Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Love, Relationships and The Alexander Technique

A question that doesn't seem to be addressed very often in Alexander Technique blogs is how the practice of AT affects your love life and relationships. I can only speak with any authority about the way it affects me but in relating my experience I will try to explain some general points which should apply to everyone.

So let's begin by stating my position.

Picture of Cas
I've been studying AT since 1989 and I would claim that my life is very happy and stable, partly because of AT. I've just celebrated my 35th wedding anniversary with my childhood sweetheart, Cas, who I've been with since we were 16. We are best friends and rarely argue seriously. We have a love for one another that is profound and unshakable.

Before you put your fingers down your throat and start gagging, let me tell you that it wasn't always so. I used to work in the UK coal mines. That was a tough environment within which I was ruthlessly ambitious. Although not a particularly violent person I was often "on a short fuse": very impatient and unforgiving. I tended to expect others to behave in the way I wanted them to. I now realise that my behaviour in those days was due in no small measure to the amount of undue tension that I kept myself under. This "wound-up" state caused me to suffer frequent headaches, stomach upsets and what I used to call "strangle-throat".

Strangle-throat happens when the tension in your neck and throat gets so great that it affects the way you speak. It is the same problem that Mr. FM Alexander suffered-with when he was in his 20's and which he set-out to overcome. His technique was the result of solving that problem.

Now that I practise the Alexander Technique 24/7/365, I keep my neck free and allow my spine to lengthen and my back to widen. I hardly ever feel stressed and on those brief occasions when something does stress me, I can deal with the effects of the stress using AT principles. My tension levels are lower and my mood is much more consistent.

So where does "love" come into this you may be wondering?

I have no doubt that I always loved Cas but I used to find it hard to express my feelings, emotionally or physically, towards her when I was fighting so hard to keep my own, undue tensions under control. In another post I have described the process
"psycho-physical-unity" that controls this link between our thoughts, emotions and feelings and our physical bodies. Too much tension in the physical body always reflects itself in a corresponding psychological tension that affects your relationships with others.

Your physical tension affects your ability to express affection and positive feelings towards others. In turn, the way you treat others affects their perception of you. The way you appear to others - the way you "hold" yourself - gives those with whom you interact a subliminal cue as to what sort of person you might be. One doesn't have to be trained in AT to sense that someone hunched-over and "tight-looking" might be angry or stressed. Your instinct on meeting such a person for the first time might prevent you from instantly warming to them as potential friends or, indeed, lovers.

From the perspective of a (former) up-tight "stress merchant": me, a few months of practising AT brought about physical improvements in my body that I wasn't immediately conscious of. However, I began to notice that other people were acting more relaxed when they were in my company. At social gatherings, people were tending to approach me more, rather than shying-away from me. I began to see myself in a different light. Although still the same old ambitious Jeff, I wasn't as intense or ruthless as before.

So where does "love" come into this you may STLL be wondering?

My relationship with Cas had been profoundly changed. She saw such a difference in me that she decided to take AT lessons herself. Our passion both inside and outside the bedroom seemed to blossom over the next two years - and is still as strong today. We were able to express our feelings to one another in a less "inhibited" way. I refer here to "inhibition" in the AT sense which I discussed in my post "Can We Define Inhibition?. Nowadays, we inhibit the sort of knee-jerk reactions to the things we say and do to one another which, in the past, might have sparked an argument. This has allowed the space for our love and passion to continue to flourish.

There are other ways in which AT has improved our relationship.

By way of an example, let me offer an Alexander Technique Teacher's perspective on kissing. Before trying this at home, make sure that the person you pratise with gives you their full permission and that you BOTH have (or want) the sort of relationship that goes beyond simple social networking ;) To underline this point, I will refer to the "other" person as your "lover".

First of all make sure you are relaxed and that your neck is free and your back is lengthening and widening. If you detect any tension in your body, try to let that tension go. This is particularly important if your feelings for your lover are running particulary strongly at this point because your psychological state could, via the process of psycho-physical unity, induce unnecessary tension in your physical body.

