Chronic Health Problems: What Role Does the Alexander Technique Play?
This past weekend I attended an event entitled “Hidden Causes of Chronic Conditions: Solving the Puzzle,” which included as its main feature a panel discussion with some of the region’s top alternative therapists (all with traditional medical training or science/research backgrounds as well). They shared interesting information on holistic approaches to a variety of chronic conditions, and were very informative on many alternative and cutting-edge approaches that take into account the health of the whole person, not just the one symptom.
I was very impressed by their body of knowledge, and agreed with much of their assessment of the ways in which a purely traditional medical approach can fail in helping patients to actually be healthy. At the end of the afternoon members of the audience had the chance to ask questions. Unfortunately time was up before I was able to ask the question that seemed particularly relevant to me as an Alexander Technique teacher. My question would have been something like this:
“Do you take into consideration how someone uses their body – their posture/alignment or level of tension, for instance – and how that could affect some chronic conditions, such as back pain, breathing problems or gastro-intestinal issues?”
I could have demonstrated collapsed posture, showing how it not only effects the integrity of the spine, but also reduces and restricts breathing capacity and squashes the digestive organs. It seems to me that a method like the Alexander Technique, which teaches people to release tension and decompress the spine and body as a whole, could be a very useful tool to help alleviate some conditions.
In fact, in 2008 the British Medical Journal published the results of a large-scale back pain study which showed that learning the Alexander Technique had long-term benefits for people with chronic back pain. Even one year later, those who had 24 Alexander Technique lessons had an 86% reduction of days in pain compared with the control group.
As far as I know there have been no similar studies (certainly not large-scale) to investigate the possible usefulness of the Alexander Technique for breathing or gastro-intestinal problems. However, it seems like common sense to me that if a person is constantly in a collapsed state (which would decrease the amount of space for the lungs to expand and the ribs to move) breathing is affected. Similarly the digestive organs will be squashed together, which I can’t imagine would be good digestive health.
The way people use their body (their coordination, posture, freedom of movement) is a factor that is often overlooked, sometimes even by medical professionals who are otherwise working in a holistic way. I believe it plays an important part in our overall health and wellbeing, and I would have been interested to hear what the panel had to say.
So instead, I’m asking you the question!
Do you think posture, coordination and tension could be a contributing factor to some chronic conditions?
There will be another panel discussion on February 25. If you live in Wilmington, DE or the surrounding area, I encourage you to check it out. If the first one is anything to go by, it will be interesting, informative and well worth your while.
Yes, yes, and yes to your three questions! A collapsed posture can keep the body in a state of flight or fight which leads to excessive wear and tear (allostatic load) and chronic illness. Had my first Alexander lession yesterday. Really like it!
Maureena – so excited to hear you had your first Alexander lesson! As you continue, I would love to hear about your progress.
Absolutely – I completely agree that our use can affect amany conditions. Going to lie down now 😉
Yes – I think the way we use ourselves can affect many conditions, and probably even cause some… Enjoy your lie down!
A lot of people with chronic conditions seem to have been helped by the Alexander Technique – you can listen to quite a few at my podcast page: http://bodylearningcast.com Just take MS, as one of many examples: http://bodylearningcast.com/ms/
From everything I’ve experienced, first a student, then a teacher of the Alexander Technique, I’d have to answer “yes” to your question.
I think they do make a difference. I know when I have tension or stress, it goes right to my back. And I feel a difference when I make an effort to be aware of my posture.
Awareness is the first step toward change 🙂
As the organizer of the Hidden Causes event, I am very interested to learn more about this technique. Perhaps, if you attend this month, you can introduce it. My main goal is to present any information that might help the group move closer to optimum health.
Angel, thanks again for putting on this event. I know everyone there greatly appreciates all your work and dedication in the cause of “optimum health.” I would love to have the opportunity to introduce the Alexander Technique later this month. I’ll contact you directly and see what might be possible.
Some day we will have much more knowledge–at least knowledge accepted by a wide range of professionals–about how integrated all of the body is. Of course tension and posture likely affect some chronic conditions! We scrunch our body over in poor posture, and how could our breathing not be affected? Tension affects the muscles and probably the immune system. It would be great to have more hard evidence about all of this and how the Alexander Technique could help.
The Reflective Writer
Personal-Professional Balance Through Writing
I too, would love to see more “hard evidence” on how the Alexander Technique helps a variety of conditions, but the British Medical Journal back pain study is a great start. There have been other studies on ways it can help various other conditions, but nothing on the scale of the one in the BMJ. I do know, from my personal experience, and watching how it can help my students, that it is effective in helping various things. In fact a student earlier today told me she felt happier since she’d been practicing the Alexander Technique 🙂
I’m sure the Technique can reveal some “Hidden Causes” behind chronic conditions. By definition chronic conditions involve habits. These are often unhelpful habitual reactions to challenges like pain.
This event sounds a very interesting attempt to bring holistic practitioners together. As Alexander Teacher and yoga student , I’ve been recently reading news about both the benefits that yoga can give to back pain sufferers and about the -sometimes severe- injuries, yoga can cause. Here, definitely, a basic understanding of the Alexander Technique would shed light to how this seeming contradiction is possible.
Absolutely Imogen! The way we hold ourselves & our posture (or lack of!) definitely plays into chronic pain. And I agree that slouchiness (or they way we hold ourselves when we’re sad or feeling insecure) can also play into digestive issues — it makes sense to me!
I hope you get a chance to speak up at your next symposium.
Heidi & Atticus
“commentary to give you paws…”
There does seem to be an increase in consciousness within parts of the medical community. However I’m concerned that Alexander Technique will continue to ‘fall between the cracks’ of modality-discernment. The refined sensing-abilities that people develop through our work not only brings about improved health, but it also brings about improvements in being a patient. Every medical practitioner should be so lucky to have AlexTech students or practitioners in their office. Their reporting will be more accurate and useful. And these patients hold the possibility of being active participants in their healing.
Now…..if only the medical practitioners could have more reliable, more refined sensing abilities, AKA ‘listening’!
I’ve been an AT pupil for 11 years and would agree with you Imogen, it makes so much sense. Healing isn’t a science, it’s an art and that’s what some of the medical community don’t understand yet, hopefully in time they will. It may challenge them to step outside their comfort zone, not an easy thing to do, Alexander Lessons would help show them the way.
A quote from F.Matthias Alexander, a little book called ‘Aphorisms’ p74.
‘They may teach you anatomy and physiology till they are black in the face – you will still have this to face: sticking to a decision against your habit of life’
Love reading your blog, thank you.
I was a little surprised when I moved to the US from Germany how everything (in the US) is run on pills only (talking about regular practitioners that are supported by the entire system). It’s weird that so many think that this should be the only truth..
It also surprised me that my insurance doesn’t pay for my chiropractor?!?
I love the Alexander Technique and I am a great supporter of your topic!
Franziska San Pedro
Absolutely. Luckily I don’t suffer from any chronic pain but I could see how my posture while I sit could be detrimental to my health over time. Lots to consider. Thank you.