This article appeared in the Ehlers-Danlos National Foundation Summer 2009 Loose Connections newsletter:
The Alexander Technique: My Good Fortune
Another in our series of stories from EDNF members on a unique change having EDS made in their lives.
MY EDS story is no doubt very familiar to you. As an active child with lots of energy I had more than the typical number of trips to the emergency room for stitches (mostly on my shin and chin) and by the time I was ten had had more tetanus shots than most people do in two or three lifetimes. I was hypermobile everywhere and no one knew why. It just seemed to be the way I was.
Because I loved to move, I easily fell into studying dance at the University of Oregon for undergraduate work. I got a wonderful education and my flexibility served me well. I was however, "all over the place" with my body, basically flailing, and found balancing on one leg to be a real challenge. One "position" felt just like the next and I had a hard time figuring out where to be with my body as it would go just about anywhere. I had many more choices than the people around me who were fairly tight and quite jealous of my flexibility. Everyone whished they had my flexibility and couldn't understand that being overly flexible has its own set of significant problems.
During my graduate studies in dance at the Ohio State University I started taking classes in the Alexander Technique from the music school. Several of us were doing anything we could to improve our dance technique. These classes were amazing for me right from the beginning. They taught me a way of moving that gave me the ability to balance in an entirely new way. This completely changed my way of approaching my body and movement.
For the first time in my life, I found a sense of direction through my whole body and an organization of the parts that allowed me to move in a much more unified and supported way. I began to have some control over my flexibility and balance that didn't come from grabbing on to my body and bracing some parts while allowing others to collapse against each other. I learned how unaware I was of the things I was doing that were contributing to my own imbalance.
My good fortune continued when I was teaching dance at the University of Illinois Urbana in the late '70's. I found an Alexander Technique Teacher training class that was starting up. One of the teachers, Joan Murray, had been a dancer so she knew what kinds of demands I was placing on my body. My teaching schedule permitted me to attend the class and become an Alexander Technique teacher myself. The intense study was just what I needed. However, at the time, I still didn't know I had EDS.
Several years later in the early '80s, after I had started my own AT practice in New York City, a visiting friend of a student came in for one isolated lesson. The moment I saw her I was shocked. She looked like me in so many ways. We had similar features and similar bent toes!! I heard about EDS for the first time and following her lesson I went to a doctor and was diagnosed with the hypermobility type of EDS. I learned that all that dancing I had done (and all that extra stretching) was contraindicated for EDS. I was still dancing and decided not to stop as I love to move so much.
My hypermobiity finally caught up with me about three years ago when my left hip joint lost its integrity and the bone met the bone in a painful way that really limited my movement. I developed a limp, and the rest of my body started to very noticeably compensate. My great posture was gone.
Although I stopped dancing about ten years ago, I continue to do my own movement practices. Likewise, I am still teaching and practicing the Alexander Technique, which continues to be my saving grace. Throughout the years, it has allowed me to function and move with relative freedom in a mostly pain-free state, to enjoy a career in dance, to recover with ease from my hip replacement and to do all this despite having EDS. I am grateful for the good fortune of discovering it!
A. Rodiger ©2009