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The Alexander Technique

The Alexander Principle

In our culture today the connection between physical and emotional problems is gaining currency. Surprisingly, one tried and tested answer to coping with the stresses of life is by using a hands-on approach that straightens up the body. This method can help in balancing moods, changing behavioural patterns, and managing life's challenges.

Various theories have proposed the spine as the centre of most physical and mental complaints. The best known of these is the Alexander Technique, formulated and developed by Frederick Matthias Alexander, a Tasmanian actor (1869-1955). He suffered from respiratory problems as a child, which later affected his voice and career in the theatre. He tried many remedies without success and eventually began a process of self-observation to try to find a way of curing himself.

Alexander realised that the voice problem was a result of muscular tension in his whole body and that his thought patterns also had a great part in contributing to the tension that had become an ingrained habit. Alexander studied his posture with the aid of mirrors to see how this was affected when he recited and as a result could see that his body alignment was incorrect.  He gradually taught himself to correct his posture and found that he had cured his voice problem. He spent the rest of his working life studying the relationship between the ways we use our bodies and their efficient functioning, and went on to pass the technique to others. He eventually opened a clinic to help people to learn about their own use of posture.

Bone and muscle distortion aggravate one another, and contribute to respiratory and circulatory troubles, pain, inflammation, hypertension, etc. For full mental and physical health, you may need to be re-educated to use your bones and muscles correctly, so that they are well balanced, in movement and in rest, around your spinal cord.

So What is the Alexander Technique?

The Alexander Technique is a subtle, but essentially, a practical problem-solving discipline. It works through re-establishing the natural relationship between your head, neck and back - the "core" of your body that supports the environment for breathing and for your internal organs. This natural working of the head - neck - back relationship can best be seen to be working powerfully, beautifully, and effortlessly in small children.

Through his studies, Alexander realised that every individual has the freedom to choose his or her own exhibit good posture, most people soon opt for an "easy" slumping pose that requires little effort to maintain. Unfortunately, in most cases this involves severe distortion of the neck vertebrae, either forward, backward or sideways, which leads in turn to related distortion throughout the body. Very quickly the "easy" position becomes the norm.

At the same time as learning to access the natural relationship between your head, neck and back, you will develop conscious and reasoned body awareness, spatial awareness and behavioural awareness. Hence long held patterns of movement, posture, breathing and muscular tension will be released, and habits that, for example, may have affected your learning abilities and psychological stress reactions, are reassessed.

Learning gradually to refine and to utilise an improved relationship between your head, neck and back is powerfully health giving. Good habits of diet and exercise are well understood in their capacity literally to "change what we are"; the long-term effects of good habits of the "use of the self" are less well known, but no less life changing. You get stronger, you become both more relaxed and more alert, aches and pains fade, you feel calm, confident and self-reliant, you have more stamina, you think more clearly, you recover from injury more quickly, you cope with stress better.

The Alexander Technique teaches the skilful "use of the self": how you move, how you stay still, how you breathe, how you learn, how you organise your awareness and focus of attention and, above all, how you choose your reactions in increasingly demanding situations.

How Does it Work

From the above you will have realised that the Alexander Technique is a way of re-educating your body towards balance and alignment. In individual lessons, a qualified teacher will help you to recognise faulty muscular use and poor posture through gentle touch and guidance. There will be an emphasis on lengthening and widening your back, and freeing your spine to achieve a more co-ordinated movement.

With the aid of the teacher's hands, you will learn to release and lengthen muscles that have been shortened over time because of stress and misuse. But how can stopping unnecessary muscular tension heal emotional wounds? Unconscious experiences, such as unhealed traumas, unexpressed feelings, and painful memories can be pushed into your body where they are not free to be dealt with in your mind. These tensions might turn into physical symptoms and ailments, but can also lead to mental illness, such as depression and anxiety.

We are often unaware of habits that cause us stress and interfere with our ability to respond effectively to the stimuli in our daily lives. So how can we change our habits so that we can respond more effectively and achieve better functioning? Alexander taught that how you use your body has an extraordinary effect on your ability to accurately perceive and react to the world around you, as well as affecting your emotional and physical health. That fundamental problem is addressed and dealt with in the Alexander Technique, a method that has been recognised for one hundred years as a unique and remarkably effective technique of mind - body re-education.

The Alexander Technique can enhance personal performance across the whole spectrum of human activity, from elite athletic or artistic performance to the management of disability, pain, illness or injury. Although the effortless upright posture of small children is in sharp contrast to that of most adults, it is possible for practically anyone to rediscover freedom and ease in movement by learning to become aware of, and then learning gradually to strip away, the habits of movement, tension and reaction that interfere with, distort or obscure natural and healthy patterns of coordination.

Ideal position of the vertebrae in the neck (a). Figures b and c show the effects of craning forward and over-straightening respectively.

Good Posture   -   Bad Posture

Dr Miriam Wohl MB, ChB, JCC, MSTAT

Adam Middleditch

Gaia Alexander Practitioners: