Backsaver | use a Backsaver  cushion for a comfortable semi-supine

Backsaver | use a Backsaver cushion for a comfortable semi-supine

Backsaver | use a Backsaver cushion for a comfortable semi-supine

The semi-supine is a procedure that is recommended by Alexander Technique teachers around the world. It involves lying on a firm surface, having the knees drawn up and placing your head on books. That is unless you have a Backsaver!



Use Backsaver with your Semi-Supine

When talking about Alexander Technique & lower back pain, we talk about the significant management that is available. The semi-supine position, taught by most Alexander Technique teachers, helps you to manage by teaching you strategies to self-regulate the conditions occurring at your lower back.

These strategies include increasing somatic awareness, understanding the underlying structure and its correct movement and being able to elicit release of inappropriate muscle tension.

Use Backsaver regularly

You can use this fabulous cushion to assist your Alexander Technique semi-supine process. The cushion promotes an optimum relationship of your head to your spine when you carry out the semi-supine procedure. Apply Alexander awareness for even more benefit.

“I have been using the Backsaver for about a week now and I already feel a massive improvement in my lower back. I feel more aligned and way less pain. So Happy!”

Your cushion is made from premium materials by Jane & Michael Shellshear. We’ve been using them with our students for over twenty years now with great feedback and results.

The cushion is covered in a very high quality vinyl. It feels like leather but is totally animal friendly. It can be easily cleaned with a damp cloth and keeps its shape and pliability for years.

The strong colours that we use help you to remember to do your semi-supine. Semi-supine is a core procedure to do if you have back pain.

“When I did my 15 minutes today I was so relaxed…can you dream while you’re awake? Because I did. No pain lying down any more. I am noticing my posture more too…” Mandy Snow


Semi supine takes pressure of your spine and allows back muscles to soften and release. It’s a great opportunity to practice your Alexander body awareness. there are many benefits for doing this.


You can only buy Backsaver here

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Chronic Pain-using Alexander Technique to manage pain conditions

Chronic Pain-using Alexander Technique to manage pain conditions

Chronic Pain-using Alexander Technique to manage pain conditions

Alexander Technique for chronic pain

The Alexander Technique is an educational method, not a health-care intervention. Alexander teachers do not diagnose medical conditions, nor do lessons typically target specific medical problems. Lessons teach cognitive and attentional strategies that help cultivate postural skill. As a result, Alexander teachers traditionally conceive of health benefits as a side-effect of effective learning, rather than the goal of instruction. However, one of the most common reasons people study the Alexander Technique is to overcome or cope with chronic pain. This article will firstly talk about the relationship between physical and mental/emotional elements of chronic pain and then give a brief discussion of how the Alexander Technique is applied.


The Neural Basis of Chronic Pain

chronic pain cycle.jpg

Feedback loops between pain, emotions, and cognition
Pain can have a negative effect on emotions and on cognitive function. Conversely, a negative emotional state can lead to increased pain, whereas a positive state can reduce pain. Similarly, cognitive states such as attention and memory can either increase or decrease pain. Of course, emotions and cognition can also reciprocally interact. The minus sign refers to a negative effect and the plus sign refers to a positive effect. 2

Chronic pain is a complex and multifaceted condition, often characterized by persistent discomfort lasting beyond the expected healing time. While acute pain serves as a protective mechanism, alerting us to potential threats and injuries, chronic pain appears to involve maladaptive neural plasticity. The Alexander Technique offers a promising intervention to improve these maladaptive patterns and enhance pain management.

Pain has several important dimensions: a sensory dimension — where does it hurt and how much does it hurt; an emotional dimension — how unpleasant is the experience; and a cognitive dimension — how do we interpret the pain based on our previous experience, does it cause fear and anxiety, and how do we respond to the threat posed by pain.1

Long-term pain experiences can lead to alterations in the brain’s structure and function. These changes can affect areas responsible for pain perception, emotion regulation, and cognitive processing. Neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to reorganize and form new neural connections, plays a significant role in the development and persistence of chronic pain. This means that treatments just targeting the pain pathways may not be effective.

The Vicious Cycle of Psycho-Physical Chronic Pain

Psycho-physical chronic pain represents a complex interplay between physical symptoms and psychological factors, such as anxiety, depression, and stress. Habitual neuronal programs contribute to the perpetuation of this cycle, reinforcing maladaptive pain behaviors and outcomes. Stress can be related to work factors, relationships, financial stress, health-related stress, etc.

