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The Alexander Technique is a form of education that is applied to recognize and overcome reactive, habitual limitations in movement and thinking.
The Alexander Technique is usually learned from individual lessons with a teacher using specialized hand contact and verbal instructions. The Technique is also taught in groups, often using short individual lessons which in turn act as examples to the rest of the class. The Technique takes its name from F. Matthias Alexander, who first observed and formulated its principles between 1890 and 1900.
Frederick Matthias Alexander (1869–1955) was a Shakespearean orator who developed problems with losing his voice. After doctors informed him there was no physical cause, he carefully observed himself in multiple mirrors. This revealed that he was needlessly stiffening his whole body in preparation to recite or speak. It took eight years to successfully apply his empirical observations on himself to solve his own voice problems.
Alexander regarded the empirical scientific method to be the foundation of his work. He used self-observation and reasoning to make the physical performance of any movement easier: sitting, standing, walking, using the hands and speaking. He designed his methods to make experimentation and training deliberately repeatable, and to learn in a way that would allow continuing improvement from any starting point. F.M. Alexander trained educators of his technique mainly while living in London, UK from 1931 until his death in 1955, except for the wartime period between 1941 to 1943 which were spent teaching with his brother Albert Redden Alexander (1874–1947) in Massachusetts, USA.
The Alexander Technique teaches the ability to make a new choice in spite of established habitual patterns by studying the kinesthetic evidence of how thinking is expressed in movement. The values of efficiency and effortlessness are the preferred criteria used to evaluate the often unfamiliar results of progress gained through guided experimentation. Among the methods taught are established forms of structural anatomy, characteristics of proprioception, how habits may be well formed and refined, practical self-observation and the strategic use of empirical reasoning. This study may also demand re-evaluation of self-limiting assumptions and conclusions Alexander Technique teachers believe have led to a student's general misuse.
Applications are subjective by nature; many testimonies exist on the Internet. Alexander Technique is regarded to be a helpful adjunct to traditional medical treatment regimens and not as a substitute.
Some regard the Alexander Technique as a first-hand experience of the reality of body/mind unity. Proponents believe that its practice results in improved awareness and descriptive ability, as well as improved ease of movement, improved balance, stamina and less muscular tension. Additionally, those who practice it often report that Alexander Technique gives them an enhanced ability to clarify their thinking, gain objectivity about themselves and free themselves from unintentional self-imposed limitations. Further, proponents see Alexander Technique as a way to use less effort for movement and thus perform more efficiently, feeling younger and moving gracefully.
It is curriculum in performance schools of dance, acting, circus, music, voice and some Olympic sports. Suitable for those starting at any fitness level, it is also used as remedial movement education to complete recovery and provide pain management.
Although the Alexander Technique is considered by those in its field to be primarily educational — taught in a student/teacher relationship as compared to being a treatment regimen between client and practitioner — it is regarded by the United Kingdom National Health Service to offer an alternative and complementary management for many medical complaints. A partial list is: back problems, unlearning and avoiding Repetitive Strain Injury, improving ergonomics, stuttering, speech training and voice loss, coping with mobility for those with Parkinson's disease, posture or balance problems, or to complete recovery from injury as an adjunct to Physical therapy.
Alexander Technique has also been known to help performers with getting past the plateau effect (despite trying, no improvement), performance anxiety, getting beyond a supposed "lack of talent" and to sharpen discrimination and descriptive ability. It has also helped people control unwanted reactions, phobias and depression.
Evidence of change is sought in verifiable outside feedback; using a mirror; by noting, comparing, or describing differences of the relative location of one's eyes, balance or weight changes; a change in the sound of one's voice or the effects on one’s objectives, props or environment.
Students often describe the immediate effect of an Alexander lesson as being an odd feeling. During hands-on lessons, most pupils report an immediate result of feeling less weighted down, despite their inability to evoke or sustain this state by themselves. Other reported experiences include altered perception of their voice or environment, noticing a change in self image, or having temporary disorientations of where their body is located spatially.
Alexander Technique may not be effective for everyone. Most teachers consider twenty to forty lessons to be required. Learning requires the student to work at a somewhat paradoxical goal that is, at first, based on the teacher's (or classmates') perception of success. In rare occasions, undoing old habits may trigger possibly unpleasant "unresolved" emotions that originally justified the habitual remedies, perhaps requiring additional professional help. Some ingrained habit patterns seem to have a sense of self-preservation that objects to its possible lack of importance.
