IntroductionThe Alexander technique teaches improved posture and movement, which is believed to help correct and prevent problems caused by unhelpful habits.
During a number of lessons, you're taught to be more aware of the position of your body to correct poor postures and to move more efficiently.
Teachers of the Alexander technique believe this helps get rid of any excess tension in your body and relieves problems such as back pain, neck ache, sore shoulders and other musculoskeletal problems.
They say that conditions such as backache and other sorts of long-term pain are often the result of misusing the body over a long period of time. Standing or sitting with your weight unevenly distributed and moving inefficiently are examples of unhelpful habits that practitioners say could cause such problems.
Therefore, the aim of the Alexander technique is to help you "unlearn" these habits and achieve a balanced, more naturally aligned body.
Evidence suggests the technique has the potential to improve certain health conditions (see How it may help, below).
Key principlesThe main principles of the Alexander technique are:
- "how you move, sit and stand affects how well you function"
- "the relationship of the head, neck and spine is fundamental to your ability to function optimally"
- "becoming more mindful of the way you go about your daily activities is necessary to make changes and gain benefit"
- "the mind and body work together intimately as one, each constantly influencing the other"
Learning the Alexander techniqueThe Alexander technique is taught by a qualified teacher (see below for information about training).
Lessons take place in a studio or clinic and usually last 30-60 minutes. You’ll be asked to wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothing so that you’re able to move easily.
The teacher will observe your movements and show you how to move, sit and stand with better balance and less strain. They’ll use their hands to gently guide you in your movements, with your head leading and your spine following.
During the lessons you’ll be helped to explore the way you go about everyday activities. You'll practise applying the Alexander technique while standing, sitting, walking and lying down, maintaining a better relationship between your head, neck, spine and back.
You'll need to attend a number of lessons to learn the basic concepts of the Alexander technique. Proponents say that once you've gained an understanding of the main principles, you'll be able to apply them to everyday life. For example, they say that after developing better balance and co-ordination, you will be able to sit and stand using less muscular effort than you did previously.
How it may helpTeachers of the Alexander technique say it can potentially benefit people of all ages and levels of physical fitness.
There’s some evidence that the Alexander technique is effective in helping to relieve long-term back pain.
There’s also preliminary evidence to suggest that it may help elderly people improve their balance skills and avoid falls, and that it may be beneficial for people with Parkinson’s disease.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) state in its guidance that for people with Parkinson’s disease, the technique may help them to make lifestyle changes that have both positive physical and mental outcomes.
For people with Parkinson’s disease, studies have suggested that it may be able to:
- help the person perform everyday tasks more easily
- reduce depression
- increase self-confidence
- slow down the worsening of symptoms
- delay the need for increased medication
The Alexander technique may also help reduce general long-term pain and improve respiratory function and stuttering. However, the evidence in these areas is even more limited and more studies are needed before firm recommendations can be made.
There’s currently a lack of evidence to support the use of the Alexander technique for any other health condition including:
AvailabilityAlexander technique lessons are usually only available privately. However, the fact that the technique may be beneficial for certain health conditions, such as persistent lower back pain, has made it a more popular intervention in recent years.
As it has potential for reducing healthcare costs, some NHS trusts now offer Alexander technique lessons as part of their outpatient pain clinics. Your GP will be able to tell you whether it's available through the NHS in your local area.
If you’re thinking about trying the Alexander technique, it’s important that the teacher you choose is experienced and qualified.
There aren’t yet any laws or regulations regarding what training someone must have to teach the Alexander technique. Professional organisations offer courses (often for three years) and membership upon completion of the course.
Teachers must meet certain requirements to register with these organisations and agree to comply with their code of ethics.
In the UK, the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique (STAT), the Interactive Teaching Method Association (ITM) and the Professional Association of Alexander Teachers (PAAT) are the three main organisations. STAT has a comprehensive database that you can use to find a qualified Alexander technique teacher in your area.
Some Alexander technique teachers are also registered with the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC).
Risks and limitationsFor most people, Alexander lessons are safe and pose no health risks (no manipulation is involved, just gentle touch).
They may not be suitable for certain people such as those with:
- a specific spinal injury
- severe pain from a herniated (ruptured) disc
- severe spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spine)
- a fracture of the vertebrae (the bones in the spine)
Proponents claim that you may be able to ease any aches and pains that you have fairly soon after beginning to learn the Alexander technique, but you need to be committed to putting it into practice in daily life, and it may take a considerable amount of time to see the full benefits.
Also, it's worth remembering that no statutory regulation exists for Alexander technique practitioners. The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), which writes and maintains the UK Advertising Codes, rule that practitioners shouldn't offer specific advice on, diagnosis of, or treatment for conditions that should be managed by a suitably qualified mainstream healthcare professional.
According to CAP: "Practitioners can, however, claim that their teachings promote a sense of wellbeing and, more specifically, could achieve better respiratory function in healthy volunteers and possible greater functional reach in elderly women.
"CAP is aware that one study has suggested that a series of 24 sessions might be beneficial for some consumers with persistent or recurrent back pain in reducing their pain and improving associated activity."
Page last reviewed: 11/10/2013
Next review due: 11/10/2015
Next review due: 11/10/2015