What is the Alexander Technique?
The Alexander Technique is an educational method used worldwide for over 100 years. By teaching how to change faulty postural habits, it enables improved mobility, posture, performance and alertness and relief of chronic stiffness, tension and stress.
People study the Technique for a variety of reasons. The most common is to relieve pain through learning better coordination of the musculoskeletal system.
Another common reason is to enhance performance. Athletes, singers, dancers and musicians use the Technique to improve breathing, vocal production, and speed and accuracy of movement.
The most far-reaching reason people study the Technique is to achieve greater conscious control of their reactions.
During lessons you learn through direct experience how to go about your daily activities with increasingly less effort and greater ease. You develop awareness of habits that interfere with your natural coordination and learn how to undo these patterns to consciously redirect your whole self into an optimal state of being. Most of us have many habitual patterns, learned consciously or unconsciously. These patterns can be unlearned, enabling the possibility of new choices – in posture, movement and reactions.
What are the benefits of the Alexander Technique?
Improved ability to deal with stress
By teaching how to respond to any stimulus with less tension, the Alexander Technique enables you to better handle life’s stresses.
A leading contributing factor of musculoskeletal pain (and often its underlying cause) is unrecognized patterns of excess tension. People tend to respond to pain by tensing further, which usually exacerbates discomfort. Because it teaches how to recognize and unlearn these habitual patterns, the Alexander Technique is known for its effectiveness in relieving neck, back and joint pain for the long-term.
Athletes – amateur and professional – use the Technique to improve strength, increase endurance, enhance flexibility and increase speed and accuracy of responsiveness. Performing artists (actors, singers, dancers, musicians) apply the principles to relieve performance anxiety while improving concentration and stage presence. Public speakers use it to improve vocal projection and overall voice quality. Those in business find it enhances presentation skills and increases confidence.
What does the Alexander Technique teach?
The Alexander Technique teaches constructive conscious control of functioning. With a teacher’s guidance you develop increased awareness of habits of thought and habits of posture and movement.
As you learn how to refrain from – or inhibit – habitual patterns which are not useful to you, you’ll become more aware of tendencies towards unnecessary muscular patterns of tension or collapse. Undoing these habitual patterns provides the opportunity for something new to occur: natural movement and spontaneity.
How can the Alexander Technique help with pregnancy, childbirth and parenthood?
The Alexander Technique has much to offer women before, during and after childbirth.
Before pregnancy, study of the Technique will enable you to unlearn harmful postural habits while improving balance and coordination. This will help prepare you for the changes your body will experience in pregnancy.
During pregnancy, your Alexander teacher can teach you how to hold and carry yourself to reduce, if not eliminate, back pain commonly experienced with increased weight in front of the body. The baby’s growth limits your internal space and organs become compressed. Digestive problems and shortness of breath often follow. Learning how to hold and carry yourself differently allows more internal space for both you and the baby. With more breath and mobility, it will be easier for you to stay active. Lessons in the Alexander Technique can enable you to coordinate breathing and strengthen pelvic muscles as you prepare for labor and delivery.
After the birth of your child, you can continue to use what you learn to enable nursing to be more comfortable and to more easily handle the constant lifting and carrying that come with parenthood.
I sit at a computer all day. Can the Alexander Technique help me be more comfortable?
Repetitive strain injury, carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic back pain, headaches and stress-related disorders are common to many computer users. While changes to the work station — chair design, monitor and keyboard placement — can improve the ergonomics, the Alexander Technique teaches you how to use your body comfortably even when the work station is not ideal. With the Alexander Technique you can learn how to avoid injury and relieve the tension and pain often associated with computer use.
