Relax and swing away
Let the neck be free to let the head go forward and up to let the torso lengthen and widen.
F. Matthias Alexander formulated these directions a century ago. The Alexander Technique was born, and remains a means for many people to regain their vitality and reverse the effects of noxious modern problems such as repetitive stress injuries and back and neck problems. And it can also help your golf swing.
Consider: Actors Paul Newman, Jeremy Irons and Robin Williams have benefited from the Alexander Technique. Singers Paul McCartney and Sting have incorporated the method. The Juilliard School of Performing Arts in New York uses the technique, as does the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Golfers use the technique. The Alexander Technique is alive and well. Websites such as www.alexandertechnique.com and www.alexandertechnique.org are helpful.
Alexander, an Australian, lived from 1869-1955. He was an actor whose voice failed him while reciting Shakespeare. He consulted physicians, none of whom could help him. He began to observe in a mirr his habitual patterns of posture while speaking publicly. Over the course of a decade, he noticed that he moved his head backwards and downwards every time he was about to speak publicly.
Alexander’s involuntary tendency resulted in his larynx becoming depressed and narrowed. His posture was also restricted while his back collapsed. An explorer of what he called the psychophysical relationships in the body — the ways in which mind and body interact — Alexander hit upon the idea of “inhibiting” his habitual response. His spine lengthened when he did so. But inhibition did not come easily; a lifetime of habits intervened.
When applied to golf, the Alexander technique is very subtle, perhaps defying a short explanation. In simplest terms, the technique involves using the body’s natural posture rather than rigidly adhering to a learned posture. For example, the first rule of golf is to keep your eyes fixed on the ball during the swing.
Yet Alexander points out that by trying so hard to follow this rule, we involuntarily tighten our neck muscles, thus generating an unnatural back and forward swing. Alexander writes: “let the neck be free to let the head move forward and up to let the bank lengthen and widen.” So, by applying the technique correctly, we can not only improve our posture but also allow for a natural — and more effective — golf swing.
Alexander suggests that the golfer stop trying to make a good swing. This, presumably, would prevent the golfer from beginning the chain of events that leads to his taking his eyes off the ball.
The idea of letting the neck be free to let the hand move forward and up to let the torso lengthen and widen appears deceptively simple. Yet it’s difficult to put into practice. Are you hunched over at your computer just now? Is your head tilted forward? Is your neck tight? If so, you are sitting and reading in your habitual way. Try to sit differently, however, and you will soon fall into your old pattern. Trying to do something new invokes muscular tension.
A teacher of the Alexander Technique will guide the student to a more coordinated position. Elaine Kopman, the director of the Toronto School of the Alexander Technique, once told me, “My job is to guide you to direct yourself so that you can bring texture back into your body. Think of it in terms of having to reorganize the energy in your body. The texture we want is like that in a baby’s body. It occurs when there is a complete coordination in the body.”
That texture is apparent in animals. And, of course, the human animal feels better when he is not tight or tense or constricted. Theodore Dimon Jr., is the director of the Dimon School for the Alexander Technique in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In his recent book The Undivided Self: Alexander Technique and the Control of Stress, Dimon writes that by consciously “directing his head and torso, one could regain this natural ease and flexibility in movement, allowing the body to function more normally and to resume a more lengthened condition.”
Dimon’s book includes an extensive bibliography of Alexander-related material. His book and the writings he cites are worth studying. And the Alexander Technique is worth practicing. Work with these ideas and your head will feel free of tension and unnecessary weight; your neck will take on the shape of a swan’s. You will feel better, and, if you’re a golfer, you will be in a better position to make an effective swing.
Alexander, F. Matthias 1910, Man’s Supreme Inheritance. London: Methuen
Alexander, F. Matthias 1946, Man’s Supreme Inheritance (final edition, reprinted in 1996). London: Mouritz.
Alexander, F. Matthias, 1923, Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual. New York: Dutton.
Alexander, F. Matthias 1932. The Use of the Self. New York: Dutton
Dimon, Theodore 1999. The Undivided Self: Alexander Technique and the Control of Stress. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books.