Methods that work to improve movement habits in our everyday activities, enhance functioning, and aid in reducing tension and pain in the body.more about the Alexander Technique, more about Feldenkrais, Alexander Technique Video
Alexander Technique Practitioners
Ed Bouchard, MPH, AmSAT/STAT, (773) 728-3235, Chicago
Alexander Technique sessions are individual lessons in how to use the moving body effectively, in all manner of tasks — sitting quietly, walking, running, breathing, speaking, singing, operating computer, playing a musical instrument, dancing, weight lifting, and many others. Profile
The Alexander Technique was pioneered by Frederick Matthias Alexander and focuses on methods that work to improve movement habits in our everyday activities, enhance functioning, and aid in reducing tension and pain in the body. The term “The Alexander Technique” was coined after Frederick Matthias Alexander’s death.
The Alexander Technique is a physical movement discipline whose principles can be demonstrated with any movement, and it is unique in the fact that it lacks any preset exercises.
It teaches the value of good poise and is used to assist patients and individuals to alleviate pain, promote rehabilitation, improve breathing and even decrease stage fright! It can be taught in private lessons or in groups.
Alexander hypothesized on the effects of good posture, muscle tension and body positioning after he lost his voice (he was a Shakespearean orator). He began his own investigations into the cause of his voice loss after doctors told him there was no physical cause. He observed himself in multiple mirrors and noticed that he was stiffening his upper body in preparation for speech, and felt this was disrupting efficient overall body alignment. This was later termed a “startle pattern”.
Once Alexander developed this theory, he tried to change how his body was reacting and as a result get his voice back. He identified substitute strategies and as a result not only did he get his voice back, but he became a better orator!
Later, Alexander believed that ‘self-observation’ (by anyone) could be used to ease physical pain in general, whether it is sitting, standing, walking, speaking or using your hands. Alexander recorded his methods and approaches in four books, and he also trained educators in his technique, mostly during his time in London between 1931 and 1955 (he spent a short period of time with his brother in Massachusetts from 1941 to 1943).
The Alexander Technique in Practice
So how is the Alexander Technique applied? During AT consultation, the AT teacher give verbal instruction to their client while watching and observing their clients body position, and helping with hands-on assistance. This is done to help the AT student to change their prior physical habits. This often requires the AT teacher to demonstrate what they are trying to communicate to their student. The application of the AT technique is designed to allow students to practice what they have learned on their own, rather than it being a curative treatment.
Since approaches taught by the AT technique are designed to be applied to an individuals everyday life, there are no prescriptive forms or exercises recommended other than one, which involves lying semi-supine as a recommended means of effective rest. There are a few terms that Alexander developed as terminology, which include the following:
“end-gaining” - This means to focus on a goal so that the methods by which it is achieved are lost sight of.
“inhibition” - This describes a movement which the student is consciously aware of, that as a result interrupts a habitual pattern of muscular misuse.
“Directing” - This selects and reinforces the proscribed “Head-Neck-Back” relationship that emerges when habitual misuse is stopped.
Benefits of the Alexander Technique
Proponents of the Alexander Technique claim that benefits of practicing its methods include the alleviation of pain and reduction in weakness as a result of poor posture (or repetitive movements), improved pain management for chronic disabilities and improved & enhanced rehabilitation following injury or surgery.
It has also been claimed that the technique can help people with breathing and stamina (for sportsmen for example) and can also help reduce panic attacks and assist asthmatics and those suffering from tuberculosis. Some people also believe it can help to reduce stage fright and help people to be more spontaneous. It is thought to help with stress management.
In 2008 the British Medical Journal published reports that there is evidence of a marked improvement in addressing back pain by using the Alexander Technique. A combination of exercise along with 6 Alexander Technique lessons reduced back pain by 72%.
In addition, in 2002 Stalibrass et al. published results of a significant controlled study into how effectively the Alexander Technique is in the treatment of Parkinson’s Disease. There were 4 different measures used to assess any change in the diseases severity. At the conclusion of the study, the Alexander Technique was proven to be better than no treatment at all, to a significant degree, and across all 4 measurements.
