After struggling for two years with carpal tunnel syndrome, Susan Schreier Williams discovered something that would eventually change the direction of her life.
Eager to ease the chronic pain that was inhibiting her everyday tasks, Williams learned about a century-old educational method called the Alexander Technique.
Designed to change or unlearn unhealthy physical habits that are often a result of stress, the technique has been credited with helping people to release unnecessary tension and move with more ease and freedom.
“After three months of lessons in the technique, I became symptom-free,” Williams said. “It helped me see ways I was using my ‘bodymind’ that were interfering with my body’s natural ability heal and let them go, consciously.”
Williams was so impressed with the technique that she began a three-year training course to become an Alexander Technique teacher. While in school, she helped pay the bills by tutoring children in an after-school program.
“The more I learned about the Alexander Technique, the more I realized that the children with whom I was working also had unnecessary tensions that were obviously interfering with their learning,” she said. “For example, they might twist their hair and furrow their brows when they thought they wouldn’t know the answer or hold their breath while they tried to figure out a word they didn’t know.”
As she learned more, Williams began integrating what she’d learned into her tutoring sessions. Through light-hearted conversations with children about their breath, posture and focus, she began to see her students change the way they approached their studies.
“As their self-understanding grew, students learned to interrupt stress and tension patterns before they turned into habits,” she said. “Through breath and balance games, school work, art work and other activities, kids developed a positive, kinesthetic relationship to body, breath and a relaxed attention to the task at hand.”
The practice is named after Australian actor Frederick Alexander, who, in the 1890s, began to lose his voice during Shakespeare performances. When doctors told him there was no apparent reason for this, he began to observe his own physical behavior prior to performances and concluded he had a habit of tightening his upper torso and disrupting his regular breathing pattern.
Mindful of these behaviors, Alexander regained control of his voice. Concluding that these observations could apply to a broad range of afflictions, Alexander went on to publish four books and train instructors to teach his work.
Although the Alexander Technique has not been typically used for children, Williams knew she’d found her niche. While some of her clients have been adults over the years, her primary focus has been working with children who have sensory-motor integration challenges, including learning difficulties, attention deficit disorder, autism, self-esteem issues and more.
“My 8-year-old son, who has been diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome, has been seeing Susan for about six months,” said a Grass Valley mother, who opted to maintain her son’s anonymity. “In the past, he experienced lots of frustration at school, which would escalate into tantrums.
“Now he’s tuned into those feelings of anxiety and is able to identify the point at which he could be tipped over the edge. He’s recognizing sensations in his body and learning to breathe through them. We’re seeing way fewer episodes. Susan is a very gifted practitioner.”
“Every tension is associated to an emotion or personality trait — think of expressions like ‘chip on your shoulder’ or ‘pain in the neck,’” said Williams. “I’m not necessarily undoing the feeling, but I’m helping people become responsible for releasing and undoing the tension. I make it fun with kids — once their body gets it, they get it quickly. I love to see people making the connection and begin to change from the inside out.”
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, call (530) 477-4203 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“As their self-understanding grew, students learned to interrupt stress and tension patterns before they turned into habits.”
— Susan Schreier Williams,
Alexander Technique teacher