Today I will describe an incredibly simple and effective technique that once learned can be effectively used to stop a panic attack dead in its tracks. If you take just a few minutes each day to practice this technique then your body will be under less tension and your mind will tend to remain in a more relaxed state in general. This technique is just one of many techniques that are used in a body-mind science and methodology called the Alexander Technique.
The technique was discovered and developed by Frederick Matthias Alexander (1855 – 1955), a Shakespearean orator/actor in Australia during the late 1890’s. After several years F.M. Alexander began to develop chronic ailments which included losing his voice. Doctors were unable to offer Mr. Alexander a reason for his ailments. They even suggested that he move to a different climate and environment. Eventually Alexander lost his oratory voice and ceased performing.
Since Alexander’s voice was still intact, but only abated when he was going to perform he decided that he must be doing something that was the cause of his problems. So with a chair and a set of mirrors F.M. Alexander began to consciously observe himself. He spent hundred of hours observing and experimenting with his posture, breath, movement, and ergonomics. Through this painstaking observation of himself F.M. Alexander not only regained perfect use of his voice, but discovered a body-mind connection, and developed a methodology to help others to use their bodies to improve their physical and mental well-being through proper use of the the body and breath.
Although his methods are seldom know of or taught by psychologists, they have been quietly used with exceptional efficacy for over 100 years in the performing arts community where Alexander specialized in training actors, orators, vocalists, and musicians in his techniques. The Alexander Technique is a comprehensive and scientific methodology that makes use of the body (proper posture, breath, and movement) to reduce physical stress and injury, as well as calming the mind and reduce tension and anxiety. The result is improved physical health, mental health, posture, elocution, voice, performance, and overall well-being. F.M. Alexander wrote four books on the subject including The Use of the Self, and there have also been numerous other books based on his teachings. His methods are used by many A-list celebrities such as: Pierce Brosnan, Jamie Lee Curtis, Colin Davis, Richard Gere, William Hurt, Jeremy Irons, Hugh Jackman, James Earl Jones, Kevin Kline, Joanna Lumley, Madonna, Sir Paul McCartney, Kelly McGillis, Paul Newman, Lynn Redgrave, Keanu Reeves, Maggie Smith, Mary Steenbergen, Hilary Swank, Sting, Robin Williams, Joanne Woodward and members of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, to name a few. The Alexander Technique is also and are taught in leading performing arts institutions including the Tisch School for the Performing Arts at New York University.
I am not an Alexander Technique coach, but as I write this I think perhaps it is time I got the training. Give my instructions a go but if they do not help you please don’t write them off. Seek out a qualified Alexander Technique Teacher via the Internet. I have used this technique myself with great success. In fact, helped a friend stop an anxiety attack via the phone in all of three minutes. My friend was in a store shopping with his wife. He sneaked off into an empty isle and called me from his cell phone. He just followed my instructions and within three minutes has was able to calmly hang up and continue shopping with his wife. I am still amazed by how well this worked.
Stand in a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. You can do this with your eyes open or closed. It doesn’t matter. It is best to do this technique in a standing position, but if you are having any kind of issues standing then you can start to learn this technique from a seated position and then move into a standing position when you are able to.
Remove your shoes and place your feet a little less than shoulder with apart, planting your feet firmly on the ground.
Face forward, stand up straight but relaxed.
Now loosen your jaw by gently letting it drop so that your mouth is in an open and relaxed position. Do not drop your jaw by opening you mouth by opening your jaw wide or bringing your head back. You simply drop your lower jaw by just letting it drop down into a relaxed position. When I first learned this I thought that I must have looked stoned or zoned out and I wondered if I could do this in public. I later checked myself in the mirror and because this is so subtle I actually looked quite normal and relaxed.
Now make sure that your shoulders are relaxed and that your head is just sitting on top of your spine. Imagine that there is an a horizontal line that starts just under the left temple on the left side of your head, and runs straight through your head to the same space just below your right temple. In the middle of this line is where your head attaches to your spine. You head just sits on top of your spine there like a bobble head. So you just slowly tilt your head forward and backward a bit until you feel it balance on the top of your spine.
So now you are facing forward with your jaw dropped open and relaxed. You face should feel relaxed. Your eyes, your forehead, your jaw, the back of your had, your whole head and face should feel relaxed and balanced.
