Basic Concepts of the Alexander Technique – Part 2

The Alexander Technique is a useful therapeutic adjunct addressing chronic patterns and adaptations that predispose patients to musculoskeletal problems and poor overall functioning.  A good example is weak respiratory function or excessive tension and strain which needlessly increase metabolic demands and tissue strains without improving function. The Technique also teaches patients how to help themselves discover and prevent habits and misuse that can cause their problems and so provide a long term preventive intervention for musculoskeletal problems.  In the last decade, research has demonstrated that people who have received lessons in the Alexander Technique have improved success with recovering from back injury in the short and long term, better respiratory function, decreased joint pressures and better mechanical performance in activity. In addition, the procedures Alexander developed for how to consider and balance stimulus, movement and thinking have significant usefulness in enabling people to constructively approach learning in any arena.

Actors, athletes, and performers of all kinds have utilized the Alexander Technique since its creation, as their livelihood depends on movement control and easily learning and adapting to new patterns. They have found that the Technique provides a methodology that works very well to help them learn and adapt. Unfortunately, despite the endorsements of a number of physicians and scientists during Alexander’s lifetime, the Technique was never taught in the medical arena. It was regarded as primarily having to do with posture because patients who learned to move better inevitably developed better posture. The attitude that the Technique is only about posture is changing as new studies are demonstrating the effectiveness of the Technique for dynamic movement problems. At its core, however, the Alexander Technique is an educational methodology and falls outside the paradigm in which most medical personnel are trained.

Image by photographer Carien van Hest http://www.freeimages.com

Image by photographer Carien van Hest http://www.freeimages.com

Within the medical community physical therapists have a unique position – they are charged with improving movement ability in clients no matter the cause, including habitual movement patterns that have led to dysfunction and failure of structures in the body. A patient’s overall body use must be addressed as well as the specific structure that is damaged. Otherwise the patient is left to fend for themselves using subconscious guidance (“well, this feels right”) and generally inaccurate ideas about how to use everything that is not injured to support the exercise or motion they have been told to do. This internal self-guidance often leads to new problems elsewhere in the body structure. It is analogous to having a tire wear out from poor alignment on a car. The tire must be replaced (direct intervention) but the car must also be realigned properly (change how the car uses the tire) and the driver educated to avoid things that damage the alignment (alter the controlling program) in order to prevent a repetition of the tire damage. The Alexander Technique gives physical therapists an excellent means with which to help re-educate patient’s thoughts and actions that will help them change and improve their habitual movement, leading to overall better health.