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.

Active Rest

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

The semi-supine position favoured in Active Rest 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 Active Rest 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 Active Rest 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 Active Rest 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.


Active Rest 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.

The Alexander Approach

The Alexander Approach

The Alexander approach to human functioning. Three perspectives and complexity.

Adaptive variability versus static stability.

A behaviour that is useful in one context may not translate as a useful behaviour in another.   In this blog, I look at ideas from American neuroscientist, Stefanie Faye, Complex Systems author Donella Meadows  and how new thinking is shedding light on the Alexander Approach to human functioning.

Think of a soldier on a battlefield. Hyper-vigilance is an appropriate and useful behaviour within that context. It maintains a certain high level fight/flight response that can be called upon at any moment by the soldier. Hyper-vigilance keeps the sympathetic nervous system active releasing cortisol and adrenaline to allow for instant response to danger. It informs the human system that it is in a situation of immanent threat. It has turned off digestion, immune response and the calming influence of the para-sympathetic nervous system, as the context of the battle field requires life or death decision making.

But now, that same soldier is home from the war but is still using hyper-vigilance as their triggered response within mundane contexts. He or she cannot sleep, cannot engage with others, is permanently on-guard, maintains a permanent rigidity of muscles, is prone to infections and inflammations and has problems with digestion. The fixed-pattern no longer serves that individual-in fact it constrains them. In our society stability is generally thought of as a positive trait but stability is not always the constructive outcome that we imagine. Variability is an indicator of a complex system’s ability to adapt to changing circumstances and context. Throughout our life our success is measured by our ability to adapt, learn and evolve to change.  Static stability is the state of staying constant, no matter what. Staying constant, no matter what, can have very poor outcomes.

The Alexander approach

The Alexander approach to teaching provides students with the opportunity for choice within their movement and postural responses. By addressing fixed patterns and helping people to re-introduce adaptive flexibility, complex psycho-physical change is possible. This can lead to many positive outcomes that, when seen through a mechanical version of human functioning, can appear far-fetched.

But Alexander Technique does not work with a mechanical model of human functioning. Instead, it suggests a human functional model that is complex and holistic.

Reductionism, Holism and Emergence

When we think about human functioning and wellbeing there are three popular perspectives that we could consider. The first perspective “reductionism” says that to know the system you must understand each component in minute detail. The idea is that, by knowing each component part of a system intricately, you come to know the whole system. This approach has led to some spectacular success and discovery in the field of medicine, science and philosophy.  Surely, one of the defining characteristics of this age is the massive improvement in lifestyle that modern science and medicine has afforded the world. However, when this conventional approach has been without adaptive flexibility, it has often made people feel disenfranchised from their own health and wellbeing. As anyone who has had a surgical procedure may know, you often feel as if you are no longer yourself-you have become the gall bladder, the cancer, the faulty knee.

A colleague was giving an Alexander workshop for a group of physiotherapists. They had asked him to work with one of their clients so that they could see “the Alexander approach”. One of the physios came in late and was heard to ask a colleague, “Is this the shoulder?” To which my Alexander colleague correctly replied, “No, this is Ken!” Reductionism has its place. Modern medicine has shown that. The problem is when we believe it is the only perspective of a system-especially a human system.

The Alexander approach is holistic

The second perspective on human functioning is called “holism”. This perspective suggests that the only way that you can truly understand a system is to look at the working of all the components together. This creates an issue. How can we observe such complexity, which involves millions of involved components, in dozens of processes, and gather enough information to allow us to address the myriad health issues that afflict humans? In the 1890’s, FM Alexander observed, what he described as, an integration of thought, emotion and movement-a “psycho-physical” unity, when people carried out activity.

Alexander was a gifted and astute observer. He developed and carried out long running experiments to validate his observations and he was able to describe a holistic model of human functioning  based on psycho-physical unity, that is still as compelling today as it was 130 years ago.

He recognised that human activity is, neither an isolated, nor a random activity. He noticed that movement was not one event but a series of events, involving all the component parts of a human being. In Alexander’s observation, the whole body and the mind is involved in coordination to allow for effective human functioning. He called that whole body and mind activity “use”. In modern language we could describe “use” as the “program” that the body and mind employs to coordinate all the body components within any human activity. The Alexander approach,  within this description, teaches people to intervene and change their coordinating program.