Pain-Related Fear and Avoidance

Habitual neuronal programs can lead to the development of pain-related fear and avoidance behaviors. When an individual experiences pain, the brain may establish associations between certain movements or activities and pain, leading to an avoidance of those actions. This avoidance can exacerbate physical deconditioning, further fueling chronic pain. Avoidance of certain movements that have been identified as pain causing, can lead to rigidity, poor postures and compensatory guarding movements.

Catastrophizing and Amplification

Habitual cognitive patterns, including catastrophizing and amplification of pain signals, can intensify the perception of pain. Catastrophizing involves magnifying the perceived threat of pain and its potential consequences, leading to heightened distress and disability. Amplification, on the other hand, involves a heightened awareness and focus on pain sensations, making them feel more intense than they might be.

The legend of Boot Nail Guy:

A builder aged 29 came to the accident and emergency department having jumped down on to a 15 cm nail. As the smallest movement of the nail was painful, he was sedated with fentanyl and midazolam. The nail was then pulled out from below. When his boot was removed a miraculous cure appeared to have taken place. Despite entering proximal to the steel toecap, the nail had penetrated between the toes: the foot was entirely uninjured. 4

The story, which is now a part of “pain study legend” gives an idea of the key role that our minds and thoughts have in processing pain experiences.

Emotional Regulation and Chronic Pain

The relationship between emotions and pain is bidirectional. (see illustration above.) Habitual emotional responses can influence pain processing, while chronic pain can also impact emotional regulation. Habits of rumination (excessive, repetitive thinking focused on the same, usually negative, idea or theme), emotional suppression, or avoidance can exacerbate pain experiences, creating a self-perpetuating cycle.

Although chronic pain may often have root in physical injury or disease, it appears that there may be many habits, postures, emotions, and ideas that underpin the condition. This gives an indication of why Alexander Technique has been shown to be so effective in working with chronic pain management.

Mind-Body Connection

Central to the Alexander Technique is the recognition of the interconnectedness between the mind and body. By addressing the mind-body connection, the Alexander Technique encourages individuals to challenge habitual, cognitive and neuronal patterns associated with chronic pain. Alexander Technique is characterised by its gentle, non-judgemental exploration of what may be possible in a person’s movement set. Due to the use of “discovery” rather than exercise or imposition of right or wrongs, Alexander students learn to uncover safe movement and posture outside of the normal habitual set. With the help of a trained teacher, the Alexander student begins to explore those movements and postures that provide a different physical and psychological description of body awareness. This often leads to a reduction of pain days that can become a significant proof that even chronic pain can be abated and overcome.

Mindfulness and Self-Reflection

Another  foundation element of the Alexander Technique is the practice of mindful attention– the practice of being fully present and aware of one’s thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations. Through mindfulness, individuals can identify maladaptive cognitive patterns, such as catastrophizing or negative self-talk, that may exacerbate chronic pain.

By cultivating self-reflection, Alexander Technique students become aware of how their thoughts and emotions influence physical tension and pain. Alexander students are taught to recognise and interrupt maladaptive patterns of thought, emotion and movement. This can open the door to new, more constructive responses to pain.


A number of studies looking at the efficacy of Alexander Technique have shown it to be a promising approach for pain sufferers. For instance:

The Effectiveness of Alexander Technique and Massage Therapy on Chronic Non-Specific Low Back Pain: A Randomized Controlled Trial (2015) Published in the International Journal of Clinical Practice, investigated the effectiveness of the Alexander Technique and massage therapy in managing chronic non-specific low back pain. The results showed that both interventions led to significant reductions in pain and improved functioning compared to usual care.

A Comparison of the Effects of 6 Weeks Alexander Technique Training and Aerobic Exercise on Functioning in Adults With Chronic, Non-Specific Musculoskeletal Pain (2007) This study, published in Clinical Rehabilitation, compared the effects of six weeks of Alexander Technique training and aerobic exercise in adults with chronic, non-specific musculoskeletal pain. Both interventions were found to be effective in improving functioning and reducing pain, suggesting that the Alexander Technique can be a valuable alternative to exercise-based interventions for chronic pain management.

The Long-Term Effects of Alexander Technique Lessons in the Treatment of Chronic Back Pain (2005) Published in the British Journal of Medicine, this study examined the long-term effects of Alexander Technique lessons on chronic back pain. The researchers found that individuals who received Alexander Technique lessons reported sustained improvements in pain, disability, and quality of life even one year after the intervention.

A complete list of research can be found here 5



1. Crofford LJ. Chronic Pain: Where the Body Meets the Brain. Trans Am Clin Climatol Assoc. 2015;126:167-83. PMID: 26330672; PMCID: PMC4530716.

