I’ve been through a period of profound change while learning the Alexander Technique and training as a teacher. But change takes time. I realised this after meeting Ötzi the Iceman in two different bodily forms. There I was cycling uphill through vineyards and orchards in northern Italy, finding the mountains oppressive and the sun fierce. In addition my knee ached with every turn of the pedals. Then my mood lifted when I came across Ötzi on a rest day in the stylish town of Bolzano.
The discovery of Ötzi’s mummified body
Hikers discovered the first Ötzi – a mummified and shrunken body – in 1991 on a mountain glacier close to the Austrian border nearby. We peered at it through the glass of a special cell in the museum where it rests like a medieval relic, constantly cooled to prevent decay.
How Ötzi died
Researchers have slowly pieced together Ötzi’s story. At first they thought his remains belonged to a lost climber. We now know he lived 5000 years ago and died violently one summer up on the glacier. A hand wound showed he’d been in a fight a few days before.
Hours before his death he climbed up from the valley into the mountains. His killer followed, shooting him in the back from below with an arrow. A revenge attack after the earlier fight? Then came a blow to the head or maybe a fall. Blood loss meant he died quickly. His body lay face down on a large flat stone. It remained preserved in ice until its accidental discovery all those years later.
What we know about Ötzi
We know he was about 45 (an old man for the time), with brown eyes, loose dark wavy hair and a beard. He was not in good shape – his many tattoos were probably an early form of acupuncture for pain relief. He had worn joints, some broken bones and signs of a recent chronic illness. Too much time sitting over an open fire had blackened his lungs.
Ötzi’s second incarnation
At the end of the exhibition we met the second Ötzi. This was a reconstruction by the Dutch twins Kennis and Kennis, who make lifelike and authentic models of ancient humans for museums all over Europe. He was upright, three-dimensional, unexpectedly modern, very human and engaging. This was a fitting finale to Ötzi’s absorbing story.
How I’ve changed from learning the Alexander Technique
Our rest day over, it was time to pedal south. As I looked round at the fertile river valley I saw why Ötzi had caught my imagination. It was more than just cycling in his deerskin-clad footsteps and living off the land. I have also inhabited two bodies. The first was uncomfortable, immobile and contracted, how I used to be. The second is taller, full of life and breath, more open and upright and balanced. I also feel more human and ready to move and be in the world.
The second version has only slowly emerged from the first. It’s almost a decade since my initial Alexander Technique lesson started the process of deep psycho-physical change. Both our stories continue to evolve with new insights. Researchers have only recently located Ötzi’s stomach and identified his last meal . There’s a new film about his life and death. And I too am revising my story after uncovering a degree of hypermobility I wasn’t aware of.
We can change, but it takes time
My knee was still sore as my bike bumped over the wooden slats on the cycle bridge across the rushing water. I was more optimistic, not just because the day’s ride was downhill. I’ve learned that we’re not fixed and can change. The pace may feel glacial but our stories can develop irrespective of age. We too can thaw out and become more fully human if we allow ourselves the choice and the time.
Written in Terms 7/8 of my training as an Alexander Technique teacher.