Practicing Alexander Technique cannot affect structural deformities, (such as caused by arthritis or other bone problems,) or other diseases, (such as caused by Parkinson's, etc.) In these cases, Alexander Technique can only mitigate how the person compensates for these difficulties, which can be significant for them.
The effectiveness of the Alexander Technique has not been thoroughly verified in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Lengthy learning time seems to be a drawback in testing for short term results.
In 2005 Cacciatore et al. found the technique improved a single patient's posture thereby reducing their lower back pain.
In 2004 Maher concluded that "Physical treatments, such as (list with many others)... Alexander technique ... are either of unknown value or ineffective and so should not be considered" when treating lower back pain with an evidence-based approach.
In 2002, Stalibrass et al. published the results of a significant controlled study into the effectiveness of the technique in treating Parkinson's disease. Four different measures were used to assess the change in severity of the disease. By all four measures, Alexander Technique was better than no treatment, to a statistically significant degree (both P-values < 0.04). However, when compared to a control group given massage sessions, Alexander technique was only significantly better by two of the measures. The other two measures gave statisticially insignificant improvements (P-values of approximately 0.1 and 0.6). This appears to lend some weight to the effectiveness of the Technique, but more studies and data are required.
Frank Pierce Jones' articles detailing his research have been collected in a 1997 edition, detailed in references below.
Results for Alexander Technique in neuroscience and current gait lab research on the effects and function of body motion have yet to locate funding. (See additional current research at the UK STAT online website.) While the UK medical communities are convinced of the effectiveness of the Alexander Technique, it is still often classified as pseudo-scientific in other countries.
- Arnold, Joan (1997). "Frequently Asked Questions". American Society for the Alexander Technique. Retrieved 2007-05-02. Unknown parameter
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- Rootberg, Ruth (Sep 2007). "Voice and Gender and other contemporary issues in professional voice and speech training". Voice and Speech Review, Voice and Speech Trainers Association, Inc, Cincinnati, OH: 164–170. Text " Editor: Mandy
Rees " ignored (help); Text " quote: p. 164: A review of introductory articles on the Alexander Technique shows a variation in the length of time —either three or nine years— as the time it took Alexander to develop his technique. According to his biographer, Michael Bloch, the hoarseness —catalyst to his experiments— that Alexander refers to in The Use of the Self, occurred in the second half of 1892, and by 1894, a mere 18 months later, Alexander began teaching some of his early discoveries. Bloch goes on to suggest that although Alexander began publishing in 1900, “almost a decade after he embarked on that process,” his ideas were still not fully developed (p.34-36), and that using the term Primary Control, the underlying principle of the work, was not named in print until 1924). " ignored (help);
- Cacciatore, TW (June 2005). "Improvement in automatic postural coordination following Alexander Technique lessons in a person with low back pain". Physical Therapy. 85 (6): 565–78. Retrieved 2005-05-01. Unknown parameter
- Maher, CG (January 2004). "Effective physical treatment for chronic low back pain". The Orthopedic clinics of North America. 35 (1): 57–64. ISSN: 0030-5898. Retrieved 2007-05-01.
- Stallibrass, C (July 2002). "Randomized Controlled Trial of the Alexander Technique for Idiopathic Parkinson's Disease" (PDF). Clinical Rehabilitiation. 16 (7): 695–708. Retrieved 2007-05-01. Unknown parameter
- Alexander, F. Matthias (1932). The Use of Self (1985 Edition ed.). London: Orion Books Limited. ISBN 0752843915.
- Jones, Frank Pierce (May 1997). Freedom to Change; The Development and Science of the Alexander Technique. London: Mouritz. ISBN 0-9525574-7-9.
- Jones, Frank Pierce (1999). ed. Theodore Dimon, Richard Brown, ed. Collected Writings on the Alexander Technique. Massachusetts: Alexander Technique Archives. ISBN ATBOOKS058 Check
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- American Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique. The professional STAT-affiliated teachers organization in the United States.
- Canadian Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique.The professional STAT-affiliated teachers organization in Canada.
- STAT The Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique. Original and largest professional Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique established in 1958.