2. Taken from Bushnell MC, Ceko M, Low LA. Cognitive and emotional control of pain and its disruption in chronic pain. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2013 Jul;14(7):502-11. doi: 10.1038/nrn3516. Epub 2013 May 30. PMID: 23719569; PMCID: PMC4465351.


4.A Tale of Two Nails | Psychology Today Australia

5.Alexander Technique Science website

6. Emilio J. Puentedura & Timothy Flynn (2016) Combining manual therapy with pain neuroscience education in the treatment of chronic low back pain: A narrative review of the literature, Physiotherapy Theory and Practice, 32:5, 408-414, DOI: 10.1080/09593985.2016.1194663

More Alexander Technique articles

Manage your herniated disc

Manage your herniated disc

Manage your herniated disc

Do you have a herniated disc?

It’s called a “slipped disc”, a ‘bulging disc”  or a “herniated disc”. It means pretty much the same thing, you have damaged the tissue that connects one vertebrae to another in your spine. This can mean anything from minor aches to very intense, crippling and life endangering pain.

In this blog, I’ll provide you with some good quality, simple-to-understand information and some ideas for what you can do.

First-go to your doctor or medical practitioner.

I suggest this as a first move because there are some instances (generally rare) where a herniated disc can have very serious and extreme health consequences.

Medical practitioners can quickly tell the difference between serious spine related issues and the more common variety of injury that afflicts so many of us. Symptoms such as loss of movement, loss of bladder or bowel control should be attended to by a hospital urgently.

A herniated disc is not an insignificant health event.   The problem is that there are no quick fix cures available. Surgery is extremely invasive and may not work. Cortisone washes give temporary pain relief but can not be used regularly because of their side effects.

What is a herniated disc?

Discs are the shock absorbers that sit between each vertebra in your spine bone. They are very strong and designed to bear large forces and load. Like all physical structures discs have a load limit. When the load placed on your disc is too great the structure of the disc can tear. The tear usually starts from the inside of the disc near the centre. The nucleus of the  disc pushed out through the tear and as shown in the illustration it can bulge up against a nerve root. This can create pain at the spine, in the surrounding muscles or in areas of the body that are fed by the nerve.


It’s important to treat the pain responsibly with prescribed pain killers, reduce the load bearing onto the injured disc and take time too allow the disc to heal itself.

Alexander Technique teaches you ways to reduce destructive pressure on the injured disc by bearing your body weight in a way that distributes the load evenly. It’s important to minimise bending in the torso without immobilising yourself. Alexander Technique can show you how to bend without further injury. Your Alexander Technique teacher will also demonstrate how active rest combined with Alexander Technique integrated movement can assist in calming the area of injury.

Alexander Technique isn’t therapy or cure-it’s education. The high quality information and instruction provided by your Alexander Technique teacher can be implemented for immediate relief  and prevention of re-injury. Continuing to understand your movement through lessons in Alexander Technique allows you to accommodate  your body’s natural healing. The area is permanenetly weakened by the torn disc tissue. This is why Alexander Technique instruction can be a crucial factor in educating you to manage the damage part so that it is not further compromised in your day to day activities.

herniated disc

Here’s a link to Judy Stern’s (AMSTAT-American Society for Alexander Technique) video on herniated discs, where she confers with a neurologist. Have a look.

What happens in a lesson?

Your Alexander Technique teacher will work with you gently. It may still be worth going to your lesson if you are having a bad pain day, but make sure that you inform your teacher.

If you are able to lie down the teacher may work with you on the table to release some of the pressure from the area. It is very gentle work. Otherwise the teacher will work with you seated or if that’s not possible they may work with you draped across the table or in standing.

It’s always difficult when you are in pain. In over thirty years of teaching I have had a number of occasions where I have witnessed the pupil reduce the level of their discomfort through a gentle and cautious application of Alexander skills.

It seems that the gentle awareness skills and guided instructions for movement, can impact on the afferent nervous system providing an interference to chronic pain messaging in some people. Each person’s experience of pain is unique and has numerous physical and psychological factors operating within a complex functionality.

A series of Alexander Technique lessons is one way that a pain sufferer can resource themselves and begin to manage their issue in a way that doesn’t invasive treatment techniques.

Yoga and semi-supine

Yoga and semi-supine

Yoga and semi-supine

In yoga it’s called “savasana”.  In Alexander Technique it’s called “semi-supine” or “constructive rest”. There are many similarities between the savasana pose in yoga and semi-supine.

