If you are developing an interest in Alexander Technique, it’s good to gather information and understand what it is and how it may be helpful.
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 force 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 extremely helpful.
How does it work?
An Alexander Technique teacher can assist you to move, balance and coordinate in a better more efficient way. The mechanism used is awareness. Specifically, Alexander Technique brings awareness to the elastic support of muscles, bones and ligaments in movement and posture. Movements that rigidify muscle can become destructive because they force the body to over-effort to compensate.
Alexander Technique observes that good posture and movement involves an easy elastic muscle tonus.
Learners are shown how to discriminate between constructive balanced movements and destructive overly-tense movements. This discrimination involves recognising detailed information from afferent nerves. These nerves are found in muscle tissue and feed information about muscle contraction to our minds. Normally, not noticed, Alexander Technique trains people to understand the difference between quality of movement using that “tension information”. It’s that simple. It’s also highly effective for people with posture and movement related problems.
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 more complex than mechanical models suggested at the time. 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 supposed that this relationship could be an important primary element for movement organisation. What if 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.”
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.