Too many people these days at the end of their working day, experience various pains and muscular tensions, and/or an overpowering feeling of fatigue, which they come to regard as normal. In each individual case the causes can be many and they may leave people unable to use their energy potential to their satisfaction. One factor deserving closer attention is the way in which people use their bodies. The stress symptoms people experience are proof of poor posture and of a diminution of body sensitivity. In some people, this state of affairs becomes chronic.
The stress of modern life is such a common talking point, how is it possible to claim that we live in harmony with ourselves and our environment?
Stress is not, in itself, a bad thing. It is a reaction that forms part of our biological survival equipment. Stress was viewed by Hans Selye, the first person to take a scientific interest in the subject, as a general adjustment syndrome, a set of body or biochemical responses which enable the individual to adapt to whatever situation arises, good or bad. All human activity creates stress, positive or negative – eustress or distress in Selye’s terminology, though the prefixes he added to make a distinction have ceased to be used nowadays. Getting married, going on holiday or winning the lottery are events which create stress; likewise, losing a spouse, being subjected to verbal or physical aggression, or having to work with an impossible colleague; or, equally, making life difficult for our colleagues or ourselves. These situations all display some form of excess and it is this which is the harmful factor.
If one can manage the situation and bring things neatly into line, there need be nothing to fear. However, if the stimulus is excessive and creates excessive stress, or persist indefinitely, such as lower levels of stress endured daily, the result can be very serious. The list of consequences is long and includes cardio-vascular diseases and depression.
Where primitive man’s stress protective mechanisms developed to enable him to summon sufficient energy to fight or flee, he would normally have enough respite time to recuperate. Life today offers no such luxury. Even holidays have become a source of stress. Moreover, the primitive areas of our brain which are responsible for the stress do not differentiate between the real causes of our fears, frustrations, memories or complexes and imaginary ones.
There are many psycho-physical therapies which can help the stressed individual to recognize his/her symptoms and deal with them, not excluding the occasional need for medication.
The approach in that regard of the Alexander Technique is based on the assertion that any sudden or prolonged intense stimulus will cause in a human being a chain of muscular contractions which, in physical terms, may be likened to the reaction of being shackled or surprised. This reaction is common to all human beings and is manifested in an increase in tension around the eyes and face, descending into the neck and spreading through the whole body in a predictable pattern.
In a stressed person, this neuromuscular nexus becomes chronic and an individual gets to the point of no longer being able to handle different situations that arise by outside circumstances or by his/her own doing. He then becomes shackled and will inevitably succumb to the same habitual reactions in each stressful situation. The same errors, the same pains and the same fears will appear.
Following the Alexander Technique, we can learn to recognize this pattern of tension, to see it coming and stop it in time, thereby neutralizing the associated stress.
But, merely receiving advice or relying on one’s own good intentions cannot alone ensure successful stress management. What the Alexander Technique seeks to do is apply and monitor practical procedures to improve postural control in the real situations of daily living. This way we can react with a body in a better shape and with a better perception of ourselves becoming capable of putting a stop to the unnecessary and harmful behaviors which make life more difficult than it really is. In this improved psycho-physical state it becomes easier to stick to more constructive and appropriate decisions.