The Alexander Technique (A.T.) is a skill for self-development, a way of learning how to change long-standing habits that cause unnecessary tension in everything you do. In lessons, you learn to carry out everyday activities in a new way - one that is freer and easier than you probably ever thought possible.
Why do people come for lessons?
People have lessons for a wide variety of reasons. Amongst the most common are back pain and other joint/muscle pain, RSI, posture, stress and the enhancement of performance skills.
As well as helping you to do just about anything with greater skill, efficiency and poise (which is why the A.T. is taught in almost all music, drama and dance schools and is used by many elite athletes), lessons are a remarkably effective way of overcoming poor posture, back pain, neck and other joint pain, balance problems, anxiety and stress, breathing and vocal problems. People also learn the AT to develop ease and elegance in movement and to enhance business and self presentation skills. Women find using the AT helpful during pregnancy and childbirth.
What is the evidence for the effectiveness of the A.T?
A large, randomised study published in the British Medical Journal found that a course of 24 lessons reduced days of chronic low back pain by an astonishing average of 86%, and these results were maintained at a 12 month follow-up. Another major study found that just 14 lessons reduced longstanding chronic neck pain by 31%. And there is ever-increasing evidence that the AT may be similarly helpful for other muscle/joint pain and balance problems. In addition, there is evidence that the AT enhances skills in refined performance, use of the voice, breathing and self-presentation, is very helpful in Parkinson's disease, reduces stress and increases a sense of wellbeing.
To the extent that poor habits of posture and movement are a factor in the causation and/or continuation of problems, the A.T. is likely to prove beneficial.
What happens in lessons?
In a lesson the teacher first finds out if something the person is doing is causing their problem and then teaches them how to stop doing it. The teacher uses gentle hands-on contact together with verbal explanation to help people to learn to attend to head poise and lengthening of the spine in a way that facilitates healthy postural tone and co-ordination. At the same time, poor habits that adversely affect muscle tone and co-ordination and involve shortening of the spine are identified and brought to the person’s attention. Continual assistance and constructive feedback are given to help the person prevent the intrusion of unwanted self-damaging habit.
Lessons are tailored to people’s individual needs and capabilities and applied to daily activities such as moving from sitting to standing, walking, bending and lifting. Part of the lesson may take place with the person lying supine on a table with the head supported, knees bent and feet on the table. The principles of the Alexander Technique are explained and related to the individual’s particular circumstances.
How many lessons will I need?
There is no easy answer to this question because, as with any skill, it depends on where you are starting from, where you would like to end up and how quickly you are able to learn. However, as a guide, in a large randomised study just 6 lessons halved days with back pain and 24 lessons reduced them by 86%. On average, people need about 30 lessons to develop sufficient skills to continue to improve without the assistance of a teacher.
How frequently should I come for lessons?
When you start lessons, straight away you will be working to overcome the habits of a lifetime. There is a distinct advantage to scheduling lessons closer together for the first few weeks. Twice or even three times a week is a good guide, although many people do well with less. Your teacher can advise.
Are lessons suitable for everybody?
The Alexander Technique involves no specific exercises, requires no special clothing or equipment, can be practised wherever you are and is suitable for people of all ages and levels of fitness.
Are good results guaranteed?
Both learning and applying the AT demand the active participation of students. Learning to change long established habits can be a gradual and challenging process. Good results depend on the interest and ability of individuals to follow the advice received and on their resolve to apply what they have learned to their daily activities. Although teachers do not aim to, nor offer a “cure”, people usually experience valuable health benefits.
Do all teachers teach the same way?
Most teachers teach the same principles and other core material but the approach will vary according to their training, experience, skills, personality and interests and according to the needs of the pupil.
Are teachers regulated and insured?
Members of the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique (STAT), which represents the great majority of teachers, have successfully completed a three year training course recognized by the Society, have professional indemnity insurance and an enhanced disclosure DBS (previously CRB) certificate, and are subject to a Code of Professional Conduct. There is an established complaints procedure. In the UK there are about 900 teachers registered by STAT.
Are AT lessons funded through the NHS or private insurance companies?
NHS departments in different areas and different insurance companies follow different policies. On occasion the NHS may pay for AT lessons. Many private medical insurance companies reimburse AT lessons. A number of major companies provide lessons in the AT for their staff.
What about learning in groups?
Groups can provide a useful introduction to the Technique. However, unless the groups are very small, or taught by several teachers, they are not a substitute for the individual practical attention required to learn the AT.
How do I find a teacher?
You can find a full searchable list of teachers on the website of the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique.