The Alexander Technique And Diabetes
by Mark Josefsberg
In this paper I will discuss how the Alexander Technique may be applied to the management of diabetes. I will talk about F.M. Alexander's life, and how he came upon his technique. I will talk about how the Alexander Technique can specifically address some of the mental and physical aspects of this disease.
As I am both an Alexander teacher and a diabetic, I hope will find this information useful. I would encourage anyone to try a course of Alexander Technique lessons, as it has helped me immeasurably in all aspects of my life.
F.M. Alexander (1869-1955) was an actor born in Australia. He depended upon his speaking voice for his professional life. When he started to lose his voice in the middle of his performances, it naturally caused him great concern. The medical profession could not help him solve his problem, so he took on this challenge by himself. He realized that it was something he was doing while speaking that caused him to get hoarse and lose his voice. After careful analysis, which took years of observation, he became aware that he was pulling his head back and down as soon as he started to recite.
Fixing this problem turned out to be difficult. As soon as he even thought of speaking, he became aware that he would pull his head back and down, over tensing his neck muscles, compressing his voice box, as well as his spine. He eventually came up with a step he later called inhibition, to stop this harmful habit before it could take hold. Inhibition, in terms of the Alexander Technique, means taking time to stop; stop your habit at that critical moment before you begin an action, so you have a chance to do something different and more beneficial. This "something more beneficial," Alexander called "directions". An example of one of F.M.'s directions was "I wish to free my neck to allow my head to go forward and up."
Directions are orders you give yourself so that you have control, and do what you want to do, instead of doing something automatic and harmful out of habit. The Alexander Technique arose from this thought process. Awareness, inhibition and direction are extremely important aspects of the Alexander Technique. It has helped, and continues to help thousands of people of all walks of life. It can be used any moment you think about it. It can be used in sitting at a computer with more ease; walking, standing, running and working out with a feeling of lightness. It can help you improve your skills as a dancer or musician, and it can help you manage your diabetes with more ease. As with the Alexander Technique, managing diabetes is a process.
The Alexander Technique is not a cure for diabetes. However, it can help you cope with and manage the disease in a myriad of ways. It can offer the choice to have a different response to events. Instead of reacting in a habitual way, other options become available. Many of the physical manifestations of sadness, loss, or depression and fear might be examined and changed.
The diagnosis of diabetes can come as a shock. It may be revealed during a routine physical examination at the doctor's office. At the time of diagnosis, there may be no symptoms, which can make this sudden diagnosis even more unbelievable and shocking. The doctor may simply inform us that we are now considered diabetic, and our lives will change forever. He may add that this diagnosis, unlike some other serious illnesses, is not a death sentence. This, of course, is the truth. In fact, it is possible that diabetes can eventually change your life in a positive way, if you allow it to happen. Feelings of depression, grief, anger and loss may gradually give way to positivity, hope and healthfulness. It's a process; a never-ending journey.
Awareness and acceptance
It took F.M. Alexander years to realize that it was something in the way he was using himself to cause him to lose his voice while reciting Shakespeare. With the use of mirrors and an objective eye, he became aware and accepted the fact that when he spoke he tilted his head back and down, gasped air instead of allowing it to flow in and fill his lungs, gripped the floor with his toes, and had excess tension in various parts of his body. In the same way Alexander became aware that his habits were causing his problems, we have to be aware and accept the fact that we have this disease. Instead of a mirror to monitor our head and neck relationship, we use self administered blood tests to check our blood sugar level. Alexander realized that he couldn't tell by just by "feeling" that he was tilting his head back and down and shortening his spine. He needed to use the mirror to monitor what he was doing. In the same way, we can't always tell by "feeling" when our blood sugar level is not what it should be; we need to test ourselves often. As of this date, there is no cure for diabetes, except a pancreas transplant. The only thing diabetics can do is accept the fact that they have this disease, and manage it. It's a process; a never-ending journey where the trip is the destination.
Diabetes is forever, but it is our choice as to whether it will be a constant weight dragging us down, or serve as a reminder about the importance of keeping healthy and the preciousness of life. Merely the thought of diabetes can feel like a weight pressing you down. You could let this imaginary weight depress you, or respond to the image by springing up in opposition to it; it's your choice.
We can get into a laser like concentration when it comes to food. It's as if we are wearing blinders, blocking out any other possibility besides eating right now. We may fixate on something we want to eat that we know is not good for us. To deny ourselves this food would be a sacrifice. This is a critical time where we can use awareness, inhibition and direction, three of F.M. Alexander's operational ideas.
First and foremost awareness starts with the knowledge and acceptance of the fact that we are diabetic. This is a serious illness and won't go away by ignoring it. In fact, ignoring it will make it worse.
Awareness will also include simply noticing we want to eat something we shouldn't. Before automatically, involuntarily reaching for that harmful food, try something different: Expand your field of vision until you are aware of the entire room. Notice what you are seeing... hearing... feeling. Be aware of any unnecessary tension in your neck, jaw, shoulders, arms, fingers, legs, feet, toes, face and eyes. Become aware of your breathing and your three dimensional expanding torso.
