Articles About the Alexander Technique

Learn the Alexander Technique for every aspect of your life

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I'M NOT JUST AN ALEXANDER FAN, I'M A DISCIPLE

I have always been a hard-working, practical and rational person, with a positive outlook. So when I suffered a riding injury at the age of 27 it simply wasn't in my nature to let it take over my life. ...

I started to suffer from neck pain and, what felt like, at the time, a series of random complaints including numb and tingling fingers, headaches and indigestion. I visited my GP to discuss this list of seemingle unrelated ailments and was diagnosed with a possibly problem in my back, even though I wasn't experiencing any pain there. ...

I continued to visit the chiropractor every month for 10 years, spending about 4,000 pounds in the process. ...my condition, at its worse, completely turned my life upside down. It got to the stage where, after only just leaving the osteopath's clinic, I would be in unbearable pain and couldn't face long car journeys. ...

I switched my monthly osteopathic appointments for equally helpful, but more cost-effective, sports massage treatments, complemented only by biannual visits to the osteopath. To a certain extent this worked, but I was all too aware that I was completely dependent on these physical treatments that only other people could administer. ...

Surprisingly, after only the first [Alexander Technique] lesson, I felt a dramatic difference. Perhaps it was because I wanted it so much, or perhaps because I am open minded and eager to learn, but it all just clicked.

I felt like a giraffe as I walked onto the street from my first lesson! It was as thought my neck felt long and free because I re-educated my mind and body about the impact of poor posture and movement. By lesson three, my teacher believed I had learnt enough to incorporate the technique into everyday life and manage the situation myself. However, I knew I had progressed so much in such a short time that I wanted to deepen my understanding of the Alexander Technique priniciples. ...

Four years on, my symptoms - neck pain and stiffness - are a thing of the past, and I accredit that to my application of the Alexander Technique in every part of my life. The Alexander Technique can sound too good to be true, and it certainly felt that way for me when I first learnt about it, but it does require commitment from the individual, too.

It is a preventative way of being, not a treatment, and this is why it works. It does not offer an instant fix or the short-term pick-me-up that can be experienced following an appointment with a chiropractor, osteopath or masseur. After years of my body being placed under unnatural pressure, I have had to learn again how to move and use my body. But in taking on this responsibility for my physical and emotional health, I regained an element of control and dismissed the feeling of confusion and frustration that had dominated my thoughts for so long. Gone are my fears of moving and doing.

I even apply Alexander Technique principles to other elements of my lifestyle, everything from tackling my nerves and controlling my breathing before I go on stage with my amateur dramatics group, to helping me control stressful situations in ordinary life. ...

I think the Alexander Technique should be taught in schools as a skill for life, to act as an insurance policy to help us cope better with whatever problems lie ahead of us.

Abridged article from "Talkback" Spring 2013 - Magazine of BackCare, the UK's National Back Pain Association.

 

STUDY REVEALS THE BENEFITS OF ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE LESSONS FOR CHRONIC PAIN

Chronic pain sufferers may benefit from learning the Alexander Technique in NHS outpatient pain clinics according to a new service evaluation project. More than half of the service users in the study stopped or reduced their use of medications between the start of the lessons and three months, making cost savings to the NHS.

UWE Bristol researcher Dr Stuart McClean working in collaboration with Dr Lesley Wye from the University of Bristol, health practitioners and The Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique (STAT) carried out an 11 month exploratory study of a time-limited Alexander Technique teaching service at St Michael's Hospital, Bristol as part of their existing Pain Management Programme.

The service evaluation project funded by the Avon Primary Care Research Collaborative (APCRC) aimed to evaluate the effectiveness of the Alexander Technique service, the experiences of service users and clinicians and highlight the potential of the service to the NHS.

From June 2010 to May 2011, 43 patients with chronic or recurrent pain received six consecutive weekly one-to-one Alexander Technique lessons with a qualified and experienced STAT registered Alexander Technique teacher at St Michael's Hospital's Pain Clinic.