The third perspective I would like to discuss, in understanding human functioning and the Alexander Technique, is called “emergence”.

Alexander is reputed to have said, “The phrase ‘All together, one after the other” expresses the idea of combined activity I wish to convey.”[1]

Emergence describes when a whole system is more than the sum of all the component parts. This indicates that the component parts have an identity, that is different within a system, to the identity they have in isolation. So, if I  lift a person’s arm or leg for them and then, I get the person to move their arm or their leg; that limb is going to perform differently. When I lift their leg, their muscles aren’t used so much, the leg works like a mechanical lever. However, when they move their leg, for themselves, it takes on the personality of the individual, their pattern of tension, their fixed set. When the leg moves together with the other leg, it moves differently again. In fact, the leg identifies itself differently, moves and coordinates differently depending on the context. It adapts to its environment, as do all the component parts of the body. Arms, legs and all our component parts do not work in isolation. Their “identity” is different in the system depending on activity and context.

Think about your identity as you read this document. Now imagine that you are in your party clothes with a cocktail in hand and operating within an ebullient group of friends, and now in a business meeting, and now in a bush camp and you are being called upon to work with a group to put up a large tent. What about you stays constant, what changes? Does our human identity reside in our habit or is it another process entirely? What changes in a person when they release tension from their responses? Think about how someone’s posture identifies them. What happens to that person when their posture alters, through using the Alexander approach to functioning?

Each component part of the human system of functioning has a structural identity, an action, an interaction, and a feedback message. Our component parts may also have variability, that allows them to adapt to their environment and the unique make-up of the current situation. Taking all this into account, we can see why the total adds up to more than the sum of the parts.

This make-up describes a highly unpredictable and individual set of outcomes. When we consider the Alexander approach to human functioning, teachers are not mechanics; we work with individuals, taking into account their unique expression. This requires a high degree of understanding, observation, and care by the teacher. The complexity of this emergent system of teaching means that the lesson is thwarted by standardisation. The teacher must be immediate and present for each student and their individual needs. An onlooker observing someone having an Alexander lesson, could easily write it off as a unusual type of physical therapy. In fact, for most students the heightened stream of information and awareness from their body, the unusual lightness of movement, the powerful experience of focused attention becomes an experience that is far more than the sum of its parts. Rather, the experience quite often serves as a landmark for extraordinary self understanding, awareness and clarity, integrated within movement.

[1] https://upward-thought.com/tag/fm-alexander/

Inspired by podcasts from Stefanie Faye “Mindset NeuroScience”

and this book , “Thinking in Systems” by Donella H Meadows

Links to further reading on Alexander Technique

Is Alexander Technique Quackery?

Is Alexander Technique Quackery?

Is Alexander Technique Quackery?

To some people, Alexander Technique is quackery. They think of it as unscientific. They like to demean it and place it into a category of exclusion. Quite often, even though they may be well educated people, they will make this scathing determination without having the least knowledge of Alexander Technique, its history, its practice and its methodology.

Alexander Technique has been taught around the world for over 120 years and has a good reputation for delivering positive outcomes. Is it too good to be true?

How can education be quackery?

The Oxford dictionary says that the term “quackery” relates to medical treatments that make false claims. Alexander Technique is not a treatment, medical or otherwise. It professes no cure. It teaches people to become aware of their movement. How can becoming aware of your movement and posture be quackery?

People expect Alexander Technique to provide cures or treatments. That’s a misunderstanding of Alexander Technique. To then judge Alexander by those misunderstandings is ridiculous. A dietician cannot make you lose weight. A guitar teacher can’t make you play well. A French teacher can’t make you speak French. Similarly, an Alexander teacher cannot make you learn about your movement and posture and then implement that learning.

If you follow the dietician’s advice you might lose weight. If you want to play guitar, a guitar teacher can be very helpful. An Alexander Technique teacher can assist you to move, balance and coordinate in a better more efficient way. The mechanism used is awareness. Alexander Teachnique brings awareness to your movement and posture.  You learn to discriminate between constructive and destructive movements. Then you use your intelligence to choose how to move.

