also noticed a difference. After playing, the teacher told me my neck was crooked when I was playing.
When I got home, I started practicing standing in front of a mirror and straightening my neck. After 6 months I was still coming back to my crooked neck. I was talking about this with my local teacher, Wendy. Wendy had roomed with Janet at Oberlin and knew she was also an Alexander Technique teacher. Wendy suggested I take a lesson with her Alexander Technique (AT) teacher.
What’s Alexander Technique I asked? I didn’t understand much of Wendy’s description, so I tried the internet. I read that it was used by actors and musicians. There were some examples of AT results that seemed very similar to my experience in the Baroque flute workshop. I tried a lesson with Wendy’s teacher. That was enough for me to be interested in doing more, but she was well over an hour away from where I live.
I found there were three AT teachers in RI and one of them gave lessons in the town next to mine: Mary Derbyshire.
I took three lessons on AT basics. Then, Mary, had me bring my flute to a lesson. She showed me that I was tensing my shoulder and that was causing my crooked neck. Even better she showed me how to recognize when I started to tense my shoulder (turns out it was when I picked up the flute!) and then to how to stop the tensing before it started.
I had a concert (flute and harpsichord) a month later. By then I had been using the techniques Mary had taught me. For the first time, I felt confident about having a consistently good sound. I had a much better connection with the audience and played better than I had previously. A good part of the nervousness of playing was gone.
I suppose I could have stopped lessons then, but I wanted more of this lightness – this openness, not just while playing the flute, but throughout my life.
I started telling my wife about these experiences and she started taking lessons. AT has been so important to us that we have both been taking lessons for over 8 years.
I now apply AT whenever I recognize a problem in my life. Running has improved as I have applied AT. Sore muscles can sometimes be improved by applying AT and better use of my body.
Mike, Physicist, 69
In March 2015, partly as a result of improving my golf swing to create more follow through, I developed muscle pain in my upper back and rib area. This happened even though I had been attempting to keep muscle tone with frequent Pilates classes.
I was at a point where I thought that I would never play golf again. I was 76 yrs old at the time.
After I had tried many therapeutic modalities one of the therapists recommended that I should go to Mary Derbyshire to learn the Alexander Technique.
We started the sessions in Late June 2015. We did two per week for about 8 weeks. I went away for a month and then we continued with 4 more sessions until I left for the UK. By this time I was able to play golf again.