Frederick Matthias Alexander, a Shakespearean actor, in the 1890s, often suffered from voice loss when he performed. Being an actor, this was not something he could ignore. Alexander decided to figure out what was happening.
He performed rehearsals in front of various mirrors and noticed that there were indeed changes in his body while speaking. Alexander noticed that he was contracting his upper body muscles, the neck, in particular, the contraction strong enough to change his entire posture. This was causing voice loss.
When the tension in his upper body released, through various movements, he was not only able to regain his voice but also get rid of the habit of contracting his neck.
As Alexander continued working on these movements, he realized these could be of help to all. His discoveries have been codified and are known as the Alexander Technique, which is still in use.
What Is The Alexander Technique?The Alexander Technique (AT) is a gentler approach to re-educating the body and mind through a series of steps that allows more efficient use of the muscles.
The key to this technique is the relationship between your head and spine. When your neck muscles work well, your head has to be balanced lightly atop your spine.
In the modern world, AT is used for teaching individuals ways of releasing tension in the body and allowing the body to move more efficiently.
AT is finding use in the treatment of various medical conditions, ranging from musculoskeletal pain to breathing problems to repetitive strain injuries, sleep disorders, and voice loss.
Many professional artists vouch by AT. The ultimate purpose of AT is enabling an individual to unlearn negative habits that show how one stands, talks, eats, or walks and learn techniques for returning the body to a more balanced and relaxed state of alignment.
Lowers blood pressureRelaxed muscles allows for better blood circulation, which can help in decreasing blood pressure.
Clears throatAllows overcoming voice difficulties. It also aids in reducing chest congestion and dry throat.
Improves coordinationChanges in movement while doing everyday activities help in improving coordination. AT is also beneficial to people suffering from neuromuscular disorders like MS, stroke, and cerebral palsy as they can do simple tasks more efficiently.
Helps one stand tallerAT focuses on ensuring the head and spine work together. With a reduction in neck tension, the head reduces the compression of the spine, and the spine can lengthen.
Creates better balanceStudy published in the Journal of Gerontology reports better balance and coordination in elders aged above 65 after two sessions of AT in a week.
No quick fixYou have to be prepared both mentally and physically to undertake several sessions before you start seeing the benefits. That said, what you learn stays in mind forever.
No specific benefitsAT does not help in getting your core muscles, heart, and lungs to get any better. But better utilization of these techniques helps in being more active without worries of injuries.
Get the right teacherIf you want to focus on a particular aspect, say better breathing technique, then you’d have to find a teacher who specifically will work on this, and it’s not an easy job.
Total commitmentTo gain maximum benefit from the Alexander Technique, you have to implement it in every aspect of your life right from eating correctly to sitting properly while talking on a phone, to getting into the bed.
Commitment towards it in the class only will not help in getting full benefits.
Is AT for everyone?Yes, any layman can learn the Alexander Technique. A majority of us, in this day and age, spend a lot of time in front of a computer or smartphone.
This means that you are spending a lot of time looking down, and that puts pressure on your vertebrae, which is supposed to support a straight head. Bending your head down for several hours puts a strain on larger neck muscles which are meant to stay loose.
This results in reduced usage of smaller neck muscles and they turn lax, which causes your vertebrae to lose its support, increasing the chances of neck stiffness or pain, and possibly degeneration of your cervical spine.
AT can help in addressing this issue by helping you learn ways to keep your head and spine straight and allowing for better posture.
Does Science Support AT?A study (randomized controlled ) presented in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that people who followed Alexander Technique lessons had reduced neck pain over one year, in comparison to people who underwent standard care.
Another study which was presented in BMJ, a medical journal, in 2008 tested showed that patients who used AT lessons with some exercise had improvement in recurrent back pain as compared to others. Also, this combination was very cost-effective.
The Bottom LineAlexander Technique forces us to sit up and take notice of the way we sit, eat, stand, talk, or do anything in general.
Most of us, due to our negative habits, have ended up in a tense muscle pattern which may be the root cause of several problems starting from neck pain to anxiety to headaches.
It will be helpful if we unlearn these negative habits and learn habits which will help our body and mind breathe easy and work more harmoniously.