Alexander Technique: Simple Exercises for a Weary Body by Rachel Li

I will begin by saying that rehearsing at The Shepherd School these past few weeks for Mozart’s ingenious opera The Marriage of Figaro has been such a thrilling experience.  However, my body is beginning to feel sore and exhausted due to the length of rehearsals and the strenuous passages in our parts.  As musicians who have to sit and hold up instruments unnaturally for roughly three hours per rehearsal, we owe it to our bodies to find ways to recover from such taxing playing.  Here are a few points and simple exercises that are based on the Alexander Technique.

General Points to Remember:

Lengthening the Spine: Imagine that a string is pulling you up from the top center of your head. Lengthening the spine does not mean trying to make your spine straight and rigid. Remember that your spine has a slight S shape.

Shoulders Out: The result is a feeling of openness in the chest. We tend to cave our shoulders in, which creates a feeling of closed tightness and tension in the shoulder/chest region.

Exercise No. 1:

Purpose: to naturally realign the back/neutralize the tension in the back muscles.

Step 1: In a standing position, bend over and let your arms hang and your head drop.  Make sure to be aware of releasing neck tension—do so by making sure your head is not rigid.

1120a photo1

Step 2: Once your muscles are completely relaxed, slowly return to standing position by picturing each vertebra of your spine stacking on top of each other as you VERY SLOWLY come back up. The rate of speed should be smooth, gradual, and consistent.

1120b photo2

Result: You will feel your shoulders naturally roll back into place, and your back will feel aligned and relieved.

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Exercise No. 2:

Purpose: to realign and rest the back, making it so that the back has perfect contact with the ground.

Step 1: Find a firm but comfortable surface to lie flat on your back and bend your knees with the soles of your feet flat on the ground. Place your hands on your lower abdomen.

Step 2: Elevate your head with a book about an inch thick (or however high so that your head is not tilting back, but rather, aligning with your spine). The book(s) should be placed underneath the bony part of the skull, not the neck.

Substitute:  A substitute for the book can also be a sock with 2 tennis balls stuffed in it. 

Step 3: Let all your head weight sink into the book and release your head/neck muscles. Think of breathing into your back and sides and letting go of all your muscles.

Many of my friends took the Alexander Technique class during my undergraduate studies at Juilliard, and they all told me how useful it was in relation to playing their instruments.  In fact, my fiancé, Alex McDonald, is in this video; he was my inspiration to write this particular post since the Alexander Technique had such a deep impact on him and his piano playing. This video displays how the Alexander Technique is helpful for musicians/singers.

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