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The Alexander Technique: Pain Relief, Prevention, and A Better Quality of Life

When I was 23, I woke up one morning and could barely turn my head.

Without excruciating neck, shoulder, and upper back pain, I couldn’t lift a pot of coffee or brush my hair. I’d been a professional ballet dancer, so I took pride in my strength and flexibility; this shouldn’t be happening to someone of my age and fitness, I thought. Doctors told me the extreme pain was due to stress, told me to relax (eye-roll), and recommended prescription-strength Ibuprofen. Within two weeks, the pain had faded to gone. Great! Four months later, it was back. For the next five years, a pattern emerged and continued: debilitating neck pain or back pain for one to three weeks, gone for months, only to return like a comic-book super-villain, laying me out flat.

I got massaged. I meditated. I stretched in yoga class, strengthened in Pilates, saw a chiropractor, got Rolfed.

I saw an acupuncturist, saw a therapist, saw a Reiki practitioner. I tried homeopathy and Bach flower remedies.

Some of those modalities helped in the short term. In the long-term none of them did. Looking back, I can see that most of them were addressing only my pain symptoms. They were not looking at me as a psychophysical whole. They were not looking at the root cause of a chronic issue or examining how I moved in everyday activities. They were not considering what I might be doing to cause my problem or what changes I could make to help myself.

Alexander Technique Solved my Back Pain

Finally, as part of my graduate-school training in Theatre, I found the Alexander Technique. Even though it was then 100 years old, had been included in top acting and music conservatory curricula since the 1950's, featured in The New York Times, used at institutions like the Mayo Clinic, and cited in respected medical journals for decades, I'd never heard of it. Yet, as I acquired experience in and applied the Technique within my daily life, I noticed that my pain incidences gradually became less intense and were of shorter duration over time. Eventually, they stopped altogether.

This was no miracle. I simply was learning and putting into practice the common-sense principles of the Alexander Technique, an educational modality that had been around since the late 1800’s, used by smarty-pants like George Bernard Shaw, Aldous Huxley, John Dewey, Sir Charles Sherrington, other Nobel-Prize winners, scientists, actors, musicians, members of Parliament… and most notably spotlighted in the last 12 years by The British Medical Journal’s 2008 long-term clinical trial.

I knew how to use a can-opener, a key, a toothbrush, a vacuum cleaner; but how did I use me?

How did I walk? Or sit or stand or sign my name or perform any other “automatic,” every day activity? And if I didn’t know how I did those, if I had no conscious control of such simple things, how could I truly know what I was doing during something more challenging like exercise? Or acting? How much effort did I really need to use in any daily activity? Was I aware of when I was using unnecessary tension and how that might lead to me compressing myself, which might create pain? And was my awareness, my “feeling” of what was “right,” in fact, right? Healthy?

How Do You Find an Alexander Teacher?

  1. Make sure your teacher is certified by a training course that requires the international standard of 3 years/ 1600 hours of training. Sorry, but the Opera or Dance or Theatre teacher who's had some Alexander classes is full of ego and/or dishonest if they tell you they can teach you Alexander Technique. I mean: I had singing lessons as part of my Acting training 25 years ago; but I do NOT assert that I can give someone the help they need mastering Bel Canto repertoire. 🤣

  2. Give a teacher a couple of lessons to determine if you are a good match. Reading reviews and recommendations are only a little helpful. No matter the discipline, not every teacher resonates with every person.

  3. Contact the American Center for the Alexander Technique or the American Society for the Alexander Technique for help in finding nationally-certified teachers near you.

What Will You Learn in Your First Alexander Technique Class?

  • That everyone has unnecessary tension patterns in their body they may be experiencing (or may be unaware of) and how you can move out of yours.

  • How the head-neck-back relationship effects how we feel and function (well or not so well) in our daily lives.

  • How thought impacts our bodies and vice-versa.

  • That we can choose response vs. reactvity.

  • How to become aware of everyday movements like sitting, standing, walking, and reaching.

  • How your awareness in these simple activities (and your decision to change how you do them) can lead you to feel and function better.

  • Something to do on your own to begin to address your pain (if pain is what brought you to Alexander) that actually works.

Who Takes Alexander Technique classes?

The Alexander Technique can be used by almost everyone.

It's extremely useful for people with injuries and various illnesses and conditions (short and long-term), for technology and business people (anyone who sits at desks/ computers for long periods of time), and for people who do public speaking (it helps improve their voice, stature, and stamina). The Alexander Technique can help prevent injuries for people who work by improving mindfulness about movement. Because it addresses control, specificity, and economy of movement, it can help athletes, dancers, musicians, and anyone who walks or runs. Currently, it is seen most frequently as part of the training programs for actors and musicians at institutions of higher-learning such as Julliard (in the curricula since 1969), NYU, and the Royal School of Music.

What about you? Have you tried Alexander Technique for back or neck pain? Let me know in the comments below. I'd love to hear about your experience!

Rebecca Poole is a nationally-certified Alexander Technique teacher in the New York City area, whose students have ranged from ages 7-96 and have come from various professions and life-experiences. Thanks to the Alexander Technique she hasn't had back or neck pain in 20 years.

(347) 220 3660

41 Union Square W
New York, NY 10003

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