I was working with a pupil last week in the traditional Alexander Technique way, helping him sit down and stand up. Towards the end of the lesson, he stood up quite differently. He knew it was different and I asked him if he knew why. He said it felt easier. I said yes, there was something missing – the unnecessary effort. It’s what you didn’t do that made it so good!
This pupil is a serious cyclist. He is used to using his legs very energetically, pushing hard into the pedals. He got up from the chair in the same way, pushing hard into the floor.
This pupil suffers from intermittent knee pain and repetitive strain in his hands. Sometime ago we figured out that he grips his handle bars far more than necessary, causing extreme tension in the hands, forearms and all the way up to the shoulders and neck. He is also pushing into the pedals harder that necessary. Overworking some leg muscles and stiffening the ankles and feet is the cause of at least some of his knee pain.
Tense muscles are not doing anything different from normal muscles – they are just doing too much. The right amount of effort is the least amount we can use and still successfully accomplish the task. Tense muscles interfere with skilful, coordinated movement and can lead to injuries.
The Alexander Technique is not a ‘relaxation technique’, but learning to relax or release our habitual tension is the first step.
In a competition, elite athletes are obviously working extremely hard, draining every bit of their strength and stamina. But this means not wasting effort in needless tension and interfering with good, winning technique. It still needs the right amount of effort for the task.