Alexander Technique: Diary of a Medical Student
Introduced by Peter Ribeaux
published in STATNews, May 2012)
September 2002 an optional special study module (SSM) in the
Alexander Technique (AT) was introduced at St Georgeís
Hospital Medical School (now St Georgeís, University of
London) for 3rd year students as part of their curriculum.
The AT module was five weeks in duration, with the students
attending the AT teacher training course at the Centre for
the Alexander Technique in London (Heads of Training, Ellie and Peter
Ribeaux) 4 mornings a week. For a fuller description please
see the September 2003 edition of STATnews.
module grew out of workshops run by consultant
ophthalmologist and Alexander teacher, Medea Frangoulis.
These workshops, which took place during 3rd year studentsí
5 weeks on the speciality of Ophthalmology, ENT and
Dermatology, were of one-hour duration and were organised by
Medea who was the clinical tutor for ophthalmology.
to 10 student group were taught by 4 AT teachers, Gill
Godwin, Paul Leadbeater and Michael Meeneghan, with
occasional help from Eric Barrington, Nick Martin-Smith and
Yoshi Inada. Medea has now retired from her hospital role
but still plays an active part in the running of the
Alexander Technique module.
present module has been expanded by one week and has gone
through some changes over the years but retains the same
basic structure. The medical students spend six weeks on the
Alexander Technique Teacher Training Course alongside
Alexander students. This makes for a stimulating experience
of the module the medics are required to complete a diary in
which they describe their experience. Of course these vary
in interest and quality. Hopefully you will find this one
entertaining as an insight into the sometimes parochial
world of the Technique as seen by a newcomer.
assumed weíd be taught in some cold, sterile building, so I
was very surprised when the "Alexander Technique Centre"
turned out to be someoneís home. It felt very odd, as if we
were a group of intruders, despite the fact that Peter and
Ellie were so welcoming. In a new situation I tend to be
relatively quiet and shy, but it seemed like the whole group
was -when poor Ellie was asking us questions we all sat
silently like complete numbnuts. Maybe the Technique can
help me with this?
was the first person to work on me. He said "we wonít do
anything as complicated as getting out of a chair yet",
which sounded both amusing and depressing. I already feel I
am relearning everything in medicine -how to talk in
"medspeak", how to act, feel, etc -now I have to relearn
how to get out of a chair? Uh oh. It was great though -I
have no clue what Peter did, but at the end he marched me
around the room -I felt like a hunched over robot, walking
very stiffly, but when I passed a mirror I saw I was
straighter than I had ever been in my life. Peter said
"remember this, this is called...", so of course I forgot
immediately. I THINK it is "faulty sensory appreciation" -very odd.
three days of this I feel absolutely knackered -at first I
thought it was too many late nights, but the other people in
the group feel the same. You feel disproportionately tired,
compared to the amount of work you are doing. Maybe my body
just isnít used to being in this "state", or maybe my muscle
tension is being released? Medea gave us some Alexander
Technique books, I shall do some research.
used to it!
surprised at how much easier this Monday was, compared to
last week. My body doesnít complain quite as much at being
moved into difficult (or what feels difficult) positions.
Even though it is not something I have worked at (can you
work at it?), it feels good!
very relieved that by day two we were doing chair work, but
now I am beginning to realise that the aim of using the
chair isnít just so that we know how to stand up and sit
down. It seems like the chair is an instrument more than
anything else, to get used to moving our bodies differently,
e.g. to use our hip joints as "hinges."
finding it easier to "not do" (if that makes sense?) than
last week. Itís very strange to stay relaxed yet receptive
without actually intentionally moving. Especially when you
are given direct commands like "relax your knees", which I
thought meant "bend them". At the moment I donít think I
appreciate the use/value of thought direction, but hopefully
I will eventually.
Alexander Technique books
reading a book of diaries of people who had Alexander
Technique sessions and am relieved that they found "not -doing" as difficult at first as me!
Ellie was doing a simple exercise with another member of the
group when he suddenly looked faint. He sat down for a
minute, before rushing off to throw up. Ellie told us that
this can be caused by the release of emotional tension. The
idea of a physical counterpart to emotional stress really
fascinates me. Some people might say it sounds like ancient
beliefs of personality according to body fluids (phlegm,
bile etc), but itís a fact that we get muscle tension with
emotional stress -why not anything else? If there was a way
to research that Iíd love to do it someday.
