Growing Old With Grace

Lifelong habits become more pronounced the older we are.

I notice that many people I know in their 30s are already old. They’re stiff. They move awkwardly. They fall down too much. They’re locked into certain habits of thinking and relating to people.

By contrast, other people I know in their 60s and 70s are fresh and vital and fluid in their movements.

Almost all of my Alexander Technique teachers have been in their sixties and they move with more grace than 99% of people.

The key to moving easily through life is a free neck.

Another key is not spending most of the day sitting in a chair. This numbs the kinesthetic sense and leads to muscular holding, pain and reduced functioning.

Robert Rickover writes:

The Alexander Technique can be described as a way to learning how to release harmful tensions from your body – tensions that get in the way of efficient functioning. Excess tension – particularly in the neck – has an immediate effect of balance. The neck is the connecting link between your body – which does the moving about – and your head, where those two important balance organs, your eyes and ears (more precisely, your inner ear canals) are located. Anything which interferes with the fluidity of that connection is bound to create balance problems.

You can easily test this for yourself by first standing on one foot for a few seconds, noticing your ability to remain upright. Once you have a sense of what it’s like to stand on one foot, tighten your neck and see what happens to your balance. (I’d advice having a chair or table or another person next to you while you perform this experiment so you can quickly get support if needed.)

It’s not uncommon for older adults to carry quite a bit of tension in their necks, and elsewhere in their bodies, without being aware of it. A major problem with this kind of chronic tension is that over time the “I am tense” signals from the affected muscles get cut off. Often older people with severe neck tension actually feel little or nothing in their necks. What they do notice, of course, are the results of that tension – restricted breathing, stiffness in their joints and, of course, increased risk of falling.

Although harmful tension habits are often become more deeply entrenched as we age, a hundred years experience of teaching the Alexander Technique has shown that these habits can be changed if there is a willingness and commitment to do so. In fact, many students of the Technique begin taking lessons in their 70s, and 80s. George Bernard Shaw is a famous example. He was in his late 80s when he started taking lessons with Alexander.

One of my own students, a 79 year old woman, said to me, after a couple of months of lessons, “It was getting so I had to severely limit my activities because I was worried about falling. I’ve had several friends who fell and had broken bones or, worse yet, had to have hip replacement operations. With what I’ve learned from the Alexander Technique I am able to walk pretty much anywhere I want to now. In some ways, I think I’m more active than I was 5 years ago!”

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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