Sports and Fitness
Frequently Asked Questions
By Hope Gillerman and Joan Arnold,
certified teachers of the Alexander Technique
Why do I need the Alexander Technique?
You may be mystified by your back pain, excess tension or lack of coordination. You might have a chronic physical problem you'd like to solve. Perhaps you see your problem as hereditary, structural, unchangeable. You may be unaware that your posture and the way you move could be creating or compounding your problem.
What is the Alexander Technique?
The Alexander Technique is an intelligent way to improve posture and to solve the common movement problems that cause chronic pain, back injury and stress. It is a way to notice your postural habits, release compression and move with ease and grace. A proven self-care method, it is a set of skills that you learn to relieve pain, prevent injury and enhance performance.
How can the Alexander Technique help me?
The Alexander Technique offers you a way to streamline what you do, making your activities less stressful and more energized. You come to understand how your body can move most efficiently. As you learn to move more easily, you make surprising improvements in your posture and your health. As you learn to apply the Alexander Technique principles, you practice an effective, lasting method of selfcare.
How is the Alexander Technique different from other approaches?
The Alexander Technique is not a treatment, such as chiropractic or massage. The Alexander Technique's unique contribution is a mode of self-management that gives you independence in maintaining your health. Rather than being solely a recipient, you learn to soothe your own nervous system, release your own muscles and balance your own structure. Alexander Technique skills also make you a more informed, receptive patient when you do need any kind of treatment. It is not a set of exercises such as those you might learn in yoga, physical therapy, Feldenkrais, Pilates or the gym. Because the Alexander Technique is a way to heighten awareness of how you move and to better coordinate your body during activity, it helps you do specific postures, procedures or exercises with less strain and more comfort. Since it is a tool to improve your overall coordination, you become a more intelligent exerciser who can focus effort during a strenuous challenge. You learn more about the body, and bring that refined understanding to a class or set of stretches.
What are the Alexander Technique's benefits?
People who learn the Alexander Technique can better handle daily stress and develop a long-term solution to chronic pain, back injury and muscular tension. They acquire an enduring way to dissolve tensions as they arise and to restore their own balance.
Self-care - As the premiere form of self care, the Alexander Technique helps people prevent injury and recover from chronic back pain, hip, neck and knee pain, traumatic or repetitive strain injuries, arthritis and muscle spasms, balance and coordination disorders. It can also be helpful for people with asthma and stress-related disorders, such as migraine headaches, sleep disorders and panic attacks.
Skill enhancement - Athletes use the Alexander Technique to help them improve strength, endurance, flexibility and responsiveness. Performing artists use it to lessen performance anxiety while improving concentration and stage presence. Public speakers use it to improve vocal projection and voice quality. Those in business find it enhances presentation skills and increases confidence.
Mental health - As your posture and movement style improve, you look and feel better. As your breathing capacity expands, you have a greater resource of energy. Physicians recommend the Alexander Technique to lessen the depression and anxiety associated with chronic conditions. Psychotherapists also refer their patients to Alexander Technique practitioners. While you unravel muscular tensions, you may perceive an emotional link to your physical symptom. As body work can release emotion and provoke deeper understanding of the self, the Alexander Technique can be a very helpful complement to psychotherapy.
Who studies the Alexander Technique?
People of all types are Alexander Technique students. They might come to recuperate from an injury or for relief from chronic pain. They may hear of the Alexander Technique from friends, physicians or other health professionals. Here is a sampling of the range of people who have used the Alexander Technique to improve their comfort level, professional achievement and their lives:
- performing artists
- computer users
- the wheelchair bound
What problems and conditions can the Alexander Technique help me with?
Stress in daily life - Because the Alexander Technique helps you change your response to stress, it can help you relieve or eliminate stress-related conditions. The body's physcial reaction to threat - a fear reflex marked by a tight neck muscles and contracted body - is a natural, adaptive response. But if the body does not unwind from this contraction and stays in a constant state of emergency, we pay a physical price. You can learn to restabilize and recuperate from stress with the Alexander Technique: a set of body/mind skills that helps you release contracted muscles, calm the nervous system and handle stressors more easily.
