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Sunday, 18 August, 2002, 01:06 GMT 02:06 UK
Technique helps people walk tall
Keith Thom: 'Letting the spine reach its full length'
Keith Thom: 'Letting the spine reach its full length'

Margaret Wells is a sprightly seventy-three. Her hobbies include woodwork, working as a silver-smith and painting. She's even been known to lay the occasional brick.

The Melbourne mother of six and grandmother of eight has little time for a conventional health and fitness regime.

She prefers instead to practise the Alexander Technique.

"It's kept me young," she says.

Margaret Wells says: 'It's kept me young'
Margaret Wells says: 'It's kept me young'
"I wish I'd known about it years ago. They should teach it in schools instead of gymnastics."

The technique was devised by Frederick Matthias Alexander, a Tasmanian actor with a love of Shakespeare, who performed in Sydney and Melbourne at the end of the nineteenth century.

He was affected by vocal and breathing problems which meant his voice would quiver and break, or even evade him completely at times, so he set out to find a cure.

It took nine years. He watched himself in the mirror, reciting Shakespearean sonnets, and found the answer appeared to lie in his posture.

"I saw that as soon as I started to recite, I tended to pull back the head, depress the larynx and suck in breath through the mouth in such a way as to produce a gasping sound," he wrote.

Holistic approach

But holding up his head and neck was only the start. Further investigation revealed poor alignment throughout his entire body.

And, despite every attempt to stand up straight, the urge remained to retain old habits.

It was here his approach became holistic. He had to re-educate both body and mind, he believed, to resist his instincts and learn new behaviour.

The result was a technique that thousands continue to practice today.


It makes me feel looser, much less tense

Margaret Wells
In Alexander's home country, Australia, there are 130 registered teachers. Many thousands more practise in Europe and North America.

For sufferers of chronic backache it can be their last resort.

The Alexander Technique teaches you how to stand, how to sit and how to use a chair. Posture is perfected and the body taught to move with ease.

Mind and body link

Keith Thom - an Alexander Technique teacher in Melbourne, said: "We measure their height when they start and again after a few weeks.

"Sometimes they've grown by 2-3 centimetres. It can simply be that their spine was curved or they held their head too far forward. It's about letting the spine reach its full length."

But the Alexander Technique is not only about the physical."

"If I can't teach someone that there is a link between their mind and body then I've failed," explained Mr Thom.

The problem, as a result, is that "Alexander" can attract clients seeking some kind of new age enlightenment.

He added: "I do have problems when people think I'm some kind of therapist. They want to find a guru who does magic things and fixes them up.

"Some of things we do can appear magical - making someone taller. But the point is they come to learn a technique, not have things done to them."

Margaret Wells said Alexander Technique has taught her how to use her body.

"Sometimes when I'm driving or walking I'll think 'lengthen up'. It makes me feel looser, much less tense."

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