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?