In my mid twenties I lived in Paris for a year, and worked at the offices of American Vogue. During Fashion Week I was a runner back stage at the Louvre for the Rifat Ozbek show, and rubbed shoulders with super models like Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista. I remember the imposing figure of Andre Leon Talley, with an open champagne bottle swinging from his fingertips, complaining about the lateness of the show and saying Anna Wintour was not happy with the delay to the start (in those days all the shows seemed to run at least an hour late). Ever since, the approach of Fashion Week produces a delicious excitement in me, and I love driving past the Science Museum seeing the tents go up, and wondering what the new colours, new moods, new lines will be.
The offices of American Vogue were of course littered with samples and I remember gazing at coloured leather gloves from Christian Lacroix and beautiful black coats from Kenzo. That was the early nineties and I was a couple of years from my first Alexander Technique lesson, and twelve years from beginning the three year training to become a teacher of the Alexander Technique, so looking back, I could never have done justice to the beautiful Couture I saw there, even if I had been important enough at the time to wear it. I was young, but I had lived long enough to gather plenty of unconscious habits of muscular tension that had caused uneven hunched shoulders and an arched back. However beautiful and expensive your clothes are, if you can't carry off the look it won't work, and a good look is as much about posture and elegant movement as it is about weight and body shape.
So how does it work, and how can we achieve an improved state of poise, readying ourselves for the joys of trying out next season's new looks? Well when you take lessons in the AT as I did twenty years ago, you learn about your individual habits of movement and general carriage, and how to change those habits. It's a mind/body re-education that people embark on for lots of different reasons.
The Alexander Technique is used by actors and musicians alike and is taught at all drama and music schools. The technique has got plenty of celebrity students, from Madonna to Hugh Jackman, and even Marilyn Monroe was said to practise regularly. The actress Juliet Stevenson has hailed the method as 'miraculous' and the novelist Aldous Huxley claimed that it cured him of 'neurotic tendencies'.
I taught Shelia Hancock while she was preparing for her long run on the West End stage as the Mother Superior in Sister Act, and have worked with drummers and violinists, both of whom are prone to excess tension in the neck and shoulders, an obvious hazard of their work. Preparing yourself for the catwalk is another very good reason to learn the AT, as the extreme poses that models have to assume for photo shoots and runways can be hard on the musculoskeletal system and require great balance and successful body weight distribution, especially in high heels.
The Alexander Technique makes much more of a difference than just changing your diet or doing an extra crunch at the gym. It was developed by Frederick Matthias Alexander, an actor himself, to teach people greater awareness of their postural habits, and 'use' of themselves in all of their movements whether every day chores or specialised skills.
At the Pimlico Centre I help my students to change their postural habits and to return to their natural state of poise, undoing the effects of modern life. Alexander Technique teachers use the specialised guidance of their hands and verbal instruction to re-distribute tone between the support muscles of the neck and back, the breathing muscles of the trunk, and the movement muscles of limbs. This brings about a whole new awareness of how the body supports itself, resulting in not only better posture but also a general feeling of well-being.
Now, I hear you thinking, how on earth can something as simple as letting go of muscle tension get me looking 'catwalk ready'? I have encountered some scepticism to the AT, often because it is very difficult to clearly describe and needs to be experienced to be fully understood. People are so often afraid of the unknown and tend to dismiss things that they cannot easily categorise. The British Medical Journal published a study about the Alexander Technique a few years ago, which helped change some sceptics' opinions, however I do feel that more research needs to be done in order to convince the masses.
Many people carry tension in their backs and shoulders, especially those who work in high pressure jobs, such as those in the fashion world. People who are constantly on the go, constantly in sky high heels or working in front of computer screens all day can actually inflict permanent damage on their bodies and develop chronic problems due to how they stand, sit or walk. Victoria Beckham is someone who fits this description and is another pupil of the Alexander Technique. By practising the Alexander Technique she is strengthening her core muscles, improving her breathing and counter balancing some of the effects that a demanding job and public life can have on the body.
By improving the way that you operate the machine that is you, you are releasing the tension in your muscles and combating the tightening which leads to curvature of your spine and neck in later life. This results in a return to your full height and breadth, and a poised and confident stature. Believe it or not, confidence in how you stand gives the appearance of health, something which coveters strive after when pursuing the newest crash diet or exercise regime.
I am a strong advocate of eating healthily and exercising regularly, however in a controlled and stable way. The Alexander Technique can introduce this stability into your life, as it did in mine. Away from the bright lights of award ceremonies, film premieres and fashion shows, it feels good to have the ability to turn heads wherever you are.