Imogen Ragone is a teacher of the Alexander Technique in Wilmington, Delaware. She completed the full-time, three-year training course (over 1600 hours) in Charlottesville, VA in 2006, and is certified to teach the Alexander Technique by the American Society for the Alexander Technique (AmSAT). After completing her certification she moved to Wilmington, where she enjoys bringing the benefits of the Alexander Technique to a wide variety of people. In addition to teaching the Alexander Technique Imogen designs websites, primarily for other Alexander teachers, and is also passionate about sharing information about the Alexander Technique through the web, in particular through blogging and social media.
My connection with Imogen came about due to one of those serendipitous events that happen on blogs. You may recall that I posted about the Alexander Technique in April. In fact, it was thinking “Aha! A is for Alexander Technique!” that made me decide perhaps I could do the A to Z challenge. That post was one of the most popular I’ve had on my blog, and I was delighted that some people who have practiced and taught the Alexander Technique commented on the post. One person suggested I look at a blog written by an AT teacher who was at the time doing a series specifically for computer users. I clicked the link provided, read the incredibly helpful post, and immediately became a follower of the blog — Imogen Ragone’s Body Intelligence blog. I’ve subsequently come to know her through email and Facebook, and I’m delighted that she agreed to this interview.
So — click the magic words! Imogen has interesting thoughts, concepts, and practical suggestions awaiting you!
Me: Imogen, when I posted about the Alexander Technique in early April, many of my readers were unaware of it. Could you give us a brief overview of the technique?
Imogen: The Alexander Technique is a thoughtful way of learning to identify and change harmful habits of movement, tension and reaction. “Unlearning” lifetime poor postural habits leads to improved coordination, balance, body awareness and ease – from the way we sit at the computer to the manner in which we present ourselves at a business meeting. It is usually taught in one-to-one lessons, though many teachers, myself included, also work with groups. When you work with a teacher he/she will not only observe and give you verbal and visual cues to help you make changes, but will also use a gentle guiding touch. The teacher’s hands are an important factor in helping the student understand the verbal instructions experientially. You are taught ways to pause and think to bring about the changes in yourself, so you can eventually incorporate the Technique into any activity you choose.
Me: Could you share with us some of the life path that brought you to the point of being an Alexander Technique practitioner and teacher?
Imogen: I came to the Technique as a solution to chronic neck pain, having tried a variety of other approaches, traditional and non-traditional, first. The Alexander Technique was what really turned things around for me. I’ve blogged about my journey in detail. Anyone who’s interested can read my story here.
I made the decision to undertake the three-year, full-time training program to become an Alexander Technique teacher after I’d been having lessons for about a year. I was really ready to do something for me, having been home with my young son for a few years. This Technique was so intriguing to me, and I’d already benefited so much more than just the reduction in neck pain, that I wanted to become as skilled as I could with the Technique. I liked the idea of a job with the requirement that you use your body efficiently with the least amount of tension necessary! The bonus is that I get to bring this work to other people.
Me: Most people who know of the Alexander Technique connect it with the performing arts – in fact, two actors to whom I mentioned your blog posts about utilizing the technique when working on a computer were surprised to hear it was even known outside the acting/performing world. I sense from your blog and website that your work is mainly with people in other walks of life. Is there any difference in the different “streams,” for want of a better word?
Imogen: The Alexander Technique is definitely more widely known by people in the performing arts than by the public in general. This probably stems from the fact the developer of the Technique, F M Alexander, was himself an actor, who developed the Technique to resolve his own vocal issues back in the 1890s. It’s quite a fascinating story. Check out this webpage if you’d like to learn more. Even early on, however, the Technique was known to have great benefits for improving all sorts of activities and solving a variety of health problems. Alexander himself wrote about helping a golfer and a stutterer among others, and was widely known as the “breathing man” in the beginning!
Having said that, the Technique is the same essentially in both “streams,” but is used by the individual to do whatever they do better – with improved coordination and less tension! So an actor, for instance, might think about it in quite a different way from someone suffering from back pain – and might have quite different activities to which to apply it. In fact the Alexander Technique is becoming more well known for helping pain problems, I think in part at least due to a big study that was done in the UK published by the British Medical Journal. My own practice consists mainly of people with posture/tension/pain problems, which makes sense given my own background. I’m particularly interested in helping people be more comfortable as they work at the computer. There are so many problems associated with this activity which I believe are largely to do with unconscious habits people have got into as they work.
