Suffering from back pain or neck tension? The Alexander Technique is a noninvasive method that just may help.
The Alexander Technique (AT) looks at the unconscious ways people stand, move and sit. It aims to help people release muscle tension, reduce pain and increase mobility during everyday activities to avoid injuries. F.M. Alexander was an Australian actor who developed this method to help solve his own breathing and vocal disorders.
How it may help
The Alexander technique focuses mainly on the area between the head and upper back.The theory behind AT is that routine activities like reading or talking on the phone can trigger tension, stress, spasms and pain in the head, neck and back muscles. The goal of the therapy is to guide you to improve freedom of movement, posture, breathing, balance and coordination. In addition:
A major study concluded that lessons in the Alexander technique may have significant long-term benefits for patients with chronic back pain. It may also be one of the most cost-effective ways to treat some types of ongoing back pain.
- Though not yet widely used, many orthopedic doctors are starting to recommend the AT for repetitive stress injuries, balance and coordination problems.
- Several small-scale studies suggest that AT may also reduce some side effects of people with Parkinson’s disease. More research is needed in this area, though.
The technique is also a required course in many music and drama colleges worldwide. Artists, dancers, musicians and actors use the AT to:
- Regain balance and ease of motion
- End stuttering
- Decrease injuries
- Help voice loss
- Assist in speech training
What’s involved in a lesson?
Either privately or in a group, your Alexander technique teacher watches you do simple actions, such as sitting, standing or walking. Using a mirror, the teacher helps you to see and sense how your movement style relates to your problem.
While you perform ordinary movements, the teacher gives you verbal and visual cues to help you sit, stand, walk or reach more comfortably. This can then be extended to any activity. This includes such things as playing a sport or musical instrument, desk and computer work, public speaking, home maintenance or caring for a newborn baby.
Most classes also include “table work.” For this, you lie clothed on a bodywork table and settle into restful state. The teacher will gently move your head and limbs to encourage expansion.
Each session runs for about 45 to 60 minutes. A series of 24 to 30 lessons, once or twice a week for three to six months, is often suggested for you to learn the technique. But a recent study has shown that a series of six lessons followed by an exercise plan works almost as well in helping those with chronic low back pain. The number of lessons you need depends upon your goals, needs and physical condition.
Finding a qualified teacher
The Alexander technique is offered in many wellness centers and health education programs. Certified AT teachers must complete 1,600 hours of training over a minimum of three years in an approved training program.
The Society for Teachers of the Alexander Technique (STAT) is the oldest and largest professional association for the AT. The site includes a list of qualified teachers nationwide.