AARDVARK - noun
(obsolete Afrikaans, from Afrikaans aard - earth + vark - pig)
A large burrowing nocturnal ungulate mammal (Orycteropus afer) of sub - Saharan Africa that has a long snout, extensile tongue, powerful claws, large ears, heavy tail and feeds on termites and ants
The aardvark keeps his head close to the ground as he moves through life.
Years ago, a friend commented that I had aardvark-like tendencies. When I asked what she meant, she just smiled and said, Take a look in the mirror.
I looked, but I didnt see what she was talking about.
Years later, I developed severe back pain which neither doctors nor chiropractors were able to help. It would get better after a few days rest, but it would reappear in an instant if I moved or bent over the wrong way. My computer-programming job became a nightmare because the pain was always worse when I sat.
One evening at a party, I was discussing my pain with a colleague and he said, Well, your posture is not that great. Maybe thats why you have so much back pain.
Whats wrong with my posture? I asked myself. It seemed fine to me. That night I took another look in the mirror, but again I didnt see anything amiss. I asked my wife what she thought and after a moments hesitation she said, Well, it could be better. You kind of poke your head down onto your chest.
OK, I thought, maybe I dont see it, but if theres something wrong with my posture and thats the cause of my pain, Ill go to a posture-expert and learn how to fix it.
Easier said than done, I found. I quick internet search revealed lots of web sites about posture, and how important it was, and how poor posture could indeed cause various kinds of pain, but the advice mostly seemed to boil down to pay attention to your posture or stand up straight - things like that.
The only information that seemed to make any sense came from a field Id never heard of before - something called the Alexander Technique. It had been around for a century or so and what it seemed to be about was learning how to become aware of your posture and movement patterns and then learning how to make improvements in them. A lot of famous people (including two Nobel prize winners!) had studied it and it had some pretty impressive scientific and medical recommendations.
With nothing to loose, I located a teacher in my city and went for a lesson in this Technique. I had no idea of what to expect, and was quite surprised when she spent much of the hour with me sitting, standing and walking while her hands were placed lightly on my neck, shoulders and arms. She did some talking too, but to be honest, the whole experience was so new and confusing to me that I don't remember much of what she said during that first lesson.
I do remember her explaining to me that my head weighs about 12 pounds and that the way I was carrying it - forward and down was her description - meant that I was using a lot more tension in my neck and upper torso than was needed. Ideally, my head should be balanced lightly on top of my spine. Worse yet, my way of carrying my head created a whole chain of distortions right down through my torso, hips and into my legs. And some of those distortions, particularly in my lower back, could easily be the cause of my back pain.
I was impressed by her self-assurance and her overall calmness. I was also impressed by the fact that she promised no quick cures and indeed went to great lengths to make it clear that the Alexander Technique is an educational process, not a therapy, and that for any medical concerns I should see a qualified doctor.
Well, I went for two more lessons before I noticed anything. During the third lesson, I suddenly felt as though my whole chest were opening up and I took an amazingly large breath of air. I dont really have words to describe it, but it felt like the first full breath Id ever taken! I was so shocked by the experience I had to sit down for a few minutes.
That afternoon at a meeting at work, my boss looked over at me and said, You look different. Wider across the chest. During a break, I went to the mens room to take a look in the mirror, but I didnt see anything. However I still felt some of the expansion from that mornings lesson.
I was on a schedule of 2 lessons per week, usually on the way to work. About two months into the lessons, I realized that I hadnt had any really bad back pain for several weeks. At around the same time, I found that my shirts were all getting to be way too tight as were my sports jackets. The Salvation Army benefited from my cast-offs and I found that a hidden expense of taking Alexander Technique lessons can be the cost of new clothes!
Curiously enough, Id lost about ten pounds - yet my chest seemed to have grown. The weight had all come off my stomach! A number of people had commented on my improved appearance, several asking me what Id been doing. And by this time I could start to see the changes myself.
One thing that started making sense to me: my old habit of pushing my head forward and down was more than just that. It also included scrunching my chest in on itself, restricting my breathing and generally putting a lot of unnecessary pressure on myself. I can see this pattern quite clearly in other people now. I can also see that a lot of people do the exact opposite - they pull their heads back and down onto their necks. Sometimes that's combined with a slump, sometimes with a kind of over-stiff, military-like stance.
I ended up taking lessons for about six months, eventually dropping down to a lesson every other week. As time went on, my teacher showed me how I could make some of the changes on my own. I won't try to explain all that here - believe me I've tried with my friends and co-workers to no avail - but I will say that the process is actually quite simple once it's shown to to by someone who knows what they're doing.
I still go back once in awhile for a lesson or two, but I find that now Im able to apply what Ive learned in the lessons to myself and dont have so much need of a teacher. Although I went for lessons because of back pain, I've actually been more amazed by the change in my breathing, my overall energy level, and in my appearance.
Im extremely grateful to have found the Alexander Technique. Its been responsible for a huge improvement in my life and Im amazed its not better known. In retrospect, the Alexander teaching process seems to make perfect sense - I believe it's even been called "applied common sense".
I decided to make the Aardvark Alexander Technique Web Site to celebrate my non-aardvark status and to encourage others to learn more about the Alexander Technique. I plan to add additional pages on subjects like posture and fitness and their relationship to the Alexander Technique during the coming months. Please come back to see them!
The web site I found that contains the most information about the Technique is called The Complete Guide to the Alexander Technique and can be found at http://www.alexandertechnique.com It's chock full of articles, links to other Alexander Technique web sites, an Alexander Technique bookstore and information on finding a teacher.
-- by a thankful former Aardvark