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Frequently Asked Questions
Alexander Technique Basics
Learning the Alexander Technique
- How is the Alexander Technique taught?
- What happens in a lesson?
- How long are lessons?
- Who studies the Alexander Technique?
- How long will it be before I see results?
- Does everyone need the same number of lessons?
- How long should I take lessons to get the full benefit?
- Who are some well-known students of the Alexander Technique?
- What training is required to be an AmSAT certified teacher of the Alexander Technique?
- How can the Alexander Technique help performers?
- How can the Alexander Technique help with pregnancy, childbirth and parenthood?
- Do the benefits wear off when I stop taking lessons?
- How can the Alexander Technique help athletes and fitness enthusiasts?
- I sit at a computer all day. Can the Alexander Technique help me be more comfortable?
Science and Research
The Alexander Technique is an educational method used worldwide for over 100 years. By teaching how to change faulty postural habits, it enables improved mobility, posture, performance and alertness and relief of chronic stiffness, tension and stress.
People study the Technique for a variety of reasons. The most common is to relieve pain through learning better coordination of the musculoskeletal system.
Another common reason is to enhance performance. Athletes, singers, dancers and musicians use the Technique to improve breathing, vocal production, and speed and accuracy of movement.
The most far-reaching reason people study the Technique is to achieve greater conscious control of their reactions.
During lessons you learn through direct experience how to go about your daily activities with increasingly less effort and greater ease. You develop awareness of habits that interfere with your natural coordination and learn how to undo these patterns to consciously redirect your whole self into an optimal state of being. Most of us have many habitual patterns, learned consciously or unconsciously. These patterns can be unlearned, enabling the possibility of new choices - in posture, movement and reactions.
Recognition of the force of habit
We develop many habits over the course of our lifetime, some of which are helpful and some of which are not. Our habits come to feel right or normal. Recognizing habitual reactions is a first step in enabling change. Your Alexander teacher will often recognize your habits before you can.
Faulty sensory appreciation
The force of habit interferes with the accuracy of our kinesthetic feedback. This often results in a faulty sense of how we are functioning and limits our ability to make productive change.
We often react automatically and habitually to the various stimuli of life. The Alexander Technique teaches how to take advantage of the space between stimulus and response to choose a course of action. This is inhibition. It is a skill that we already have and can learn to develop and refine.
We all have the ability to send a message from the brain through the nervous system to our muscles. The Alexander Technique teaches how to use this ability more effectively, resulting in more efficient functioning of the muscular system.
The relationship among the head, neck and back is what F.M. Alexander called the primary control. The quality of that relationship — compressed or free — determines the quality of our overall movement and functioning.
Improved ability to deal with stress
By teaching how to respond to any stimulus with less tension, the Alexander Technique enables you to better handle life’s stresses.
A leading contributing factor of musculoskeletal pain (and often its underlying cause) is unrecognized patterns of excess tension. People tend to respond to pain by tensing further, which usually exacerbates discomfort. Because it teaches how to recognize and unlearn these habitual patterns, the Alexander Technique is known for its effectiveness in relieving neck, back and joint pain for the long-term.
Athletes – amateur and professional - use the Technique to improve strength, increase endurance, enhance flexibility and increase speed and accuracy of responsiveness. Performing artists (actors, singers, dancers, musicians) apply the principles to relieve performance anxiety while improving concentration and stage presence. Public speakers use it to improve vocal projection and overall voice quality. Those in business find it enhances presentation skills and increases confidence.
The Alexander Technique teaches constructive conscious control of functioning. With a teacher’s guidance you develop increased awareness of habits of thought and habits of posture and movement.
As you learn how to refrain from - or inhibit - habitual patterns which are not useful to you, you'll become more aware of tendencies towards unnecessary muscular patterns of tension or collapse. Undoing these habitual patterns provides the opportunity for something new to occur: natural movement and spontaneity.
Frederick Matthias Alexander (1869-1955) was a Shakespearean actor challenged by a recurring voice problem. Chronic hoarseness interrupted his burgeoning career and he frequently lost his voice while performing. Because doctors found nothing wrong with his vocal mechanism, he reasoned that the cause might be related to how he was using his voice. After years of rigorous self-observation and experimentation, he found what he was doing that was causing the problem and figured out how to speak without those habitual patterns of tension. He then no longer experienced vocal problems, regained a full, rich voice and returned to the stage. His posture and overall coordination improved and he no longer had the problems with breathing that he had experienced since childhood.
