Alexander Technique

What is it?
The Alexander Technique features an educational student/teacher relationship. The goal is to improve skill and poise in everyday living and the result is often a predictably therapeutic and permanent solution to musculoskeletal pain and obstacles to learning and improving skilled activities.

Discomforts and obstacles to skilled performance are often "use-related", This pertains to "how" actions are initiated and carried out — often, unfortunately, with mis-directed muscular effort. As one stops unconscious, interfering habit patterns, a natural, easy approach will foster coordinative strength, improved kinesthetic sense, skill development, and productivity. The indirect result is reduction or elimination of musculoskeletal discomforts. Additionally, stress can be better controlled when we understand how our reaction to stress is that of "strain".

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F.M. Alexander (1869-1955) developed a blend of what looks like a combination of education, physical therapy, psychology, counseling, and scientific inquiry. He founded what may be considered the original mind/body approach in the Western world.

You can Benefit !
Sometimes you work at a computer and find your shoulders becoming tight.  Sometimes you play golf or tennis and know that bad habits prevent you from improving your game.  Sometimes you practice music and find yourself becoming stiff, sore, tense, and your tone getting thinner.

Due to a phenomenon called “unreliable sensory awareness”, we become accustomed to the tension we carry with us. Unless we are in pain, we don't notice the tension and stiffness. Yet our inappropriate efforts have a powerful impact on every goal we set out to accomplish. Our internal feedback system, or kinesthetic sense, which would normally tell us when something is going wrong, becomes unreliable, and creates road-blocks to making changes in ourselves. The Alexander Technique helps the kinesthetic sense become a more accurate guide so that you can take on new activities, as well as old ones, with greater ease, freedom, and control.  

Benefits can include greater ease in movement, more freedom of choice, improved coordination, a stronger back, and increased energy. You gain a newfound, immensely practical skill in learning to identify and stop destructive patterns of behavior that interfere with how you move, learn, and respond to your environment. 

  • Extra info for musicians here.

How is it Learned ?
The Alexander Technique is taught in one-on-one sessions lasting about forty minutes, or, sometimes in small group classes. Dressed in comfortable clothing, you are guided through simple movements with verbal instructions and subtle touch. During the lesson, you learn to observe and change habits that interfere with optimum functioning. Becoming aware of and changing the habits that interfere with these simple activities builds a foundation for tackling more complex problems.  The effect is a pleasurable lightness and ease.  

Muscular habits can be resistant to change. Therefore, part of the lesson usually takes place lying on a table. The teacher can help a person change some of their habits without the interference that often happens during even the simplest acts.

The Significance of Skill & Poise
The Alexander Technique is a century-old method useful for absolutely everyone to improve functioning, skill, and poise.  It is easy to see how performing artists, athletes, and craftspersons need to have a well-functioning and coordinated body.  But we also need to “perform” all activities of life with skill and poise. In this way we prevent musculo-skeletal discomforts... AND, our performance at our favorite activities will also benefit. The Alexander Technique can improve all everyday activities — like sitting at a computer or washing a floor AND it will improve our favorite activities: like a craft, sport, fitness, or artistic endeavor.

History of the Alexander Technique
Frederick Matthias Alexander (1869-1955) was a Shakespearean actor who had a chronic medical aae7e751d7m1problem which affected his performance. After ten years of careful self-observation, he discovered that he was creating a pattern of tension that was interfering with the natural relationship between his head, neck, and back.  He learned to enable himself to inhibit this tension, and then re-establish a correct relationship. These discoveries — which have since been confirmed by scientists — enabled Alexander to resume his career, and became the foundation of the Alexander Technique. Note: the man in the far right photo is the educational philosopher John Dewey a long-time student of Alexander's.

At Respected Institutions
The Alexander Technique has been taught in a wide variety of academic and health settings including the American Conservatory Theatre, the Juilliard School, the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, Northwestern University, the University of Michigan, and several other prominent educational and healthcare institutions including, recently, the Mayo Clinic. 

