She arrived early and we started the lesson.
“How are you feeling today?”
“My left knee hurts and my right foot hurts. It’s hard to walk.”
“I don’t like those chairs without backs,” she adds, “I feel unsettled sitting down on them. Why don’t you use these chairs?” She points to some black plastic chairs with broad seats.
We discuss chairs with and without arms and backs as I bring one of the black chairs forward and guide her to take a seat.
She is 85 years old, still living independently, still has a sharp mind and the thought has crossed my mind more than once that she is nobody’s fool.
She’s been for three or four lessons and it has been slow going. She feels the difference as her body comes upright but she doesn’t like to move around very much. She has never exercised. Her neck is contracted and tight and 85 years of tension are gathered in an intractable position. Without movement she locks up again quickly if she does release tension at all.
I disguise movement as breathing and secret small tricks to improve her posture without exercising. For someone who never moves, sitting in a chair consciously counts as exercise of a sort. Her muscles are not used to releasing into length and she doesn’t have the tone to sustain it.
Today we do not practice walking or finding easier ways to rise from a chair. She has pain and is sitting.
I focus on a thought: Free neck. Long neck. I show her how long her neck is…all the way from between her shoulder blades to high up, near her ears at the “nodding joint,” keeping it simple.
Her tight neck is softening….”do you notice how your neck is softening?”
Neck free. Neck long. I am thinking of Dr. Wilfred Barlow, noted rheumatologist from Mr. F.M. Alexander’s era. He trained with Mr. Alexander and used Alexander Technique in a large clinic in a hospital in London.
Her shoulders are releasing in my hands, melting open and she comes a bit more upright.
I explain the connection between shoulders and her head position. She sighs. A deep breath is now possible. She isn’t interested in exercise but she is interested in keeping her brain sharp. I mention that oxygen from a full breath is brain food.
We are not exercising. She is sitting in a chair, expanding into a taller Self. Her neck is softening, her shoulders releasing wide and her head is not falling forward.
One time, one time only we set up and she smoothly comes forward and up out of the chair.
Gently, we walk a few feet over to the table and I help her off with her shoes before she lies down.
I return to a thought about the neck while my hands offer a gentle suggestion of non-doing. Her neck answers, softening unbelievably. Her ribs expand as she breathes freely.
She meditates so I speak of being present in the body and of non-doing. I show her how muscle tension is a kind of “doing” even though she’s not clutching her hands closed consciously or with intent. She pauses and thinks of allowing her joints to soften and her right hand, cramped at the thumb, starts to allow a little movement. Her thumb is locked with spasm into the palm of her hand but I show her the joints and slowly, as her elbow releases, her thumb gains a little mobility.
Her ankle pronates but she can allow it to come to a neutral position without pain.
“I can feel that,” she says. Her eyes widen a bit.
We discuss alignment and that the foot, knee, and hip work together.
I come to the other foot, the one that hurts, and it, too, can be in a neutral position without pain.
I ask her to notice if it’s okay, so that she can allow her ankle to be at ease.
We continue at the table, my hands offer a gentle non-doing suggestion to release tension and also to bring attention to her arms, her legs. Awareness is the first step. Stopping to notice…and allowing…both are very important in Alexander work.
When she rises at the end of the session, she looks taller and more open; her eyes are bright and now she begins speaking with me. Something has shifted.
She is 85 years old and today she came back to something within her from long ago.