The Alexander Technique is a form of therapy bringing improved body posture, movement, and the breaking of poor associated habits. It was named after its originator Frederick Matthias Alexander, a Shakespearean orator, who discovered that his own poor posture was resulting in health problems—most notably loss of voice—while also helpful for relieving tension, back pain, neck ache, and other musculoskeletal problems.
Key principles of the Alexander method
The Alexander technique is popular around the world and is offered in specialized sessions during which experts teach practitioners to become aware of their bodies, improve postural habits, and move more efficiently.
While the U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS) has concluded that there is insufficient evidence and scientific testing to back claims that the technique may improve certain health conditions including asthma, headaches, osteoarthritis, insomnia, and stress, there is research finding that the Alexander technique may reduce long-term pain, stammering, and balance skills. Many NHS trusts offer Alexander technique solutions in outpatient clinics to address pain.
For those thinking of undertaking lessons, the best place to start is to consult your general practitioner (GP) and ask for their advice and whether a reputable teacher is available in your local area.
Long-term pain may be a symptom of underlying maltreatment of the body over a long period of time. This may be caused by not moving efficiently or distributing one’s weight unevenly while standing or sitting. This can be improved by paying attention to four specific areas:
• Improving how you walk or move in any way, sit, and stand, and how this affects your functioning.
• Noticing and bettering the interplay between head, neck, and spine.
• Thinking about—or becoming mindful of—the way you perform daily activities and making beneficial changes.
• Understanding that the mind and body function intimately together as one and adapting accordingly.
In a nutshell, the Alexander technique offers training in undoing many bodily bad habits and striving towards a balanced, naturally aligned body. Harmful habits—such as shallow breathing or other adaptations to past circumstances—can become exaggerated over time, and people with such ingrained habits will often no longer perceive them and head them off. The Alexander technique provides a method for new, better habits to take effect instead, without any thinking about the situations that elicit the habits.
Commitment and dedication through exercise
Taught in one-on-one lessons, the technique is offered by qualified teachers—many of whom are sometimes classically trained vocal coaches and musicians—as vocal tract exercises, increasing airflow, and improving vocal skills and tone are core components of the technique. The method is known to help actors mitigate stage fright, boost spontaneity, and deliver a natural performance—just some of the many applications of the technique.
Lessons are best taken in a quiet, calm space such as a studio, clinic, or well-appointed space within a private residence, and last 30 to 45 minutes, with 20 or more weekly lessons being recommended. Loose-fitting, comfortable clothing is essential to enable free and easy movement.
Teachers will survey movements and demonstrate new methods to help you move, sit, lie, and stand in a way that brings superior balance and less strain on joints and help you establish an improved relationship between head, neck, and spine, relieving muscle tension.
Through repetition and constant corrections, teachers will guide your movements and encourage commitment and dedication towards a regular practice; this may take a considerable investment of time.
Actions that are addressed include: sitting, lunging, squatting, and walking, with corrections and instruction given to specific interests or activities influenced by hobbies, work, computer use, driving, and sport, to name a few.
It is very important to find a teacher who’s experienced and qualified in the technique as there are no laws or regulations concerning training, however, many professional organizations offer teacher training courses of three years or more, and it is advisable to choose a teacher with such a qualification, as well as membership of a professionally accredited organization.
Teachers are required to complete at least 1,600 hours of training and must thereafter conform to specific requirements to earn membership in professional organizations, and they must comply with a code of ethics.
Benefits of the Alexander technique
With regular practice, you may feel relief from aches and pains soon after beginning lessons, but the aim is to instill a deeper understanding of the main principles and applying them in everyday life. Once achieved, benefits become manifest, obviating the need for regular, ongoing lessons.
Evidence suggests that the technique can help in these specific areas:
• People with long-term back pain may find relief and a reduction in pain, disability, and the frequency and duration of painful episodes.
• Neck pain and associated disability may be reduced for up to a year or more.
• The technique may assist those suffering from Parkinson’s disease to perform normal tasks more easily and ameliorate how they feel and what they think about their condition.
This is backed by research-based reviews that have found that Alexander technique sessions may improve performance anxiety in musicians and improve respiratory function and posture, as published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine (2014).
The International Journal of Clinical Practice (2012) found evidence that the technique eases chronic back pain and cited other “moderate evidence” that it helps in Parkinson’s Disease-related disability.
Australia’s Department of Health, in a 2015 study to determine what services the Australian government might cover, declared that the Alexander technique “may improve short-term pain and disability in people with low back pain”.
Lessons are safe and pose no health risks
Alexander technique practices are safe for most people and there are no associated health risks— there is no physical manipulation of the body, only gentle touches. However, the technique may not be suitable for patients with spinal injuries, or slipped discs, for example. These conditions require specialized medical treatment.
Alexander technique instructors are not medical professionals and are not permitted to diagnose, offer any advice, or treat conditions and injuries—these ought to be addressed by suitably qualified medical specialists.