Could the Alexander Technique Work for You?

Most of us move without giving it much thought. We balance, walk, sit, dance and work the way we always have. But what if we discovered we'd been doing it wrong and could improve our health and well-being by relearning to move properly? That's the concept behind the Alexander Technique, which teaches that changing your moving habits could decrease pain and improve your posture, outlook and productivity. Could the Alexander Technique work for you?

The Alexander Technique was developed by Austrian actor, Frederick Matthias Alexander (1869-1955). When doctors failed to cure his chronic voice problems, Alexander investigated other methods to relieve tension in his neck and use his voice differently. He successfully solved his own voice problems, and went on to teach how tension affects other areas of the body. This developed into The Alexander Technique, a more than 100-year-old educational method taught by trained instructors all over the world. 

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine defines the Alexander Technique as a movement therapy that uses guidance and education to improve posture and movement and use muscles more efficiently. It's frequently used as an approach to treating low back pain, but isn't considered a pain-relief therapy.

The American Society for the Alexander Technique says, "By teaching how to change faulty postural habits, the Alexander Technique enables improved mobility, posture, performance and alertness and relief of chronic stiffness, tension and stress."

Much of this posture-focused technique involves learning how to properly align the head, neck and spine for the most fluid, least tiring movement. Children do this naturally, but as people grow older, they spend more time sitting and walking with their head slumped forward. They bend improperly and carry their weight in unnatural ways. These movements become ingrained habits that eventually cause wear and tear.

During a series of six to 24 individualized sessions, trained Alexander Technique instructors evaluate students' posture and movements and help them relearn healthier habits. The Alexander Technique teaches these basic concepts:

  • Recognizing habits developed over a lifetime (some healthy and some not) is a first step towards change.
  • Faulty Sensory Appreciation happens when habits interfere with a person's ability to interpret physical feedback and change things that may be causing harm.
  • Inhibition allows a person to choose how they'll act and move instead of simply repeating a habit.
  • Direction teaches a person to intentionally relay a message from the brain through the nervous system to the muscles so they can use the muscular system more efficiently.
  • Primary Control determines the quality of movement through the relationship of the head, neck and back. That relationship is either compressed (slumped) or free.

Does it work? Many Alexander Technique students say they've eliminated pain and improved their energy levels and productivity. A study published in the British Medical Journal says one-to-one lessons in the Alexander technique from registered teachers provide long-term benefits for patients with chronic back pain.  

Other than the expense associated with individualized instructional sessions, there are no adverse side effects to improving posture and reducing tension. The benefits may be life changing.


American Society for the Alexander Technique

British Medical Journal

Randomized controlled trial of Alexander technique lessons, exercise, and massage (ATEAM) for chronic and recurrent back pain

Paul Little

BMJ 2008; 337:a884 doi: 10.1136/bmj.a884 (Published 19 August 2008)