Why Should Children Study Alexander Technique?

Gal Ben-or, an Alexander Technique teacher in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, talks with Robert Rickover about the usefulness of the Technique for children.”

Gal: “The Alexander Technique teacher tries to teach his students how to use themselves properly.”

Robert: “It’s restorative.”

Gal: “It gives young people the assurance that what they’re doing is right. Unless we have an accident, we’re born perfect. When we work with young children, it’s an affirming of what is. That this is OK.”

I’m struck by how kids enter school with beautiful posture and usually end up warped by the time they graduate high school. These problems are particularly severe among the Orthodox because the religion’s emphasis on study leads to people sitting in chairs most of the day and this is horrible for the body, as bad as smoking.

Gal: “The way I teach is a dialogue with the child. The teacher has to be sensitive to not force his ideas, even if they are right ideas.”

Robert: “Their minds are more plastic. They’re more able to change their habits because their habits are not so deeply rooted.”

I find that the older the student, the more difficult it is to change his habits. I also find that men, particularly abstract thinkers, are the most difficult to change.

Gal: “With adults, you sometimes have to work hard just to get through these preconceived ideas. With children, it is easier. Because children are more flexible, it will be easier for them to accept the natural habits [of Alexander Technique]. We are creatures of habits. We can’t all the time be conscious of what we do. We adopt habits. If we adopt the right habits, it will work positively for us.”

“Alexander Technique is not a technique that Alexander developed and we have to adapt to it. These are natural laws. We need to see them, to understand them, and to work with them. If you want to prepare your child for life… I would want my child to have the right understanding of how to use himself, how to use his body, for life.”

Robert: “An example of a natural law is that it is a good idea to learn to do things with as little unnecessary tension as possible. It is a good idea to learn to move using the joints and muscles best designed for that movement.”

Gal: “Parents should look at themselves and see if their back hurts, if they have knee problems. Do they aches that they didn’t have when they were young and came up at age 30 or 40? Look at the adult world around them. See how 90% or more of adults in the Western world suffer from different back problems. A lot of these problems are because people don’t know how to use their bodies. If you take any machines and don’t work within the rules, it will break.”

Robert: “If a parent has back ache or stiff shoulders, it might be worth thinking about if your child is picking up some of the habits you have. While they might not show up clearly in the child now, they’re likely down the road to be a problem. If you are modeling something that leads to problems, you can be sure your child will pick up on that. Small children tend to imitate the people around them, particularly the most bizarre stuff people do. If you choose a nanny with a tight neck and stiff shoulders to hold your child and hang out with them, you’re prescribing that [misuse] for your child.”

Gal: “The tension, effort and stress of school life, no wonder [there are so many problems with kids].”

“An Alexander teacher is focused on the use of the self. A swimming coach is focused on swimming. Swimming correctly may not necessarily help with sitting on a chair.”

“Parents should take responsibility and not give the system outside too much force on their children. Learn the subjects, whether it is swimming or using the body properly. Be involved. Ask questions.”

Robert Rickover writes:

My Alexander Technique(1) students often ask me why people develop the restrictive physical patterns that cause back pain or a sore neck or restricted arm and leg movements. The great majority of small children, after all, carry themselves with grace and ease – yet the same cannot be said for most adults. When – and how – does the problem typically begin?

Of course, there are many reasons these restrictions can creep in – the trauma of injuries, physical or emotional abuse, to name a couple of examples. But for the most part, harmful patterns of posture and movement can be traced to two factors: children’s unconscious imitation of adults around them and the unintended effects of their early classroom experiences.

When I was training in England to become an Alexander Technique teacher, I can vividly remember sitting at an outdoor pub one Sunday afternoon with another Alexander teacher-trainee and noticing a large group of adults and children at a nearby table. Several of the children were playing games near the table and we decided to guess which children belonged to which parents. Very quickly we associated two little boys who were holding their shoulder’s rigidly back with a man who had precisely the same pattern. A teen-aged girl with stooped shoulders and a very tight neck was assigned to a slouching couple.

When the children returned to the table, we were correct in both cases. In fact, you can often spot this sort of thing within a family. Children learn a great deal by observing the people around them and it seems that they are particularly adept at copying patterns that are out of the ordinary, such as an odd walking gait or shoulders dramatically hunched up toward their head.

Other, and equally important, causes of harmful habits of posture and movement can be found in most school classrooms.

When children are old enough to go to school, a serious challenge to their health presents itself: sitting still for what seems like forever – tricky enough in itself – combined with some of the worst furniture design they’re ever likely to encounter.

For reasons of economy, and presumably to minimize the work of the custodial staff, most schools today have chosen desks and chairs that are of a standard size and shape, despite the fact that the children using them come in a great many different sizes. Chairs, for instance, are often chosen for their “stackability”.

In my daughter’s middle school, the lunchroom tables have seats bolted onto the sides so there is no way to adjust for different heights, leg lengths etc. This makes it quick and easy to clear the room for cleaning; but it encourages some pretty harmful postural patterns as short and tall children try to adjust.

Take a look at a group of 5-6 year olds as they play and you’ll notice that for the most part they move with ease and agility. Then watch some 7-8 year olds and you’ll see the beginnings of hunched shoulders, tight necks, and restricted breathing that you can see more fully developed in many adults. I sometimes ask my Alexander Technique students to assemble a collection of photographs of themselves at various ages. It is striking just how often obvious physical deterioration seems to set in just when they first start going to school.

In America in recent years, we’ve been reading a lot about new federal government legislation to make sure all workers have access to ergonomically designed furniture. This legislation grows out of the near epidemic occurrence of repetitive stress injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome and the realization that good furniture design can lessen the chances that workers will fall victim to these modern scourges.

Yet, the people most at risk – small children in classrooms – are being forced to use furniture that would never be tolerated in a work situation.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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