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Teens, Alexander Technique and Hope for the Future

If you are reading this, it must be because you have a young person in your life whom you love, and you want them to be happy and healthy. The past 18 months have been unspeakably difficult for young people. The trauma of the pandemic is staggering, and anxiety and depression as primary health concerns for teenagers were on the rise even in the Before Times.

Back pain is plaguing teens from sitting on the floor or in bed for their homework, and postural concerns are plaguing their parents, as they observe their poised young children succumb to long hours at computers and being on their phones.

As I write this, many families are enjoying a carefree summer either at home or on vacation. There is significant relief with the certainty that kids will be back in the building this fall, even if masks and COVID precautions remain in place.  Joy and freedom characterize our emotions right now, as we give ourselves permission to let down our guard and our masks.

With the anticipation of a fresh start this fall, parents and kids alike will experience the confusing cocktail of both endorphins and stress hormones that accompany the excitement and preparations for going back to school..

 And yet….we are still living in Coronatide

Sure, some kids and families will dust off the stress and strain and move forward with true ease.  A LOT will not, and we won’t know for quite some time how many kids seem okay, but really aren’t okay.

And so….we want to do all we can to support our young people. It is critical to acknowledge to them that it has been awful and that it can also get better, and provide them with a pathway forward.

Luckily, there is a body-mind practice that is uniquely suited to help teenagers cope with both their physical and emotional pain and stress. The Alexander Technique empowers teens by teaching them the skill of engaging their body and mind simultaneously, to regain their inner poise, establish postural awareness, and ensure a strong and healthy body.

What is the Alexander Technique?

The Alexander Technique is named after the education pioneer F. Matthias Alexander (1859-1955).  While trying to sort out his breathing and postural problems, he developed a specialized method of body-mind education decades before scientists and the public were talking about the body-mind connection. A student of the Alexander Technique learns how to use their thinking to connect with their body to promote a positive and constructive response in any situation, such as being in class, doing homework, performing in athletics or on the stage. 

This foundational life skill is taught with gentle hands-on guidance and movement activities by a certified Alexander Technique teacher; in private lessons, gentle hands-on and verbal guidance is applied to everyday activities like sitting and standing, and in the classroom setting, group games, reading, assignments and discussion. The student learns how to apply these principles in daily life.

What sets Alexander principles apart is the understanding that our body is the source of our mindful awareness. We use our thinking to get physically organized in our body, which also promotes mental poise, and thus, the ability to choose the best response to any given stimulus, in all life situations. We develop body, mind and breath coordination for optimal functioning.

Why Alexander Technique?

AlexanderTechnique is a very practical way of helping teenagers feel successful with managing their feelings, thoughts, and physical well being. Adolescence is a tumultuous time independent of a pandemic. Now more than ever, it is important that a young person feels confident, helping themselves negotiate with their thoughts and feelings and the physical strain from sitting in class, in front of a computer, or playing games and texting their friends on their phones. And this fall, with those heavy backpacks that will re-emerge.

Alexander is beneficial for teenagers because it teaches them how to develop healthy habits such as noticing their posture and breathing habits, and how to deal with change. 

Teenagers can often become so bogged down by all of the pressures they feel that they become completely overwhelmed, paralyzed, isolated, unreachable. 

Psychotherapy and cognitive-behavioral skills training can be life-saving. It is, however, a disembodied approach, and not every teen is responsive. As reported in a New York Times article about sophomores during the 20-21 school year, Suzanne did start seeing a therapist…although a lot of what she was asked to do really annoyed her — like drawing charts and circles with lines showing how one thought got her to another one. How was she supposed to know where the thoughts came from? They were just there: She was not good enough. Her life was a waste. All she did was bring people down.”

Postural cues from parents are not tolerated by teenagers, and with injuries and back pain kids are reluctant to speak up. An Alexander Technique teacher is a helpful “third-party” resource, taking some pressure off the often fraught parent-teen relationship.

How the Alexander Technique Can Reduce Physical and Emotional Discomfort in Teens

Research published in British Medical Journal suggests that one-on-one Alexander Technique lessons with a certified teacher could have positive long-term effects on people with chronic back pain. Alexander lessons also teach individuals how to improve their posture. According to a randomized study published in Health Psychology, improved posture resulted in individuals feeling more excited, strong, and enthusiastic, and having higher self esteem (Health Psychology). The mind and body are closely linked so as the physical tension is released, so too will any negative thoughts or anxieties reduce. This greater self-awareness can increase self-confidence and result in a more optimistic outlook. What a gift this can be for a teenager! 

Improving the Breath and & Decreasing the Stress in Teens

Efficient breathing is imperative for good posture, strong movement and a healthy, clear mind. People often don’t realize the importance of the breath and its impact on the rest of the body. The breath is sometimes taken for granted, so people don’t pay much attention to it. However, poor posture and body movements can inhibit free, relaxed breathing. The Alexander Technique can train teens to bring greater awareness to their breath and inner energy so their breath will flow more easily. This will enable teens to feel more at ease both physically and emotionally, while also training them to manage stress effectively.

Alexander and The Success of the 21st Century Teen

Teens’ minds and bodies are more adaptable than adults as they have had less time to develop undesirable habits. The frontal cortex, responsible for self-awareness and decision making, is not yet fully online in an adolescent, so this is an excellent time to capitalize on their developing brain, to minimize the adoption of unhealthy habits of thinking and moving, and develop a skill set for life-long health and wellbeing. 

Pre-pandemic, teens were worried about acing their tests in order to gain admission into prestigious schools so they can lead successful careers. In the midst of the pandemic, not sleeping through class was a victory for many kids. As we move forward into a new school year, we can bring along some of the lessons we’ve learned in the past year about the importance of emotional wellbeing.

I would argue that accounting for happiness, peace and physical and mental well being is an essential component in the equation for progress and success. The Alexander Technique teaches us that increased self-awareness and self-compassion leads to optimal functioning, and gives us the tools to improve posture and breathing practices to ensure life-long fitness.

Much of society measures success by what we produce.  What could happen if we prioritize our internal experience of well-being on all levels, as the measure of success, rather than solely what we produce? Could this new mindset help revitalize 21st century teenagers?

Check out this video to learn about how the Alexander Technique has been successfully integrated into education.

Sources:

BMJ research about Alexander Technique helping people with back pain.
Read more about the benefits of the Alexander technique here.
Do slumped and upright postures affect stress responses? Get the research-based answer here.

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