Chronic pain - Chronic pain can be the result of injury, disease, structural abnormality or muscular tension. Though the Alexander Technique is not a miracle cure for medical conditions, by reducing the stress response it can often provide a surprising degree of relief. For conditions that cannot be changed--such as rheumatoid arthritis--it can still help the individual release the muscular tension and fear response that accompany injury or disease.
Back Pain - One of the most effective approaches to chronic back problems, the Technique can address the underlying cause and often relieve the condition completely. When there are unchangeable factors of disease or structure, the Alexander Technique teacher's soothing hands and helpful guidance enables you--whatever your limitation--to reach your full potential for function.
Arthritis - Studying the Alexander Technique will help you relieve pain, retain mobility and increase range of motion. The Alexander Technique teacher helps you see what in your movement style causes joint compression and might exacerbate your condition. As you reeducate your overall coordination, the torso muscles support rather than compress the spine. Reduced compression allows your body to expand during daily activities and can help reduce pain.
Postural problems - Many people develop unhealthy posture and movement habits that become deep-seated patterns of strain. These habits are typically expressed by tight back and neck muscles and collapsed stature. With the hands-on guidance of a trained Alexander Technique teacher, you learn to elicit the primary control--an easy, dynamic relationship between the head and spine. You gain access to the body's elegant power steering. You learn that finding poise can help to ease discomfort and streamline movement. With greater fluidity and stability, you gain confidence and a more positive self-image.
Asthma and other breathing disorders - Asthma is the body's respiratory reflex gone awry. Neck muscles tighten, shoulders yank up to the ears, and the abdominal muscles contract. Sufferers say the greatest problem is rising panic at an attack's onset--the fear that they won't win the fight for the next breath. These responses are elements of the startle pattern. With the Alexander Technique, asthmatics can halt the startle pattern and calm the nervous system, inviting an easier balance in body and mind. They can control or conquer their symptoms. Expanded space in the torso and information about how to breathe effeciently can help anyone who wants to improve breathing capacity and, with it, overall vitality.
Repetitive strain injury & carpal tunnel syndrome - The Alexander Technique addresses the cause of these widespread injuries: lack of postural support and excess joint compression while working. With the Alexander Technique, you learn to eliminate strain and perform repetitive movements with ease and comfort. Much of our current epidemic of repetitive strain injury and carpal tunnel syndrome could be alleviated if more people learned how to:
- sit upright easily
- do repeated motions with less muscular tension
- the shoulders, arms and wrists
- tap the keyboard and mouse lightly
- attune to their bodies' signals
How do I learn the Alexander Technique?
In an Alexander Technique session, your teacher instructs you--with words and touch--to approach movement differently. Using a mirror, s/he helps you recognize your ingrained patterns and highlights how your movement style relates to your symptoms. Your teacher uses a specialized hands-on method to help you release areas of tension and elicit your body's capacity for dynamic expansion. With this expert guidance, you learn the skills to replicate that ease and expansion on your own. Over a course of sessions, you strip away the movement habits at the root of your discomfort. You acquire a way to guide yourself through daily activities that stays with you for the rest of your life.
What happens in an Alexander Technique session?
You learn the Alexander Technique from a highly trained professional in a series of one-on-one sessions. Some teachers offer group classes, but the Alexander Technique is most commonly offered privately. The teacher gives you expert coaching tailored to your specific needs.
What do I wear?
You come to your Alexander Technique lesson wearing loose, comfortable clothing.
What is an Alexander Technique teaching studio like?
The Alexander Technique teacher's teaching studio is a low-tech environment with a chair, bodywork table and a mirror.
How long are Alexander Technique sessions?
Usually 45-60 minutes, the Alexander lesson is instruction tailored to your needs.
What's the goal of an Alexander Technique session?
An Alexander Technique session is an opportunity for you to unwind and observe how your mind and body work to help you feel and look better. Your teacher gives you sophisticated, hands-on guidance and focused, supportive coaching on how to calm your system, regain poise and raise your level of functioning.
What will we do in an Alexander Technique Session?
