Learn what this embodied mindfulness practice is, how it's done, and some of its benefits.
The Alexander technique is a specific approach and set of exercises that encourages the development of mindful awareness of the balance and posture of the body, with a particular focus on the balance, posture, and movement of the head, neck, and spine.
At the turn of the last century, Australian stage actor Frederick Matthias Alexander noticed that he struggled with long performances. He developed recurrent laryngitis that was not responsive to the treatments recommended by his physicians. He thus decided to closely examine his performance style, watching himself in great detail in multiple mirrors while he recited his lines. He observed that his posture while speaking was maladaptive. Specifically, he noticed that as he spoke his chin would drop down and move inwards. Alexander concluded that his difficulties on stage and his recurrent pain and discomfort were ultimately caused by his dysfunctional posture and movement habits (Schlinger, 2006).
Alexander then went on to develop an approach and set of exercises with the aim of correcting movement and posture habits that may be maladaptive and cause discomfort. This approach and set of exercises became the Alexander technique and has been used for over 100 years by actors, musicians, dancers, and others to adjust their posture, balance, and movements in order to both improve and fine-tune their performances and to avoid injury and discomfort. Although the Alexander technique was originally developed for and popularized by performance artists, the techniques and practices may be helpful in improving posture and movement for a wide range of people who may develop poor posture and movement habits. This group probably includes most of us, from surgeons (Reddy et al., 2011) to anyone who uses a smartphone (Neupanet et al., 2017).
The Alexander technique is inherently a mindfulness practice, emphasizing and encouraging body awareness. In this case, body awareness includes awareness of all of the physical sensations experienced by the body, the body’s position in space, the way that the body moves, and the relationships between the body and the physical world (Schlinger, 2006). The Alexander technique emphasizes the intentional and mindful performance of actions that are usually performed automatically and habitually. Students are encouraged to develop and fine-tune mindful awareness of the physical body both when it is at rest and when it is in motion. Students then learn how to identify and inhibit dysfunctional body positions and habitual movements while also moving and positioning their bodies in more functional, less damaging ways.
How To Do The Alexander Technique
Typically, the Alexander technique is facilitated by a trained practitioner, often called a teacher or a demonstrator. The Alexander technique can be taught in a one-on-one fashion or in a group setting. Notably, there are no therapists or clients. Instead, a teacher provides guidance and instruction on how to develop and fine-tune mindfulness and body awareness skills.
A session may start with the teacher bringing the student’s awareness to the physical body, and especially to all of the muscles involved in performing a specific action. This includes both the smallest muscles like individual finger muscles and the muscles of the neck and jaw, as well as the larger muscles of the back and core that are responsible for overall posture and balance. For example, a pianist might bring her mindful awareness to not only her fingers, hands, and arms but also to the muscles involved in supporting her head and keeping her neck upright, as well as the muscles of the back and core that are responsible for good posture on the bench. The teacher provides verbal instruction along with light touch and gentle manipulation and re-positioning of the student’s body.
The goal of the verbal instructions and gentle physical manipulation is enhanced awareness of the dynamic balance that exists between all of the muscles. The teacher aims to facilitate a feeling of fluidity, ease of movement, and lightness (Jones, 1979).The Alexander technique stresses a lightness of feeling which should be experienced as pleasant and pleasurable. Students of the Alexander technique often report that they enjoy the ease and fluidity of movement (Kildow, 2018).
The Alexander Technique and Mindfulness
By focusing on and becoming mindfully aware of the way that your body moves, you may be able to influence and tap into cognitions, thoughts, and emotions that may otherwise be inaccessible or hidden. Paying close attention to subtle movements and internal feedback and then making perhaps very subtle adjustments to the ways that you move may increase feelings of agency and self-control. As a form of embodied mindfulness, the Alexander technique emphasizes intentional guidance and control over the body’s movements. In practicing the Alexander technique, habits are taken from the automatic and unconscious, where they are performed mindlessly, to the intentional and deliberate, being performed mindfully.
Although it was originally developed as a way for performers to reduce pain, the Alexander technique has since also been shown to have a range of other positive effects, not only on the functioning of the physical body but also on the mind. These benefits may arise from the focus on the mind-body connection and the increased sense of agency that may result from learning to intentionally and mindfully control the movements of the body. Importantly, the Alexander technique is accessible and available to all bodies - there are no specific fitness or ability requirements. All people, regardless of age, ability, or fitness, can develop mindful awareness of the physical body and can strengthen the connection between body and mind.
Jones, F. P. (1979). Body awareness in action: A study of the Alexander technique. Schocken Books.
Kildow, E. S. (2018). The Alexander Technique, mindfulness, and wellness for performing arts students. In The Online Journal of the Practice/Production Symposium of the Mid America Theatre Conference (Vol. 7, pp. 1-22).
Neupane, S., Ali, U. I., & Mathew, A. (2017). Text neck syndrome-systematic review. Imperial journal of interdisciplinary research, 3(7), 141-148.
Reddy, P. P., Reddy, T. P., Roig-Francoli, J., Cone, L., Sivan, B., DeFoor, W. R., ... & Noh, P. H. (2011). The impact of the alexander technique on improving posture and surgical ergonomics during minimally invasive surgery: pilot study. The Journal of urology, 186(4S), 1658-1662.
Schlinger, M. (2006). Feldenkrais method, Alexander technique, and yoga—body awareness therapy in the performing arts. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics, 17(4), 865-875.