The Alexander Technique and Health Labels

For a lot of people, interest in the Alexander Technique only starts when they have had a 'label' put on them by the medical establishment. The process goes something like this: you go to your GP with pain that reduces your freedom of movement and reduces your quality of life. The doctor listens, prescribes, if appropriate, sends you off for tests. You may even have physiotherapy.

If the pain persists, you end up with a label - which might be one of any number including back pain, arthritis, sciatica, wear and tear - and you end up with a sentence. You are told, you have to 'learn to live with it'; and, unless you are very young, you will probably also be told that it is part of the ageing process. It is almost tantamount to being out of warranty and developing a rust problem; it can be seen as a reminder of built-in obsolescence.

The thing that nobody tells you, is how you can live with it -whatever it is -as productively and comfortably as possible. Rather the subtext goes: 'Since you can't change it, there's no point in complaining. Don't expect to be able to do what you could do before. It's time you learned to put up and shut up.' You won't actually be told that you are now on a medical scrap heap, but you may well feel that way.

It is usually at this point that an Alexander teacher is consulted. In the best of all possible worlds, the Alexander Technique would be used as a highly effective preventive strategy; that is, we would learn how to take our body into everyday activity in such a way as to reduce 'wear and tear' significantly. In practice, this does not happen because we only start to register the link between cause and effect once damage has occurred.

Instead the Alexander Technique becomes a last resort. Somewhere, someone may have uttered the word 'posture'. Often doctors point out that the patient, whom they have nothing more to offer, has 'poor posture'. This may be what leads the person to make enquiries about the AT.

People start learning the Alexander Technique out of desperation, but they find that it offers them far more than they had imagined. The AT is a powerful tool for change. The truism that as long as you go on doing the same things, you will continue to get the same results, holds as true for movement as it does for your thinking.

Once you start to think about it, you may realise that prior to the onset of pain, you did not always use your body as considerately as you might have. After the onset of pain, chances are that you adopted ways of holding yourself to 'protect yourself' from the pain: maybe using one side of the body more than the other, tightening your shoulders, holding yourself quite stiffly, keeping your head as still as possible, holding your breath...

These strategies may have worked in the short term, but at a price. Over time, they become the only way that you can manage yourself. The Alexander Technique allows you to start exploring ways that you can undo muscle tension, increase freedom of movement and feel more comfortable. This in itself is quite empowering.

Increasing confidence can, in turn, allow you to re-evaluate your label. Initially it may have been reassuring just to have a medical label or official acknowledgement of the pain you were suffering. Over time you can start to explore just how great a limitation your label needs to impose on everyday activity.

The Alexander Technique cannot reverse physiological damage. What it can do is enable you to restore comfort and mobility significantly. By the time you start learning the AT, you have a clear idea of what you cannot do and this you ascribe, understandably, to your label. So you might say: 'I cannot stand/sit for long, because I have...' This is a natural enough assumption.

The AT gives you the tools to test whether your limitation - which has been very real - is a consequence of your label, or if it is a consequence of the way you have been standing, sitting or whatever and the lack of alternative possibilities. It then becomes possible to explore how you can start to expand activity as safely as possible.

The founder of the AT, F.M. Alexander, based his Technique on the premise of the individual being a 'psycho-physical' whole; that is to say a person whose body and mind are inseparably connected. It is hard to have a peaceful mind in a taut body. As physical stresses and tensions start to release, the Alexander pupil tends to enjoy mental and emotional benefits also.

Diagnostic labels constrain and limit. The Alexander Technique offers a tool for open-ended change. Through the Technique you can discover both how to make qualitative changes in your everyday life and how far you want to take those changes.

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Article written by Annie Kaszina


Author: Annie Kaszina
Copyright © 2023 Annie Kaszina. All rights reserved

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