Greater awareness in pregnancy
Nicola Hanefeld. The Alexander Journal No. 10, December 1989
The article was written shortly after completing my Alexander teacher training in 1989 and following the birth of my son in hospital, my second child. My eldest daughter had been born seven months into the course in 1987, also in hospital. In 1994 I gave birth to my third child at home.
The experience of two pregnancies has shown me to what extent I was distanced from my body. Through the AT I discovered how I could benefit from working on this separation towards unifying my ‘Self’. My experience was that my body was several stages ‘more pregnant’ than ‘I’ was. I was not adjusting to the changes as efficiently as my body was. My body proved more aware and reliable in its perception and repeatedly reminded me of my changing state. For example, during the acclimatization period of the first few months, ‘I’ would continue at my normal pace only to be reminded to slow down by a sudden dizzy spell or acute tiredness. Undoubtedly, I would speed up again a few days later, only to receive the same warnings. Later, in more advanced months, whilst attending the training class I was always surprised to see in the mirrors how large I had become; I did not feel as I looked. As time progressed, this discrepancy lessened. During class time I usually experienced a feeling of peace and harmony as a result of working which enabled me to settle more into my body and tune-in with accuracy to the changes creeping up on me.
For me the Alexander Technique in general terms means becoming more of what I am or returning to that which I once was. I addition to this, in terms of being pregnant, the Technique meant having an opportunity to attain a peace within myself which could only have been beneficial to the children I carried, not to mention the positive attitude towards giving birth which consequently resulted. Towards the end of each pregnancy I often had the exhilarating experience through Alexander work of ‘being connected to everything alive’ coupled with a tremendous feeling of life and energy surging through me. This helped me to develop a close relationship to my children prior to birth, starting, for example, with my being able to sense their movements much earlier that I should have according to doctors and the books.
So what were the means whereby I could achieve this? Table work provided painful to my lower back which was sensitive in a way very common to pregnant women. However, it never hurt during chair work or walking, or indeed at any other point otherwise during the pregnancies. One guest teacher, who was not shy of putting hands on my pregnant abdomen (most teachers and fellow students were) showed me that I had the tendency not only to hold the baby within me but also to carry it. The mistake of holding and carrying the baby before necessary is commonly made by pregnant women and leads to the typical ‘pregnant posture’ and potential back ache. Initially, it was not easy to let go – I remember repeatedly having the feeling that I might lose something – as if it were a little risky to do this. With time I learnt – and I find no better way of describing it – to ‘put the baby on an internal shelf’. This ‘shelf’ was more in the direction of my back than my front.
This was, day in day out, the work for which I used the Technique during the two pregnancies. In addition to working on my head-neck-back relationship, I directed myself to let my abdomen go and find contact with my back. In practical terms, as well as ‘head forward and up’ I worked on ‘down, out und back’ for this area of my body. Having a strong contact with my feet and the floor gained in importance the more weight I put on. Repeatedly, I discovered that I had slipped back into the carrying/holding tendency. I never noticed this as quickly as my back did, which would start to ache in that niggling way indicative of poor use. Hence, I became increasingly aware of my use in relation to my pregnancies and learned to trust my body’s messages more than the machinery of my brain. On another occasion while working with a guest teacher, I was confronted with one of my attitude towards being pregnant that had, until then, eluded me. During the work, it came to me, a foggy message from an obscure corner of my mind that part of my tendency to hold my stomach also had to do with not being able to surrender my previous slim body to pregnancy. This surprised me as I honestly and deeply welcomed the children within me. So here was an almost unconscious attitude influencing my use. I am sure it was as a result of the work mentioned that I developed no typical pregnant posture and never felt heavy with pregnancy.
So much for being worked on. As I understand it, the feeling of tranquility that can appear while being worked on stems from the teacher’s own consistent work on him or herself and at the same time letting me be but giving me inviting impulses to change, if I wish to. I was, especially during the second pregnancy, most sensitive to this. For example, if a fellow student working on my was more concerned with working on me than on him/herself I would experience it as an encroachment in an unpleasant way – even to the extent of becoming dizzy and having to stop working. Through non-doing a unity could be achieved giving a sense of contentment similar to that which small children can radiate. They are not concerned with the future, they can just ‘be’. I was very aware how quickly and by what means I would lose this sensation after leaving class.
Towards the end of teacher training I discovered the benefits of putting hands on someone and working on myself. Due to repeatedly adopting the ‘monkey’ position and the lengthening of the back intrinsic to it (‘position’ implies something static, of course it is not), I became especially aware of my back and my habits earlier mentioned. In using my hands I had to empty myself of ‘doings’ and could consequently become more receptive to what directing could give me.
For me, the principles of inhibition and ‘means whereby’ with their subtle interplay, were (and remain) the most difficult aspect of the Technique. Being used to swirling through life, completing household tasks with a speed that leaves my husband (not me) breathless, it is the point where I still have to work the hardest. Repeatedly, I was unable to recognize the moment when ten minutes non-doing to gather energy from that secret source within that can be reached through the Alexander Technique – even if exhausted – is more important than continuing, for example, with housework. Perhaps I may attempt a personal definition of the Technique: I think of it as a way of working which offers me the means to distribute my resources in the most appropriate way for the situation in which I find myself in, provided I am prepared to make the effort to direct myself clearly.
The separation on my body from my ‘me’ dissolved utterly during my son's birth. Here I can say that during labour (which lasted six and a half hours) everything that I understood by the term ‘self’ was unified and concentrated in awareness on the task of opening (the first stage of labour). There was hardly any thinking, worrying or asking questions in between contractions, something that I had tended towards during my daughter's birth, (my first child) which had lasted twelve hours. Common to both births was the short second stage, the really active ‘doing’ stage. This I experienced both times as almost enjoyable, discovering how much strength I had and feeling totally free to use it, having no inhibitions to press the baby out. Both births were without medical intervention except for an episiotomy. Both times my husband was present and was certainly more helpful than the midwives in helping me with the work. Through his developed ability as an Alexander teacher he was able to perceive with accuracy how well I was working (or not) and able to direct me with appropriate words if and when I started to lose my breathing technique during contractions.
My body was without tension during my son's birth, something the midwife commented upon afterwards. She had, however, noticed that now and again I would curl up my toes during a contraction. Since then I have become peculiarly aware of my feet and catch myself performing foot contortions that I had not previously been aware of.
A postscript for those wondering how it is possible to have a baby and complete a training course; it was a combination of the class being very close to home, successful breast-feeding, a peaceful, happy baby, a supportive father with flexible working times and local grandparents to baby-sit when my husband could not. Both pregnancies were without complications and in no way hampered my attending class regularly. With my daughter I attended class up to a week before her arrival, with my son, up to three days at the end of my teacher training.