– By Leland Vall
In the December 18, 2000 issue of Golf Plus, a Sports Illustrated supplement, there appeared a story about Jeff Jullian, a 39-year-old PGA golfer who “gave himself back his career” using an “unusual” method called the Alexander Technique. Jullian’s neck and back were in constant pain, causing him to lose his tour card, until he took lessons in the Technique, which he credits not only for alleviating his pain, but also rejuvenating his career.
While the Alexander Technique is not well known among golfers, this is not the first time golf and the Technique have been associated. As far back as 1920, John Duncan Dunn, a member of the famous golf family of the same name, course architect, instructor, and author of many golf books including Natural Golf, wrote a long article in The Golfers Magazine extolling the virtues of the Alexander Technique and its value to the golfer. More recently, Neil Holman, a British golfer, co-authored a book about using the Alexander Technique to improve your game.
So what is it? The Alexander Technique is a 100-year-old method for understanding how to use your body. Not an exercise, it is a different way of thinking and challenging habitual body use. Its theory is that general habits of body use, good or bad, influence how well or poorly you execute any activity. Alexander teachers observe students during everyday activities like sitting, standing and walking. They are trained to recognize unnecessary tension and, through verbal explanation and hands on guidance, teach their students how to avoid this tension. The student can then use this information to improve their body use during any activity.
Studies have shown that the Alexander Technique improves posture and breathing,reduces tension, and improves many chronic conditions like back and neck pain and repetitive strain injury. Its adherents also say that it improves grace and general ease in movement.
Dr. Jack Stern, MD of the Neurosurgical Group of Westchester adds the following: “The Alexander Technique stresses unification in an era of greater and greater medical specialization. Its educational system teaches people how to best use their bodies in ordinary action to avoid or reduce unnecessary stress and pain. It enables clients to get better faster and stay better longer.”
F.M. Alexander (1869-1955), an Australian,developed the Technique because he was suffering from chronic laryngitis. On the advice of doctors Alexander rested his voice. This worked – but only until he started using his voice again at which point his hoarseness would return. Through a period of self-observation, Alexander realized that he was causing his own problem because of the way he was using his voice and his whole body in general.
By becoming aware of and preventing unconscious habits of tension as he spoke, Alexander was able to cure himself. Convinced of the value of his work, he moved to England in 1904 where he taught his Technique to thousands of people, including the philosopher John Dewey, the novelist Aldous Huxley and the playwright George Bernard Shaw.
Today musicians and other performing artists use the Alexander Technique extensively. It is part of the required curriculum at Juilliard and the Royal Academy of Music. Its use by athletes has been increasing, especially with swimmers, equestrians and, apparently, golfers, including the aforementioned PGA tour member, Jeff Julian.
Vigeland, Carl: “The Alexander Technique: The Answer to A Stress Test”, Sports Illustrated, Vol. 93, Issue 25, page G21, Dec. 18, 2000.
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About the author: Leland Vall is a certified teacher of the Alexander Technique with a practice in Long Island and Manhattan. He is editor of the AmSAT News, the official newsletter of the American Society for the Alexander Technique, and a board member of the American Center for the Alexander Technique, the oldest Alexander teacher training facility in the United States. His website address is www.freeyourneck.com.
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The Alexander Technique and Sports Performance