What Is the Alexander Technique?

Alexander Technique is a method that anyone can use to learn how to move in a dynamic yet neutral alignment - relaxed but not collapsed, lengthened but not stiff.

The technique is taught through hands-on guidance. The teacher’s touch dramatically heightens body awareness, allowing the student to sense subtle connections between thought, muscular impulse and action.

Three types of changes take place in Alexander Lessons. First, students learn how to prevent automatic tension habits. This has very practical results, including pain relief and stress reduction. Second, as interfering tension is lessened, the body’s reflex support system effortlessly suspends the skeleton. As a result, students experience their bodies as freer and lighter, and see visible improvements in alignment and balance. Third, student often gain a sense of harmony, hope or power as they experience their innate capacity for ease.

It takes some time to learn the Alexander Technique. The benefit is that unlike quick fix approaches, the skills you learn, will allow you to take care of your back and neck for the rest of your life.


A Word About the Founder

Frederick Matthias Alexander (1869-1955) was born Tasmania, and would never have invented his work if his acting career had not been challenged by recurrent hoarseness. The problem proved resistant to medical treatment. Alexander used mirrors as a low-tech biofeedback tool to observe how his own habits of physical tension, particularly in the head and neck, contributed to his loss of voice. He found that these habits also disturbed the posture and coordination of his entire body. He developed a systematic means to recognize and stop the tension habits at the moment they arose, and used the split-second gap between stimulus and response to redirect his head, neck, and back into a more coordinated state. He recovered his voice, and gained unexpected improvements in health, posture, physical appearance and mental outlook.

His method proved teachable. In 1904, Alexander relocated to London and set up a flourishing practice. He attracted the attention of prominent scientists, intellectuals and actors, who all related his practical discoveries about human functioning to their own fields of interest. Well known students of Alexander Technique include educational philosopher John Dewey, Nobel Laureate in Medicine and Physiology Nicolas Tinbergen, somatic pioneer Moshe Feldenkrais and playwright George Bernard Shaw; and more recently actors Hilary Swank, Lynn Redgrave and Jeremy Irons. The Alexander Technique has been used for over a 100 years by people seeking improved health, better vocal production, and relief from stress related disorders


Is there any scientific evidence for the Alexander Technique?

I am thrilled to finally answer, “Yes,” to this question. A 2008 study published in the British Medical Journal compared the effects of exercise, massage therapy and Alexander Technique lessons for treating chronic and recurrent low back pain.

579 patients were randomized to either a normal medical care group, massage therapy, six private Alexander Technique lessons or 24 private Alexander Technique lessons. Half of each group was randomly assigned to an exercise program. The main outcome measures were number of daily activities and number of days per month impaired by pain.

Results showed that Alexander Technique instruction and exercise, but not massage, effectively reduced back pain. At the one-year follow-up, the number of days in pain experienced by the Alexander Technique group was reduced by 85% compared to the control group. The average number of activities limited by back pain fell by 42% compared to the control group.

Results showed that:

  • After 24 AT lessons, participants averaged 3 days in pain per month

  • After 6 AT lessons plus exercise, participants averaged 11 days of pain per month

  • After standard medical care or treatment with massage therapy, participants averaged 21 days of pain per month

To read the complete study go here: Randomised controlled trial of Alexander technique lessons, exercise, and massage (ATEAM) for chronic and recurrent back pain, (2008)

My own research (2003) showed that Alexander training gives people the ability to dramatically reduce muscle activation (measured with electromyography) during computer tasks, a finding that supports the use of Alexander Technique for prevention and recovery from Repetitive Strain Injuries.

Previously, peer reviewed scientific research on the Alexander Technique was scarce. As part of my Masters thesis in Physiological Psychology, I reviewed all the published studies on Alexander Technique up to 2003. Preliminary work indicates that Alexander Technique can improve respiration, reduce blood pressure, lower painful muscle tension and reduce performance anxiety (in some cases replacing the need for Beta blockers). The technique also generates reliable sensations of lightness and ease in movement, which may result from improvements in posture and coordination. These results locate Alexander Technique in the sphere of stress reduction and mindfulness technologies that include Meditation, Tai Chi, Feldenkrais and Yoga.

There is more intriguing work to be done to determine the most effective educational and therapeutic applications of the Alexander Technique. The Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique (UK) has an excellent page on completed and up and coming research studies.


Who studies the Alexander Technique?

Alexander students come from all walks of life. The technique is frequently used by people with chronic pain, people with physically demanding vocations such as computer users and performing artist, people who want to increase their activity level without injury such as athletes and gym goers, and people involved in life changes such as pregnancy, new parentage, and aging.


Benefits of the Alexander Technique

  • Ease chronic tightness and pain in your neck, shoulders and back
  • Improve flexibility, balance and coordination
  • Pain free dance, yoga and sports
  • Improve posture
  • Remove the effects of stress from your body
  • Protect your hip, knee and ankle joints
  • Prevent and recover from RSI's and other occupationally related pain
  • Avoid loss of mobility assocted with aging process
  • Reduce muscular tension associated with Migraines
  • Clear sinus congestion
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improve circulation, respiration, digestion and sleep
  • Enhance vocal resonance and power
  • Improve appearance and energy level
  • Experience harmony in physical, mental and emotional domains


Scientific Research on the Alexander Technique - Excellent page on completed and up and coming research

The Complete Guide to the Alexander Technique - Comprehensive guide to all Alexander Technique resources worldwide

The American Society for the Alexander Technique
- Largest professional body of Alexander Technique teachers in the US

Healthy Computing Resources

RSI Research - Excellent summary of findings from a large prospective study on Repetitive Strain Injuries conducted in India

Healthy Computing Tips - Tips to optimize performance and prevent computer related injuries from the Holistic Health Department at SFSU