Common steps and sub-activities
The Alexander Technique is a healing method, whose objective is to retrain the body and mind over a course of lessons to become more aware of [and thus change] habitual but damaging posture. The approach essentially focuses on learning mind-body awareness and might be thought of as a specialised version of mindfulness whose aim is to heal.
The Alexander Technique is also a way of ‘learning to move mindfully through life’. The Alexander process examines inefficient habits of movement and patterns of accumulated tension, which interferes with our innate ability to move easily and according to how we are designed.
Teachers of the Alexander Technique are required to have completed three years of full time training as part of an accredited Alexander Technique teacher training curriculum, and many are certified by one or more of the Alexander Technique professional societies.
The technique was developed by Frederick Matthias Alexander, whose biography is on the site. In the description we provide the background to how the technique was developed and its history, along with a long list of just some of the people who benefited from the technique.
You will be able to see from the observations that it has been used for stress, anxiety, to counteract the effects of fear and to help those with PTSD by allowing them to find ways of relaxing; more specifically it has been proven in research trials to help in the following
Pain, mobility and balance
A review of evidence for Alexander Technique for various health conditions provided by UK NHS Choices last updated in July 2015 found that there's evidence suggesting the Alexander technique can help people with:
- long-term back pain – lessons in the technique may lead to reduced back pain-associated disability and reduce how often you feel pain for up to a year or more
- long-term neck pain – lessons in the technique may lead to reduced neck pain and associated disability for up to a year or more
- Parkinson's disease – lessons in the technique may help you carry out everyday tasks more easily and improve how you feel about your condition
NHS Choices also states that "some research has also suggested the Alexander technique may improve general long-term pain and balance skills in elderly people to help them avoid falls.”
Stammering and other voice impediments
NHS Choices states that "some research has suggested the Alexander technique may improve …, stammering.”
The Alexander Technique is used and taught by classically trained vocal coaches to help people develop a balanced use of all aspects of the vocal tract by consciously increasing air-flow, allowing improved vocal skill and tone. Thus it not only helps those with vocal problems, but helps politicians and other public speakers. And of course it can also help actors……
The Alexander Technique is a frequent component in acting training, because it can assist the actor in being more natural in performance. The method is said by actors to reduce stage fright and to increase spontaneity. The Alexander Technique has been used by actors of stage and screen.
Christopher Reeve used it in the late 1970s and ’80s to transform from Clark Kent to Superman, slumping “down” so his movements became awkward and unbalanced as the mild-mannered reporter, then standing “up” with obvious balance and ease as the Man of Steel.
John Cleese used the Alexander Technique in 1988 to perform his hilarious striptease in A Fish Called Wanda.
Other performers who have used the Alexander Technique to enhance their work include Colm Feore, Cynthia Dale, Brent Carver, Martha Henry, Benedict Campbell, Paul Gross, Colin Davis, William Hurt, Jeremy Irons, James Earl Jones, Kevin Kline, Kelly McGillis, Paul Newman, Lynn Redgrave, Maggie Smith, Mary Steenburgen, Robin Williams, Joanne Woodward, Ben Kingsley, Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Juliette Binoche, Kenneth Branagh, Michael Caine, and Hilary Swank.
The Alexander Technique has a long history of helping instrumentalists and singers to perform with less stress and likelihood of injury. Musicians do some of the most complex and demanding physical movements of any profession.
By helping musicians improve the quality of the physical movements involved in playing an instrument or singing, the Alexander Technique also helps improve the quality of the music itself. A violinist's stiff shoulders and arms will get in the way of a pleasing sound; a singer's tight neck or jaw will cause the voice to become less resonant. By helping musicians release undue tension in their bodies, the Alexander Technique makes possible a performance which is more fluid and lively, less tense and rigid.
Over the years, a number of prominent musicians have publicly endorsed the Alexander Technique: Yehudi Menuhin, Paul McCartney, Sting, Julian Bream, James Galway and the conductor Sir Adrian Boult, to name but a few.
The Technique is taught at the Juilliard School of Performing Arts in New York, The Royal College of Music in London, The Boston Conservatory of Music, The Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto and at many other schools of music, universities and colleges.
A review published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine in 2014 focused on "the evidence for the effectiveness of AT sessions on musicians' performance, anxiety, respiratory function and posture" concluded that: "Evidence from RCTs and CTs suggests that AT sessions may also improve performance anxiety in musicians.”
The observations we have provided plus the quotes from practitioners should enable you to see all the other uses to which it has been put.
We have provided a TEDx video by Angela Bradshaw ['show me'] to give you some idea of the principles. The following however has been extracted from the very useful website shown in the references:
What Not to Expect
For a start, you don't remove your clothes. Nor is any kind of special clothing required - though as table work often forms part of the lesson, women pupils usually feel more comfortable wearing slacks, or jeans, rather than a skirt.
Alexander lessons are not painful. There is nothing physically aggressive about the work. On the contrary, it is a process of allowing the pupil to release tension and the harmful habits that were responsible for it - at the pace that suits him or her, individually.
What Does the Teacher Do?
