The Alexander Technique is a self-help technique which helps us to become more aware of our habits of movement and of how we react to life. It helps us to prevent tension and strain, both physical and mental.
Frederick Matthias Alexander (1869– 1955) was a young actor who lost his voice. Since doctors were unable to help him, he decided to work out a solution to the problem himself. After several years of patient self-observation and experimentation with the aid of mirrors, he discovered certain fundamental facts about human behaviour and was able to restore his voice. He returned to the stage, but was soon inundated with requests to teach from fellow actors, impressed with his vocal control and stage presence. At first he advertised his technique as a method for voice and breathing problems. However, soon he realised that he had discovered something that had much wider application and doctors began to send patients to him. As people restored their natural poise and breathing they noticed that their health and well-being improved.
The Alexander Technique may help:
- with undue muscular tension and pain, such as back and neck pain; and
- with anxiety and stress.
It may also help:
- pregnant women to prepare for the birth of their child;
- performers (musicians, actors, dancers and sportspeople) to deal better with performance anxiety, reduce tension and prevent injuries; and
- individuals to lead happier lives and to deal with life’s unexpected surprises.
The Alexander Technique is very effective for back pain. In 2008 a randomised controlled trial was published in British Medical Journal. The authors of the trial concluded: ‘One to one lessons in the Alexander technique from registered teachers have long term benefits for patients with chronic back pain.’
There has also been research on the Alexander Technique showing ‘significant reductions in neck pain and associated disability’, as well as research showing it is likely to benefit people suffering from Parkinson’s Desease.
What happens in a lesson
As an Alexander Technique teacher, I use gentle touch to guide you into a better balance. I also help you to become aware of habits that are interfering with your free, natural poise and breathing. Every pupil is different and so I will adapt my approach to their individual needs. However, there are certain things that everyone is likely to do in a lesson.
You are introduced to an active rest position – semi-supine position. You will lie on a firm surface with some books under your head and with the soles of your feet on the ground. I will use gentle touch to move your head, neck, shoulders, arms and legs. Your task is to do nothing (to inhibit your reaction to my hands) and leave yourself alone. I will also verbally guide you how to direct (send messages from your brain to your muscles). When I put hands on you I am at the same time thinking about my own balance and co-ordination, directing my own body to be long, wide and calm. Semi-supine position (with or without the help of a teacher) can be a very calming experience and something you can practise for yourself every day. Lying down every day in this position for about 20 minutes helps to encourage your back to lengthen and widen, your breathing to become easier and for your nervous system to calm down generally. It’s also a good way to release undue tension.
Part of a lesson will involve chair work. We look at how you sit down and stand up from a chair. These simple everyday movements can teach us a lot about our habits in general. For example, most people use far too much effort and have little awareness about how they perform the movement. Quite often, for example, people create a lot of tension in their neck and push unnecessarily with their legs, habits of which they are unaware or which feel ‘natural’.
Another aspect of sitting is that very often our back gets tired if we sit too long. But after learning the Alexander Technique you may find that it is possible to sit for longer periods without getting tired.
After getting becoming familiar with semi-supine position and chair work we can look at how you do any activity: walking, sitting at a computer, singing or general voice work, playing an instrument or exercising (e.g. yoga or Pilates), etc. We have a choice as to how we perform any activity: whether in a cramped and tight way or by letting our body lengthen and widen into the movement.
The ‘Mental’ aspect of the Alexander technique
Quite often people think that the Alexander Technique is all about good posture. In one way, yes, it definitely changes how you look and how you feel in your body, but perhaps its biggest influence is on our so-called mental life. Have you ever thought that the way you react to everyday challenges affects you use of yourself as a whole? The Alexander Technique teaches you to become more responsible for your reactions and hence your life in general. Whatever your habitual reactions to the stimulus of everyday life are, it is always possible to change them. So come to a lesson and find out how you can change your whole self (body and mind)!
How many lessons?
- M. Alexander recommended people to have a minimum of 30 lessons: one lesson five times a week, sometimes for six weeks in a row. I agree with Alexander that having lessons frequently will enable you to learn faster and to appreciate the benefits of the Alexander Technique sooner; the more lessons you have the more you learn. Learning the Alexander technique is like learning any skill (e.g., playing a music instrument, sports or learning a language) in this regard. Unfortunately, people often can’t come so frequently because of time or money issues. And so I would advise you to come as often as you can and have as many lessons as you can afford.
You can find more information about the technique also at http://alexanderdirection.co.uk