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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.
Additional recommended knowledge
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. Further, Alexander observed that many individuals experiencing voice problems tightened the musculature of the upper torso, especially the neck, prior to phonation in anticipation of the act of voicing; he suggested that this pattern of tensing would rotate the head backwards and downwards in relationship to the spine and disrupt efficient overall body alignment. 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 stopped, refined and well-formed, practical self-observation and the strategic use of empirical reasoning. This study may also demand re-evaluation of self-limiting assumptions, previous choices and conclusions that the Alexander Technique teachers believe keep in place a student's general misuse. The Alexander Technique is considered to be an educational technique taught to be practiced by the student on their own, rather than a curative treatment regimen of the client/patient relationship. It is designed to be used while doing any other activity, so there are no prescriptive forms of movements to follow.
Each of these methods are reflected in special terms of F.M. Alexander's. These ideas are taught as seamless discoveries of easier movement in the context of goal-setting objectives; usually without singling out these operative principles. For instance, the operative functions of the first method containing structural anatomy are expressed in the term "Primary Control." In bodily movement, Alexander found that the way the head (and eyes) move functions as a key steering reflex that the responses of the body's movement will pick up and reflect - for good or ill.(Citation needed: later backed up by Coghill research.)
Further, characteristics of proprioception are expressed in Alexander's term, "sensory debauchery." This term refers to Alexander's ideas about how adapting to repeated stimuli disappears sensation as it is trained into a habit during skill building. Once trained, all other choices are pre-empted by the skill and can easily be lost to sensory ability or memory. An experience of kinesthetic unfamiliarity dangerously encourages the re-selection of the old habit over possible improvements, defeating the objective of experimentation. As such, is cautioned against by Alexander teachers and this cautioning is expressed in another term: "End-gaining." If modification is desired, experimentation is recommended by Alexander rather than gaining one's end by familiar means, choosing the new criteria of efficiency or effortlessness over familiarity.
How habits may be stopped, refined or well-formed is reflected in Alexander's specialized use of the word "Inhibition" and "Direction." Practical self-observation and reasoning are expressed in Alexander's phrase, "Constructive, conscious control." This term contains the self-reflection of intelligent and strategic thinking about how to effectively use substitution, prevent relapse, and to bring the awareness of the need to personally use what has been learned to bear on the issues moment by moment.
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 athletic training. 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 unfamiliar feeling of lightness or expansion. 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. Further, in 2004 Maher concluded that "Physical treatments, such as ... 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. Finally, 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.
Finally, while there is an abundance of anecdotal evidence which suggests that AT instruction contributes to improved vocal quality and vocal health (including its apparent success in treating the vocal health issues of its creator, Alexander), only two studies of AT use with voice were found,, neither of which were published in peer-reviewed journals. In both, there was an apparent attempt to measure the effects of AT on voice and to analyze some data; however, neither methodology nor statistics were provided to lend scientific credence to the interpreted results (e.g., representative sampling, control groups or blind testing) or acoustic measurements (i.e., microphone type, microphone placement, microphone directionality, recording environment, recording media – all of which could affect the spectral characteristics of the recording). Thus, while both studies may report actual effects, one cannot have confidence that they demonstrate anything more than possibly placebo improvements without the inclusion of carefully designed methodologies, legitimate metrics or statistical analysis.
Frank Pierce Jones' articles detailing his research have been collected in a 1997 edition, detailed in references below.
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Alexander_Technique". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.