During the lesson your teacher will be observing your posture and movement patterns. She will also supplement the visual information in a very important way by using her hands, gently placing them on your neck, shoulders, back and so on. The teacher is using her hands in order to get more refined information about your patterns of breathing and moving.
To help her with this, she will probably ask you to perform some simple movements - perhaps walking, or standing up or sitting down in a chair - while her hands are kept in easy contact with your body.
At the same time that the teacher's hands are gathering information, they will also be conveying information to you. The teacher's hands will gently guide your body to encourage a release of restrictive muscular tension.
Naturally, teachers vary somewhat in their approaches to teaching. Just like any other group of professionals, there are variations due to differences in personality and style of training. Some teachers may talk and explain more at first; others prefer to spend most of the time during the first lessons simply helping you to get a new experience of ease and flexibility. Similarly, some teachers emphasize a few, fairly basic movements, allowing the effect to carry over into all your activities, while others prefer to work with you in a wide variety of applications.
How Long Are Lessons - And How Many Will I Need?
A lesson usually lasts between thirty and forty-five minutes. It will probably take a few lessons for you and your teacher to get an idea of how quickly you will make progress. As with learning other new skills, a lot depends on how far you want to take it. The majority of students come for a few months, taking between twenty and forty lessons during that period and then, perhaps, come back for refresher lessons, or groups of lessons, from time to time.
At the start, pupils are usually urged to come for lessons fairly frequently, perhaps two or three times a week if that's at all possible. This is because the new approach to movement, and to thinking about movement, which they are learning, is a bit unfamiliar at first and may need a little extra help to become established. Later on in the process, pupils often find they can continue to progress quite well with lessons spaced a week or more apart.
What About Group Work?
Some Alexander teachers have found that by working with individuals in a group setting, they can help far more people than would ever have been possible with individual lessons. Group work is as old as the Alexander Technique itself and experience has shown that under the right circumstances, it can be a very effective way of teaching.
- The Alexander Principle - Dr. Wilfred Barlow; Much of the early medical research on the Alexander Technique was conducted during the 1940s by Dr. Wilfred Barlow MD, a consultant rheumatologist at Guy's Hospital in London, England. A good summary of that research can be found in this book.
- Freedom to Change- The Development and Science of the Alexander Technique - Frank Pierce Jones ; During the 1960s and 70s, Frank Pierce Jones conducted a series of studies at Tufts University using electromyography and EMG equipment. These studies showed that the Alexander Technique could produce a marked reduction in stress levels. His results are included in his book .
- Alexander Technique description by Nikolaas Tinbergen, Nobel Laureate - Nikolaas Tinbergen, winner of the 1973 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine devoted a major portion of his acceptance speech to the benefits of the Alexander Technique. Watch a video of the Alexander Technique portion of his acceptance speech. A complete transcript of his address can be found in Science, 185:20-27, l974.
- The Lost Sixth Sense - A Medical Scientist looks at the Alexander Technique- Dr. David Garlick; In recent years, the number of medical and scientific studies has grown rapidly. A comprehensive series of studies of the underlying physiological mechanisms of the Technique have been conducted by Dr. David Garlick of the University of New South Wales. These may be found in this book .
- McEvenue, Kelly (2002). The Actor and the Alexander Technique
- Aronson, AE (1990). Clinical Voice Disorders: An Interdisciplinary Approach,.
- Rodenburg, Kelly McEvenue (2002). The actor and the Alexander Technique .
For iPad/iPhone users: tap letter twice to get list of items.
- Aldous Huxley and the Alexander technique
- Alexander technique and Supervised Physiotherapy Exercises in back paiN (ASPEN): a four-group randomised feasibility trial
- Alexander Technique Training Coupled With an Integrative Model of Behavioral Prediction in Teachers With Low Back Pain
- Effect of the Alexander Technique on Muscle Activation, Movement Kinematics, and Performance Quality in Collegiate Violinists and Violists: A Pilot Feasibility Study
- Effects of Alexander Technique training experience on gait behavior in older adults
- Effects of Implementing the Alexander Technique on Enjoying the Sense of Motherhood in the Postpartum Period
- Improvement in automatic postural coordination following alexander technique lessons in a person with low back pain
- Joanne Woodward on the benefits of the Alexander technique
- Lenny Henry on the benefits of the Alexander technique
- Paul Newman on the benefits of the Alexander technique
- Preliminary evidence for feasibility, efficacy, and mechanisms of Alexander technique group classes for chronic neck pain
- Randomised controlled trial of Alexander Technique lessons, exercise, and massage (ATEAM) for patients with chronic low back pain
- Roald Dahl on the benefits of the Alexander technique
- Show Me How - The Alexander Technique: Angela Bradshaw at TEDxSWPS
- The Alexander Technique for Back Pain
- The Alexander Technique: An Acting Approach
- The healing of John Dewey by Frederick Matthias Alexander
- The impact of Alexander Technique lessons on chronic mechanical low back pain
- What is the perceived impact of Alexander technique lessons on health status, costs and pain management in the real life setting of an English hospital
- William Hurt on the benefits of the Alexander technique