The Alexander Technique is a simple and practical method that can help people solve the common movement problems that often cause chronic pain.
Back pain is a major reason but not the only reason that people seek out an Alexander Technique teacher. People come wanting help with chronic neck and shoulder tension, stress-related conditions, migraines, repetitive strain injuries, problems with coordination and balance, breathing, and vocal difficulties. Others study the Alexander Technique to help them perform better at a favorite activity, such as dance, music, or athletics. Others study because they want to learn how to best manage a chronic condition such as scoliosis or arthritis. Lastly some people just want to learn how to take a more active role in their health and well-being as they age.
The foundational principle of the Alexander Technique is that how you use yourself affects how you function. By extension, misuse can cause malfunction. Your Use is more than just your posture. It is how you support and coordinate yourself at any moment, whether in movement or at rest. Your Use is influenced by your thinking and your emotions. How you react to things also plays a big role in your Use. You can think of your Use as how you do what you do, but in a very broad sense. It is often how we do an activity that creates problems, not the activity itself. Study of the Alexander Technique is a study of the Use of the Self.
The Alexander Technique is not however, something to do, as one might do a set of strengthening exercises or do a yoga practice. Instead it is a set of simple principles that are learned and can be applied to what you already do. Applying these principles can enhance any activity by teaching you how to be aware of restrictive habits that may be creating undue pressure and tension in your body, limiting your freedom of movement and overall coordination as well as contributing to chronic pain.
- Improve posture, balance and overall coordination
- Move with less strain and more ease and efficiency
- Reduce and in some cases eliminate musculoskeletal pain
- Better manage chronic conditions such as arthritis and fibromyalgia
- Breathe and use your voice more easily
- Deal with stress more effectively
- Improve skills in activities such as yoga, athletics or playing a musical instrument
BMJ Introduction to the Alexander Technique: Part 1
BMJ Introduction to the Alexander Technique Part 2
The Alexander Technique is named after F.M. Alexander (1869-1955), an Australian actor who was plagued early on in his career with severe vocal problems. Not able to find lasting relief from treatments offered him by his doctors, Alexander wondered if he might be somehow causing his vocal problem. Alexander began to observe himself in mirrors while he was reciting. He discovered that a pattern of muscle tension throughout his body, caused by interference with the natural balance between his head and spine, was the source of his vocal trouble. He developed a process for recognizing and changing these debilitating habits enabling him to get back on stage. It is his process that we call the Alexander Technique. Alexander began training teachers in 1932 in London to carry on his work. He also wrote several books about his work. The most accessible of these books is The Use of the Self.
Working with an Alexander Teacher
Alexander teachers most commonly work with students one on one. This allows the teacher to focus the lesson on the student’s unique habits, needs and learning style.
The skills of the Alexander Technique are simple. However, it is often hard to see your own habits, especially at first. Therefore, the aid of a certified teacher can be quite helpful. Alexander teachers are trained in a very special use of their hands. One of the many benefits of one on one lessons is that the teacher is able to give you hands on help. This can greatly facilitate your learning. Often in a group setting, this hands on help is not practical.
In a typical lesson the teacher will use verbal instruction and this gentle hands on guidance to teach you how to consciously reduce habitual interference with the head-spine relationship and to approach everyday movements with less effort and more ease. You may also work on releasing tension while lying on a bodywork table. Some teachers do teach in groups and this can be a good way to get an introduction to the Alexander Technique.
What to Expect
Over a course of lessons you will improve your skills of self observation, gain the ability to recognize and stop the habits that interfere with your body’s natural poise and coordination, and ultimately apply the skills you learn on your own.As you learn to move with less effort and more ease, you can make surprising improvements in how you look and feel. As you learn to apply the skills of the Alexander Technique, you begin practicing an effective, lasting method of self care.
Although far reaching in its effects, the Alexander Technique is quite simple in principle and can be easily understood by anyone. Students who are most likely to benefit from study of the Alexander Technique have a willingness to learn about themselves and to take some responsibility for themselves. Students should not currently be experiencing a level of pain or dysfunction that would preclude learning.