For Work

Managing Stress, Fatigue, and Tension at the Workplace with Alexander Technique

This page is for people who, by their profession, tend to accumulate tension as they have to sit a lot in a chair, or stand in a fixed position. This could be IT professions, musicians or dentists. Or, say, manufacturing jobs that require repetitive movements. There are many aspects to this tension, why people accumulate it in the first place and in a what particular way. What the Alexander Technique specialist will do here is to analyze and help with each individual pattern.

I would like to mention just a few essential factors here, that affect almost everybody. If the person works with computers, machines or, say, patients and they have to use their arms in front of them, then they are highly susceptible to create tension and get fatigued tight muscles at the end of the day. Too often, when we have to perform some precise operations our focus really narrows. The common reaction to this is to contract the whole body though we don’t need to. There are many examples of efficient and effortless coordination we all know: artist Pablo Picasso, pianist Arthur Rubinstein, or dancer Fred Astaire.

How can we address this tension? Well, for staying in a fixed position for long hours, with eyes over-focused on an important task we have to rely a lot on our backs for support. Indeed, people are doing different things trying to find this support. The traditional approach would be to strengthen particular groups of muscles or stretch tight muscles out. Well, it can help with releasing some tension. Only we notice that as soon as we come back to our work (even after a satisfying exercise) tension comes back with the same or even increased intensity. That is because these large muscles that we exercise in a gym are needed for larger movements, such as walking, bending or lifting and have little to do with supporting us in gravity. Indeed, these bulky powerful muscles give us desirable aesthetic curves. They are brought into play when we want to move. These muscles, called the “extrinsic muscles”, are longer, stronger and lie more superficially, closer to the skin.

What is important to stress out here is that there is also a different type of muscles that are designed to support us in gravity in any activity. Although they work hard during our lifetime, those muscles never fatigue. Constantly, even while we sleep they work to support our circulation and breathing. They never need to rest. Anatomically, this is the deepest layer, closer to the spine. They support us in whatever we are doing – including sitting, standing, or using arms. These “intrinsic” postural muscles hold us together. To sum up, each group of muscles has to do their specific job, otherwise we run into a muscular conflict.

What is important to understand here is that we can’t exercise these postural muscles in the manner we exercise strength muscles in a gym. Yet, the good news is that we can work on muscles that support us through releasing excessive tension. This is a primary focus of Alexander Technique lesson. When harmful patterns of poor coordination revealed and excessive tension released then we find that there is a postural mechanism in place, always available for us, to support us naturally. In fact, when we stop interfering with its elegant function then we feel less fatigued at the end of the day after having spent many hours in a fixed position. That includes our shoulders and arms and neck and back.

That is true, that if we stop interfering in our own natural coordination with too much tension we can make a noticeable difference in an instant! However, changing our lifelong patterns of tension is an ongoing process, which requires frequent application and attention.

For this very reason F.M. Alexander emphasizes that any change is, in fact, a process, that conditions the result. We have to pay attention to the quality of the process, to give it time needed, to be curious about our ways. We have to be patient about the process, enjoy it and then the result will take care of itself. That is what F.M. Alexander referred to as “endgaining” – when our wanting to reach a goal makes us disregard the very process how to get there. Pain or tension are, probably, the most obvious examples to illustrate that.  When we are eager to get rid of them and try anything to get fast results, then, too often, we get more of the same. On the contrary, with our full attention on the process and our commitment to the process we are more likely to achieve the desired goal. F.M. cautions us that our strong desire may get in the way by creating too much tension and expectations, leading us to the opposite results. His suggestion would be to work with our attitudes, as our wanting or frustration creates excessive muscular tension. Yes, this is again about tension. F.M. Alexander says that “ we translate everything, whether physical, mental or spiritual, into muscular tension.”

Alexander Technique lesson is a truly holistic experience. In case we have pain in a local part the whole-body patterns have to be addressed. More often people complain of pain in the neck, shoulder, jaw or face. These people relate their experience of dealing with this pain – a pill or trying to fix the painful part locally. Unfortunately, without addressing the whole organism, whole body patterns, the local solutions won’t last. Let’s have a look at TMJ (Temporal Mandibular Joint) or, simply, jaw pain. Though the pain is very localized and we can point with our finger exactly where it hurts, the tension patterns causing the pain span the whole body. Moreover, TMJ  proximity to the atlanto-occipital joint, this hub of coordination, make it impossible to release tension at TMJ without releasing at the AO joint (atlanto-occipital).

Alexander Technique procedures would work in this case with TMJ by expanding the field of our awareness to the whole body through head -neck-back coordination which is our Primary control mechanism. This superb mechanism would allow to include all the joints, muscles and reflexes responsible for the pain at TMJ. This tool would also allow us to find more muscular energy directed “upwards”, thus, decreasing at the same time harmful downward compression. This is what Alexander teachers refer to as “thinking Up”. We can well understand the meaning of “thinking Up” through the feedback we get from teacher’s guiding hands or practicing constructive rest. Believe it or not, in the final analysis, TMJ pain may to a big extent depend on how we sit in that chair all day long. That is because when we lack support, our muscles will compensate with tension resulting in compression, spasm, pain or emotional complaints like irritability or impatience.