Your Alexander Technique teacher observes you doing simple actions, such as sitting, standing or walking. Using a mirror, s/he helps you see and sense how your movement style relates to your problem. There are two aspects to an Alexander Technique lesson:
Tension Release - While you lie clothed on a padded table and settle into restful state, the teacher gently guides your head and limbs, encouraging expansion. S/he uses a unique, informative touch that does not intrude or manipulate, that suggests a soothing release and an enlivened kinesthetic sense.
Guidance during activity - While you perform ordinary movements, the Alexander Technique teacher gives you verbal, visual and conceptual cues to help you sit, stand, walk or reach more comfortably. You consider activities you would like to enhance, such as public speaking, lifting and carrying, computer work, practicing yoga or a martial art, playing your favorite sport or even sleeping comfortably. Performers can choose to work on a monologue, an aria or a dance movement. If you would like to refine a specialized activity--such as how you swing a tennis racket, lift a child or play an instrument--the Alexander Technique teacher can help you reduce compression and increase overall physical support as you do it.
How can an Alexander Technique teacher help me?
Your Alexander Technique teacher offers personally tailored instruction with a unique hands-on approach, helping you see what in your individual movement style contributes to your recurring problem. As he or she helps you to release muscular tension and restore your body's original poise, you learn to sit, stand and move with safety, balance and ease. Your teacher can point out the possible sources of your problem. With anatomical pictures s/he helps you to better understand the body's functioning. S/he considers your entire body--not just segments--and looks at you as the dynamic creature you are.
How did the Alexander Technique begin?
The Alexander Technique was developed by F.M. Alexander (1869-1955). As a young Australian actor, he suffered from a vocal problem that interrupted his burgeoning career as a Shakespearean actor. Frustrated by this limitation, he studied his own movement for the cause of his problem. Through a long process of self-observation and experiment, he evolved a way to restore full use of his voice. In exploring how to help himself and others, he discovered the crucial importance of the relationship between the head, neck and spine. He named this relationship the primary control because he perceived it as primary in controlling posture, breath and movement. He developed a way to teach people how to elicit the primary control in their daily lives.
What are the Alexander Technique's basic ideas?
Though your body is much more elaborate and subtle than any machine, you can understand the Alexander Technique's basic ideas by comparing it to driving a car. You use the mirrors (awareness), the brake (inhibiting your habits) and the gas (directing your body into expansion). As you develop each of these skills and learn to use them all together, you gain access to your body's power steering--the primary control. Just as you don't have to focus on every detail of a car's operation, you learn about your body's capacity to respond and coordinate each of its systems to work together, as an integrated whole.
Primary control - The primary control is the relationship between the head, neck and spine in stillness and in movement. The quality of that relationship--compressed or free--determines the quality of our overall movement and functioning. When the neck is not overworking, the head balances lightly atop the spine, the torso expands and breath comes more easily. We restore the efficacy of the postural reflex--a natural, dynamic force that counters gravity and easily guides the torso upward. You elicit your body's primary control by developing three interlocking skills:
Awareness - Many people don't realize the source of their limitation, aches or chronic pain. You acquire a powerful tool when you refine awareness of your habitual tendencies, observe how you operate moment to moment and understand how your body works best.
Inhibiting your habits - Though we often tend to think we're not doing enough, Alexander found that our habits of tension and compression interfere with our body's ingenious design. By catching ourselves as we move with compression and reducing excess muscular effort, we can inhibit, or stop, compressive habits and stress responses. We can actually accomplish more by doing less.
Directing your body - Each of us has the capacity to visualize movement and mentally guide the flow of force through the body. Rather than gunning the motor and muscling our way through an activity, we can use the mind to direct--or envision--dynamic expansion while moving. By using the mind/body connection in this way, the body's reflexive coordination seems to take over, gracefully and effortlessly.
How long will it be before I see results?
Each Alexander Technique lesson will bring new insights that you can apply immediately, and you will probably feel the effects of your Alexander Technique sessions within the first 6-10 lessons. As you continue and your understanding grows, you will be able to apply what you've learned to a wider range of activities. Instead of a quick fix with a fleeting effect, you will experience a gradual change and long-term results.