Your Alexander Technique teacher can teach you how to:
- sit upright without strain
- prevent spinal compression and muscular tension in the neck, shoulders and upper back
- improve range of motion in the joints
- reduce pressure on the keyboard and mouse to relieve stress on the wrist and prevent carpal tunnel injury
- become more aware of your body’s signals and signs of distress so you can relieve tension before it escalates to pain
- breathe properly to prevent fatigue and calm the nervous system
- restore balance – during and after work
What have doctors said about the Alexander Technique
Increasing numbers of physicians and health care professionals are recommending the Alexander Technique to their patients. Offered in wellness centers and health education programs worldwide, the Alexander Technique is appropriate for patients with chronic back pain, neck pain, migraines, repetitive stress injuries, balance and coordination problems, and for the depression and anxiety that often accompanies chronic pain and stress.
Here are some comments from doctors and health professionals:
“The Alexander Technique remains the best of the self-care strategies to prevent the sequel of poor posture and poor breathing.”
Harold Wise, MD, PC, New York, NY
“The Alexander Technique stresses unification in an era of greater and greater medical specialization. Its educational system teaches people how to best use their bodies in ordinary action to avoid or reduce unnecessary stress and pain. It enables clients to get better faster and stay better longer. This is undoubtedly the best way to take care of the back and alleviate back pain.”
Jack Stern, MD, PhD, Neurosurgical Group of Westchester, White Plains, NY
“I found the Technique to be so beneficial in my condition that I have been referring patients in certain situations for Alexander lessons over the last several years.”
Howard L. Rosner, MD Director, Pain Management Service, The New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center, New York, NY
“Habitual patterns of scrunched and tense use of the body are so engrained in our lives that the concept may seem extraordinary that unlearning these patterns can actually relieve pain and discomfort–but lessons in the Alexander Technique not only succeed for many people, they also allow a welcome sense of new ease in performance of all physical activities, e.g., playing a sport, using a computer keyboard, or playing a musical instrument. Research in which I have been involved has also shown enhanced strength of the muscles of breathing after a course of lessons.”
John H.M. Austin, MD, Professor Emeritus of Radiology, Columbia University Medical Center, New York, NY
“I think I have given my patients something almost as good as magic. I have taught them what to do and not do when their backs give them trouble, and how to reduce unnecessary stress and pain. As a result, they no longer have to feel afraid and helpless when back pain occurs. Many consider themselves cured because they have been able to return to an active, normal lifestyle.”
Deborah Caplan, PT, certified Alexander Technique teacher and author of Back Trouble, New York, NY
“Not only do I see the therapeutic benefits of this work with various patient problems, but it has helped me deal effectively with my own adverse muscular tension. I continue to experience a newfound freedom of movement in my own body that I believe is making me a more effective therapist.”
Howard W. Makofsky, MS, OCS, Mastic Beach, NY
“In addition to its physiologic and musculoskeletal benefits, the Alexander Technique is extremely helpful in relieving the psychological states of depression and anxiety that so often accompany chronic pain and disease. It is my belief, based on professional experience, that the Alexander Technique should be part of all preventative health and education programs. It is as basic as good nutrition.”
Jill Sanders, DO, New York, NY
“The Alexander Technique makes sense in that appropriate use of the body will lead to reduction of various musculoskeletal disorders and remediate others which are established. No equipment is needed, just the skill and training of the teacher. This technique is very worthwhile as a primary preventative therapy. It is especially useful when posture is a key factor in back injuries while lifting and for workers who perform repetitive tasks while sitting.”
Robert D. Greene, MD, Emergency Department, Norwalk Hospital, Norwalk, CT
“The Alexander Technique has been very helpful in identifying the postural and breathing habits that contribute to my fatigue and muscle soreness. I found it a good value: cost effective, making me less dependent on chiropractors and more comfortable at work.”
Douglas J. Bush, DMD, Chester, NJ
“When, in spite of my instruction, a patient is having difficulty understanding how to make changes in habitual movement patterns or has a profession with particular physical demands, I typically suggest the Alexander Technique. I have found it very helpful for patients who have low body awareness or who have trouble relaxing. Improvement in these areas facilitates many physical therapy modalities, especially cervical spine joint mobilization.”
Gail King, PT, MS, Backtec Orthopedic & Sports Physical Therapy, New York, NY