Force of habit
while doing chair work Ellie moved my hands apart, so that
theyíd be resting on my legs. Within one minute I had moved
them back without realising and when she was looking at them
pointedly for me to move them back, I had no idea what she
was looking at! I never noticed this habit -either my hands
go in my pockets, or are clasped in front of me. Maybe it is
a defensive mechanism.
the rest of the day paying attention to my hands and trying
to keep them at my sides. When I kept them there I was
surprised to find that I felt really irritated. It wasnít a
slight thing, but a really physical feeling of irritation
somewhere behind my chest. It could be because I was
focusing on my arms, but I donít think so. From now on Iím
going to keep my arms at my sides and see if this feeling
sit in front of my computer (I donít have a computer chair,
I use my old dining chair), completely collapse sideways
into it. I have always thought it was bad for my back, as it
is badly scoliosed, but now I actually feel uncomfortable
when I do it. Itís similar to the irritation I feel when I
keep my hands at my sides. So I put a box and a pillow on
the seat and sat up straight and felt much better! I thought
that I am such a lazy person; Iíll lose any benefits of this
SSC after I finish it, but it seems my body is way ahead of
my (lazy) mind. Wow. All I have to do is listen to it.
Sitting up straight
Ellie worked with me for quite a while in the chair. She
then brought a mirror over and I was literally amazed -I
can sit up straight! So happy!
struggling to work my feet into the ground. Whenever I try I
feel like Iím slipping on ice. I know now that the muscles
of my thighs are contracted and tilt my pelvis, so I need to
move my pelvis to work my feet into the ground. I donít
think I have made much progress.
advised me to spend ten minutes a day doing floor, but Iím
finding it difficult to incorporate this -itís such a short
amount of time, yet there is always something else I should
be doing -revision mainly. I guess I need to prioritise
these ten minutes and perhaps force myself to lie down
before doing revision (as long as I donít fall asleep).
shy standing up straight
the weekend we took our car for an MOT. Standing in the
garage I imagined my head floating up etc, etc...and
suddenly felt very self conscious. As I was wearing high
heels and my Mum is tiny I was feeling very tall (that
doesnít happen often!) and exposed. I suppose my defensive
pose is to shrivel up (which makes me sound like an old
prune...). I need to force myself to stand tall until it
becomes a habit, whether I feel self conscious or not.
changed a habit
usually sleep with two thick pillows under my head. This
used to be due to my asthma, but now it is just habit and
with one pillow I felt like I am tilted backwards. Over the
weekend for some reason I felt like sleeping with one thin
pillow and surprisingly it felt more comfortable than with
two. Iím going to keep this, as sometimes I whiplash my neck
when I get up in the morning and I donít think Iíll be able
to do that with one pillow.
shoulders = pain
Although it is agony when Peter does stuff to my shoulders,
as soon as he stops the pain is replaced by such a nice
sensation -maybe itís just relief, but I think itís the
release of tension. Or perhaps the shoulders like the new
position they are in. Either way, you come away from a
session with Peter feeling like there has been a very
obvious physical improvement.
Peter today why the tops of my shoulders are extremely
painful after anyone has worked on me. They give me trouble
in everyday life too -I only have to hold a bag for five
minutes before they begin to ache. He doesnít really know
the answer, but told me as a cheap trick to wave my arms
around (which makes me feel like an extra in Harry Potter)
and then he lifted up my pelvis. To my surprise, my arms
felt much lighter. He suggested that my primary control
isnít head -neck -shoulders -back, but perhaps head -neck -shoulders -back-pelvis -legs. Today I have been
noticing my hips more and am finding that I stick my
backside out far more than I would have expected. Iím going
to try to keep it "lifted" up and see if it affects my
is the last day of the SSC, but hopefully not the last time
I practice the Alexander Technique. I think parts of it are
already incorporated into my life, but I need to do much
more to maintain the work other people have put into me.
you so much to Ellie and Peter for this experience, to Medea
for her advice and lifts(!) to class and the students, not
only for helping us so much, but for the lovely food they
brought in every break time!
Seriously, it has been one of the most personally rewarding
experiences I have ever had and I feel incredibly grateful -thank you so much!