F.M. Alexander (right) giving John Dewey an Alexander Technique
The Alexander technique is a training process in which a person learns to identify and change faulty posture and movements. The goal is to free the body of muscular tensions that cause stress and fatigue by eliminating common postural problems resulting from such habits as slouching, holding the head in an awkward position when talking on the telephone or carrying a heavy bag on one shoulder.
A number of poor posture patterns are the result of well-intentioned reminders by parents or teachers to stand or sit up straight. Many people respond by holding their spinal muscles in a constant state of tension instead of aiming for a relaxed balance of head, neck and torso. Tight or restrictive clothing and high heeled shoes are other common culprits that contribute to incorrect posture and muscle tension.
The technique was developed in the late 19th century by an Australian actor, F. Mathias Alexander, during a period in his career when he was losing his voice. While examining his movements in a triple mirror, he realized that the tense and artificial postures he habitually assumed with his head, neck and torso during performances were affecting his vocal chords. By changing his self-defeating habits, he was able to ‘liberate’ his voice.
Encouraged by his success, he began to teach others some of his methods and in 1908, he published on of his earliest pamphlets: ‘Re-education of the Kinesthetic System (Sensory Appreciation of Muscular Movement) Concerned with the Development of Robust Physical Well-Being.’ In the decades that followed, he attracted many distinguished followers, among them philosopher John Dewey, authors George Bernard Shaw and Aldous Huxley, as well as a number of physicians and scientists. By the time he died in 1955, his technique was being taught worldwide.
Instructors are trained and certified at centers affiliated with the North American Society Of Teachers of the Alexander Technique. They may give private lessons and also conduct group classes and workshops.
Some doctors and physical therapists use the method and many hospitals, rehabilitation centers and pain clinics now offer instruction to their clients. So do performing arts institutions, including the Juilliard School in New York and the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts.
When it is used
The technique is most frequently recommended as a way of dealing with back and neck pain. It is also used to counteract some of the effects of scoliosis (curvature of the spine) and arthritis, to improve respiratory function and as an adjunct to breathing exercises for asthma patients.
Some performing artists claim that it has helped them to overcome stage fright; many athletes have found that it not only enhances their skills but also helps reduce the likelihood of sports injuries. A growing number of people who work at computers are investigating the Alexander technique as a way of avoiding stress injuries from repetitive movements, which have become a disabling occupational hazard.
How it works
The Alexander technique is based on the assumption that the body can move freely and naturally only when the head, neck and torso are properly aligned. This requires awareness of faulty muscular movements and correction of them.
What to expect
Teaching sessions usually last from 30 to 45 minutes. Their number is determined by the severity of the problem and how quickly the person learns to correct it. Typically, 10 to 15 classes are sufficient to address most problems.
Alexander technique is extraordinarily helpful
During one of the first lessons, the student may be told to lie on a padded table while the instructor discusses ways in which the body parts relate to each other. The goal is to help the person achieve a natural rest position that can be practiced at home. Then the student’s body is observed as she/he goes about ordinary tasks – rising from a chair, speaking on the telephone, carrying a pile of books, lifting a heavy carton from the floor. During each of these exercises, the instructor uses a hands-on approach to explore the neck and shoulders of the student for signs of muscle tension. At the same time, the instructor points out faulty movements so that they can be corrected. Critical assessment of posture and movement is often made in front of a mirror so that the client can see the difference between bad habits and better ones.
> Ascertain that a teacher of the Alexander technique has the proper training and certification.
> Find out about payment arrangements before committing yourself to a series of lessons.