Physical Therapy and the Alexander Technique
As a physical therapist who specializes in working with chronic pain patients, I have often wondered why some people remain relatively pain- free throughout their lives and others develop crippling disabilities. Some of these people have injuries or illnesses, but it seems that the accumulation of one's personal habits, acquired over a life time, have an overwhelming effect on one's health.
Right now, without changing your body's position or posture, take a minute and scan your body for any tension. Does your body feel comfortable, uncomfortable, tense, tired, relaxed, etc? Do you feel any stress or strain in your neck, shoulders, or back? Do your arms feel tired or heavy from holding this article up to read? Are your eyes straining to read the print? Are you clenching your teeth or frowning as you read? Are you sitting in a slumped, rigid or relaxed posture?
One of the key concepts in the Alexander Technique is how we use our physical bodies. With good use, the body moves easily with balance and coordination, so that minimal effort is exerted to perform a task. Another key concept is that people are designed for movement. Inherent in this design is an incredible capacity for ease, flexibility, power and expressiveness.
However, we frequently hold excessive tension in our body and think of this as normal. As we perform tasks such as walking in the woods, hammering a nail, singing, or working at a computer, we add more tension to our bodies thus increasing the internal stress in our body. This can lead to chronic tightening of muscles. The overly-tight muscles pull on the bones, which are our structural foundation. This then alters our posture and the normal curves of the spine. The resulting restrictions in bone and muscle alignment diminish joint mobility and flexibility.
Frederick Matthias Alexander (1869-1955) devoted his life to the study of good body use. Many years of self observation led Alexander to the discoveries that have become the Alexander Technique. Alexander came to an understanding that the correct relationship of head, neck and back was essential for proper body movement and function. He started teaching his Technique in London in the early 1900's. Though verbal communication and gentle hands-on guidance he helped his students release their faulty habits and posture and movement.
One can learn the technique in group classes, workshops or private lessons. In a lesson, the student learns how to observe, sense and comprehend what he is doing. The student usually notices changes within the first few lessons, such as reduction in pain and tension and an increase in energy.
As a physical therapist, I see myself primarily as an educator. My main client focus is movement reeducation for flexibility, improved functional capacity and pain reduction. Since the Alexander Technique is all about movement reeducation, I use the Technique with all my clients, adults and children. The Technique is applicable to many conditions such as headaches, TMJ, chronic neck, shoulder, back and hip pain, cerebral palsy, arthritis and multiple sclerosis.
I use the Alexander Technique when teaching back care, body mechanics and exercise routines. I have found that the Alexander Technique empowers and enables my clients to make knowledgeable, positive, lasting changes in their personal movement patterns.
The Alexander Technique is a valuable tool for anyone interested in working toward personal goals with increased awareness. It does not treat specific symptoms but it is a powerful way of eliminating harmful habits that cause physical stress and discomfort, while bringing about improvements in overall health, alertness, and performance.
PhysicalTherapy.org is a service of Alexander Technique of Lincoln, Nebraska and Toronto, Canada and Life Bridge Coaching.