Home‎ > ‎Articles‎ > ‎

Growing Older With Grace

by Bruce I. Kodish Ph.D., P.T.  © 1998

With the principles and tools of the Alexander Technique, you can gain an immensely practical skill in learning how to recognize and stop the destructive downward spiral of misuse. In this way you can transform aging into an upward spiral of growth and grace.

What happens to each of us in our ability to move and function as we grow older? Some loss of flexibility, strength and endurance seems unavoidable. We may take longer to heal and to adapt to stress and as we age, we may become more vulnerable to medical problems.

Yet it is also true that many changes associated with getting older are not inevitable. What role does movement and physical activity play in keeping us healthy and functional? Hypokinetics is a term used to describe the physiological changes resulting from immobility, the lack of regular physical activity. Many difficulties recovering from an illness may not be due to the illness directly but from the immobility associated with it.

A study of healthy male college students found that just two weeks of inactivity in bed resulted in a 50% decline in heart and lung capacity. Much of the loss of function that we associate with aging may result from weeks, months or years of sedentary life-styles and decreased physical activity.

We can't reverse the aging process. Nonetheless, considerable evidence demonstrates a role for exercise and movement in slowing the rate of decline, maintaining function and even reversing some of the changes resulting from hypokinetics. Thus exercise and movement can allow us to make better use of the increased knowledge and wisdom that can also result from living longer.

Many people have begun to realize these benefits. The cyclers, joggers, runners and walkers are probably here to stay. With the fitness boom we get a reverse set of problems resulting from overuse. We could call it hyperkinetics. Pain and injury can result from excessive activity. Wear and tear can occur from undue effort, not only when we exercise, but in our everyday activities as well. Because of this, it's important to find a balance between too little and too much activity; between hypokinetics and hyperkinetics.

How can you avoid becoming a casualty of these two extremes as you grow older? How can you avoid pain and injury and improve function? You can learn to move with ease by learning the principles of the Alexander Techniques. A preventive educational approach, the Alexander Technique provides a powerful method for personal transformation that focuses on improving your awareness of how you move to increase your ease of movement.

The Alexander Technique was developed about 100 years ago by F. Matthias Alexander, an Australian actor. Alexander suffered from hoarseness while performing, and sometimes even lost his voice. Neither medical treatment nor vocal study gave him more than temporary relief. He decided to find out what he was doing with himself when he was performing that might be causing his problems.

After months of self-observation using mirrors, Alexander began to see that his hoarseness resulted from misusing his voice. This misuse was part of a total pattern of bodily misuse that involved both physical and psychological factors.

The pattern that Alexander observed was this: he would gasp for air, pull his head backwards on his neck and compress and shorten his spine. This triggered a pattern of tension throughout his body. This pattern was especially obvious when he projected his voice during a performance but he observed that it also occurred whenever he spoke. In fact, he found that he began most of his movements by pulling his head back and down and compressing his spine.

Initially, Alexander only noticed this pattern when he observed himself in a mirror. As time went on, however, he began to feel what he was doing with himself more accurately. Eventually he found that he could catch himself in the subtle beginnings of misuse. Here his intentions took on great importance. When he overemphasized his goal and tried too hard to achieve it, he created the tensions that resulted in misusing his voice.

By staying in the present and expanding his attention to the process as well as the result of action, Alexander learned to prevent this misuse. This involved delaying his habitual responses and projecting a new set of conscious directions to himself. Over a period of nine years, Alexander found a solution to his own vocal problems and developed the system of psycho-physical education for others that became known as the Alexander Technique.

Learning to become aware of your own habits of tension and misuse will involve going through a process of self-observation similar to that of Alexander. However, learning how to deal constructively with these patterns need not take years of work. Studying with an Alexander Technique teacher can speed the process of learning considerably. After a series of Alexander Technique lessons, your internal feedback system can become more accurate so that you can avoid trouble before pain sets in or performance gets stunted.

A stooped spine and shuffling steps, aching joints and immobility are not always the inevitable results of getting older. With the principles and tools of the Alexander Technique you can gain an immensely practical skill in learning how to recognize and stop the destructive downward spiral of misuse. In this way you can transform aging into an upward spiral of growth and grace. 

Copyright Conditions: This material is copyright by Bruce I. Kodish.  However, permission is hereby granted to download, copy and distribute the text to others if (1) the text is not altered, and (2) there is no charge to the recipient, and (3) this copyright notice and conditions are attached.  It is a copyright violation to distribute this material in any way for which remuneration is received without the prior permission of Bruce I. Kodish.  Contact: backsolutions@aol.com 

Return to Back Pain Solutions Articles