‘I was taller after my Alexander lesson!’
This has been said by many pupils over the years and indeed people often do ‘grow taller’ in AT lessons, as a result of undoing the tension that compresses them, pulls them down and ultimately shortens their stature. When they stop pulling down, they can begin to assume their full height.
Our habits of contracting and shrinking into ourselves develop as we express our attitudes and emotions. Thought patterns are very often expressed in the language we use with terms such as ‘getting down to work’ and thinking we need to put our ‘nose to the grindstone’ as we deal with ‘weighty issues’ imply that work requires intensity (in-tense-ity) and a rather heavy-handed approach in order for us to be able to function well. But is this really true?
We also talk of avoiding trouble by ‘keeping our heads down’ and we avoid difficulties by ‘burying one’s head in the sand’. We can feel ‘down hearted’ or ‘down on my luck’….. and so on. Just reading all these idioms which include a ‘down’ concept encourages a heavy and somewhat negative feeling in me! Does the same happen when you read them?
How different my internal experience is if I think in terms of people being ‘poised and ready for action’, alert, aware and focussed so we can work well and ‘lighten the load’. How much nicer to feel ‘upbeat’ and ‘buoyant’ so that we are able to ‘think tall’ and ‘rise above our difficulties’.
When I asked a pupil recently how her week had been she replied ‘ oh, up and down’ and when I enquired if she meant emotionally or physically she realised that she had meant both and saw how her varying emotions had been expressed by her body, which had been literally going up and down, so that she was shorter when she felt ‘low’ and was taller when her ‘mood lightened’. This is a very clear example of the mind and body acting as one unit, not as two separate parts of us.
Of course we can also contract down into ourselves as a result of an accident or illness and our habits can often add to this problem. I had a pupil who’d had a collapsed lung and he found it hard to maintain an expansive length in his body and he would ‘grow’ about 2 inches (5 cm) in his AT lesson. An important part of his learning was to find out how he could avoid contracting down again during his everyday life, so that his lungs had more chance to expand fully and continue the process of healing.
I decided to Google the term ‘Think Tall’ and came upon an interesting piece of research by Cornell University that showed people who feel powerful tend to perceive themselves as being taller than they really are. The research also suggested that people tend to think of tall people as more powerful than their shorter peers – who sometimes get called ‘The Small People’, with rather negative connotations .
So what happens to us when we pull down and shorten ourselves? Do we unconsciously diminish ourselves and as a result feel less powerful? Or do we in fact shrink ourselves because we feel rather powerless and miserable? Probably both but we do not have to shrink for anyone!
But what happens when we change our habits and stop contracting down, allow ourselves to think ‘up’? Do we begin to feel more powerful as we expand into our true height again – or possibly find our full height for the very first time? Certainly one pupil gave a presentation for work and was consciously using the AT to help her. She was far less anxious than she had been on previous occasions and she was surprised to discover that she felt taller than usual at the end of it! Perhaps she found herself feeling more powerful than before?
By learning and using the Alexander Technique we can become more self-aware so that we can more easily answer questions such as these and have more skills to help ourselves maintain our full height – something that is also important as we get older. Even when life is tough, we can choose not to crumple but remain poised and balanced. And if you want to step into your power, think tall!