Alexander continued to develop his technique, exploring the relationship of habit, thought and perception to human movement and functioning. He taught his discoveries to other actors with such success that doctors began referring to him patients with various breathing and coordination problems. As word of his success spread, people came to study with him from various places around the world.
With more people interested in studying with him than he could teach, he developed a training program to enable people to teach it to others. Over 100 years later, there are now thousands of certified teachers across the world trained in programs closely based on his.
Alexander’s discoveries evolved into core principles, the basis of his practical educational method. Students of the Technique today are as varied as the disciplines that have been influenced by this work: education, medical rehabilitation, skill development, stress management, the performing arts and athletic skill enhancement.
The Alexander Technique is typically taught through a series of private lessons. It’s also taught in group classes in performing arts schools, continuing education programs and other venues.
Private lessons with a certified teacher are the best way to learn the Alexander Technique.
Over a course of lessons, your teacher introduces concepts and practices that expand your awareness of the functioning of your nervous system, muscular system and skeletal system. You’ll learn to restore optimal poise, balance and ease in overall functioning. As you progress in your study, you’ll find that what you’re learning applies to all areas of your life. Just as study and practice in a new language enables you to understand and speak the language easily without thinking, so does study of the Alexander Technique result in the principles being applied in the activities of your life on an ongoing basis.
In an Alexander Technique lesson, your teacher instructs you — with verbal and manual guidance — to approach movement differently. You will learn to recognize habit patterns that may be interfering with ease and flexibility and you’ll learn how to discontinue them. No special clothing needed - normal street attire is appropriate.
There are two parts to a lesson:
To more easily experience the body’s muscles in a neutral state, part of the lesson takes place lying down (fully clothed) on a lightly padded table - on your back with your knees bent. Your teacher will teach you how to recognize and release any unnecessary tension you may be holding, promoting an enlivened sensory awareness and quieting the nervous system. You are an active participant: your eyes are open and conversation takes place.
Guidance during activity
Using simple activities such as sitting, standing, walking, speaking and reaching, your teacher gives you verbal, visual and physical cues to help you perform those activities with greater ease and efficiency. Guiding you in movement, your teacher will elicit your body's capacity for dynamic expansion and you will learn how to maintain that ease and freedom on your own. What you learn applies to all activities in your life, but you are welcome to work with your teacher on particular activities of interest such as lifting and carrying, computer work, public speaking, your favorite sport or even sleeping position. Actors may choose to work on a monologue, singers an aria, violinists a challenging passage, dancers a movement. In any activity you bring to a lesson - swinging a tennis racket, lifting a child or sitting in front of a computer - you learn to apply the principles of the Alexander Technique to reduce compression and increase overall ease and proficiency.
Lessons are typically 30 - 60 minutes.
People of all ages and abilities study the Alexander Technique to relieve pain, reduce stress, improve posture and enhance performance. Examples include:
- performing artists (singers, dancers, actors, musicians)
- people with chronic or recurrent back pain
- older people with balance issues
- people with neck and shoulder pain
- people interested in improving posture
- public speakers
- people wanting greater flexibility
- amateur and professional athletes
- parents carrying young children, lifting groceries
- teenagers with posture issues
- computer users with hand, wrist and arm pain
Each lesson will bring new insights that you can apply immediately. Within the first 6-10 lessons you will probably notice that what you are experiencing in your Alexander Technique lessons is carrying over into your daily life. 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, lessons result in gradual change and long-lasting results.
The number of lessons you need depends upon your goals, interests and physical condition. Some students study for 3-5 months, others continue taking lessons after reaching their initial goals and study for years, learning more. Duration of study is up to you.
Most people find a series of at least 30 lessons, once or twice a week for three to six months, to be what's needed for it to become incorporated into daily life. Like learning a musical instrument or a foreign language, time is needed to fully integrate new skills.
Notable people from a variety of fields have studied the Alexander Technique over the years. A sampling includes:
- Nikolaas Tinbergen, Nobel Laureate in Physiology/Medicine, 1973 (video of his Nobel lecture, the last third of which is devoted to the AT)
- Sir Charles Sherrington, Nobel Laureate in Medicine, 1932
- George Bernard Shaw, Nobel Laureate in Literature, 1925
- George Coghill, Biologist, Anatomist, member of National Academy of Sciences
- John Dewey, Educator and Philosopher
- Aldous Huxley, writer
- Robertson Davies, writer
- John Cleese, actor
- Lynn Redgrave, actor
- Annette Bening, actor
- Hilary Swank, actor
- Paul Newman, actor
- Julie Andrews, actor
- Sir Colin Davis, conductor
- James Galway, musician
- Yehudi Menuhin, musician
- Madonna, singer
- Sting, singer, musician
AmSAT-certified Alexander Technique teachers have completed 1,600 hours of training over a minimum of three years in an AmSAT-approved training program maintaining a five-to-one student/teacher ratio, as specified in the AmSAT Bylaws.