If you lose weight (well done) there may be a secondary benefit. Risk of diabetes reduce, risk of heart disease, breathing will improve. You may even feel better. These benefits are indirect. They are also cascading in that, if you lose that weight many elements of your life may improve one after the other but all at the same time.

This is the same with Alexander Technique. It teaches you to think about movement and posture in different ways. Alexander technique skill assists you to move with less muscular effort, different weight distribution and greater sensory awareness. This occurs through a process of “reafference” where the regulation and interaction of internal feedback and sensory signals for bodily movements are brought into conscious awareness. People respond to this instruction very positively. This isn’t outlandish mumbo jumbo. In fact, there is a great deal of science (see below) that affirms the Alexander approach and the sensible benefits it suggests might be available. Is Alexander Technique quackery? No it is not!

Alexander Technique teachers think that learning Alexander Technique movement skills also has indirect, cascading benefits to health. They do not treat back pain or neck pain or any other ailment. Alexander Technique teaches movement. However, over the years, many people have reported that the more efficient movement that is taught to individuals seems to have an indirect positive influence on many chronic conditions.

An unusual model

FM Alexander (1869-1955) suggested that human functioning was complex. He observed that many human responses involved the coordination of the parts of the body. He observed that the coordination of the parts led to overall effects that were greater than the sum of those parts. He recognised that human movement was fine and nuanced. He saw that the lifting of an arm was not a mere mechanical event but also served to convey meaning, mood, skill and dexterity all at the same time.

He suggested that there was probably an integrated organisational system of movement that allowed for skillful, lively and easy interplay with the world.

He observed that there was evidence of  an organisational system of movement reflected in the relationship of head balance to spinal tone. He suggested that this relationship could be an important  primary element for movement organisation and  that people with difficulty in movement could effect change by working with this relationship.


The indirect influence of improved movement on people’s health and well being has sparked the curiosity of many qualified and interested people. There has been a great deal of research into how and why Alexander Technique movement skills indirectly influence people’s general health.

There are some very interesting studies of Alexander Technique training and its influence on health and well being. click here to see a list of published research

FM Alexander (1869-1955) was keen to explain his method for movement training to medical people. However, he was also very insistent that his technique not be relinquished to the medical profession.

His reason for this antipathy was that he feared that his discoveries about movement would be misunderstood, re-interpreted and consequently, diminished.

Many scholarly articles about Alexander Technique appear to be written by people who have had limited experience of the Alexander Technique. Unfortunately they bring their own filters and bias to their papers.

One such paper published recently started by saying, “The Alexander Technique is a method for the treatment of chronic back pain conditions.”

It isn’t.

Alexander Technique is an educative technique that teaches people to become aware of their movement and posture and to find ways to alter these towards better efficiency. It uses a model that is very similar to modern systems theory and embodied intelligence models. Each model suggests that feedback can be misleading when it is limited or constrained to fixed methods and small samples. Alexander teaches pupils to increase the range and scope of feedback coming from both inside and outside the body.

As already stated, learning about your movement, posture and balance can have secondary indirect benefits-but they are secondary. The focus of Alexander Technique is education about movement, posture and balance. It is not about treatment.


Is Alexander Technique Quackery?  No, definitely not! Some people, who are scathing of Alexander Technique, scream out that, using scientific method (Cochrane method), there is only a moderate amount of proof of the efficacy of Alexander Technique. It’s not quite the same as suggesting quackery, is it.

Articles that suggest skepticism are generally not skeptical, instead they are cynical and have predetermined focus on debunking any process that doesn’t conform to their fixed ideas. These are the same people who debunked Galileo, DaVinci, Newton etc.

Unless you are a large drug company with very large budget, providing proof that meets the Cochrane test is very difficult. Random control double blind trials with very large (thousands) test groups; research less than 5 years old are required. Alexander actually has a number of random controlled double blind studies that were carried out and showed quite positive results but the test groups were only in the hundreds not the thousands.

Other “treatments” (have I made the point that Alexander Technique isn’t a treatment??) that also fail to show efficacy using Cochrane are back surgery, hip and knee replacements, discectomy and a range of other accepted medical practices.

So, do I think that modern surgery is quackery? Of course not. Nor is Alexander Technique.

Does Alexander Technique work?

