Dressage riders strive to make the horse travel straight and balanced. But while they focus on their horse's bodies, they sometimes forget that every horse can perform only as well as the person on his back allows. If the rider does not develop a balanced self-carriage, independent from the horse, the horse cannot balance himself either, as he always has to compensate for the weight of the rider.
Unfortunately, there is hardly any person whose body is in balanced self-carriage--the ability gets lost in reaction to life's worries and concerns, leaving behind unbalanced movement patterns created by tensions in the body. These patterns become habits that most riders are hardly aware they have. Additionally, natural crookedness or asymmetry of the body also support the development of unbalanced movement patterns.
Developed more than 100 years ago by Australian actor Frederick Matthias Alexander, the Alexander Technique helps to find one's natural balance by teaching people to be more aware of their bodies and to improve the relationship between the head, neck and back-the key areas for balance and tension problems. <
Saundra Code, a certified Alexander Technique teacher, helps her students develop an awareness of their crookedness and improve their coordination, balance, agility, ease and range of motion. Her goal is to develop efficient movement and to learn to use oneself properly by reducing habitual and unnecessary tensions in the body. The exercises she does to improve body awareness and balance are done mounted and dismounted.
The dismounted classes help the student become more aware of the interaction between the muscle, skeletal and nervous systems and create more effective patterns of action. The mounted lessons serve to apply the newly gained straightness to the riding.
In the Alexander Technique, body awareness consists of four elements.
Kinesthesia - The perception of movement or the sensation of bodily position, presence or movement resulting primarily from stimulation of sensory nerve endings in muscle, tendons and joints. It tells you about the relationship of one limb to another, whether that configuration is changing and your location and size in space. The kinesthetic sense is the only one that informs you about yourself. All the other senses inform you about the outside world.
Proprioception - The proprioceptor is a sensory receptor chiefly in muscle, tendon and joints that responds to stimuli originating within an organism (receptor-nerve ending). It is a grab-bag term including most bodily sensation that is not tactile and not sensations of movement or movement properties. Proprioception would include pain, pleasure, sexual feeling, hunger, tingling and emotions. Some say that tension is an expression of emotion, others say it is resistance to emotion. Proprioception can extend beyond the confines of your body.
Tactile - Tactile sense recognizes hot and cold, pressure from clothing and texture. It can be experienced from both outside and inside the skin.
Energy -There are three systems that influence how you can work with energy. First is the chakra system-an ancient system of energy centers in the body-that can add energy support to the dynamic relationship between the head and neck that influences the body's balance. Second is your center of gravity or Chi energy-Chinese word meaning life force. Third is the body's acupuncture meridan system, which correlates functions in the body to energy centers.
Saundra Code is a certified Alexander Technique teacher. She graduated from The Alexander Alliance in 1995 and from Morven Park International Equestrian Institute in 1986. Code also teaches Dressage, The Alexander Technique and Feldenkrais and Awareness Through Movement at Manito Equestrian Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania. She was the first American to apprentice with Sally Swift author of Centered Riding?. She completed her apprenticeship in 1986. She is a Level IV Centered Riding Instructor and vice-president of Centered Riding, Inc.
Code recommends reading these books: Body Sense by Sally A. Tottle and The Classical Seat by Sylvia Loch.
To become an Alexander Technique teacher takes 1,600 hours of training. For more information and to find an Alexander Technique instructor, contact the Alexander Alliance at (215) 844-0670 or the American Society of Alexander Technique at (800) 473-0620 or visit their Web site at www.alexandertech.org.
The full text of this article originally appeared in the July, 2001 issue of Dressage Today magazine.