Me: A couple of people who use the technique commented on my blog post on April 1st, and I found what they said intriguing. One woman, who is an actor, said, “I have found in addition to the posture benefits, it also helps me sink into character.” Another, who is a writer, said, “I find that improving my own ease of movement also gives another by-product – good ideas. Somehow moving my body easier allows the creative juices to get up to my brain easier.” Have you noticed, or heard of, similar experiences?
Imogen: Yes, you come across this kind of thing very often. In my own case I found that I not only got relief from my chronic neck tension and pain, but also I am not as “reactive” to possibly stressful situations anymore. I am naturally quite shy and reserved, but I feel more able to be myself and show myself, if that makes sense. I am more confident, more able to speak up when necessary, more willing to say “yes” to things I would have shied away from before, and more able to say “no” when needed too! Getting back to the creativity benefits described in your question, I believe letting go of your habitual tension patterns opens you up physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, and that opening up is very conducive to creativity in many forms. I know of at least a couple of Alexander Technique teachers who’ve written interesting blogs about this, specifically Jennifer Mackerras and Franis Engel.
Me: I realize that the best way to reap the benefits of the technique is to have a teacher and learn in person. For those of us who don’t have access to a teacher, is there any way to learn the basics on our own?
Imogen: You’re right, the best way to learn the Technique is indeed with the hands-on help of a teacher. However the Alexander Technique was born through the creative thinking of F. M. Alexander (the founder of the Technique) who obviously had no teacher to help him! In fact, he famously said, “Anyone can do what I did, IF they will do what I did.”
I’d also recommend a couple of books: Missy Vineyard’s How You Stand, How You Move, How You Live and Carolyn Nicholls’ Body, Breath & Being: A New Guide to the Alexander Technique. Both are good introductions to the Technique and offer practical suggestions you can work with on your own. The Nicholls’ book also includes a CD to talk you through some of these suggestions. And if anyone would like to go right to the source, F. M. Alexander’s The Use of the Self offers a fascinating description of his own process as he developed the method that became the Alexander Technique.
Another option, if you have no teacher near you, is to get some long-distance guidance from an Alexander Technique teacher. There are now a few teachers who offer movement coaching using Alexander Technique principles through Skype, most of whom are listed here. I’m interested in exploring this myself, but am not offering it at this time.
For anyone, whether or not they have experience with the Alexander Technique, a lying down procedure called Constructive Rest (which I know we’ll be talking about later) is a great thing you can do on your own, and a good place to start!
Me: This may seem like an odd question, but – one of the first things I’ve read on any website describing the Alexander Technique is to find one’s “sit bones.” I’m, er, well-padded in the sitting area. How do I, and other well-padded folk, find these crucial bones? Once we locate them, could you briefly describe a proper sitting posture?
Here’s a picture of the sit bones which you might find useful. Surprisingly even those who are “very well padded” can feel the bony protruberences at the base of the pelvis which are the sit bones. Sit on a firm, level surface and slide your left hand, palm up, under your left buttock. Allow your weight to come down onto your hand and roll around until you feel a boney lump pushing into your hand. Do the same on the right side, and you have found your sit bones! One of my blogs for computer users has more details on this, including why it’s useful to balance on them when sitting!
You ask for a description of “proper sitting posture!” Well, in fact there is no one right posture – in the Alexander Technique we’re looking for movement and flow even in relative stillness. Having said that there are ways to sit that are more natural and healthy for the body than what most people do habitually. If you’re balancing your body on the right place/s – on the sit bones in fact – you’ll be using a lot less tension naturally as your structure (your bones) will be more balanced so your muscles actually have less work to do.
So why don’t we try a little experiment. I want you to SIT UP STRAIGHT RIGHT NOW! Notice what changed in the way you feel – are you more tense or less tense? Can you breathe more easily or less easily? What has happened to your spine? And can you maintain this posture for long?