Take your lover in your arms - gently - wrapping one of your hands around to the back of their shoulder and rest the palm of your hand loosely on the base of their neck. Ask them to do the same with you. Use that feedback from their hand to remind you to keep your own neck free and ask them to do the same with yours. Draw your mouths closely together tipping your head sideways to prevent your noses banging! Don't allow the angle of your head to induce your neck to tighten.

Now, touch lips with one-another remembering to think about yourself! Don't be tempted to try to give the other person an experience. Just concentrate on keeping your neck and back free and enjoying the feeling you are receiving. Think about your feelings for your lover, but don't try to show it. Trust the process of psycho-physical unity to act on your behalf to express what you are thinking through the light contact that you are already making.

Repeat as often as you like for a long and happy relationship! I will leave it up to you to imagine other potential benefits of AT in your physical relationships ;)

I recommend the Alexander Technique to everyone, not only because it can help you with things like improved posture and chronic back pain but also because its effects will, in due course, change significant aspects of your emotional life.


  1. I would also chime in to add the benefits of being able to choose one's own reactions that come directly from training the skill of Alexandrian Inhibition. This one skill is an invaluable and beneficial key to relationship skills.

    Of course, honesty is highly prized in relationships; but tact works better in the long-run. There is a fine line to walk in these two abilities: to withhold a knee-jerk reaction to "authentically express oneself" - or - to stop what is going to be expressed long enough to consider how best to express one's intentions tactfully and considerately.

    BTW, I have nothing but congratulation and envy for your relationship success. It's the rest of our culture that romanticizes drama and trivializes success in maintaining and fostering happiness.

  2. I have to say that I prefer honesty to tact in a close personal relationship. Not necessarily so in casual friendships, however.
    For me trust is paramount and honesty underpins trust, even though it has to be brutal sometimes.

    I find myself inhibiting my knee-jerk reaction to defend myself when in fact I know I'm in the wrong!

    My relationship with Cas owes its success to the fact that we always work at nurturing and improving it.

  3. Thank you so much for the post. It is very helpful, as well as reassuring to hear of your success.

    I am an Alexander Technique student of many years. I have made progress in some areas of my life but some others still wait their turn. What surprises me is how little information is out there regarding Alexander Technique and relationships, and in particular sexual life. This is an area where are instinctual/habitual impulses are particularly strong, and so it seems that something like AT should have a lot to say. I would expect large conferences devoted to this topic, but instead internet search yields very little results on the topic. Is the community under a spell of Victorian times? Is this topic charged with shame or taboo?

    Anyway, if there is anything you could add of your experience in making sex life harmonious and in line with the rest of the relationship I would really appreciate it.
    Thank you.

  4. It is fair to describe "traditional" teachers of the Alexander technique as "conservative". To some extent this is still true today as it takes 3 years and about 20,000 pounds (sterling) to qualify so teacher training schools tend to attract people of independent financial means and those with second jobs.

    Sex is generally considered a taboo subject amongst this class of people in the UK. I see no reason why it shouldn't be included in the discussion of practising AT.

    So, let me be unambiguous about how AT can enhance your love life. I make no apologies if the following appears one-sided as I can only comment from my own male heterosexual standpoint.

    In the first instance, someone with trained hands can use and direct them for foreplay in a way that is un-hurried, relaxed and not heavy handed. This is particularly useful for men to learn to do as women appreciate foreplay more than men.

    Neither partner should try to "do" sex. It should be natural, unhurried and lovingly directed.

    As you are approaching orgasm, you should inhibit to allow the sensations to take over you rather than forcing them to happen too soon. Just as with kissing, you should make love in a way where you enjoy your own sensations as much as your partner's body.

    As the pop song lyrics says:

    Relax don't do it
    When you want to go to it
    Relax don't do it
    When you want to come

    (Credit: "Frankie Goes to Hollywood")