Mind and Body

In our May issue we find out all you need to know about the Alexander Technique

The Alexander Technique has been taught in the UK since 1904. It was developed by Fredrick Matthias Alexander (1869-1955), an Australian actor who had problems with his voice while performing Shakespearian recitals. After unsuccessful treatment from doctors he embarked on a course of self-examination. This led him to discover that it was the way he used the whole of his body that was responsible for the loss of his voice.

The technique he developed is a practical method of becoming aware of how we use our minds and bodies. By choosing the way in which we react to stress and by letting go of unnecessary habits and excessive muscular tension, we can rediscover our natural balance and ease of movement. The technique is taught on a one-to-one basis, with teachers using verbal instruction and gentle guidance with their hands. The Alexander Technique is not related to disciplines or therapies such as yoga, pilates or physiotherapy, but can be used in conjunction with them to enhance awareness and balance in the body.

Alexander teachers are not medically trained, so cannot diagnose health conditions. In general, learning and applying the technique leads to less tension throughout the body, and is very useful for postural problems, making you feel light and poised. This can be beneficial for conditions like anxiety, high blood pressure, some migraines, asthma, arthritis, back/neckaches, some voice disorders, repetitive strain injury and joint problems.

Due to its origins, the technique is strongly represented in the acting, drama and music circles and most drama and music schools now have Alexander teachers working with them. Many sports people are using it in swimming, horse riding, running, golf and skiing. The Olympic Rowing Team is reported to have had lessons before the Athens Olympics.

Some comments made by pupils after they have had lessons outline the benefits to learning the technique: "I feel ten-feet tall after a lesson"; "the pain in my arm has gone away and my swimming has improved"; "I am much calmer after my course of lessons".

During a lesson, a teacher may first start by analysing a simple everyday action, such as getting in and out of a chair. You will learn to observe how you are using your body and the teacher will use their hands to guide you and demonstrate how to move without unnecessary stress. Later on, you work with other movements and actions that may be causing you problems.

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Part of the session may be conducted with you lying down on a couch with the teacher working around you, moving your limbs and encouraging you to release unwanted tension held in the body. This particular form of lying down is encouraged by teachers as being the only exercise a pupil has to do on their own.

The number of lessons needed is dependent on the individual, as the technique is a learning experience. Remember that you are attempting to change posture and movement habits built up over a lifetime. However, it is amazing how much you can change, even in a few lessons. The usual guideline is that it takes between 20 to 30 lessons to establish a permanent change. Many pupils carry on having lessons as they find them enjoyable and helpful with chronic conditions. Lessons can cost anything from £20.

Find a Teacher

Most teachers in the UK are members of The Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique (STAT) and display MSTAT after their name. STAT-registered Alexander teachers have undergone a three-year full-time training course, and lessons can cost anything from £20. You can find a teacher in Cornwall by visiting www.stat.org.uk.

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