How many Alexander Technique sessions to I need to get the full benefit?
Like any skill, it takes practice. A series of 30 lessons, once or twice a week for three to six months, is the best way for you to learn the Alexander Technique.
Does everyone need the same number of sessions?
The number of sessions you need depends upon your goals, interests and physical condition. Some people study for 3-5 months, others continue learning after reaching their initial goals. Duration of Alexander Technique study is up to you.
Do the Alexander Technique's benefits wear off when I stop going to my teacher?
Not if you continue to use what you have learned! Over a series of sessions, you reclaim your body's natural sense of ease and increase your understanding of how you function best. This practice enables you to take the mind/body process wherever you go and apply it to anything you do, such as riding a bike, sitting through a long meeting, playing an instrument, swinging a racket or carrying luggage.
Since F.M. Alexander was not a physician, why should the medical field take the Alexander Technique seriously?
Because it works! The Alexander Technique is a proven, safe, self-care method to stop pain, muscle tension and stress cause by everyday misuse of the body.
Endorsed by physicians and health care professionals - The Alexander Technique is offered in wellness centers and health education programs. Medical professionalsof every kind recommend the Alexander Technique for chronic back pain, migraines, repetitive stress injuries, balance and coordination problems and for the depression and anxiety that often accompanies chronic pain and stress.
Endorsed by physicians and health care professionals - The Alexander Technique is offered in wellness centers and health education programs. Medical professionals of every kind recommend the Alexander Technique for chronic back pain, migraines, repetitive stress injuries, balance and coordination problems and for the depression and anxiety that often accompanies chronic pain and stress.
Endorsed by scientists - Alexander's findings are supported by behavioral scientists and physiologists including Nobel laureate Sir Charles Sherrington, Dr.Rudolph Magnus, G.E Coghill, Frank Pierce Jones and Nikolaus Tinbergen, who noted Alexander's discoveries in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech. An established record of success--clinical studies have shown that the Alexander Technique modifies stress responses while improving breathing capacity and posture. In a 1988 study of chronic pain sufferers, the Alexander Technique was chosen as patients' preferred method of reducing pain.
Is the Alexander Technique just another health fad?
Now over 100 years old, the Alexander Technique has a long track record of helping people with back problems, chronic pain and tension, posture and movement disorders, asthma, migraines and whiplash. As its wide applications are understood and its successes continue to multiply, the reputation of the Alexander Technique is growing. Today there are about 2500 Alexander Technique teachers worldwide, with about 700 in the United States.
What are Alexander Technique teachers like?
Many have come from the performing arts, such as dance, theater or music. Some are physical therapists, massage therapists or teachers in another field.
What training is required to be an Alexander Technique teacher?
AmSAT-certified Alexander Technique teachers must complete 1,600 hours of training over a minimum of three years in a AmSAT-approved training program. To assure quality instruction, each Alexander Teaching Training Program maintains a five-to-one student/teacher ratio.
Alexander Technique teachers must practice what they teach: the ability to integrate and streamline their own movement while guiding their clients toward improved functioning. They acquire this ability from expert mentors through long hours of intense, focused hands-on training
Alexander Technique practitioners are trained in careful visual observation to spot the source of movement problems. They are schooled in teaching skills that encourage learning in a non-judgmental, supportive atmosphere. And they are trained in the unique Alexander Technique touch, a complex combination of kinesthetic receptivity and the subtle suggestion of expansion and lightness in movement. Additional studies include anatomy, study of F.M. Alexander's theoretical writings, literature and research by Alexander Technique scholars and those in related fields.
What is AmSAT?
The American Society of the Alexander Technique is the largest professional association of board-certified Alexander Technique teachers in the United States. Its mission is to maintain the integrity of the Alexander Technique as developed by F.M. Alexander (1869-1955). AmSAT maintains the nation's highest standards for teacher training, certification and membership and maintains affiliations with similar credentialling bodies worldwide. Since its formation in 1987, over 600 teachers have completed a rigorous training process to earn AmSAT certification.
© 1997 Joan Arnold, Hope Gillerman