Baylen goes holistic

Article added April 7, 2004

by Baylen Leonard

BBC broadcaster and writer, Baylen Leonard, describes his Alexander lessons with Anthony Kingsley:

I’m a hypochondriac. Let’s get that out of the way, right off the bat.

So, when I went to my GP a month ago complaining of chest pains, I was convinced that, later that day, I would be in A&E being prepared for major heart surgery.

I had even cleared my diary and worn clean underwear, just in case.

When my GP told me that it was “probably a pinched nerve” and that I should try the Alexander Technique or some “homeopathy or holistic therapy”, I was relieved if somewhat sceptical of his medical credentials.

But then I thought, “Hey, it’s better than heart surgery.” So began my exploration of holistic therapies available in London.

Holistic therapies are big business in the capital with alternative health shops popping up on every High Street.

Even the NHS recently added certain holistic therapies to the list of treatments it offers. The image of holistic/homeopathy therapies as some sort of backstreet voodoo has been erased and they have now entered the mainstream.

Right, holistic therapies it is then. Since my GP had suggested Alexander Technique specifically, first stop is The Alexander Studio on Balderton Street in central London.

The Alexander Studio was opened by Anthony Kingsley, who worked for 6 years with Dr. Wilfred Barlow, one of the first teachers to be trained by FM Alexander.

Wow, only twice removed from the guy who started the whole thing. I felt I was in good hands with Anthony.

The technique, founded in 1904, is celebrating its centenary this year, so yet another reason to give it a go.

Lessons are one on one and there are no exercises or postures to learn. Anthony used a range of simple everyday activities, like sitting and walking, to explore my patterns of movement and reaction.

He guided me with his hands and verbal instructions and before I knew it I felt lighter and more up right without even really noticing anything was happening.

The idea is for the body to return to its natural instincts in terms of posture and movement: the way we started out, before things like work, stress and social posturing got in the way.

Anthony is quick to point out that the technique is not a treatment, but that a solution to my chest pains may occur while practicing the technique.

What I didn’t expect is the other, more personal, side of the Alexander Technique. I had always thought of it as a posture exercise but it seems that there is also part of it that really taps into the psyche.

It makes sense when you think about it: the body reacts to how you feel. Stressed out? Knot in the shoulder. Nervous? Dippy tummy. With the Technique you can go as far with the emotional stuff as you are willing, or you can just focus on the physical benefits.

standing tall

There seems to be a lot of misinformation when it comes to the Alexander Technique. One of the most common fallacies is the one where you are supposed to imagine a string coming through the top of your head, pulling you up.

This, according to Anthony, has nothing to do with the Technique and can be damaging.

Therefore, you should always make sure that your practitioner is registered with the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique (STAT).

After a series of lessons I am standing taller, and the pain in my chest has subsided. I’m now aware of tension in my shoulders or tightening in my neck, and, according to Anthony, that’s just what I’m supposed to do, nothing more.

Just noticing what happens and getting out of the way of it, not trying to change it.


Alexander Technique is about changing the mind, not the body. This all sounds a bit airy-fairy but it works. I’ve learned how to deal with stressful situations, how to present myself more confidently, and I come out of each session feeling like I’m walking on air with loads of energy, and a very alert mind.

It is recommended that you take at least 20-30 half hour sessions to fully benefit and have a foundation that will carry you through life.

Unlike a lot of therapies, the only homework I have is to lay on the floor with my knees up and my head on a stack of books, while I let gravity do its thing. Now that is the kind of homework I can handle.

I’ve had about 10 sessions now and will keep you updated on how it progresses. I’m no longer worried about my chest, but I am still a hypochondriac.

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