Savasana has the outward appearance of something easy and yet it is described by some as one of the most difficult poses to master. At the heart of the matter is the meditative state required to completely let go of physical tension and the mental tension that accompanies it, while still remaining present and aware in the moment.

Proponents of the Alexander Technique use a version of this pose to cultivate a neutral state of balance and poise, enjoying a presence in the moment that flows into movement as well.

Semi supine

We call it ‘Active Rest’ or ‘semi supine, a daily practice of awareness and self-care, which is particularly beneficial for sufferers of back pain.

The semi-supine position maximises sensory feedback through full contact of the head and torso with a firm, flat surface. This feedback helps to build up kinaesthetic awareness of the width, length and depth of the spine as the core structure that is so vital to balance in movement.

You may be familiar with a popular, but often misunderstood, idea that we are about an inch shorter in height in the evening than in the morning. This has some basis in a specific physiological process at work in the spine and which semi-supine can counter to our benefit. The intervertebral discs are a remarkable part of the larger strong and beautifully integrated structure of the spine and have a unique ability to absorb and hold fluid – up to forty times their own volume! During four or five hours of being upright, however, this shock absorbency system is gradually compromised as fluid is pressed out of the discs, resulting in less cushioning between the vertebrae.

Spending fifteen to twenty minutes in semi-supine allows the load to come off the whole spine and gives the discs the time they need to fully rehydrate. This means our spine gains a slight increase in overall length, letting us enjoy our full height and our buoyancy in movement at any time of the day.


In both yoga and semi-supine the benefits of a lengthening spine go further. A spine without undue compression is also our pathway into the healthy operation of our Automatic Postural Patterns or APPs. APPs refer to involuntary muscular activity that facilitates voluntary movement. APP’s help to reorganise soft tissue surrounding our bones so that the muscular work of both supporting and moving parts is distributed evenly and appropriately throughout our whole body. Whenever a movement is sensed as light, easy, effortless – that’s when your Automatic Postural Patterns are at play. The desire to trigger the APPs by lengthening the spine in Active Rest explains some of the recommendations for the practice. 


Firstly, the addition of a head rest of some kind is used to foster an easy relationship of the head with the torso, gently allowing for the natural curve of the cervical spine and avoiding over-straightening the neck. The balancing of the head in relationship to the spine is crucial to ensuring that neck muscles are free to release from attachments on the skull itself right through to their attachments to the collar bones and other parts of the arm structure and ribs. The plumping up of the intervertebral discs, as described above, spaces out the articulations of the ribs with the vertebrae opening the way for full rib excursion, deepening the experience of the breath. The arms themselves are positioned palms down on the abdomen, elbows releasing gently out to the sides. This facilitates an expansion through the upper torso and shoulder girdle from side to side and from front to back. It makes any pulling back of the shoulders (and as a consequence, narrowing of the back) less likely. Resting the palms on the abdomen and the contact of our back with the floor also draws our awareness to the movement of the breath.

In semi-supine we ‘listen’ with our feet on the floor, enjoying a dynamic balance between hips, knees and ankles. The soles of our feet, with their large number of sensory nerve endings, play an important role in the operation of APPs. They sense the detail of the surface we are in contact with, as well as telling us about the relationship of our leg joints. This information is then sent to our central nervous system where it becomes integrated with signals coming from the rest of our body and guides the body’s determination of easy balance throughout our system. Remembering to include our ‘listening’ feet is an essential part of achieving healthy functional motor patterns.


Semi-supine offers the benefits of ease and improved alignment before or after yoga asana practice and can be used independently as a regular meditation to promote integrated movement and functioning. The combination of both physical and mental rebalancing offered by this pose can enhance the moment-to-moment quality of our everyday movement and our life. There are some differences in approach between savasana in yoga and the semi-supine, but the wisdom is that there are benefits to be had from doing one or both.

Alexander Technique for back pain relief

This is the only place where you can buy a Backsaver head cushion to use in semi-supine.

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Sciatica self-regulation with Alexander Technique.

Sciatica self-regulation with Alexander Technique.

Sciatica self-regulation with Alexander Technique.

Alexander lessons can assist you to manage sciatica.

Sciatic pain happens when inappropriate pressure comes onto the sciatic nerve. The causes can vary but anyone who experiences it knows that sciatica is painful and debilitating.

It’s important to consult with a medical practitioner. This is more urgent if you lose continence. Unfortunately, the treatments available for sciatic pain may not present the kind of quick remedy that most would like.

Alexander Technique can often be helpful where poor posture and movement are exacerbating an injury and preventing it from healing.