Does Alexander Technique encourage mindless conditioning, faith in unscientific methods, foolish behaviours, strange rituals? Absolutely not!  In fact, if anything, Alexander Technique teaches people to apply evidence-based thoughtfulness to their movement.  This is why so many professional people, scientists, lawyers, musicians, authors and intellectuals study Alexander Technique and talk positively about its benefits. Learning Alexander Technique is a safe and useful skill that can have multiple benefits for your health and well being.

Alexander technique teachers are trained for three years minimum where they learn functional anatomy, physiology and highly detailed awareness of movement, balance, posture and coordination.  These highly trained individuals, work by a code of conduct, carry out yearly continuing professional development and provide professional training to their clients.

You can rest assured that, by learning Alexander Technique, you will get a new perspective on your movement, posture, coordination and balance. It is hoped that you will also benefit from the secondary cascading benefits of Alexander Technique training but that process is indirect and consequential.

I invite anyone to come to an Introductory presentation on the Alexander Technique. I hold those regularly here at Leura. You will be surprised and delighted that this educative technique can assist you to improve.

Is Alexander Technique quackery?

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Alexander Technique lessons are affordable, immediately useful and informative.

Come to the  beautiful Leura in the Blue Mountains to have lessons with Michael or Jane Shellshear.



Does Alexander Technique help back pain?

Does Alexander Technique help back pain?

Does Alexander Technique help with back pain?

Yes, Alexander Technique does help with back pain. It is incredibly useful. Many people are able to manage their back pain and lead normal lives. It can help you. The great news is that in most cases, the high quality sensory learning that you complete in an Alexander lesson will give you the skills that you need to overcome back pain. Here’s what you need to know.

What you need to know about back pain

A large percentage of back pain is caused by destructive movement, poor posture and incorrect body mechanics (ie bending at the wrong spots in your body). It’s classed as chronic pain and can last for a few days, weeks, months or sometimes years.

Get your back pain checked out by a medical practitioner. Sometimes back pain can be an indicator of a serious underlying issue. Imaging will give you a good idea of what’s going on and then you can get on with getting over your back pain.

It’s very common for back pain sufferers to be told that there is no visible damage on their x-rays. Although this is good news, it’s also frustrating because the options for understanding and overcoming the back pain become muddied. Pain can come from muscles or nerves, it can be localised or shooting It can range from burning, dull ache to very sharp and electric pain. It is hard for people who aren’t experiencing your pain to understand what you are going through and how it is impacting all areas of your life.

How does Alexander Technique help?

Alexander Technique considers back pain as the result of a whole body habit of posture and movement. To a highly trained eye, the way that you stand, balance and move can provide indicators of conditions that either lead to back pain or exacerbate an already existing issue. Often back pain will involve bracing of the legs, torso and neck. In an Alexander lesson, your teacher will show you ways to circumvent destructive habits that can lead to problem pain. Alexander Technique is primarily a teaching situation, not a treatment. What you learn can resource you to know how to take pressure off your injury site, avoid back pain danger in different situations and relieve pain through simple to follow procedures.

So many people bend at their waist. There’s no bending joint there! It will hurt you if you keep bending at the waist. This is especially so if you add lefting, carrying, pushing or pulling to the mix.  Your Alexander Technique teacher shows you how to bend down to the ground without creating dangerous conditions that contribute to back pain. However, this is not a run-of- the-mill manual handling training. Alexander Technique is practical sensory based learning that demonstrates some of the scope that your body has to move freely and efficiently without pain, strain or danger.

Rescue position for immediate relief from pain

Your Alexander Technique teacher can show you a “rescue position” that you can use daily or even a few times a day.  It works quickly to help you regain a significant reduction in pain.

Alexander technique is an educational technique that you learn. It has a strong basis in science and anatomy but it teaches whole bodymind unity rather than compartmentalising  how humans work.

This means that if you have a bad back, your Alexander teacher will look at the entire range of your movement, posture and balance not just at the area that is in pain.

The Alexander teacher shows you things that you can do to change your movement.

The Alexander approach is very unique. It considers how your patterns of movement  influence and undermine your actual movement. Then, it teaches you techniques to change the underlying patterns.


Alexander Technique has been taught for over 120 years with consistent anecdotal evidence of its positive impact for learners.

