Alexander Technique is a gentle movement therapy developed by F.M. Alexander in 1902. Alexander, an Australian actor, suffered chronic laryngitis after his performances. Determining that excessive body tension was the root cause, he developed the technique to eliminate his physical stress. His personal success in applying the technique to himself led to the development of a program through which Alexander and his protégés helped identify harmful body habits that affect balance, breathing and proprioception (the ability to sense where one is in space), and aimed to release excessive tension. In its contemporary form, the Alexander Technique identifies unhealthy body tensions that may impact decision making, the confidence to learn new things, and the overall awareness of and relationship to one’s surroundings. Unlearning unhealthy habits and learning new ones helps those practicing AT to better use their mind and body to decrease pain and increase pleasure and efficiency in a sustained manner.
Why should I use the Alexander Technique?
Medical professionals, including orthopedists, neurologists, and psychologists, suggest using Alexander Technique to manage chronic physical and emotional pain. Studies in the US and Britain have found that people with back and neck pain, asthma, arthritis, repetitive stress syndrome, sciatica, anxiety, depression, carpal tunnel syndrome, and joint/muscle tension have all benefited from lessons in the Alexander Technique. With their doctor’s approval and under the guidance of a qualified, certified AT teacher, many people have ceased or reduced long term use of pain medication after a series of lessons in the Alexander Technique.
How does the Alexander Technique work?
A strong mind/body connection remains an important part of health. The AT facilitates this connection utilizing visualization, breathing, and body awareness exercises. Engaging in a regular practice of AT techniques allows for the gradual adjustment from pain-causing habits to those thoughts and movements that are beneficial for the body.
AT requires demonstration, experiential embodiment, and consistent application in order to be used effectively. During an AT lesson, a teacher observes a person in activities that have previously caused them pain and then demonstrates an improved way of performing that activity. For instance, an AT teacher may identify the postural cause of chronic neck pain during sports, daily activities, or computer work; through demonstration and gentle body manipulation she helps the student find proper head, neck, and spine alignments in order to reduce pain.
While AT lessons provide the knowledge base to correct unhealthy habits, it is through routine practice of AT in everyday life that people unlearn damaging behaviors and apply this reliable, simple, interconnected method of thought, alignment, and movement in order to achieve long-term wellbeing. The AT empowers students as it educates them.
Is the Alexander Technique right for me?
Many people feel pain relief and a sense of self-empowerment after the first few AT sessions. It is difficult to determine how many sessions a person will need as people have varying degrees of issues and learn differently. Usually, practitioners suggest a minimum of 10 sessions to correct habitual issues, such as posture and uncomfortable body movements, although some people continue to pursue the AT for years. Like any form of education, the longer one studies, the greater the lasting impact.
Because the Alexander Technique is truly an experiential practice and cannot be taught effectively without a certified teacher, it is best to schedule a lesson in order to decide if AT is beneficial for you. Attending a group class provides a clear introduction to the work and is a good way to get started, but a private lesson is geared to an individual’s specific body issues and results in a greater understanding of the long term benefits of the AT.
AT sessions generally run 45-90 minutes and costs $60 - $90. People are fully clothed in practical clothing such as loose fitting slacks, jeans and shirts. During a session, shoes may also need to be removed.
How do I choose an Alexander technique provider/class?
In order to receive national certification, AT teachers must complete at least 1600 hours of training in an accredited teacher training program. Some practitioners practice without certification; so, it is important to ask about previous training and teaching experience.
One should note that the AT instructor is trained in teaching a method and does not necessarily focus on “fixing” specific ailments like nerve pain and dislocated discs. In this way, AT training encourages full understanding of how the human body works. The AT instructor’s goal is to teach students to become aware of their unhealthy habits and to provide tools for implementation of healthy ones.
In the United States, there are many certified AT Teachers with at least 1 in each state. The lessons may be held in either an individual or group session. One resource to find a certified AT teacher is at http://www.amsatonline.org/teachers.
How do I talk to my healthcare provider about using the Alexander Technique?
There are generally no adverse responses to the Alexander Technique. It is a gentle hands-on approach that most healthcare providers (at least those who are familiar with it) will support without concerns. People can take lessons during medical treatments as long as doctors are made aware of their practice. It is important for people to learn about the AT and talk with primary care doctors and specialists about AT basics.
Have others with cancer used the Alexander Technique?
The following are what practitioners and cancer patients have stated about the use of the Alexander Technique:
“As the field of Complementary and Alternative Medicine continues to expand and combine with standard biomedical treatment for people with cancer more mainstream medical providers are encouraging patients to practice the Alexander Technique. During and after cancer treatment the AT helps patients manage pain, increase stamina, move more efficiently, manage symptoms of lymphedema and neuropathy, control anxiety and panic, as well as alleviate depression.”
“For the first time in months they come to the hospital to have a pleasurable experience, their Alexander lesson. The one-to-one, the hands-on touch, makes them feel cared for in a human way. The breathing technique gives them a positive and practical tool to deal with their problems. The learning of better use gives them a control over themselves that the illness had taken away. The teacher must not give them false hope. But the learning gives them real hope that by improving their use they take part in their recovery.”
“In my own cancer experience my doctors were often at a loss as to how to help me with the side and after effects of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. I found that my experience with the AT alleviated stress and helped me manage pain when other suggestions failed, and I was grateful that I had already had a firm foundation in the work prior to my diagnosis.”
“Over the past 2 months my patient has had what she describes as a miraculous benefit from The Alexander Technique taught to her by you. Her sleep is improved, her hip pain that was awful, is improving. She has now stopped taking anti-inflammatory analgesia. As a surgeon I do not think I could make her any better than her Alexander therapist has already done.”
What is the Alexander Technique like?