It was 1994 and I was in my twenties, well on the way to a successful career in television when I was hit with the news that I had Multiple Sclerosis. It was a mild case, but a case nonetheless, I had frequent pain in my neck and shoulders, which was often severe. It prevented me from doing simple things such as turning my head to the side, and all of the muscles around my spine and shoulders were rock hard. When I consulted my doctors they could only offer the advice, 'I hope you don't get any worse' - and that was about the extent of their support.
After that bombshell my main concern was to find a way to live a full and normal life, free from pain. I decided to investigate the world of complementary health for a solution. I started with my diet- getting rid of any junk food, I then saw psychotherapists, reflexologists, even masseuses. They all helped a bit, but when up against chronic neck and shoulder pain they didn't really show any marked sign of improvement. I saw an osteopath; they were by far the greatest help and the relief from pain was significant, however it was a short-term solution to a long-term problem, and the pain soon returned.
I was at a loose end when a friend from my yoga class turned me onto something called the Alexander Technique; a form of complementary health started by Frederick Matthias Alexander, an Australian actor, who when faced with persistent vocal problems that doctors were unable to prevent, analysed his own postural habits and movement. He found that he was exerting unnecessary tension in muscles which, when released, significantly eased movement. The Alexander Technique was born. Since then it has been used in performing arts schools with everyone from Madonna and Victoria Beckham to Roald Dahl and Sting having practised the technique.
I booked a lesson immediately and the results were, well, outstanding to say the least. It followed on from where the osteopathy left off, directly re-establishing my overall balance and easing unnecessary tension by improved postural habits. What followed was pain relief I hadn't experienced since being diagnosed with MS. I carried on with my lessons, and over time I achieved my goal of living a normal and pain-free life. It was whilst undertaking lessons from Noël Kingsley, a highly regarded teacher of the Alexander Technique, that I was turned onto the Constructive Teaching Centre, where I would spend the next three years training to be an Alexander Technique teacher.
It's now nineteen years since my diagnosis and Multiple Sclerosis has led me onto a career path I couldn't have imagined during my early days of working in TV. I now teach the Alexander Technique out of the Pimlico Centre, seeing between five and eight students a day. I should probably point out here that the reason I use the term 'students' is because that's exactly what they are, students.
The Alexander Technique doesn't tell you to 'bend this way, stretch that way, right good, off you go', instead it teaches you to become aware of your individual postural habits over a course of time, so once you know how to maintain a comfortable and natural posture, you can carry on doing so when you leave the lesson and in your everyday life. The technique is often known for its ability to improve posture, but it is very much a form of self-help to be carried through one's life. The results in improved self awareness encourage confidence and promote self-worth.
My students are an eclectic mix, coming from all walks of life, including: singers, teenagers, nurses, barristers, fitness instructors and even a martial arts instructor and a Member of Parliament. I see all of my students on a one to one basis, in a relaxed and friendly environment, assessing what they are here to achieve, before teaching them the technique in a way that relates to their problems and goals, and can be applied to their everyday life.
Susanna Scouller is a teacher of the Alexander Technique based at The Pimlico Centre. For more information please visit her website, or get in touch for advice on how the Alexander Technique can help you.