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MoonDragon's Alternative Health Information
Touch & Movement
THE ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE


With a following in many countries and strong links with the performing arts, the Alexander technique has become one of the most respected and well-established body-oriented therapies. It aims to improve posture so that the body can operate with minimum strain. Young children possess natural poise, but years of hunching and slouching distort the way joints and muscles work. By learning to stand and move correctly, stresses on the body are eased. Alleviating complaints that are exacerbated by poor posture allows all the body systems to function more efficiently.


MAIN USES OF THE ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE

  • Musculoskeletal problems, back pain.
  • Stress, anxiety.
  • Depression.
  • Headaches.
  • Gastrointestinal disorders.
  • Repetitive strain injuries, bursitis.
  • Postural pain in pregnancy.


  • MoonDragon's Health & Wellness: Arthritis
    MoonDragon's Health & Wellness: Bursitis
    MoonDragon's Health & Wellness: Backache
    MoonDragon's Health & Wellness: Carpal Tunnel
    MoonDragon's Health & Wellness: Musculoskeletal Injury
    MoonDragon's ObGyn Information: Depression
    MoonDragon's Health & Wellness: Indigestion
    MoonDragon's Health & Wellness: Irritable Bowel Syndrome
    MoonDragon's Health & Wellness: Anxiety Disorders
    MoonDragon's ObGyn Information: Stress
    MoonDragon's Health & Wellness: Pregnancy Related Problems
    MoonDragon's Health & Wellness: Headache





    HISTORY

    In the late 19th century, Frederick Matthias Alexander, an Australian actor, found that his voice became strained during performances, or disappeared altogether. Studying himself in front of a mirror revealed the cause before speaking, he pulled his head back and down, arched his head back and tensed his arms and legs. The muscles in his throat tightened visibly. Alexander taught himself to release these restrictive reactions and went on to develop the technique that bears his name.

    F.M. Alexander.
    F.M. Alexander taught his approach to many prominent people in London during the 1930s. Enthusiastic students included Huxley and George Bernard Shaw.


    Alexander moved from Australia to London in 1904 and then to the US during World War I and II. In 1931 he set up the first training school for teachers of the Alexander technique in London. Praised by numerous educators and scientists, his technique is popular with musicians and actors (it is often studied by drama students). Although the UK has the majority of teachers, the technique has a wide international following, with 1,500 practitioners.





    KEY PRINCIPLES

    One only has to compare the grace of a 3 year old child with the slumped back and stooped shoulders of her parents to appreciate the damage done by years of sitting and standing badly, lifting incorrectly, and tensing up with anxiety or self-consciousness. Alexander believed that habitually poor posture influences the way the body and mind function and that, in such cases, it is necessary to relearn basic movements, such as sitting and standing. There are no set exercises, instead Alexander teachers educate students to become aware of "patterns of misuse" in their everyday movements, to pay particular attention to the way they hold their heads, and to align their bodies so that they are balanced and can move in a relaxed, fluid way.




    EVIDENCE & RESEARCH

    Compared to other complementary therapies, the efficacy of the Alexander technique has been well documented. An ongoing study that began in 1994 at Kingston Hospital, London, indicates that the technique can help relieve persistent back pain. Studies at Columbia University, New York, published in 1984 and 1992, showed that the Alexander technique improved patients' breathing. A series of studies published during the 1960s and 1970s using X-rays taken at Tufts University, Boston, revealed that Alexander training increased the length of the subject's neck muscles.

    In a UK study published in 1995, music students practicing the Alexander technique performed better and were less anxious. In the 1950s, Dr. Wilfred Barlow, who had trained with Alexander, took photographs of students before and after a course of lessons at the Royal College of Music, London, and found that the students' postures improved significantly.

    CORRECTING "PATTERNS OF MISUSE"

    Musicians benefit from technique.
    Musicians often benefit from Alexander training to prevent muscle strain, because it teaches students to become aware of and avoid patterns of misuse in their everyday life. To help the musician, the teacher works on the head, neck, and spine alignment, and the position of the wrists and elbows. A balanced playing position reduces the risk of repetitive strain injury.


    Turning on a tap.
    When turning on a tap, many people use more force than required, or unnecessarily twist their back. The back and neck should stay relaxed, and the twisting action should come from the arm.





    CONVENTIONAL MEDICAL OPINION

    Conventional medical practitioners consider the Alexander technique an approach to poor posture, stress, and persistent back pain. The claims it makes are seen to be reasonable and it focuses on achievable aims. Many conventional practitioners recommend lessons to their patients.




    CONSULTING A PRACTITIONER

    The Alexander technique, usually taught on a one-to-one basis, can be learned by people of any age. You should wear loose, comfortable clothing. At the introductory lesson you will be asked to stand calmly and move around as the teacher assesses your problem.

    The teacher may begin by asking you to lie flat, with your knees bent and your head resting on two or three books. She will make a series of adjustments to your position before helping you to your feet. The aim is to help you become aware of what optimum body posture feels like. The initial process of re-education takes place while you are lying down because your body is relaxed and the light adjustments of the teacher will have maximum effect.

    Finding a natural position.
    Finding A Natural Position: Lying on a hard surface helps lengthen and free the spine, enabling the teacher to guide your body into its natural position by gently adjustments. The teacher raises each leg and repositions it on the table to correct the body position.


    The rest of the lesson will be spent sitting or standing, while the teacher adjusts your posture and re-educates you to use muscles with minimum effort and maximum efficiency. She will teach you to follow Frederick Alexander's directions: "Free the neck, let the neck go forward and upward; let the back lengthen and widen," and ask you to concentrate on the sensation of sitting or standing without strain. She will also ask you to be aware of how your body is positioned (this is often referred to as "thought in activity").

    LEARNING TO STAND

    An important part of your lesson will involve learning the technique of "thought in activity". You will become aware of how it feels to sit and stand without strain.

    1. Sitting.
    1. When sitting, keep your head and spine upright but "free". The teacher supports the head and spine to keep them "free" (without strain). The back is held straight to avoid compressing the spinal joints.


    2. While standing.
    2. As you stand, lead with the head and try not to jerk it back. The length of the spine is maintained.


    3. Standing.
    3. When standing, let the head remain poised to free the spine. The shoulders are relaxed.


    In later lessons all kinds of movements are examined, such as standing, moving, sitting, lying down, walking, lifting objects - even ironing. You may discover that you use unnecessary force to turn the door knobs and taps, or that if the telephone rings you reach to answer it too abruptly.

    One lesson lasts 30 to 45 minutes and a course consists of 15 to 30 classes, depending on how quickly you learn, how frequently you can attend (twice a week is ideal), and how much you practice.





    SELF-HELP

    It is important to learn the principles of the Alexander technique from a teacher, and practice is essential thereafter. Simple exercises can be done lying down for 10 to 15 minutes twice a day, but do not confine practice to these occasions. Remember to use it at any time and in any situation. If you inadvertently strain a muscle, lie down and follow your "orders".

    In the beginning you will have to work hard to retain good posture - poor habits become so entrenched that, initially, slouching and stooping feel natural. With practice, however, maintaining a free neck and spine will become second nature. Many people find that minor nagging ailments such as recurrent backache or headaches gradually improve as the regain a natural posture.





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