Trying to explain Alexander Technique is difficult at best, says Mary Padilla. But out of her small Armonk office, Padilla helps dozens of clients eliminate the harmful tension in their bodies with the more-than-century-old practice.
In its simplest terms, Alexander Technique is a kinesthetically based approach that redistributes muscle tone to eliminate excess strain on the body and mind.
“By using hands-on methods in conjunction with verbal instruction, it can be conveyed quite comprehensibly and effectively,” Padilla said.
Because instructors “teach” rather than “treat” people, and because the focus is on education rather than treatment, Padilla often spends the first session with prospective students explaining the anatomy of the body and how it works. For those who are serious about improving their lives through the Alexander Technique, it is essential they understand what it can do, she said.
“We really do end up fighting ourselves, with most of our daily effort going into inefficiency,” said Padilla, also a veterinarian and owner of North Castle Veterinary Hospital.
Her longtime curiosity about human anatomy led her to earn a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from the College of Arts and Sciences at Cornell University, a Ph.D. in microbiology from the University of Chicago and a postdoctoral fellowship in molecular biology.
Even with those qualifications, Padilla, whose husband, Alfred, is an endocrinologist, felt there was something missing in her life. When her daughter, Lynn, left for college, Padilla sought satisfaction in the arts, taking classical singing at Juilliard in addition to calligraphic art. She exhibits locally and internationally.
“In these two disciplines, I found a resonance between artist and spectator, a part of the other that you reach when you fleetingly touch that part of yourself that you hadn’t known was there,” she said.
It was through the study of voice that Padilla discovered the Alexander Technique, which provided a “practical and biologically based means of harnessing the mind’s influence on the body for their own mutual benefit,” she said.
The technique was developed by F.M. Alexander, an Australian actor whose unconscious habits led to a chronic hoarseness that almost ended his career. In an effort to improve his voice, Alexander analyzed his own movements and discovered that his vocal mechanism was connected to his posture, his emotional state and his thoughts. His tendency to tense up was so ingrained in him that he found it difficult to break the habit.
That, explained Padilla, is the case for millions of people unaware that their bodies are in a form of “muscular holding, creating an unnoticed form of clenching or cringing that becomes as unconscious as it is habitual.” In turn, it often leads to chronic pain or other ailments such as arthritis and knee and back problems.
Dancers, singers and actors often seek out the expertise of an Alexander Technique instructor to improve delivery and control or if they’re trying to recover from an injury, Padilla explained.
Padilla’s small Bedford Road office is sparsely furnished with only a massage table, stools, a bench and a chair, but it’s all she needs to help patients release the excessive tension that often prevents them from feeling the kind of self-awareness necessary for a fulfilling life.
The idea, said Padilla, a certified AT teacher, is for clients to shut out the stimuli that crowds them and become more aware of what they’re doing.
“Everything becomes a bit more acute and more sensitive as a result of this,” she said.
As part of her teacher training, Padilla taught a group of student volunteers earlier in the year. They later wrote about their experiences, included in a book that Padilla published titled “Free Agent: Learning to Teach by Teaching.” One student wrote, “The Alexander Technique is not about lifting weights, sweating or physical exercise. It’s about stopping, letting go, being able to use your mind before you do the simplest of tasks, and allowing your body to release the tension and to stretch through touch and focus.”
Padilla’s practice is at 144A Bedford Rd. To find out more about Alexander Technique in Armonk or to schedule a free consultation, call 914-816-4008, e-mail Padilla at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.alexandertechniqueinarmonk.com.