I’d like to continue my exploration of Dr. R and her back pain (see here and here). Her problems did not begin over night.
She tells her Alexander teacher that in high school her back would get tired frequently, but since the problem would go away, she didn’t bother with it. “But surely, you don’t think the problem started way back then, do you?” she asks. “No,” the teacher replies, “probably even earlier, when you were about 6 or so.”
This seems unbelievable to her. The idea that poor overall coordination could start so young is a thought that she has never considered.
And yet, as an eye doctor, she does have children in her practice with poor eye function which, left unchecked, she concedes, could cause neck and shoulder pain. Still, Dr. R does not connect those dots; that a person’s general use could have effects on their functioning.
Later, the Alexander teacher learns that when Dr. R was in college, she often had stiff necks and tight shoulders. These became worse in medical school as the stress built up. Then, there were the personal disappointments and struggles (which we all deal with in life) that added to her exhaustion and strain.
She was always active in sports such as swimming, riding, running, tennis and expected that such activities would “do the trick” in reducing the pain and pressure. When she is told that every sport, every activity, is still performed within the context of an overall manner of use, is still taking place within a response to the ever-present field of gravity, and that this response to gravity is both mal-coordinated and habitual, she is overwhelmed.
And here is where we come again to the question of why Dr. R stops her Alexander lessons. In the last post I offered the explanation that the work was a threat to her self-image. Here I would like to give another possible reason: She is overwhelmed by what is being asked of her, and she doesn’t know if that kind of fundamental change is possible. When we talk about general use, we are talking about a constant. It requires a lot of desire and genuine patience to change a constant. Dr. R might become disheartened. She might return to the physical therapy and skip the Alexander lessons. She would at least feel like she’s doing something. And if the PT does give her some relief, even temporary relief, from back pain symptoms, she can tell herself that that Alexander stuff about “general use” wasn’t that important after all.
It is unfortunate. Although it can feel like a daunting task at first, conscious improvement in our own use is possible. Yes, change in our use is demanding, as it calls for sustained attention, but the Alexander Technique works. It is not an easy fix (there is no such thing), but it is an easeful one.