Of the many things we take for granted every single day, our awareness of ourselves is probably one of the biggest, most overlooked, and potentially most detrimental to our overall success. The failure to truly understand and properly interpret one's own feelings, after all, is a veritable breeding ground for misfortune, unease - and possibly even disaster. Concerns surrounding this disparity between what we actually feel and how we act form of the basis of the Alexander Technique, a hugely influential healing practice founded in the late 19th century by Frederick Matthias Alexander. Unlike yoga, the Alexander Technique is didactic process, as opposed to a kind of exercise or a relaxation methodology, making it a perfect fit for people who don’t think yoga is their thing.
A Shakespearean orator by trade, Frederick Alexander (1869-1955) created his famous technique after he repeatedly suffered voice loss during performances. Doctors could find no reason, so Alexander took matters into his own hands and decided he must be doing something that was causing the problem. After examining himself in mirrors, he noticed he was contracting his body before speaking, which lead him to believing that this retraction of the head back and down must be interfering with his ability to talk. He experimented, and, eventually was able to break his meddlesome habit.
As he predicted, his voice loss stopped as well. During his travels as a performer, he shared his findings and quickly realized that his technique could apply more widely to optimize general health and well-being. He began teaching his process, and it quickly caught on and has since been adopted by many people of many backgrounds. It has been particularly popular among (you guessed it) performers. Some of its practitioners include and have included Hillary Swank, Paul Newman, Jamie Lee Curtis, Judi Dench, John Cleese, Madonna and Sir Ben Kingsley.
Students of the Alexander Technique learn to avoid unwarranted mental and muscular tension that occurs during everyday activities due to constant and chronic misuse of one's body (e.g. slouching, sitting unevenly, favouring one leg over another, etc). The practice teaches students to unlearn harmful physical habits and adopt movements that are more conducive to their well-being. It basically comes down to mindfulness; to being aware of what you're doing - both physically and mentally - and then consciously making an effort to alter detrimental behaviours of habit until the new, taught behaviour becomes unconscious.
What the hell does this have to do with poker?
What doesn't it have to do with poker? Playing winning poker is about getting an edge on your competition, and the Alexander Technique is all about increasing performance and mindfulness over actions. That's one hell of an edge. From teaching you to sit so you're not battling back pain in the 11th hour of tourney play, to teaching you proper breathing techniques to reduce and manage stress at the tables - this technique is the ultimate ace up your sleeve. It’s certainly better than sweating buckets and letting everyone know exactly what’s on your mind. Remember, it’s the technique of performers, and a larger part of poker – winning poker – is performing.
The proof is in the pudding, my friends.
I wouldn't recommend the Alexander Technique if I didn't practice it myself - and I wouldn't use myself as an example if I wasn't a dynamite example of this technique's practices in action. Using what I've learned from these teachings, I've managed to improve my physical and mental strength and flexibility, and as a result, I'm making a living playing the most amazing highest-octane game on the planet.
You can actually take classes on the Alexander Technique, but most of us probably don't want to jump in the deep end. What I recommend is picking up the book, Body, Breath and Being. It comes with audio tapes as well, and - if you follow through - it will give your game a razor sharp edge.