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Whatcha Thinkin'?

I remember when I was just surviving: making appointments with as many people as possible to keep me going. I went to the chiropractor once a week and a massage therapist a couple times a month. I always reverted to the same tangled mess of tight muscles I’ve carried around for decades. It wasn’t until my voice teacher said, “At some point you have to decide to relax” that I realized I should look for something different. That’s when I found AT. Once I started studying, I discovered that I have choice. I can continue to rush from one commitment to another with a mind cluttered with all the noise of my overwhelmed life, or I can choose to stop, breathe, release my muscles into length and clear my head for productive work.

The most basic element of the Alexander Technique is conscious control. “Thinking in action” is a phrase that’s often used to describe AT in practice. How and what you think contribute to the state of your muscles. As awareness develops of what’s happening in the muscles/bones/joints, it’s possible to let thoughts guide the next step. In this diagram, the question marks present an opportunity to assess what defines ease and stress in both mind and muscle. From there you can put yourself on the spectrum and begin the process of release.

Inhibition (see the next diagram) is what the Alexander Technique calls this concept: the ability to stop and make a decision about whether to follow a habitual pattern or choose a new process that will yield a better outcome. Direction is what follows: thinking about the process for better function.

For me, this brings up the concept of rushing, a thought habit I was married to for more than 4 decades. The idea is that you’re behind and need to catch up. Thoughts of apology, excuse, etc. crowd the conscious mind, and the body is plunged into a chemical/muscular race against time.


Out body’s autonomic nervous system is divided into two branches: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. The sympathetic is what acts when we are stressed, rushed, or being chased. The parasympathetic is active when we are calm, at rest. Allowing ourselves to “reset” our muscles and thoughts when we don’t need to act in a stressed state helps the body to maintain ease. It's even more effective if we can avoid the sympathetic/stress response all together.

Operating on auto pilot is a common outcome of operating in the sympathetic system. Practicing AT inhibition can interrupt the cycle of behavior and interject reason, thought, and control over the situation.


The breath is the bridge between the two branches of the nervous system because it is governed both automatically by a chemical reaction in the brain and by a conscious thought process. Extending the exhale allows the parasympathetic system to emerge. Here is an easy breath practice that you can use in nearly any activity.


The Cool Exhale

This is a great breathing technique for self-regulation when you are overwhelmed or anxious. It’s almost impossible to think about it while you’re in a stressful situation, but it works then if you can use it. The best strategy is to use it when you think of it.


The Process

  • Exhale through the lips as though you have a straw in your mouth.

  • Use some pressure behind the air so you can really feel the exhalation. 

  • This may help you feel the tension in the face/neck area.

  • If you open your lips only slightly in the middle, no one will notice that you’re doing anything different from normal breathing.

  • Allow the air to return through the nose.

  • Repeat the process until you feel calmer. You might notice . . . 

  • a decrease in heart rate

  • slower breathing

  • a calmer digestive system

  • clearer eyesight

  • Allow your muscles to lengthen and release as much as possible as you exhale.



I have used this process in situations where I’m overwhelmed by too many tasks, experiencing too much emotion, or facing nervous anxiety as I prepare for a presentation. It has worked every time, giving me calm and focus to accomplish what I need to get done.



If you’re interested in Alexander Technique classes or lessons, contact me or see my website for details.

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