by Robert Rickover
The following personal account is taken from the first chapter of Fitness Without Stress
Steven is a microbiologist in his mid-fifties from Stanford, California.
I work as a virus researcher in a laboratory and spend a lot of time - anywhere from one to four hours a day - looking through a microscope. Around ten years ago, I started suffering really badly from sciatica in my right leg and from back pain that bending over the scope was making worse all the time. I had a series of x-rays which showed no structural damage and I saw various orthopedic people, and a chiropractor too, but that didnt help any.
If youve had constant back pain, youll know how desperate you get with it, so I consider myself very lucky in that I wound up seeing a doctor who told me Dont let anybody get near you with a knife. Surgery wont do anything for you. He not only gave me that excellent piece of advice but he also told me a bit about the Alexander Technique - Id never even heard of it - and suggested that I give it a try. I did so with a combination - I have to admit - of hope and skepticism.
I felt even more skeptical when, during that first lesson, the teacher spent most of the time getting me to sit down in a chair and get up out of it again, with a bit of walking around in between. However, she explained that she was using these very simple activities to get me to notice some of the things I did when I moved, and to familiarize me with new ways of sitting, standing and walking.
I didnt actually notice any change after the first lesson, but the teacher conveyed a sense of calmness and confidence - without making any wild promises to solve my problems - and I decided to have some more lessons and see how things went.
Pretty soon, I noticed definite, steady progress. No overnight miracles, but the back pain that by now Id had for a couple of years gradually diminished until, by the end of about three months, there was a definite overall improvement. My leg wasnt hurting anywhere near as much, so naturally I was sleeping better and that meant that I was feeling much healthier in general.
After a few months, I moved to Stanford where there were no teachers back then. But there were several in San Francisco and I started going to one there. He taught mainly in groups which put a lot more responsibility on the participants to watch themselves, to think for themselves. That appealed to me, though I can see the group approach wouldnt suit everybody.
Anyway, the improvements have continued. With the increased awareness I have of myself, I have a lot less trouble with the microscope. I no longer scrunch myself over it the way I used to. And Im not so tense while driving - thats certainly a lot easier and less tiring now.
Its funny because now I notice my colleagues doing exactly the same scrunched up thing that I used to do. And that used to feel perfectly normal to me!
Another interesting thing Ive been noticing is the past few months is that physical stiffness often seems to go together with a certain amount of mental rigidity. I see this a lot a work and I know that was true for me before I began taking lessons.
You know, when I think back on it, before I began with Alexander lessons, I would spend more time figuring out how to use a new electric blender that I'd ever devoted to learning how to improve the way my own body functions.
In general, I feel a lot calmer and more easy going and - I know this will sound like a contradiction - but I have a lot more energy. Naturally, I get a tremendous sense of satisfaction at having made so many improvements. I feel very good about it, and about myself.
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