Improving posture can be challenging. Poor posture is often the source of various musculoskeletal issues like chronic pain throughout the body. Poor posture can be so ingrained in the brain that it becomes an unconscious positioning reflex that feels right but could be worsening spinal, hip, and leg problems. The Alexander Technique could be a treatment option that could help long-term.
The approach focuses on learning mind-body awareness. It is an educational process to teach individuals to become aware of their body positioning and change unhealthy posture/movement habits into healthy ones. The objective is learning to utilize sufficient levels of muscle tension for everyday activities, like sitting, standing up, and walking in a healthy way to maintain optimal health of the musculoskeletal system.
- The theory is that less tension minimizes wear and tear on the muscles and structures of the spine vulnerable to compression.
- The fundamental goal of the Alexander Technique is to undo all the unhealthy tension habits to decompress the spine and retrain the mind and body to approach movement and body positioning in a new and healthy way.
The technique can be done in a class setting or one-on-one teaching because everyone’s postural and movement habits are unique. A teacher helps identify the tension-inducing postures and educates the individual on how to correct them. Human touch is an integral part of the Alexander Technique. Using their hands gently to adjust the individual to a proper upright position, a teacher helps release pressure from the head, neck, shoulders, and upper back. The individual learns to release the tension throughout their body. The Alexander Technique is a type of hands-on therapy; it is not manipulation or massage. It uses a light touch with no risk of injury to the spine, allowing anyone to participate. However, individuals must be willing to participate/engage in the process to get the benefits. Most individuals can tell if it’s right for them during the first lesson. A typical program teaches:
- Comfortably sitting up straight.
- Reducing overuse of superficial musculature.
- Increasing proprioceptive awareness.
- Staying alert to the body’s warning of tension and compression.
Tension Build Up
Individuals usually don’t even realize they’re constantly placing pressure on their spine from unhealthy postural habits, building up muscular tension they never knew they created. For example, unhealthy neck position habits include:
- Pushing the head forward
- Slumping over
- Pinning the shoulders back
- These postures generate/build pressure and tension that radiates outward and down to the large muscles of the spine.
- Habitual downward pressure can pull and change the spine’s shape, leading to degenerative forms of spinal deformity in severe cases.
- When the tension is released, the neck and body begin to stand upright comfortably, without pulling down or pulling back.
Frederick Matthias Alexander
Developed the technique in the 1890s to help his muscle tension problems affecting his acting career. When performing, he would stiffen his neck and pull his head back and up, building tension that caused him to tighten his throat and lose his voice. He did not know he was doing this until he performed in front of a mirror and saw his awkward positioning. He realized this and retrained himself to pose naturally, stay relaxed, and be aware of any tension building in the muscles to release it immediately. Alexander Technique educators/practitioners practice all over the world. The American Society for the Alexander Technique or AmSAT website has a Find A Teacher Tool that connects individuals to AmSAT-approved teachers.
Developing a mindfulness practice can help identify triggers of negative behavior or thoughts. Just like diet and exercise, practicing mindfulness is unique to everyone. It is recommended to try different things like:
- Journaling is another way to tune into oneself. Grab a pen and paper, a computer, tablet, or phone, and take a few minutes to write every day.
- Write one thing that makes you happy.
- One thing you want to improve.
- One goal you want to accomplish that day or that week.
Mindful music listening can help reduce stress by allowing the individual to focus their attention when their mind is going in all directions.
- Instead of turning to the news or email when waking up, grab a cup of coffee or tea and listen to a favorite podcast or music.
- Put the phone away and listen to your mind and self.
Try to meditate in the morning when waking up. This helps set the day’s goals/plans. Goal-setting mindfulness has been shown to reduce stress levels and anxiety. However, if the morning is not possible then at night before bed can be used to reflect on the day’s activities, what went well, what didn’t, how to improve something, whatever the case, the point is to make time for yourself to reflect, set goals, and develop a plan to achieve those goals.
Becker, Jordan J et al. “Preliminary evidence for feasibility, efficacy, and mechanisms of Alexander technique group classes for chronic neck pain.” Complementary therapies in medicine vol. 39 (2018): 80-86. doi:10.1016/j.ctim.2018.05.012
Cacciatore et al., Improvement in automatic postural coordination following Alexander technique lessons in a person with low back pain. Physical Therapy Journal, 2005; 85:565-578. Accessed January 5, 2011
Chin, Brian et al. “Psychological mechanisms driving stress resilience in mindfulness training: A randomized controlled trial.” Health psychology: official journal of the Division of Health Psychology, American Psychological Association vol. 38,8 (2019): 759-768. doi:10.1037/hea0000763
Little P, Lewith G, Webley F, et al. Randomised controlled trial of Alexander technique lessons, exercise, and massage (ATEAM) for chronic and recurrent back pain. The BMJ. 2008;337:a884. doi: doi.org/10.1136/bmj.a884.
Paolucci, Teresa et al. “Chronic low back pain and postural rehabilitation exercise: a literature review.” Journal of pain research vol. 12 95-107. December 20 2018, doi:10.2147/JPR.S171729
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