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Alexander Technique – Origin, Benefits, Efficacy, and Methodology
Alexander technique is an intervention that has the potential to give long-term benefits for spinal problems.
What Is Alexander technique? Where Did It Originate?
Developed by Frederick Matthias Alexander (1869-1955), Alexander method is a psychophysical method that employs enhanced kinesthetic awareness and voluntary inhibition to forestall harmful patterns of movement.
- The primary emphasis is laid on the relationship between the head, neck, and back that helps promote coordinated behavior in an integrated manner.
- By consciously re-teaching oneself how to think, unwanted muscle tension is removed.
- This helps the body move and breathe more easily.
- It also helps to effect a better coordinated “use.”
“Use” is a technical term used by practitioners of Alexander technique to denote the way in which a person moves and behaves.1
How Is Alexander Technique Beneficial?
- There is good evidence that Alexander technique can help treat chronic back pain.
- Some musicians use Alexander technique to help them move and breathe better. Thus, they are able to improve the quality of their music playing.1
- Recent reports suggest that Alexander technique is helpful in treating neck pain, Parkinson’s disease, and balance in elderly people.2
The mechanism underlying the clinical and claimed performance improvements of Alexander technique are not well-understood. Alexander technique is offered as a lesson in music and theater departments of major colleges in order to improve performance and prevent injury.2
Studies/Research On The Efficacy Of Alexander Technique
The effects of psychophysical therapies are not easily assessed objectively.
- Doyle (1984) reports that 98.6% of subjects showed changes in the head-to-neck relationship when they began playing their instrument (after undergoing Alexander technique treatment).
- Dennis (1987) reported that the control group in his Alexander technique experiment performed better in a maximal voluntary ventilation test.
- Valentine et. al (1995) reported that the Alexander technique group showed improvement as compared to the control group in musical and technical quality, self-rated anxiety, heart rate variance, and positive attitude to performance.
- Mozeiko (2011) reported that significant changes were found in awareness and executive skill function in the Alexander technique group as compared to the control group.1
How Is Alexander Technique Performed?
Alexander technique involves individualized sessions that covers support for continued improvement in health on the basis of changes in self-care and/or lifestyle.
Teachers are usually registered with the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique.
- Twenty lessons, each running for 30 minutes, is considered to be necessary for a person to consolidate their learnings so that the change effected in their movements is permanent.
- In the first session, an additional 15 minutes is usually required, wherein the practitioner listens to the patient describing the problem and answers queries. Then, the practitioner describes the Alexander technique and the activities involved in it.
- Sessions can occur weekly, but can be made twice-weekly in the beginning and fortnightly towards the end of the treatment.
- All 20 sessions will usually be completed within 5 months.
- The scheduling of these sessions is done based on the practitioner’s discretion and the student’s preference.
Using an individualized approach, Alexander technique sessions help the patient learn lifelong skills to care for themselves. They begin to recognize, understand, and avoid poor postural habits that are harmful for their postural tone and neuromuscular coordination.
The sessions have specific, principle-driven, interactions between the patient and practitioner that are designed to empower the patient and involve them as active partners on the path to their recovery.
Both verbal as well as hands-on instruction is used by the practitioners.3
How Can People Get Started With Alexander Technique?
Alexander technique is taught by licensed teachers on a one-to-one basis. A typical course involves verbal instructions along with hands-on guidance.
- Through hands-on work, the psychophysical connection is made. This is what distinguishes it from other bodywork techniques.
- Effects are expected to show only after several sessions.1
Any Precautions, Contraindications, Or Interactions
Alexander technique is considered to be a low-risk method because it involves movements that are within the normal range of movements. It is generally considered to be a safe technique with no serious side effects.1
The manual aspects of the sessions involve guidance, and not manipulation. Thus, they are very gentle. Possible minor side effects that could happen are:
- Temporary dizziness during the session
- Tiredness, generally starting after 1-2 hours after a session
- Muscle aches (similar to those that happen after exercising)3
1. Klein SD, Bayard C, Wolf U. The Alexander Technique and musicians: a systematic review of controlled trials. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2014 Oct 24;14:414. doi: 10.1186/1472-6882- 14-414. PubMed PMID: 25344325.
2. Cacciatore TW, Gurfinkel VS, Horak FB, Day BL. Prolonged weight-shift and altered spinal coordination during sit-to-stand in practitioners of the Alexander Technique. Gait Posture. 2011 Oct;34(4):496-501. doi: 10.1016/j.gaitpost.2011.06.026. Epub 2011 Jul 22. PubMed PMID: 21782443; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3189346.
3. MacPherson H, Tilbrook HE, Richmond SJ, Atkin K, Ballard K, Bland M, Eldred J, Essex HN, Hopton A, Lansdown H, Muhammad U, Parrott S, Torgerson D, Wenham A, Woodman J, Watt I. Alexander Technique Lessons, Acupuncture Sessions or usual care for patients with chronic neck pain (ATLAS): study protocol for a randomized controlled trial. Trials. 2013 Jul 10;14:209. doi: 10.1186/1745-6215-14-209. PubMed PMID: 23841901; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3720220.