Now stop “sitting up straight” and let’s try a different, more indirect approach:
Put your hands underneath your sit bones and feel them, shifting your weight until you’re more or less balanced on them. Remove your hands, remaining on your sit bones with your feet flat on the floor. As you gently breathe in and out think to yourself: “I am allowing my neck to release its grip on my head. I am allowing my whole torso to expand into length and width. I am allowing my feet to rest gently on the floor.” Allow yourself time to be aware of the effect on your body and how you feel.
I hope you could sense a difference with the two approaches, and you might get an inkling of what it means to use the Alexander Technique to help sitting posture. My blog series for computer users includes lots of tips and advice around sitting your readers might be interested in.
Me: One of the people who commented on my blog post mentioned the special resting technique, the Balanced Rest State, and the benefits to be accrued from it. Could you tell my readers a bit about it?
Imogen: The Balanced Resting State, often called Constructive Rest, or sometimes Active Rest, semi-supine or simply an Alexander lie-down, is a wonderfully simple procedure or exercise in which you lie down on a firm surface, knees elevated and head supported so it doesn’t tip back. While you’re lying down you become aware of your body and direct your thoughts to invite release of tension and expansion and spaciousness in the body. You can find lots of information about it on my self-help page and in a couple of my blogs, Lying Down for Back Pain Relief and Stress Reliever: The Alexander Technique Practice of Lying Down, which all include a link to my audio talk-through which you can listen to while you lie down. The benefits include a reduction in tension and stress while improving posture and spinal alignment.
Me: I am just not able to get down on the floor and get up again. I suspect there are others like me. Can we achieve at least some of the benefit of the Balanced Rest State on a firm mattress?
Imogen: YES! While having as firm a surface as possible is preferable, part of what makes it so powerful is the awareness and conscious thinking process and giving yourself time away all the stimuli of our lives. You could also try listening to my audio (or similar) while on your bed to help guide your thinking as you lie down to get the most out of it.
Me: If you could suggest one other thing that a person could do on their own to benefit from Alexander Technique methods, what would it be?
Imogen: I suggest cultivating awareness of your own breathing. In particular it is useful to recognize that we don’t actually have to control our breathing – what we have to do it stop interfering with it (holding our breath…). Most people don’t realize that the ribs are extremely important for the functioning of our breath. Without getting too technical, our lungs are housed within our rib cage, and the diaphragm muscle attaches all the way around to the lowest ribs. So the ribs rise up and out – all the way around, front, sides and back – as the diaphragm descends, causing the lungs to fill with air. The out-breath occurs when the ribs fall and the diaphragm rises back up. Simply understanding and acknowledging that our ribs move with the breath, can have a huge impact on our breathing capacity, and the ability to breathe freely, which benefits our entire coordination. If we’re under the misconception that all the expansion is out in front, or in our belly (even subconsciously) we will unknowingly be limiting our breathing capacity.
So try this – without taking a breath first (!) let out whatever breath you have by letting the air out gently through the lips as if you are blowing out a candle. Let the lips come gently together and just simply notice the air come back in through your nose. Now put your hands on the side of your rib cage as you breathe out, then as you let the breath come in see if you can feel the movement of your ribs under your hands. If you can reach to put your hand on your back you’ll feel movement there too. You could also listen to this lovely podcast with Jessica Wolf, an Alexander Technique teacher who specializes in breathing, with two introductory breathing procedures she uses in her work.
Me: If there is anything else you would like to add, please feel free to do so.
Imogen: Thank you, Beth, for the opportunity to do this interview. I feel strongly that the Alexander Technique is a method of self-care that could help many people. I dearly hope your readers will try out some of my suggestions on their own, and consider taking a couple of Alexander Technique lessons if they have a teacher nearby. Some sites where you can find listings of teachers in different areas are: American Society for the Alexander Technique (AmSAT); Canadian Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique (CanSTAT); Complete Guide to the Alexander Technique; and Alexander Technique International (ATI).
And if you, or any of your readers, have any questions for me, I’d love to hear from you.
You can find Imogen online at:
Me: Imogen, thank you so much for this wonderful interview! I have learned a great deal, and I’m sure my readers have as well. I look forward to our continuing friendship, and I look forward to learning more and more from you and your blog.