Now make sure that your shoulders are relaxed with your arms just hanging down, like a skeleton. Your you body were a meat suit your shoulders would be the hanger that your body suit hangs on, so just try to let you skeleton support your and let you muscles let go and relax. Don’t worry. You’ll still be standing tall. You won’t be slouching and you won’t be swaying. You’ll just be standing straight and relaxed.
Now your going to need to make a sound called the Whispered Ah. The Ah sound will come from exhaling with your mouth open a little wider than it is right now, with the air touching the soft pallet of your mouth. To get a sense for where the breath must be directed do the following to get a feel for what I mean by the the soft pallet: Touch your tongue to the top of your mouth behind your top teeth. Now bring the tongue back over the top hard surface of the interior of you mouth. Bring it back a little more while keeping it in contact with the roof of your mouth and you will feel it touch the soft part of the the roof your mouth. That is the soft pallet. That is where the exhaling air that you are going to use to create the whispered Ah must be hitting to do this correctly. Relax your tongue and jaw again and just give your self a thoughtful body scan to see that you are still in the same straight relaxed position that you were in before we used the tongue to find the soft pallet. and concentrate on that soft palate. You’re just standing there facing forward with your jaw gently lose and dropped so that your mouth is open. You head is resting and balancing on the top of your spine, and your arms are just hanging down like a Raggedy Ann doll.
Now take a gentle breath in through your nose and into your abdomen, and then exhale the air out of your open and relaxed mouth to make the “Whispered Ah” sound of ahhhhh. Here are some common corrections:
- If you are getting an ah sound that is not whispered, just use less force on your exhalation.
- If you are getting an oh or an oo sound then your mouth is not open enough.
- If you are getting an eh sound then your throat is too tight.
- And if your are getting a ha sound then you’re not starting by breathing out from the front of your mouth.
Take a relaxing breath and relax a moment and then you’ll try it again. Try not to get frustrated and tense. It is not as easy to follow written instructions as it would be if you had someone there to train you in person, but you can do it!
Let’s try it again. See that you are standing straight with your feet a little less than shoulder with apart. Your feet should feel solidly placed on the ground so that your fell planted and balanced, but keep everything relaxed. Check that your head is facing forward and that it is feeling balanced upon the top or your spine like a bobble head. You can tilt your head gently and slowly front and back until you feel that it is balanced. Let your arms just dangle down your at your sides from your shoulders like a skeleton. Let your jaw gently drop down so that your mouth is in a relaxed open position. Your whole body should feel relaxed, especially you face, eyes, head, and mouth. Now take a gentle breath in through your nose and into your abdomen., and then open your mouth a little wider and exhale your breath so that it hits the soft pallet on the roof of your mouth and creates the whispered sound of ahhhhh.
Once you’re got the “Whispered Ah” sound you should repeat this gentle breathing in through your nose, into your abdomen, and then exhaling it so that it hits the soft pallet that is located at the rear interior roof of your mouth. Your mouth should be relaxed and open just enough to create the ah sound as opposed to the oo sound.
Repeat this several times and feel yourself relax. Once your feel pretty relaxed take a little break and then continue on with the following instructions:
Get into the same standing, balanced, relaxed posture as before and do the “Wispered Ah” a couple of times.
Once you feel relaxed, start to walk slowly around the room. Notice how you are walking. You may feel slow, relaxed, lazy. That’s all good. You may think that you look like a zoned out zombie, but you don’t. You may feel like you’re just walking in and sort of floating around the room. That’s great! You’re just walking around the room, feeling like you’re just floating along whispering ahhhhhh.
You just look like you’re floating along and whispering the word Ahhhhhhh. You’ll know that you’ve got it right because you will feel super calm. You’ll have no tension in the body, and your mind will relax. Any traces of stress, tension, or anxiety will just have melted away.
Practice this for 3 minutes at least three times a day. It will keep you feeling relaxed and calm. If something stresses you out or you start to feel like you’re going to have an anxiety attack, just do the “Whispered Ah” Alexander Technique either standing still or walking around and you’ll instantly calm down. It is really quite amazing how the body and breath can effect the mind. This technique can calm you down just as well and much quicker than popping a Xanex!
Alexander Technique Resources:
- Alexander Technique Studio
- New York Center for the Alexander Technique
- Self Study – The Complete Guide to the Alexander Technique