Alexander Technique aids back pain: now we can prove it!

Since the earliest days of the Alexander Technique, teachers and students have known from their own experiences that back pain responds very well to private lessons in the Technique. Constant back pain was in fact one of the main reasons I myself began taking lessons. The relief of that pain was the main reason I continued lessons, and why I decided to become a teacher. Yet in all these years of anecdotes, the hard evidence to prove this claim was nowhere to be found.

All that changed yesterday with the publication in the British Medical Journal of “Randomised controlled trial of Alexander technique lessons, exercise, and massage (ATEAM) for chronic and recurrent back pain“. This 5-year study of 579 patients revealed what AT teachers have suspected all along: Alexander Technique is more effective in relieving back pain than massage or exercise, the current standard medical treatments.

A series of 24 lessons in the Alexander technique taught by registered teachers provides long term benefits for patients with chronic or recurrent low back pain. Both six lessons in the Alexander technique and general practitioner prescription for aerobic exercise with structured behavioural counselling by a practice nurse were helpful in the long term; classic massage provided short term benefit. Six lessons in the Alexander technique followed by exercise prescription was almost as effective as 24 lessons.

A dubious mention

Today’s Business Standard has a short article in the Fitness section about Alexander Technique. Although it talks in only very general terms, its imprecise wording makes me think that the author has not actually experienced lessons. A dead give-away is the reference to AT “therapists”:

An AT therapist starts by observing basic movements like sitting, standing and lying down, to understand where the inefficiencies manifest. Then, by words and gentle touching, the therapist shows where the tension is, and how to release it (called “rising” or “lifting”). For minor problems, in 6 to ten sessions you can learn how to use AT yourself.

Being called an AT therapist makes me groan. And I have never, in 25 years of Alexander Technique experience, heard any teacher refer to releasing tension as either “rising” or “lifting”.

Movement re-education helps drama students improve performance


Elizabeth Huebner teaches the Alexander Technique to Luke Daniels, a drama student in the master of fine arts program.
Photo by Peter Morenus

The University of Connecticut’s Advance web site has a full-page article about Elizabeth Huebner’s work in the master of fine arts program teaching Alexander Technique to actors. It quotes one of her students regarding the effect of the Technique on emotional expression, an effect that we teachers perhaps don’t talk about very much.

An actor wants to be able to play the body of any character, says acting student Chris Hirsh.

“To do that,” he says, “you have to get rid of your habits. If you habitually bend forward at the top of your shoulders and protrude your head and neck forward, you have to understand how to correct that. The Alexander Technique helps accomplish that.”

Hirsh says the technique also “opens you emotionally.

When your body is aligned properly, you become a more open channel to the emotions that may or may not flow out of you. You have fuller freedom of emotional expression.”

8th International Alexander Congress to be held August 2008 in Lugano, Switzerland

It has just been announced that the 8th International Congress of the F.M. Alexander Technique will be held in Lugano, Switzerland from 10-16 August 2008. From their web site:

Lugano, Switzerland

We are delighted to announce that our Opening Ceremony on Sunday evening the 10 August 2008 will start with a keynote speech by Marshall B. Rosenberg, founder of Nonviolent Communication, followed by an address by Elisabeth Walker who trained directly with F.M. Alexander in the 1940’s. Many other special guest speakers are being contacted and updates will be
listed on our website.

As of now more than 40 Workshops and Presentations have been submitted for this Congress. There are around 25 “Continuous Learning Teachers” representing a wide cross selection of Alexander Technique Teachers form around the world – from Japan to Israel, from San Francisco to New York, from London to Berlin and in between.

Please note that Early Discount Registration ends 31 January 2008.

Please note that August is holiday season in Lugano, so early booking of accomodation is highly recommended.

Careless comparisons

I was a bit taken aback when I stumbled upon this reference in an article titled “God is not dead“. The author posits that religion, far from disappearing in Europe, is rather taking on new “alternative” forms.

Forms of alternative spirituality such as Alexander technique, Buddhist groups, Islamic Sufism, herbalism, reiki, and yoga are also thriving.

To suggest that the technique, based as it is on physiological reality and empirical observations, is some type of spirituality suggests to me that the author needs either a dictionary or at least one lesson in the technique from a certified teacher.

I would have preferred had the author called the Alexander Technique an alternative to spirituality.

A "new" approach to running

An article in Tuesday’s Guardian talks about “a new approach to running using the principles of the Alexander Technique.” How strange that a technique over 100 years old is still called “new”.

I am trotting around Bedford Square in central London like a pony in the ring, steered by a hand on the back of my neck and another on my lower back. The potential for feeling foolish is high, but what I actually feel is a great sense of joy. I’ve been running for 18 years but it has never felt this easy and, well, bouncy.

“Think of running over the ground, rather than into it,” says the owner of the guiding hands. He is Malcolm Balk, an Alexander technique teacher and running coach who has created a new approach to running.”