Teachers of the Alexander Technique are trained in careful visual observation to be able to determine the source of movement problems. They are also trained to be able to communicate expansion and lightness of movement through the kinesthetic sense. They learn teaching skills that encourage learning in a non-judgmental, supportive atmosphere. Additional learning includes anatomy, study of F.M. Alexander’s writings, literature and research by scholars of the Alexander Technique and related fields.
Singers, dancers, actors and musicians study the Technique to reduce performance anxiety, lessen the likelihood of injury and enhance stage presence. By learning how to relieve tension in the neck and back, singers and actors experience fuller breathing and improved vocal quality. By learning how to hold themselves and the instrument with less tension, musicians experience playing with greater ease, resulting in improved sound quality. Dancers learn how to move with more freedom and less tension. Study of the Alexander Technique enables sharp focus, a highly refined sensory awareness, efficient use of energy, improved balance and coordination and an inner sense of calm.
The Alexander Technique is taught in conservatory and university programs around the world, including: The Juilliard School, Ohio State University, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, New England Conservatory of Music, Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, American Dance Festival, Yale School of Drama, San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater, UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television.
Some renowned actors and musicians who have studied the Alexander Technique include: Julie Andrews, William Hurt, Jeremy Irons, James Earl Jones, Paul McCartney, Kelly McGillis, Hilary Swank, Annette Bening, Patti Lupone, Paul Newman, Sting, Maggie Smith, Mary Steenburgen, Robin Williams, Joanne Woodward, and members of the New York Philharmonic.
The Alexander Technique has much to offer women before, during and after childbirth.
Before pregnancy, study of the Technique will enable you to unlearn harmful postural habits while improving balance and coordination. This will help prepare you for the changes your body will experience in pregnancy.
During pregnancy, your Alexander teacher can teach you how to hold and carry yourself to reduce, if not eliminate, back pain commonly experienced with increased weight in front of the body. The baby's growth limits your internal space and organs become compressed. Digestive problems and shortness of breath often follow. Learning how to hold and carry yourself differently allows more internal space for both you and the baby. With more breath and mobility, it will be easier for you to stay active. Lessons in the Alexander Technique can enable you to coordinate breathing and strengthen pelvic muscles as you prepare for labor and delivery.
After the birth of your child, you can continue to use what you learn to enable nursing to be more comfortable and to more easily handle the constant lifting and carrying that come with parenthood.
After a course of study you can expect the benefits to stay with you as long as you keep in mind what you've learned. For most people the benefits stay with them for a lifetime.
Proper form and degree of muscular tension are as important as how strenuously or how often you exercise. Through study of the Technique you gain the skills to move with ease and prevent pain while you improve breathing, balance, posture and endurance. Together, you and your Alexander teacher can explore how to solve movement problems and optimize your performance, adding to your achievement and enjoyment. The principles of the Technique apply to any activity — tennis, golf, skiing, running, baseball, horseback riding, basketball, etc. By demonstrating principles of efficient movement, the Alexander teacher offers the fitness enthusiast a way to prevent injury and improve overall performance.
Repetitive strain injury, carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic back pain, headaches and stress-related disorders are common to many computer users. While changes to the work station — chair design, monitor and keyboard placement — can improve the ergonomics, the Alexander Technique teaches you how to use your body comfortably even when the work station is not ideal. With the Alexander Technique you can learn how to avoid injury and relieve the tension and pain often associated with computer use.
Your Alexander Technique teacher can teach you how to:
- sit upright without strain
- prevent spinal compression and muscular tension in the neck, shoulders and upper back
- improve range of motion in the joints
- reduce pressure on the keyboard and mouse to relieve stress on the wrist and prevent carpal tunnel injury
- become more aware of your body's signals and signs of distress so you can relieve tension before it escalates to pain
- breathe properly to prevent fatigue and calm the nervous system
- restore balance - during and after work
Increasing numbers of physicians and health care professionals are recommending the Alexander Technique to their patients. Offered in wellness centers and health education programs worldwide, the Alexander Technique is appropriate for patients with chronic back pain, neck pain, migraines, repetitive stress injuries, balance and coordination problems, and for the depression and anxiety that often accompanies chronic pain and stress.
