Written by Steve Peters.
The human body is a complex system, interconnected in ways that most of us barely even notice. Hundreds of stimuli from the outside world and within the body are received, processed and responded to at any given moment, mostly at an unconscious level. But even the responses and actions we are aware of, have many unconscious aspects to them. Though we often think of ourselves as a collection of separate parts, we actually react to external stimuli however big or small in a much more total way. As the distinguished anatomist Pierre Gratiolet put it:
“…the senses, the imagination, and thought itself, cannot function without evoking associated feeling; and that feeling is transmitted directly, symbolically, sympathetically, or metaphorically to all parts of the peripheral organs, which all react each in it’s own way, as though they have been directly affected”.
In other words whatever weʼre doing, whether it’s exercise, the dishes, planning a project, or speaking in public, our whole system, both mental and physical, reacts to the activity. If we are frightened, our whole system tenses, if we are tired, our whole system droops. We already know this idea as body language. We understand instinctively that a single part of our system, whether mental or physical, cannot react without other parts betraying the reaction.
As a personal trainer, I have spent years seeing the truth of this fact and the enormous implications it has for exercise. As people are busily trying to do an exercise right, do one more push up, or keep running when theyʼre tired, how they’re exercising becomes far less important to them. This could be demonstrated in a physical reaction, like tensing up the shoulders for instance, but could equally be a mental one like trying to cheat to make it easier. In this way, physical activity can give an opportunity to see on a larger scale the habits which we miss on a smaller scale every day. And it’s the everyday that we’re really interested in. Spending a year and a half training as an Alexander Technique teacher has allowed me to understand very clearly how it’s the everyday things that have the most impact on our lives.
The Alexander Technique, more than any other system of physical understanding, takes the connection of mind and body and the force of habit as fundamental elements of a personʼs make-up. Recognition and improvement of a persons habits and reactions is vital to any serious effort to improve health. Though in every day activities reactions are much smaller, it’s these small reactions that make up a large proportion of the “wear and tear” on our bodies. The kind of thing which leads to chronic back or neck pain, RSI or any number of other common disorders is rarely one big jolt but rather lots of little ones. In exercise, the fact that these reactions are magniﬁed means that without care, people see the negative effects of their reactions much more quickly. Injuries, joint and cartilage damage or muscle strains can often be put down, not to a weakness in the exerciser, but a problem with the way that the exercise is being performed.
The good news is, that by learning to use ourselves more intelligently in difﬁcult circumstances, when things are simpler, intelligent use comes more naturally. The impact of our habits is reduced, we are more conscious of what we are doing to ourselves, and our bodies generally have a much nicer time of it. And this isn’t where the good news ends. The force of habit isnʼt only relevant in movement but in all things. In fact, it’s the force of habit that brings most people to a personal trainer in the ﬁrst place! Whether itʼs the habit of drinking a glass (or three!) of wine after work each day, the habit of driving to the shops which are only a 5 minute walk away, the habit of reaching for the biscuits before we’ve even considered whether we actually want one, or the habit of thinking of ourselves in a certain way, it’s these habits which lead us to be overweight, unhappy with ourselves, or unused to exercise in the ﬁrst place, so in order to ﬁx these problems, doesnʼt one have to be working on the habits that have caused them?
This is what is unique about ʻintelligent trainingʼ. An understanding of the body gained through the study and teaching of the Alexander Technique, Yoga and Kung Fu, allows it to be seen, not just as a collection of bones and muscles, but as part of a complete system that is inextricably linked with the mind. This understanding has enabled an approach to health and ﬁtness that takes into account the whole person. Unlike almost every personal trainer working today, ʻIntelligent Trainingʼ understands that improving health and ﬁtness is about more than simply forcing people to exercise, itʼs about examining the way that we treat ourselves, not just our bodies but ourselves as complete entities. Intelligent Training treats the attitude to exercise as seriously as the exercise itself, if one isnʼt right, we ﬁrmly believe that the other wonʼt be either. If youʼd like to change the way you think about personal training and yourself, why not start right now?
2009. Steve Peters was a second-year student at the Alexander Teacher Training School, (ATTS).