Finding an Alexander Technique therapy that eases or cures your back trouble is wonderful, but discovering a way of preventing it ever recurring is even better. The Alexander Technique, which focuses on good posture, provides just such a way.
It is evident that posture plays an important role in many cases of simple back pain. Years of standing, walking and sitting badly, so that the spine and the rest of the body are out of balance, may lead to joint and muscle strain and eventually chronic back pain. The Alexander technique aims to improve the posture and in doing so may eliminate some of the causes of the back pain.
The technique’s founder, Tasmanian born actor Frederick Matthias Alexander, began to develop the technique in an attempt to cure the temporary loss of his voice.
Alexander, who was born in 1869, noticed that his voice loss only occurred after a period on stage and set up an elaborate system of mirrors to watch what he did when he spoke on stage. He noticed that he involuntarily contracted the muscles in his head and neck, which affected his breathing.
He wondered whether keeping these muscles relaxed would help him recover his voice and he set about trying to achieve this.
By altering his posture and paying particular attention to the relationship between his head, neck and spine, Alexander recovered and improved his voice and breath control. Alexander had discovered what he called the primary control mechanism.
When the head, neck and spine are properly aligned, the rest of the body is brought into a state of balance or harmony and is able to carry out everyday activities with a minimum of strain.
During the 1930s Alexander’s ideas gained an international following, first among fellow actors who sought his advice, but later among many prominent doctors and other well known figures. Today there are training centers for Alexander technique teachers throughout Europe and the United States.
Alexander lessons teach the coordination of posture, breathing and voice control and are extremely popular with public speakers, dancers, singers, musicians and actors. Many colleges of music and drama have classes in Alexander technique and it is also frequently used by clinics that specialize in pain control.
Some scientific research into Alexander technique supports both its theoretical basis and its practical benefits for a wide range of physical problems, including back and neck pain.
Alexander Technique in Practice
The simple, fundamental theory behind Alexander technique is that the way in which you use your body affects how well it functions. Alexander also knew how hard it was to break bad habits. He believed that constantly trying to take action to correct poor posture could do more harm than good and would probably lead to further injury. Instead, he realized that poor posture could only be overcome by relearning how to stand, walk, sit and move.
Lessons or classes in Alexander technique usually last for about an hour at a time. The aim is to re-educate you and make you think consciously about the way you move and hold your body. Eventually, beneficial posture becomes part of a natural life, whether you are walking, sitting, writing a letter, working or simply lying on the floor reading a book. The basics are usually taught over a series of about 10 classes, and lessons are offered on a one to one basis.
At first the teacher will observe how you perform simple actions, such as walking across the room, and then use his or her hands to guide you gently into correct posture. If poor posture habits have become ingrained over the years you may find that the correct way to stand or sit initially feels wrong and unnatural.
You may find that your teacher spends the whole of one lesson watching you repeat a simple action, such as sitting down in a chair and standing up again or walking across the room. Gradually, you completely relearn the way in which you move and think about movement.
Alexander Technique in Helping Your Back
The Alexander technique can be of great benefit to individuals suffering both from generalized chronic back and neck pain and from specific problems such as sciatica and brachialgia. The emphasis on the correct coordination between good posture and relaxed breathing helps prevent the buildup of mental and physical tension that is so often the cause of back pain.
The technique is used for a wide range of problems but especially for stress related conditions, including high blood pressure, anxiety, depression and insomnia, and for breathing disorders such as asthma.
The technique is safe for use by children but few need it. Those who have spinal problems, however, are often helped by classes. It is also safe during pregnancy, when changing body shape and the pressure on the spine often cause back problems.
Lying down with some head support, books may help your neck stay in alignment better than a pillow, and your knees raised allow your spine to rest flat against the floor. This is a useful way of releasing tension from your body in one of the Alexander Technique method.