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Evidence

British Medical Journal
Randomized Controlled Trial of Alexander Technique Lessons, Exercise, and Massage (ATEAM) for Chronic and Recurrent Back Pain  (2008)
click to view article
bmjhcurrentcovermax2In this study published in the British Medial Journal, 579 subjects with chronic and recurrent back pain were randomized to receive massage, six Alexander Technique lessons, 24 Alexander Technique lessons, or no intervention. In addition, half of the subjects were encouraged to walk regularly. A year later, the group with no intervention had 21 days of pain per month. The group with massage had 14 days of pain per month. The group with six Alexander Technique lessons reported 11 days of pain per month, and the group with 24 Alexander Technique lessons reported three days of pain per month. There were no adverse effects. Here is a BMJ produced video:

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Minnesota Healthcare News

A Matter of Technique: Addressing Musculoskeletal Pain at its Source (2010)

Brian McCullough wrote this article for Minnesota Healthcare News. click to view
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Minnesota Monthly
The Great Alexander
An M.D. / Journalist had a lesson with Brian and wrote this article for Minnesota Monthly click to view
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Jane Brody / New York Times
Jane Brody's Personal Health Column
This article generated thousands of inquires nationwide. click to view
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Uro Today

The Impact of the AT in Improving Posture During Minimally Invasive Surgery (2011)

Summary of research demonstrating the effectiveness of the AT on reducing surgical fatigue and improving endurance, posture, ergonomics and ability to  complete laparoscopic skills set in a shorter time with measurably improved skill.
click to view
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Journal of the American Physical Therapy Association

Improvement in Automatic Postural Coordination Following Alexander Technique Lessons in a Person With Low Back Pain (2005)

Case report describing use of the AT with a client with low back pain and the observed changes in automatic postural responses and back pain. 
click to view
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Chest Journal

Cardiopulmonary and Critical Care Journal — Enhanced Respiratory Muscular Function in Normal Adults after Lessons in Proprioceptive Musculoskeletal Education Without Exercises (1992)

(published by the American College of Chest Physicians) Summary of research on the effects of lessons in the AT on respiratory functioning. Subjects with instruction in the AT experienced enhanced ease of breathing compared to control group.
click to view
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Promotion of the National Labour (Barcelona, Spain)

Alexander Technique: Training for worker self-management in the prevention of musculoskeletal disorders (2011)

A descriptive and comparative study of precedents where the Alexander Technique has been applied as a tool to prevent occupational risks in different organizational settings throughout the world.
click to view
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International Journal of Clinical Practice

Evidence for the effectiveness of Alexander Technique lessons in medical and health-related conditions: a systematic review (2012)

The aim of this review was to systematically evaluate available evidence for the effectiveness and safety of instruction in the Alexander Technique in health-related conditions. Conclusions: Strong evidence exists for the effectiveness of Alexander Technique lessons for chronic back pain and moderate evidence in Parkinson’s-associated disability. click to view / and video:


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Behavioral Medicine (Practical Psychology for Physicians)
The Alexander Technique: An innovative approach to reducing physical tension and stress (1981)

Summary of principles of the AT, etiology of misuse and how the AT helps patients identify neuromuscular tension and restore physical homeostasis. Quotes from physical therapist, orthopedic surgeon and radiologist who recommend use of the AT for patients with musculoskeletal problems, lung diseases, joint diseases and scoliosis.
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Nobel Prize Lecture

Ethology and Stress Diseases by Nikolaas Tinbergen, Nobel Laureate in Physiology/Medicine (1973)
click to view

"I can do no more than characterize, and recommend, the Alexander treatment as an extremely sophisticated form of rehabilitation, or rather of re-deployment, of the entire muscular equipment, and through that of many other organs. Compared with this, many types of physiotherapy which are now in general use look surprisingly crude and restricted in their effect - and sometimes even harmful to the rest of the body."
— Nikolaas Tinbergen, one of the founders of ethology, the branch of biology that studies animal behavior, discussing Alexander's research methods and the benefits he and his family experienced from studying the AT. 

A video of Nicholas Tinbergen devoting part of his Nobel Prize Lecture to the work of F.M. Alexander:

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University of the West of England
Taking Charge, Choosing a New Direction: A Service Evaluation of Alexander Technique Lessons for Pain Clinic Patients (SEAT): an Approach to Pain Management  McClean, S. and Wye, L. (June 2012)

A high quality clinical trial carried out in an experimental setting has demonstrated the therapeutic value and effectiveness of Alexander Technique (AT) lessons for chronic back pain.  The findings suggest that lessons in the AT are feasible, acceptable and beneficial in terms of improving quality of life and patients' management of pain.  Greatest changes were found in how the patients/students managed their pain (more than half stopped or reduced their medication) and the impact that the pain had on their daily lives. This also led to some behavioral changes and changes in awareness and self-knowledge on the part of the patients/students. These attitudinal and behavioral changes may explain the finding that students of the AT appeared to reduce their pain related NHS costs by half. click to view