The Alexander Technique is an educational approach taught by combined hands-on guidance and verbal explanation to help patients move with and achieve greater ease and poise by reducing unhelpful habits that get in the way of simple activities such as sitting, standing and walking. It requires attention and application on the part of the patient, or 'student'. Once the technique is learned the 'students' incorporate it into their everyday life, emphasising self-management so that the benefits last after lessons end.

Dr Stuart McClean who led the evaluation explains, "We have seen from a previous randomised controlled trial that Alexander Technique lessons were found to be both clinically and cost effective for the management of low back pain in primary care. This study builds on those findings to evaluate the provision of Alexander Technique lessons within a hospital out-patient Pain Management Clinic. It focused on a group of 43 patients with chronic or recurrent pain, 75% of which had back pain. All 43 were not getting better or responding to conventional treatment and all expressing an interest in Alexander Technique lessons as a pain management approach."

Dr Peter Brook, the lead consultant at St Michael's Pain Clinic (University Hospitals Bristol, NHS Trust) said, "I'm pleasantly surprised by the positive outcomes of the evaluation. I've seen a few service users who used the Alexander Technique and they seemed to have enjoyed the experience and their wellbeing is improved. If more than half of them have significantly reduced their medication and they're happier, and their pain is unchanged or slightly better, then that's a very good result. The fact that their pain is the same or slightly better on half as much medication is an enormous improvement."

A participant in the study, writing to Dr Brook, said, "It is so good to know that there are brilliant people like you in the world whose belief in holistic approaches to pain management and recovery can see people like me finding the tools and strength to get well again without resorting to invasive surgery. Thank you so much."

Key findings of the evaluation are:

* An Alexander Technique teaching service in a pain clinic can make a difference to how people manage their pain and reduce their pain related NHS costs including medication, tests and investigations and consultations with GPs and hospital doctors.

* Most patients liked the Alexander Technique lessons and benefited in terms of their day-to-day relationship to their pain.

* Awareness and increased understanding of pain also led to some behaviour change and changes in self-knowledge from the patient.

Eileen Armstrong, Chair of STAT said, "Users of the Alexander Technique are well aware of the benefits of learning to identify poor posture and movement habits to reduce pain and undo tension and stress. We are delighted that this study within a clinical environment has proved to make such a significant difference to the pain management of those who took part."

The study recommends that Alexander Technique lessons should be considered by NHS commissioners who are interested in providing a useful, cost saving addition to pain clinic service provision, particularly as a useful service for those who are seeking a long-term educational approach to chronic pain.

Dr Stuart McClean added, "The encouraging results of this pilot service evaluation provide a good basis for planning and obtaining funding for a multi-centre study in the UK with larger numbers of patients to extend these findings by including groups having more than six Alexander lessons and some having follow-up group classes in the Alexander Technique."

For the full report - McClean, S and Wye, L (2012) Taking charge, choosing a new direction: A service evaluation of Alexander Technique lessons for pain clinic patients (SEAT): An approach to pain management.

Press release reporting results of the SEAT study. September 2012.

 

THOSE ACHES AND PAINS

All of us, young and old, get aches and pains at some time or other. The result of over-doing it in the garden, over-exercising at the gym, and even too much sitting watching the television! Have you ever observed yourself as you carry out normal daily tasks like mopping the kitchen floor, sweeping the garden path, making a cup of tea, cleaning your teeth, and even something as simple as sitting on the sofa? Are you really sitting comfortably? Probably not!

Sit and watch the television/drive the car/work at your computer - and release those tense muscles! Release your neck and shoulders as you clean your teeth. Mop the floor, but don't strangle the poor old mop. What has it done to you? Stand by the sink as you wash the pots and release your buttocks and thighs. Can you feel the difference? You just don't realise how much unnecessary strain you are putting your body through. Your body needs re-educating. This is where the Alexander Technique can come to your rescue.

The Alexander Technique is about being aware of muscle tension, balance, posture and movement in everyday activities. Emotional and physical strains accumulated over a lifetime can soon become fixed in the form of chronic muscle tension, often resulting in symptoms such as back and neck pain, creaky knees and hips, and shoulder problems. Learning and applying the Alexander Technique can help alleviate many of these conditions, as well as stress related symptoms, some breathing and digestive problems, and any condition where excessive muscular effort or tension is a factor.

