The Alexander Technique works to re-educate the body and to release all unnecessary physical tension.
What can the Alexander Technique treat?
Practitioners claim that the Alexander Technique is able to help those suffering from:
- musculo-skeletal problems such as back and neck pain
- rehabilitation following injury or accident
- stress-related conditions
- migraine and headaches
- repetitive strain injury
- joint conditions such as arthritis
- aiding performance in music and the theatre
- problems during pregnancy such as back problems
- young children naturally possess excellent poise and balance but bad habits can be quickly learnt from adults. The Alexander Technique can help children from an early age.
The Alexander Technique works on the premise that our appearance, performance and health are directly affected by the way we use our bodies.
Thus, excessive tension or postural distortion – the results, for example, of years of sitting and moving badly – can lead to health problems or physical pain. By aiming to achieve perfect balance and poise with the minimum degree of tension, the Alexander Technique works to re-educate the body, to change old habits and ultimately to release all unnecessary physical tension and imbalance.
The Technique was developed in the late nineteenth century by Australian born actor Frederick Matthias Alexander. Beset by vocal troubles and unable to obtain help from doctors, Alexander noticed that he habitually tensed his neck muscles before speaking. This had the effect of pulling his head back and down on top of his spine and depressing his vocal chords. By carefully aligning the head, neck and spine, Alexander found that he could cure himself of his vocal problems.
The great success of the technique – which also has positive effects on well-being and on functions such as breathing, circulation and digestion – took Alexander on teaching tours around the world until his death in 1955.
Many people claim that the Alexander Technique helps them feel more graceful, more physically balanced and better able to move economically and efficiently. Several controlled studies have been conducted on the technique. In 1992, ten adult volunteers received 20 private lessons at weekly intervals; another ten volunteers acted as controls. The ten receiving treatment showed stronger respiratory muscular strength and endurance, leading researchers to believe that this was because the Alexander technique increased the length of the torso muscles. Other studies have shown that the technique is also good for relieving back pain.
Consultation and treatment
During the initial consultation, the practitioner may ask you to stand, walk or sit. This is to assess your current postural habits.
The practitioner will then ask you to lie on the floor, with knees bent and head supported by a pile of books, whilst he or she gently guides – usually through touch – parts of the body to encourage lengthening or release of tension.
Later, you will be asked to perform simple movements such as sitting, standing or walking and similar manual guidance will take place. You are encouraged throughout to be aware of how you are using your body.
The purpose of the Technique is to re-educate the muscles away from habits of excessive tension towards a more natural "use of the self".
The Alexander Technique does not offer a quick fix solution to problems but rather an opportunity to change life-long habits. A basic course of 20 lessons – each lasting about 45 minutes – is recommended but progress varies according to individual aptitude and commitment.
Costs start from about £18 per half hour.
The Alexander Technique cannot be learned without the hands-on contact of a teacher. However, if it is to be useful, its principles must be regularly practised in daily life. In this respect, once you have had some practical experience, books on the Technique can be both useful and encouraging.
How to find a teacher
Members of the main umbrella organisation, The Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique, use the initials MSTAT (Member of the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique) after their name. The Society supervises training, upholds a Code of Ethics and maintains a register of teachers. All members of the Society have received three years’ full-time training and are fully insured. Send an SAE A5 envelope to the Society for further information.
The Alexander Technique is very gentle and is suitable for all ages and conditions.