Your amazing brain: 3 Alexander Technique tips to use it well

This is a post about the power of your brain, and how it can get you in – and out – of trouble.

I have played recorder since I was six, but it wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I started getting RSI-like wrist pain. I did all the usual obvious routes: doctor, physio, specialist, osteopath… Nothing really helped. In fact, it got so bad that I stopped playing.

Even after I started experiencing improvement in my arms after studying the Alexander Technique, it took years for me to pluck up courage to start playing recorder again. And when I did, I got some help from an experienced and very wise teacher friend, Jill Tappin.

Jill quickly became fascinated with the way I was using my hands. We discovered together that I had a very odd idea about the way my fingers moved. I believed that they should bend where the crease line is at the bottom of my fingers, here:


Of course, that isn’t right at all. They flex much lower, at the knuckle. That’s where the joint is:


But even though it wasn’t anatomically possible to flex my fingers higher up, I had managed to create a set of complex and exhausting muscular contractions that had the net effect of moving my finger where I believed it was correct.

My brain power overrode my anatomy.

And this is what most students do (though not often with fingers!). FM Alexander says that a student’s “misdirected activities are the result of incorrect conception and of imperfect sensory appreciation.” * That is to say, they have beliefs about the way their head should move, the way their back should curve, where their legs should start – even if these have no basis in anatomic fact. And then they use the power of their amazing brains to make their beliefs a reality, often at the expense of their wellbeing.

The moral of this story? Don’t assume you know how your body works! If you are having a problem in a specific area, discomfort in your hips when walking for example, you’ve probably tried all sorts of things to fix it. But what assumptions have you missed?

  • Learn the anatomy. Check online or in a book, and find out how that part of the body is built
  • Don’t go by surfaces. I got fooled by my skin into thinking I moved where I didn’t. Try to develop a kind of x-ray vision, and think under the skin.
  • Experiment. Test out your new ideas of how things work. You can do this by yourself, or you can get an Alexander Technique teacher to help you. If there isn’t a teacher nearby, a bunch of us now do Skype consultations and can give advice via webcam.


* FM Alexander, Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual in the Irdeat Complete Edition, p.293.
Photos by Jennifer Mackerras