Alexander Technique skills [such as the ability to redistribute body weight, release over tense muscle, re-align twisted bones and muscles and discern what is a helpful movement and what is an injurious movement] can help a lot.

Studies have shown that Alexander Technique is helpful for people with chronic back and chronic neck pain conditions. Click here to read one well known study.

Thinking about your movement gives you the opportunity to find many easier ways of doing things.

Self-regulation and resilience

Alexander self-regulation provides the possibility of less drug interventions, less time in pain. Alexander teaches you to harness your body awareness. By having lessons with a properly qualified teacher, you can develop great body management skills and these can significantly help with sciatica and low back pain conditions..

The video below will give you an idea of what’s involved.


By learning specific information about your body, its movement and posture you can prevent movements that irritate the sciatic nerve and the other lower back structures that are involved in low back pain.

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The illustration above shows a schema of how people learn the Alexander Technique. Self-regulation through awareness is the outcome. Your teacher will assist you to become aware of those patterns that are obstructing your body’s self-organisation. You will be encouraged to experiment with new thoughtful strategies. As you progress, you will begin to understand how you can develop ease throughout your daily movement. Finally, you will be able to choose how to move in life, within any activity, easily by allowing your body to self-organise in the most effective and efficient way.

Alexander Technique & Sciatica

Use your hip joints to avoid back pain

Use your hip joints to avoid back pain

Use your hip joints to avoid back pain

Did you know that the most common type of back pain, suffered by people, is lower back pain? If you have lower back pain, it’s a red flag that something may be going wrong with your bending, lifting and carrying.


avoid back pain red flags

Where are your hip joints?

Where do you bend from in your body? If you are pointing at or thinking of a place around your belt line, like the photo above, then you are bending incorrectly! It’s a big problem. Many people think that they bend from their waist. No. There is no bending joint at the waist. That’s a back pain red flag!! Keep bending there and it will keep hurting you.

 Find your hip joints avoid those back pain red flags.

avoiding lower back pain red flags

Alexander Technique is about organising our movement differently. Sometimes, it’s worth going back to basic body mechanics to set your mind straight. You need to bend from your hip joint NOT from your waist. Unfortunately, many of us have gotten it wrong and then fixed that wrongness as a permanent pattern. We habitually bend at the waist. Are you ready to undo this pattern? You’ll need to find your hip joint and then you’ll need to remind yourself how it is when you bend at the correct place. The guy in the gif above is bending correctly. See how he uses his knees ankles and hip joints together.  It’s a good example BUT wait….don’t try and bend all the way to the ground like him until you are ready.

If you have hip joint pain or knee pain, it may be that your hip joint muscles are too tight. Of course you should check with a medical practitioner if the pain is serious and debilitating. Otherwise an Alexander Technique teacher can work with you to minimise the hip joint rigidity and get things moving again.

Let’s start in sitting.

Find a chair and sit on it. Stick your hand under your bottom and you should feel a big bone on each side. That bone is called the sit bone (ischial tuberosity). Even if you have a big bottom, you can still feel those bones. For some people, the sit bones are a big discovery. They’re called sit bones because they are great to sit on. See the second drawing. The sit bones are represented by the green section.

Alexander technique awarreness

Now you may not be sitting on your sit bones. You could be curling down onto the tail bone.

lower back pain

May I suggest you try, as an experiment, sitting on your sit bones? Keep your feet on the ground.

back pain red flags

    Now rock forward on your sit bones with your whole spine going with that motion. Doing that movement involves your whole body rotating around the hip joint. Can you feel how your pelvis rocks around your thigh bones?  That’s where your hip joints are.

    Does this help with back pain?  Yes, using your hip joints rather than your spine to bend ensures you won’t hurt yourself bending forward.

    back pain red flags

    Congratulations, you’ve found your hip joint. Using your hip joint, rather than your waist, takes a great deal of pressure off from your lower spine. Look at this short gif on bending to lift.

    bend correctly-avoiding back pain red flags

    How to do a “table” bend. Courtesy of Jenn Sherer | Spinefulness

    If you had trouble with that experiment, time to see an Alexander Technique teacher. They can help you recover your hip joints and relieve low back pain.

    There’s a lot more information about using your hip joints to avoid back pain. As a student of Alexander Technique you learn to place your hips and move with your natural design. Well worth investigating.


    Buy a Backsaver ® Cushion

    There’s only one place that you can buy your Backsaver, that’s here. They are a very popular head support for people wishing to benefit from semi-supine. Click to find out more….