What is it?
The Alexander technique is a way of becoming
more aware of your balance and how you move. It's based on the premise that most people
have bad postural habits that, over time, stop us using our bodies as easily and
comfortably as we should. Wrongly used muscles contract and pull down, giving to the
classic sign of bad use: head tipped back at the start of any movement, especially sitting
As well as the long-term damage to joints and cramped internal organs, poor posture is
linked with respiratory ailments; people develop round shoulders from hunching
protectively around their painful chests as they cough and wheeze.
Frederick Alexander believed modern living leads to bad postural habits; shoulders raised
and stiffened by stress, neck poked forward over desk work, tired bodies slumped into
saggy armchairs. Soon we've lost all sense of how we really are, so that what feels
natural (because it's habitual) is widely out of line. That's why it's hard to correct our
own posture without expert help.
The Alexander Technique aims to re-educate the body into moving more easily - relearning
the natural grace all children have until they all go to school and start slouching over
It's based on what Alexander teachers call 'good use of the body' - allowing the spine to
regain its natural curves, holding the head effortlessly in the easiest position and
distributing weight evenly over your feet. The bonus is that you look taller and feel
It's a hand-on teaching method, though you don't usually undress; after three years'
full-time training Alexander teachers can use their fingertips to 'read' peoples muscles
through layers of clothing. To start with you, and the teacher observe your stance and
movements for some time, and the first shock is seeing how asymmetrical you
are when you think you're standing straight. Then you're gently moved into a
When should you use the Alexander technique?
Most obvious benefits
are with back or joint pain, fatigue and respiratory problems. It's also widely used by
actors, musicians and athletes to improve their performance. Since there are no risks
involved, it's worth anyone's while trying it out.
Published studies verify
the benefits of the Alexander technique for singing, playing musical instruments, stress
management, breathing and pain relief, as well as balance and posture. A study of two
matched groups of students at the Royal college of Music found that the Alexander group
improved their singing and acting skills as well as their posture. Another study found
that chronic pain sufferers rated it the most effective of 13 activities they tried on a
None. It's painless and
non-invasive. But let your teacher know if you have anaemia, low blood pressure or
anything that can make you lose your balance.
About £8-£15 for half an
hour. It can also be learned in group classes, but it's worth having at least a few
one-to-one sessions since it's surprisingly hard to feel when you're out of line.
Practitioners recommend a foundation course of 20-30 lessons.
For a list of qualified practitioners
and training schools, send an sae to: Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique, 20
London house, 266 Fulham Road, London SW10 9EL, 0171-351 0828.
There are many books available including: The
Alexander Technique by Edward Maisel (Thames & Hudson, £8.95).
position when you're sitting,
standing and lying down.
As part of the learning process you stop to
think before plunging into a habitual move, then make the move mindfully. It feels odd to
practice getting up and walking with someone's hand lightly holding the back of your neck,
and even odder for the first few days when you keep
making conscious efforts to
do it the way you've learned.
And the homework couldn't be easier: for 20
minutes a day you lie on your back on the floor, with just enough books under your head to
keep your neck parallel to the floor (so you can swallow comfortably), knees raised, feet
on the floor hip-width apart and hands on abdomen.
Round about the turn of the century, a young Australian actor
called Frederick Alexander lost his voice, but only when he was on stage doing his one-man
Shakespeare recitals. Doctors couldn't find anything the matter and conventional therapies
didn't help. Alexander realised he must be doing something wrong, so he rigged up three
mirrors to study himself rehearsing. He saw that when he lifted his head heroically as he
recited, he tipped it back, constricting his larynx and incidentally crushing his spinal
discs. Yet he could have sworn he'd just been holding his head high.
Once he realised how out of
touch people are with what they're actually doing with they're bodies, Alexander spent the
rest of his life working on hid technique - in perfect voice.