Alexander Technique Therapy?
Recently I came across a health alert from Johns Hopkins that refers to the Alexander Technique as a therapy, and a couple of weeks ago someone used the word treatment is describing the Technique on my Facebook page. This happens quite often.
However, the Alexander Technique is not a therapy or a treatment. Rather, it is a set of skills which you learn in lessons or classes – an educational process. However, through learning the Alexander Technique you will likely reap the benefits of using your whole body in a more coordinated, easeful way – such as a reduction in pain or tension, improvements in posture and body awareness, or feeling calmer and more confident.
The confusion comes about, I believe, because of three main things.
- Alexander Technique teachers use touch to help guide their students, and so the Technique can be confused with bodywork. The use of the hands, however, is just a teaching tool, and is used as an adjunct to verbal instructions, demonstration and other visual cues. Touch helps the teacher have a better understanding of what is going on in the student, more precisely than observation alone. For the student the teacher’s hands enhance awareness, and guide an experience of movement so the student can more accurately interpret the teacher’s demonstration or verbal instruction.
- While part of a lesson is spent learning ways to bring more ease and efficiency of movement to a variety of different activities (from everyday movements such as sitting, standing and walking, to a more specialist activity tailored to the needs of the student), the other part is often spent lying down on a massage-type table while the teacher uses touch to help you let go of tension. Superficially this may seem quite similar to various types of bodywork or therapy, but, while the student is more passive, it is still a learning situation in which the student is asked to use awareness and conscious thought. In fact, the student is learning very important skills in letting go of unnecessary tension. Indeed, if we can’t first learn to do this lying down, there’s not much hope of being able to do it in the middle of a complex activity.
- You invariably feel better after an Alexander Technique lesson than you did before! After all, this is a lesson in which you study and practice letting go of unwanted and unnecessary tension, both lying down and in various activities. Students often report feeling lighter, taller, more relaxed and at ease in their body.
Alexander Technique teachers are not medically trained, and cannot make a medical diagnosis. What they can do, is teach you ways to engage mind and body so you can move more freely and with less tension, and learning this may very well have therapeutic benefits. For you to make progress you cannot rely solely on your teacher – you must actively participate in the process and practice on your own between lessons.
Does this distinction seem clear to you? It’s very important to most Alexander Technique teachers. What do you think?
Really nice post, Imogen. I think part of the problem is that the Alexander Technique is therapeutic, so people might think it’s therapy. Though a hot bath, a lazy weekend and a walk in the woods is also therapeutic!
Keep up the great writing!
Exactly. There are lots of things that are therapeutic without being therapy.
Thanks so much for your comment.
Indeed, not a therapy.
However, even Alexander teachers are at times, at a loss for explaining what the Alexander Technique REALLY is. We know it can be taught, it can be learned, and it is therapeutic. But, you’re right, not a therapy.
I always admire your posts!
Thanks, Adolfo 🙂
I agree with your post – and I think Mark is on to something as well. Did a dictionary.com search for “therapy” and found one (not the main) definition: “any act, hobby, task, program, etc., that relieves tension.” Which, of course, could include the Alexander Technique. And as Mark suggests, the word “therapy” has become almost meaningless today.
Still, I think it’s very important for our students, and maybe even more for us teachers, that we keep the teacher/therapist distinction firmly in mind.
PS “R” is me – seriously misspelled my name!
Hi Imogen, excellent post and I agree with your thoughts. A “therapy” is something which is “done” to someone else, whereas the Alexander Technique is a non-doing re-education of the individual. Robert is correct to mention that describing the Technique is no easy task, for us all, but describing what it’s not is a lot easier. This also leaves the individual free to explore, discover and learn from their own experience, rather than being “told”, which is the one of the myriad of distinctions between the Technique and traditionally taught education.
Sounds better than therapy Imogene, when you can learn to take care of your own issues. Becoming aware is key to health rather than allowing someone else to tell you how you feel. Good information to help with the understanding of your process.
I didn’t know the Alexander Technique included so much hands-on assistance; I think that’s great. I practice yoga in a class setting and although I reap many benefits from it, I don’t get the one-on-one attention that I think would really help. I love the idea of releasing tension from the body as an integral part of a practice or technique. Thanks for this information, Imogen!
I love how you make this distinction between therapy and education. Of course, the Johns Hopkins article refers to Alexander as “alternative therapy”, something also used to describe medical qigong. In any case, outside of the definitions of therapy and what it is and isn’t “therapy/therapeutic”, I think this kind of work allows the body to release and heal form the inside out, which makes it so valuable. When we relax and open space inside of our bodies, the capacity for repair goes a long way.
This was very educational for me. I always thought it was a “therapy” along the lines of body work. Very informative in making the distinction. Thank you!
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I understand how people would use words such as therapy or treatment in talking about the Alexander Technique, so reading your explanation was very helpful in understanding the differences. I like how the Alexander Technique seems to be more oriented toward teaching. To me, the value there is that the person learning will remember and use the techniques, hopefully improving while learning and applying, and ultimately be healthier in mind, body and spirit. Sometimes it’s nice to turn your healing over to someone else, but learning how to heal yourself is usually more long term and permanent. Someday,I would love to know how you became involved in the Alexander Technique, Imogen; if you haven’t already blogged about that, I think it would be a great blog!
Thanks, Donna. I have blogged about my story – in fact a series of 3 blogs – you can find the first of the series here: http://www.imogenragone.net/my-alexander-technique-story-part-1-the-beginning/
If you get a chance, let me know what you think!
The word “therapy” does have a lot of implication and connotation, so your explanation is very helpful. Helping people understand what Alexander Technique is surely is (and is not) an on-going process. I do not, however, think of therapy as something “done” to someone else but something that occurs between people. The people involved have different roles and responsibilities, but both are needed for healing to occur.
It sounds like that is true for the Alexander Technique as well, even though the technique is not a medical procedure of any sort. The teacher is definitely needed for the learning to happen.
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Good to know the distinction. I just beginning to hear more about it. When someone asks, I can be clear about what it is and is not.
It’s very clear and very interesting. I’d always heard of the technique, but never learned much about it until I read your blog. It feels like it’s a way to balance the way you feel by knowing how to move your body.
I have a much better understanding of the Alexander Technique is in general from this post – and honestly, feel less intimated by it now. I had previously thought this was something I couldn’t do on my own at any point. Now, I see it much more like other therapeutic practices. For me, this would be yoga, Yamuna bodyrolling and even some meditation – all making me more mindful and aware of my body position. Thanks for the great clarification!
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Great clarification. The misunderstanding may come from an overuse of the word “therapy” in the real world to describe anything that makes us feel better or takes us through a process of feeling better.
This reminds me back in the ’80s (’70s?, ’60s?) when chiropractors started practicing and their practice tried to become main stream. A HUGE hue and cry arose from the medical community- sort of the same thing that you are mentioning what is happening now with the Alexander Technique. I realize there is a huge difference between the Alexander Technique and chiropractors (who actually do do ‘treatment’ and touching), I still think the reaction stems from the same ‘fear’ of something new.
It makes no sense to me why people would react to something that makes people feel better!
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Imogene, Thank You! Herb Karpatkian calls it a complementary technique for those that need help in addition to physical therapy.
Herb is a physical therapist specializing in Multiple Sclerosis. Dr. Fay Horak also has employed the Alexander Technique with Parkinsons patients. Her 2011 study with Parkinsons and the Alexander Technique can be found online with NIH National Institute for Health.
Thanks, that’s really interesting, Barbara!