Not WHAT we do but HOW we do it: taking the strain away

keyboard with red stop keys

Last week I told you about how I started learning Alexander Technique in a last-ditch attempt to save my quality of life. I was suffering from RSI-like symptoms in my arms that didn’t respond to treatment from any health professional, and that was preventing me from working or doing any of my most-loved leisure activities. Like FM Alexander, I started to wonder if my problem wasn’t responding to medical treatment because it didn’t have a medical cause. I started to wonder if it was something I was doing that was causing my problems.

Okay, so I did a lot of arm-related activities. I used a computer every day for writing and research. I played recorder. I would knit most evenings, and I did a lot of cooking. But I knew lots of people who did just as many activities with their hands, or even more, and they weren’t suffering. So what was the difference? Why was I struggling?

Not what you do…

In order to discover the source of the hoarseness that was jeopardising his acting career, FM Alexander stood in front of a mirror and watched himself speak and recite. He realised that there must be something about the way he was going about the activity that was causing his problem. And after a lot of observation and experimentation, he discovered that there was a particular pattern of the way he organised his head in relation to his body during reciting that seemed to get in his way. It was HOW he was doing the activity that was causing his trouble.*

But how you do it…

Same with me. It wasn’t the computer that caused my problems. It was HOW I was using it. I was using too much force, and putting it into lots of areas where it was just inefficient and unnecessary.

What about you? Pick an activity that interests you, or that causes you trouble. And then do what FM did: have a good hard look at it. How are you doing that activity? Are you using too much energy? Are you using energy in the right places? What one thing could you change today? Make an experiment, and let me know how you get on.


* FM Alexander, The Use of the Self in the Irdeat Complete Edition, p.413.
Image by Stuart Miles,

The ‘me’ problem – why people start Alexander Technique


Last week I told you how the beginnings of the Alexander Technique were to be found in threatened passion. FM had a passion for acting and reciting, and when he was threatened with the loss of the career that he loved, he decided to take the bold step of solving his problems for himself.

I was pretty similar to FM, in that the thing that got me started on my Alexander Technique journey was threatened passion.

I was 22, newly married, starting a postgrad degree in a new country, discovering cooking and new groups of recorder enthusiasts to play with, and finding a whole new world of knitting yarns and patterns. I was also a long way from home and everything that had been familiar and supportive, and trying to make the best of the tremendous career opportunities I had been given. Life was both incredibly exciting and astonishingly stressful.

When my arms and wrists started hurting when I used the computer or knitted, at first I ignored it. But when the discomfort increased, I went to the doctor for help. That was the beginning of my journey to doctors, specialists, physiotherapists, osteopaths and goodness knows how many other health practitioners. None of them solved the issue. Sometimes I got some temporary relief, but then I’d do more research on the computer, or play another concert, and it would be back worse than ever.

I stopped playing recorder. It hurt too much. Then I stopped knitting. Same reason. Then I got told to rest my arms completely for six weeks. No computer (while writing a thesis!) and no cooking. Not even tying shoelaces was allowed.

My life was getting smaller and smaller. And somehow I knew that the reason why medical solutions weren’t helping me was because I didn’t have a medical problem. I had a Me problem. There was something about the way I was doing the things I was doing that was causing my problems.

And that was where FM Alexander began. He asked exactly that question of his doctor:


‘Is it not fair, then,’ I asked him, ‘to conclude that it was something I was doing that evening in using my voice that was the cause of the trouble?’ *


FM suspected that there was something about the way he was using his voice that was problematic. I suspected there was something about the way I was using my arms that was problematic. He studied himself in a mirror to work out what he was doing and how to stop it. I found an Alexander Technique teacher and started having lessons.

Is there something about the way that you are going about the activities you love that is causing you problems? What one step can you take today to begin change?

* FM Alexander, The Use of the Self in the Irdeat Complete Edition, p.412.
Image by Steve Ford