Inhibition would mean stopping; mentally "stepping away" and pausing. We need time to think about what we want and what we don't want. We want freedom from mindless habit, in all aspects of our lives. Again it comes down to choice. In the short term what we don't want is to raise our blood sugar levels. In the long term what we don't want is kidney disease, heart disease, neurological problems, eye problems, foot problems including amputations. This is very serious stuff; stop, exhale and then inhale easily, and think.
Direction may mean guiding ourselves away from the food, or other harmful activity. We can direct ourselves towards more beneficial activities. How can we change direction? What can we do instead of eating in this moment? Catch up on some phone calls? Get that great book you've been wanting to read? Rent a movie? Take a walk? Paint? Play the piano? The list, of course, is endless. We want to lead ourselves in the direction of healthfulness and positivity. We want to move in the direction of being a positive force in the lives of people close to us.
Body And Soul
The Alexander Technique can help us become aware of the physical manifestations of our thoughts, and how our bodies influence our minds. If we are going through life habitually slumped, tensed and compressed, it is easier to exhibit other stress related symptoms including depression, higher blood pressure, faster heart rate, higher blood sugar levels, shallow incomplete breathing, impaired digestion, constriction of nerves caused by excess muscular tension increasing the chance of diabetic neuropathy. Depending upon our history of medical emergencies, knowing that we have a solid medical alert system in case we need it can ease strees immeasurably. When we think of freeing our necks to get the weight of our heads off our spines, having an expanding torso, our internal organs will have more space. We are taking pressure off of our hearts and digestive systems. We have some control over our heart rate by choosing how we react to our thoughts or perceptions. With fuller breathing, our entire body is more oxygenated. It's more difficult to have depressing or stressful thoughts if we are choosing to have postural habits which reflect confidence, openness and peacefulness.
Stimulus and Response
Diabetics should consider themselves as heart patients, no matter what condition their heart is in. We are at greater risk for strokes and heart diseases. Therefore, stress becomes an even more important consideration with diabetics. Not only can stress lead to higher blood sugar levels, it can lead to heart and other problems. We can't always avoid stress in our lives, but we do have a choice as to how we respond to it.
We have choices as to whether to respond to stimuli in our habitual way, or respond in a new way that will be more beneficial to us. Examples of stimuli include include how we sit at our computer, how we walk, how we move, how we deal with a traffic jam, and our response when we see a piece of chocolate cake.
We can live our lives automatically and without thinking, or we can stop ourselves, and have a choice in our response. This can give us some degree of control over our own lives, a pleasant thought considering the rest of our world may seem to be out of control.
In the case of finding ourselves caught in a traffic jam, we can immediately clench our jaw, restrict our breathing, and generally increase tension throughout our entire bodies. We always have a choice, however. As soon as we become aware of the excess tension we can stop, and think about what we want and what we don't want. Is this traffic worth getting sick over? Is it worth raising our blood pressure, our blood sugar, our stress level and our muscular aches and pains? Is there another way to respond to this situation? John Nicholls, in his book titled The Alexander Technique says "...although there may be stressful situations, it's our reactions to them that are important. What creates stress in us is the way we respond to the difficulty, not the situation itself."
What if upon seeing the traffic, we stop our habitual patterns before they take hold of us. Instead of cursing and banging our fist against the dashboard, we stop, and notice our breathing. We then may choose to slowly reach for a C.D., or an inspirational tape, or a hands free phone to catch up with some old friends. We may notice how much we are gripping the steering wheel, and let go of that excess tension. We may decide to use the steering wheel as a prop to help us think of widening our torsos, as we think of our elbows moving down and away from each other. As we free our necks to allow our heads to go forward and up, we might have to adjust the rear view mirror to our new height!
I believe that receiving the diagnosis of diabetes actually made me healthier and eventually happier because of my new choices in diet, my exercise program, new movement patterns, postural habits, and generally more positive outlook on life.
For a diabetic, exercise is a necessity. Abdominal fat is one of the the the problems that might have gotten the adult onset diabetic in trouble in the first place. Fat is not as sensitive to insulin as muscle. The less fat and the more muscle mass you have, the less insulin you'll need, whether it's your own or injected. The heart is a muscle which must be exercised. (After consulting with your medical doctors of course) However, it is important that we exercise in such a way that we don't damage our joints or muscles. An injury can stop our exercise program dead in it's tracks. The Alexander Technique can teach us to exercise with our necks free, our head forward and up, our spines lengthening and our torsos expanding while breathing easily. This may not only help us exercise more efficiently with less chance of injury, but it can help our workouts be more enjoyable. If we enjoy our workouts, they have a better chance of being more frequent.
The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think, say, or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company...a church...a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change the past...we cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude...I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it. And so it is with you...We are in charge of our ATTITUDES.- Charles Swindoll
All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think, we become. - Buddha
Mark Josefsberg is a full time Certified Alexander Technique teacher living in Queens, New York with his cat, A.T. He teaches in New York City and the surrounding area. For more information, please visit markjosefsberg.com Please feel free to call Mark: (718) 478-4206.
For more information about the Alexander Technique, click here:
The Complete Guide to the Alexander Technique