Here are some comments from doctors and health professionals:
"The Alexander Technique remains the best of the self-care strategies to prevent the sequel of poor posture and poor breathing."
Harold Wise, MD, PC, New York, NY
"The Alexander Technique stresses unification in an era of greater and greater medical specialization. Its educational system teaches people how to best use their bodies in ordinary action to avoid or reduce unnecessary stress and pain. It enables clients to get better faster and stay better longer. This is undoubtedly the best way to take care of the back and alleviate back pain."
Jack Stern, MD, PhD, Neurosurgical Group of Westchester, White Plains, NY
"I found the Technique to be so beneficial in my condition that I have been referring patients in certain situations for Alexander lessons over the last several years."
Howard L. Rosner, MD Director, Pain Management Service, The New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center, New York, NY
"Habitual patterns of scrunched and tense use of the body are so engrained in our lives that the concept may seem extraordinary that unlearning these patterns can actually relieve pain and discomfort--but lessons in the Alexander Technique not only succeed for many people, they also allow a welcome sense of new ease in performance of all physical activities, e.g., playing a sport, using a computer keyboard, or playing a musical instrument. Research in which I have been involved has also shown enhanced strength of the muscles of breathing after a course of lessons."
John H.M. Austin, MD, Professor Emeritus of Radiology,
Columbia University Medical Center, New York
"I think I have given my patients something almost as good as magic. I have taught them what to do and not do when their backs give them trouble, and how to reduce unnecessary stress and pain. As a result, they no longer have to feel afraid and helpless when back pain occurs. Many consider themselves cured because they have been able to return to an active, normal lifestyle."
Deborah Caplan, PT, certified Alexander Technique teacher and author of Back Trouble, New York, NY
"Not only do I see the therapeutic benefits of this work with various patient problems, but it has helped me deal effectively with my own adverse muscular tension. I continue to experience a newfound freedom of movement in my own body that I believe is making me a more effective therapist."
Howard W. Makofsky, MS, OCS, Mastic Beach, NY
"In addition to its physiologic and musculoskeletal benefits, the Alexander Technique is extremely helpful in relieving the psychological states of depression and anxiety that so often accompany chronic pain and disease. It is my belief, based on professional experience, that the Alexander Technique should be part of all preventative health and education programs. It is as basic as good nutrition."
Jill Sanders, DO, New York, NY
"The Alexander Technique makes sense in that appropriate use of the body will lead to reduction of various musculoskeletal disorders and remediate others which are established. No equipment is needed, just the skill and training of the teacher. This technique is very worthwhile as a primary preventative therapy. It is especially useful when posture is a key factor in back injuries while lifting and for workers who perform repetitive tasks while sitting."
Robert D. Greene, MD, Emergency Department, Norwalk Hospital, Norwalk, CT
"I recommend people to the Alexander Technique who have not improved with traditional rehabilitative therapies. Part of their pain may be due to posture and the improper use of their bodies. Many people who have neck or back pain and have gone through heat, ultrasound and massage with no relief can be helped by learning the Alexander Technique. It definitely works. Nothing works for everyone. As one well-versed in using physical therapy and biofeedback, I know how valuable this technique is. I highly recommend it."
Barry M. Scheinfeld, MD, Specialist in Rehabilitation Medicine and Pain Management, Community General Hospital, Harris, NY
"The Alexander Technique has been very helpful in identifying the postural and breathing habits that contribute to my fatigue and muscle soreness. I found it a good value: cost effective, making me less dependent on chiropractors and more comfortable at work."
Douglas J. Bush, DMD, Chester, NJ
"When, in spite of my instruction, a patient is having difficulty understanding how to make changes in habitual movement patterns or has a profession with particular physical demands, I typically suggest the Alexander Technique. I have found it very helpful for patients who have low body awareness or who have trouble relaxing. Improvement in these areas facilitates many physical therapy modalities, especially cervical spine joint mobilization."
Gail King, PT, MS, Backtec Orthopedic & Sports Physical Therapy, New York, NY
"I fell and suffered a compression fracture of the back. Upon recommendation of a fellow therapist, I started treatment in the Alexander Technique. I have noticed not only a steady reduction of pain, but improvement in my general flexibility, balance and bearing. I use the Technique in conjunction with other physical exercise, and have found no contraindications."
Jean P. Binnie, MA, MS, NCPsychA, Hamptons Counseling Center, Hampton Bays, NY
To date there have been nearly a dozen experimental studies in peer-reviewed journals showing the effectiveness of the Alexander Technique. For an annotated bibliography and links to some of the articles, click here.