The role of the Alexander teacher is to use gentle guidance with the hands, as well as verbal instruction. Pupils are taught how to become conscious of their own patterns of interference and learn how to project messages from brain to muscle to prevent those patterns and help the natural mechanisms of poise to function more freely.

The results of a study to determine the effectiveness of the Alexander Technique was published in the British Medical Journal on the 20 August 2008. The research revealed that the Alexander technique offers long term benefits for chronic and recurrent back pain. See www.bmj.com for full report.

Article written by an Alexander Technique pupil for their local magazine, the Evington Echo.

 

Alexander Technique for Better Health

 

Everyone can use the Alexander Technique (AT) to help themselves towards better health in many ways. For example avoiding injury, gaining relief from pain, stress or anxiety or just to improve enjoyment and performance of sports, music and hobbies. Whilst anyone can learn the AT on their own (after all, that's what Alexander did), the guidance and support of a properly qualified teacher makes the process easier, faster and infinitely more enjoyable! Here are a few games you can play as you read this - and at any other time - which are often helpful and can be preliminaries to learning the skills of the AT.

How are you?

Without making any 'corrections' to yourself, take a moment to notice how you are sitting (for example, are you leaning to one side? how have you placed your feet? what shape is your back?). Do you ache at all? Are you twisted up? If so you may, like many people, respond by "sitting up straight". Why not try it now. Again, without making changes, notice how you are - is it hard work? Are there new aches? Many of us spend our lives switching between extremes of tension and relaxation - with stress on our systems in both. The middle ground - where we sit, stand and move in balance with minimum effort - can be rediscovered through the AT.

Where are you?

We often get so focussed on what we are doing that we almost forget everything else! As you read start to notice your peripheral vision - all the things you can perceive outside the computer screen. Probably you can see some of the wall behind and beside the screen, perhaps your hands and the tops of your legs, possibly part of the floor. Next, remind yourself of the part of the room which is behind you - without looking! And see if you still have awareness of yourself. Alexander discovered that many people create or contribute to difficulties in their lives by subtly 'squishing' themselves. Learning the AT involves finding out our own personal 'squish' pattern and then learning how to not do it (if we don't want to). Remembering both ourselves and our surroundings is a good start.

Stop!...

Throughout life we develop habits of thought and movement which can be unhelpful, and with the rapid pace of life we are often very quick to react. Introducing a 'thought space' between stimulus and response can ease a lot of tension. And thoughts are amazingly fast! For example, when the phone rings most people automatically reach for it. Next time this happens, see if you can take a moment to acknowledge the sound, choose to answer it (or not!) and then do so without rushing. It's unlikely that you'll miss the call and you'll probably be in a better state to speak with the person ringing you.

...And breathe.

Start to pay attention to your outbreath. Of course, as soon as we bring focus to our breathing it changes, but see if you can observe it without setting out to change it. At the start of your next outbreath, let your jaw drop a little bit so that your lips come slightly apart and you breathe out through the small gap. You can do this even if you're in public - no-one will notice! Let the breath return through your nose. This is a step towards learning what Alexander called the "whispered ah". The AT arose in response to his problems with hoarseness and noisy breathing when he performed; and at first he was known as "the breathing man".

Now lie down

Set up a padded surface on the floor, such as a folded rug or towel, with a pile of paperbacks or magazines (about 5cm high) at one end. Being mindful of how you are moving, lie down on your back on the rug with your head on the books, your knees up and the soles of your feet on the floor. Take a few moments to let go of any muscular tension and really allow yourself to be supported by the floor. This position is called semi-supine and is a useful place to 'practice' the skills learnt in AT lessons so that we can then take them into the whole of our lives: Better health with the Alexander Technique - for life!

 

Bethan wrote this article for The Better Food Company in Bristol as part of their 'Better Health' campaign in 2009