Stress and poor posture are two of the most common reasons why tension and pain build up in the back, shoulders, neck, and head.
Anybody who regularly works at a desk will know how difficult it can be to maintain good posture throughout the day. And when we’re feeling stressed, many of us hold the muscles in our upper body tensed, which can cause them to become tight and sore.
The Alexander technique consists of gentle, low-impact exercises that nearly anyone can practise to unlearn the unhelpful posture habits that we all pick up throughout life – with the aim of reducing muscle stiffness and soreness.
It can also provide effective stress relief by influencing how we respond to life and restoring balance to the body and mind.
So, we’ve put together this guide to introduce you to what the Alexander technique is and how it can give your health a boost.
What is the Alexander technique?
The Alexander technique is an approach to promoting healthier posture and movement by gently improving the relationship between the mind and the body.
The main focus of the technique is on unlearning unhelpful habits like slouching, which can have lasting consequences on how you move and carry yourself.
Developed by Australian actor F.M. Alexander in the 1890s, and now recognised by the NHS in the UK, the technique is seen as a way to inhabit the body ‘in the way nature intended’.
After experiencing chronic laryngitis, which his doctors were unable to treat, Alexander realised that his condition had been caused by a build-up of tension in his neck and body over the years. This led him to explore the idea of unlearning bad posture habits in order to treat issues with the spine, neck, and head – and also to help the body relax and release tension.
The technique is taught in one-to-one lessons with a qualified instructor – either at home or in a studio or clinic. Each session usually lasts around 30 to 45 minutes, doesn’t require any specialist equipment, and all movements are gentle and low-impact.
Clients are usually advised to wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing that allows for free movement.
Your instructor will watch how you move and position yourself in different situations (such as how you sit, stand, walk, and so on). Then, over the course of the lessons, they’ll gently guide your movements with their hands to teach proper posture, focusing mainly on the relationship between the head, neck, and spine.
Most people need around 20 or so lessons in order to get the full benefit of the Alexander technique. The idea of taking these classes is to learn how to apply the technique yourself in your day-to-day life. This will hopefully mean that once you’ve finished your course, you no longer need instruction or supervision to stand, sit, and move in ways that are healthy for your body.
For a demonstration of the technique being taught, you might want to check out the video below.
How can the Alexander technique improve your health?
There are various ways that the Alexander technique can benefit your health. For example…
The Alexander technique can help to relieve muscle aches and pains, and reduce stress
Advocates of the Alexander technique claim that it can reduce muscle aches and pains, especially those surrounding the spine and the neck. As many of these are caused by unhealthy posture habits, learning how to correctly move your body can relieve pain and prevent it from developing in the future.
The effectiveness of the Alexander technique is also supported by scientific evidence. Studies have shown that taking lessons can reduce long-term back and neck pain, and that it can even help people with Parkinson’s disease tackle everyday tasks with more ease.
Reducing soreness and stiffness in this way can have a tremendous effect on a person’s stress levels. While it’s impossible to eliminate stress entirely, not having to deal with the additional stressor of muscle pain – especially when sitting at a desk or trying to sleep – can be a big relief.
If you’re looking for more ways to relieve stress in your life, you might want to check out our article; 9 simple stress relieving activities. Or, if you think that a more permanent change might be in order, then maybe our list of 6 low-stress jobs to consider if you’re looking for a change will be helpful.
The Alexander Technique may help with repetitive strain injury and carpal tunnel syndrome
Many claims made about the Alexander technique haven’t yet been thoroughly investigated by scientists, but are still believed by those who’ve learned and taught the technique. While it’s best to take claims like these with a grain of salt, they’re still worth noting.
On the front page of the Alexander technique website, it’s claimed that the technique can help those with repetitive strain injury and carpal tunnel syndrome.
While there haven’t been enough studies on the subject to say for sure, researchers have suggested that these conditions are ‘learned’ in the same way as the unhelpful habits targeted by the technique. So it seems plausible, if not likely, that practising the technique can help to ease these problems.
The Alexander technique can help performers reach their full potential
Supporters of the Alexander technique also claim that it can help performers like singers, musicians, actors, and dancers to reach their full potential. If you’ve ever been a performer yourself, you’ll know how important posture can be to success in all of these areas.
To see another example of how the technique can help with this, check out the below video from Mayo Clinic. The woman in the video found that practising the Alexander technique reduced symptoms of her central tremor for a couple of hours after each session.
Are there any risks associated with the Alexander technique?
As the Alexander technique is very low-impact, the vast majority of people won’t be putting themselves at any risk by practising it.
However, if you have an injury or condition in an area surrounding the spine, neck, and head, then the technique may not be suitable for you, as it could put unnecessary strain on your body.
In either case, it’s always worth speaking to your GP before signing up for any classes, to check whether the Alexander technique is right for you.
How to get started with the Alexander technique
If you think the Alexander technique could be useful for you, then it should be fairly easy to find a teacher.
You can find a list of organisations that teach the Alexander technique on the NHS website. Lessons tend to be given in a private, one-to-one format, and cost between £30 to £50 on average.
It’s also possible, in some cases, to be prescribed lessons through the NHS as part of outpatient treatment for chronic pain if your clinician believes that the technique could provide relief.
To get the most out of the technique, instructors recommend weekly lessons, until you’re ready to apply the skills learnt to daily life, without the need for instruction.
We hope that you’ve found our guide useful – whether you think the Alexander technique could help you, or you simply enjoyed learning something you didn’t know before.
For more articles and guides on giving your health a boost, why not check out the fitness and exercise section of our website? Here, you’ll find articles like 14 low-impact exercise ideas and 10 rewarding activities to do while walking.