Over the last 70 or more years there have been numerous studies undertaken on Alexander Technique’s effectiveness in assisting people. Research is ongoing as there is no clearly understood mechanism to explain why AT is so successful. In some areas science is just now able to offer explanations for the efficacy of Alexander Technique learning.

Have a look at these studies for a scientist’s view of Alexander Technique

How does AT work-a new model 2020 paper just published. click here

Effectiveness of Alexander Technique for Chronic back pain sufferers click here


Does Alexander Technique help back pain?

Blue Mountains Back Pain Management

Alexander Technique is a useful skill to learn to help in the management of back and/or neck pain. It’s a modest fee and some of your time to change your life. What are you waiting for?

If you live in the Blue Mountains, you don’t have to travel far to see experienced teachers. We’re in Leura. We have years of Alexander practice. We can help.


Call on 0448 406881 or click on the button below to  book a time

Try these helpful Alexander Technique links

    What is the Alexander Technique?

    What is the Alexander Technique?

    What is Alexander Technique?

    Do you want to move easily? Would you like to let go of pain and discomfort? 

    Alexander Technique teaches you to understand your body using conscious awareness. The physical work that we undertake with you tones your muscles, increases your awareness and reduces your wasted muscle activity.

    You learn to prevent harmful habits and use your intelligence to move with a new easy uprightness. Discover your natural great movement and posture and much more.

    For over 100 years people have been using Alexander Technique to ease chronic pain, improve posture and movement and perform activities with improved efficiency and effectiveness.

    A little Alexander Technique background.

    Alexander Technique is based on the discoveries of FM Alexander. He lived from 1869 until 1955. He was named as one of 200 greatest Australians for our Bicentenary in 1988. He discovered that human functioning is a complex interplay of mind, emotion and physiology. He developed a technique of embodied learning that integrates thought and movement. This has been referred to as “bodily learning”, “embodied intelligence”. Alexander called it “constructive conscious control”.

    Learning the Alexander Technique is easy  when you learn with highly trained qualified teachers. With light movements from the teacher you begin to develop a deep understanding of your body, how it works and what it needs to function well.

    As people put this “embodied knowledge” into action they find that extraordinary improvements in movement and functioning can be achieved reliably and repeatedly. Muscle tone changes through the work and you find a new easy support that takes strain of your body.

    What Alexander discovered

    Have a look at people when they are about to move or respond to a situation.  People have to prepare to move. If you look closely you can see people getting ready to react.

    You could imagine that unconsciously peoples’ minds are calculating angles, velocity, energy required and so on. It truly is an amazing thing to observe. You might even observe that in yourself.

    Alexander observed that some peoples’ preparation to move ended up with poor results. Those poor results can lead to poor performance, pain and difficulty in movement.

    Whereas other peoples’ preparation to move ended up with great results. Great results can mean better performance, less or no pain and easier range of movement and flexibility.

    Imagine if you could influence your preparation to move using so that you got a great result every time!

    That’s what he discovered. You can influence the way your body prepares you to move so that you get a great result every time.

    Alexander Technique and your potential

    Alexander’s observations have been translated into a useful and easy-to-learn technique for unlocking your potential regardless of your situation.

    Alexander Technique teachers can demonstrate  how your body’s organisation system can be harnessed for significant improvement in all forms of activity. Alexander Technique is akin to learning a new language whose vocabulary is made up from body awareness and embodied understanding. You get to know and communicate with your body in a completely new way.

    But will it help my bad back?

    People with injury, bad backs, neck pains and chronic conditions can experience profound improvement as a useful benefit from learning this new language of body awareness. Alexander Technique is a skill that you learn to do for yourself. That’s a big difference from other approaches to back pain. It can be a practical complement to medical treatment. Check with your practitioner. Then come and see us.

    You’ll want to learn Alexander Technique because it teaches you about your body in an empowering way. You learn to move better, develop ease, balance and calmness. There’s very few other ways in which people can  rapidly learn to apply fine control, discriminate and prevent poor movement while developing stronger awareness.

    Click here to find out about lessons and classes that we offer.

    Michael & Jane Shellshear Alexander Technique

    Next step, try these Alexander Technique links




    Our Back Pain Workshop commences soon

    We have limited places in an intensive Back Pain Workshop on Thursday  17th February. Choose between face-to-face or online format. But hurry as we only have a few spots available.