Interestingly, when compared to a control group given massages as treatment instead, improvements as a result of the Alexander Technique then was only significant across 2 of the measures. These studies seem to lend weight to the significance of using the Alexander Technique.
The Feldenkrais Method is often regarded as complementary medicine. However, Feldenkrais practitioners generally don’t regard their work as “treatment” or “cure,” because they are not working from the medical model. Instead of directly working a change to the physical body, they are working with the nervous system and enabling discovery of new choices.
The Feldenkrais Method was originated by Dr Moshé Feldenkrais (1904-1984), a Ukrainian-born Jewish physicist and judo practitioner who moved to Israel and eventually became an Israeli. He presented a view that good health means functioning well—working well, having satisfying relationships with emotional maturity, able to access a full range of responses to any situation (“Awareness Through Movement”) – this is opposed to the medical health as in not ‘sick or disabled’ or health in any abstract sense. He asserted that his method of body/mind exploration leads to improved functioning (health) through individuals becoming more aware and finding improved use; this focus on exploration and awareness is typified by his statement “What I am after is more flexible minds, not just more flexible bodies”.
This goal is reflected in the code of the Feldenkrais Guild of North America which states that practitioners of the method do not undertake to diagnose or treat illness of any kind.
Most proponents of the Feldenkrais Method consider it to be a form of self-education and mind-body development, rather than a manipulative therapy.
Feldenkrais’ approach was more experiential, using self-discovery rather than manipulation. Some of the influences on Feldenkrais’ work include Gustav Fechner, Gerda Alexander, Elsa Gindler, Jigoro Kano, G. I. Gurdjieff, Emile Coué, William Bates, Heinrich Jacoby and Mabel Todd, all of whom were more concerned with awareness than with simple physical exercises.
The Feldenkrais Method is applied in two forms by practitioners, who generally receive more than 800 hours of formal training over the course of four years.
Awareness through movement
In an Awareness Through Movement (ATM) lesson, the teacher verbally directs students through movement sequences and various foci of attention. Usually this occurs in a group setting, although ATM lessons can also be given to individuals, or recorded. There are more than a thousand ATM lessons in existence. Most of them are organized around a specific movement function, and teachers lend their particular style to each lesson.
Moshé Feldenkrais gave the name to a series of demonstrations he devised when some of his scientific colleagues wanted to know how he was learning to walk normally with a seriously damaged knee. Being an experimental scientist himself, he gave them concrete directions on how to move to discover for themselves what he was learning.
Feldenkrais understood these changes to be improvements of the self image, which can be conceived in one sense as an arrangement of areas of the motor cortex relative to the body. The body image was depicted by Dr. Wilder Penfield in the form of a homunculus. Since activity in the motor cortex plays a key role in proprioception Feldenkrais realized that changes in our ability to move are inseparable from changes in our conscious perception of ourselves as embodied. This relationship is clear and open to introspection.
An example of direction to introspection is given below:
Make a quick list of body parts you know you have but which you cannot feel consciously and compare it with a list of those you can feel. Which list contains the members you can move?
Thus Awareness Through Movement lessons are intended to do just what their name says. They improve awareness by using and improving the student’s observation and attention to the way they move.
In a Functional Integration lesson, the practitioner uses his hands to guide the movement of the student, in sitting, lying or standing. All of the movements are expanded from the habitual patterns of the student. This allows the student to feel safe, and gives the student the opportunity to observe the movement in detail. Through precision of touch and movement, the student learns how to eliminate excess effort and thus move more freely and easily. Lessons may be very specific in addressing particular issues brought by the student, or can be more global in scope.
Influence on somatics
Somatic disciplines influenced by Feldenkrais include: Hanna Somatics, Rubenfeld Synergy, Tellington Touch (for animals), Anat Baniel Method, Sounder Sleep System, Bones for Life, Liberation Through the Body, and others.