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Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences

Lamont School of Music

Lamont School of Music

Faculty

Alexander Technique

Alexander Technique

Heidi Brende Leathwood
Ian Ferguson

Alexander Technique

The Alexander Technique is a method of neuromuscular reeducation, through which people can learn how to consciously create more ease in their body in any activity or situation. FM Alexander, an actor from Australia, discovered more than a hundred years ago that the way we coordinate our heads, necks, and backs can create either ease or malfunction in the whole body. The method he developed to help himself and others improve their functioning engages not only the body but equally the mind.

The far-reaching nature of Alexander's work soon became evident, as his students found many physical ailments (from breathing problems to the effects of polio) were improved after a series of lessons with him. Leading figures of the time, such as George Bernard Shaw, Aldous Huxley, and John Dewey wrote about and supported Alexander's work, and doctors commonly referred students to him for private lessons. Gradually the technique has spread, and there are now schools worldwide to train teachers. These training programs are very rigorous: a teacher certified by the American Society for the Alexander Technique has completed a three-year, 1600-hour training program under the direction of teachers of at least 10 years of teaching experience.

Musicians study the Technique for many reasons: to prevent and recover from injury, to alleviate the effects of nervousness in performance, to increase breath capacity, to prevent the debilitating tension that can be accumulated during long hours of practice, to improve their technique and ease in playing, or to create a bigger, richer sound. Alexander Technique group classes are taught at many leading schools for the performing arts, including The Juilliard School. I have the pleasure of teaching 15 students per quarter at Lamont School of Music, one of a very small number of schools who give their students the opportunity to take private lessons.

How does the Technique work? People can make changes only if they can learn to stop reacting automatically and become more conscious of what they are doing. Most of us respond automatically to stressful situations by tightening our necks, compressing our spines, and not allowing our ribs to move (holding our breath). This way of being becomes so familiar to us that we tend to take it into normal, everyday activities, like walking, bending, brushing our teeth, playing a musical instrument, singing, speaking, sitting at a computer...the list is endless. Alexander teachers use sophisticated observational skills to diagnose faulty patterns of movement and posture. By using their hands gently, they help people stop their habitual compression. Next, they show them how to take this new use of the body into movement and activity. Most importantly, they help people learn to inhibit their own faulty, automatic patterns, so they can create this ease for themselves.

In my experience working with musicians in pain, the Alexander Technique has been helpful with undiagnosed hand, wrist, arm and shoulder pain, thoracic outlet syndrome, tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, ulnar nerve problems, jaw tension and pain, and TMJ. In the general population, the Alexander Technique has been found to significantly increase range of motion, reduce pain, enhance breathing coordination and improve overall functional strength and mobility for people with the following diagnoses *:

  • Repetitive stress injuries
  • Typical stress/strain injuries of musicians, dancers, singers, industrial workers, aerobic and resistance training exercisers
  • Pain management
  • Lyme Disease
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Lupus
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Traumatic Injury
  • Orthopedic auto, sports, work injuries
  • Back, neck and hip dysfunction
  • Spasm
  • Disc herniation
  • Post-laminectomy
  • Stenosis
  • Sciatica
  • Scoliosis
  • Dorsum rotundum
  • Scheuermann's Disease
  • Osteoporosis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Neck and low back syndrome
  • Neurological dysfunction
  • Parkinson's Disease
  • Dystonia
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Stroke
  • Respiratory dysfunction
  • Asthma
  • Paradoxical breathing
  • Shallow breathing
  • Posture/Balance disorders
  • Parkinson's Disease
  • Vertigo
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Brain tumor
  • Cerebellar dysfunction

*excerpted from "The Alexander Technique: Application to Medical Rehabilitation", copyright 1997, The North American Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique.