Whilst we are young and still learning how to control our bodies, we are far more susceptible to picking up habits that interfere with our natural freedom of movement. These habits we pick up on throughout life such as 'slumping' eventually become so ingrained they begin to feel normal eventually resulting in limited movement.
We often move our bodies without considering how they are constructed and in doing so we are putting unnecessary strain on our body's natural design.
The ability to adapt is usually perceived as a positive trait, though it is not without it's drawbacks. Because humans adapt so quickly this often means our bad habits fade into the background and instead become familiar and natural. For instance if a woman often carries her handbag in the crook of her arm, she will later find herself holding up her arm when not carrying the handbag.
The alexander technique is practiced to remove this lack of self-awareness as well as preventing the physical decline which is caused by these habitual mannerisms. Learning the technique gives greater awareness of both body and mind, along with ease of movement and often people report an enhanced ability to clarify their thinking.
The actual technique itself involves assessing an individuals normal posture and movements in order to release tension from the head, neck and spine, and improve musculoskeletal use when seated and moving.
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History of the Alexander technique
Frederick Matthias Alexander was an Australian actor who began to develop laryngitis each time he performed. His doctors were unable to find a treatment for the condition and Alexander was left to find a solution on his own. Previously he had been unaware of the effect that built up tension in his neck and body were causing until he began to develop new techniques which allowed him to speak and move with ease.
His techniques had worked for his particular case so well that friends and doctors he had consulted earlier persuaded him to start teaching what he had learned to others. Over the next fifty years Alexander perfected and refined his methods and after teaching for 35 years he began to teach others what we now know as the Alexander technique.
Although the technique is known to help a number of ailments, it has a huge presence among the art's industry. Musicians, singers, performers and dancers are all required to undertake demanding physical movement to be a success thus making Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) common among those in the arts. The name refers to artists performing the same complex muscular action repeatedly causing them to experience tension (for example a dancer performing the same routine every day for six months). Alexander technique will not only release undue tension but it will also improve the quality of the performance itself.
The technique is highly sought after in the industry and is taught at the Juilliard School of Performing Arts in New York, The Royal College of Music in London, The Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto and at many other schools of music, universities and colleges. In addition to this the Alexander technique has not gone unnoticed by prominent musicians. Sting and Paul McCartney are to name but a few of the musicians who covet the treatment.
What do we know?
Currently there is no legal requirement for certification to teach the Alexander technique in the United Kingdom. However, Therapy Directory requires all practitioners to provide proof of a relevant qualification and insurance or proof of membership with a recognised professional body to be listed.
Evidence that the technique works has been verified in a study conducted by the NHS. The study involved over 500 people with chronic back pain from general practices across the UK. It aimed to examine the effectiveness of the Alexander technique, massage, exercise advise and behavioural counselling for chronic and recurrent lower back pain.
Sixty-four GP surgeries were selected from the south and west of England and from each surgery a random selection of patients were asked to participate. All patients were suffering back pain for three or more weeks and scored above four on the Roland disability scale.
The participants were randomly allocated to one of eight treatment groups. Four of the groups were instructed to do exercise (doctor prescription of exercises and nurse-led behavioural counselling) along with one of the following treatments: normal care, six sessions of therapeutic massage, six lessons in the Alexander technique, or 24 lessons in the Alexander technique. The other four groups had the same treatments but with no added exercise.
Participants were assessed by postal questionnaire at at the beginning of the study as well as being questioned after both three and twelve months. Using the questionnaire the researchers examined issues such as types of activities which were limited by pain and outcomes of quality of life. Researchers concluded that those who combined the Alexander technique, along with exercise, had reduced back pain and improved disability after one year compared to those receiving standard care.
What to expect
What does the teacher do?
Typically lessons will be one-to-one but can be done within a group situation. During the first session the teacher will take time to ask you questions about your general health, medical history and lifestyle.
One of the essential elements of the Alexander technique is the teachers understanding of your movement and posture. They might ask you to perform everyday movements such as walking, sitting down or standing up whilst they keep their hands in contact with your body.
This may feel strange but the reason for this is simply so the teacher can gather more in depth information about your movement. At the same time the teacher's hands are gathering information they will also be guiding your body to release restrictive muscular tension and the harmful habits that are responsible for it.
Of course each teacher will have their own personal approach to teaching so there will be differences and variations. Some might begin with a discussion about your movement and others might choose to use the first lesson to demonstrate the relief increased flexibility can bring about.
Many lessons will also include table work, as it allows the student to experience the principles in action without having to pay attention to maintaining their balance.
How many lessons will I need?
You will probably need a few lessons before the teacher will be able to gauge how quickly you are likely to progress.
To start it is advisable to attend lessons on a frequent basis. Because this technique is training you to move your body in a different way the more habitual these new movements become the better. Two to three sessions a week would be ideal until the technique becomes more familiar, after which lessons can be spaced out a week or more apart.
How can it help me?
It really is surprising what a little excess tension in the body can mean. Back pain, neck ache and sore shoulders are among but a few of the unpleasant symptoms.
The Alexander technique can be used to enhance quality of life and has been doing so for over a century. In that time a number of well known individuals have tried, tested and championed the technique.
Below are but a few of the famous faces who have publicly endorsed the Alexander technique: Roald Dahl, Paul Newman, Jeremy Irons, Julie Andrews, Patrick Stewart, Kevin Kline, Joanne Woodward, John Cleese, Robin Williams, Christopher Reeve, Judy Dench, Ben Kingsley, William Hurt, Keanu Reeves, Hillary Swank, Heath Ledger, Paul McCartney and Sting.
Misconceptions about the Alexander technique
We understand that learning about alternative therapies can be mind boggling, especially when there are so many misconceptions flying around.
Therapy Directory wants to make sure that you have all the facts and information you need in order to find a therapy that is right for you.
Sadly, because of misinformation, many people have missed out on potential treatment because they have a distorted idea of what the Alexander technique is all about. Below are three of the most common misconceptions about the Alexander Technique:
The Alexander technique is only for performers
It is true that the technique is fantastic for performers because how their body moves has a direct link to performance quality. However, we all have to 'perform' activities as we go through life and whilst we may not be a dancer, the way in which we do things still has a huge influence on our health.
Do not consider if you are elderly
Whilst we are still young and growing, we are far more receptive and adaptable to new habits. That doesn't mean that you can only learn the technique whilst you are at primary school, on the contrary there is no age limit to this technique. As children we have little interest in posture and co-ordination and our harmful habits often don't cause discomfort till later on in life. The great playwright George Bernard Shaw didn't begin lessons until he was aged eighty eight.
The technique is time consuming, expensive and difficult to learn
The cost of sessions are usually on par with the cost of a massage, hypnotherapy, counselling or most alternative one-to-one therapy sessions. Some therapists will also offer a discounted hourly rate to concessions, details of which can be found on individual profiles. In terms of difficulty the basic principles are very simple. Many of the movements are actually common sense but we rarely think of applying and implementing these techniques ourselves. Most people will be able to get the help they need in a few weeks or months, but as mentioned earlier it is really a case of how far you would like to take the technique.
What qualifications and experience should therapists have?
Currently there are no laws with regards to what training a therapist must have to practise the Alexander technique. However, there are professional bodies that therapists can choose to register with. In order to register, they must meet certain requirements set by the organisation as well as agreeing to comply with their code of ethics and complaints procedure.
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