Frequently Asked Questions
How long are the lessons and what should I wear?
Private lessons are 45 minutes in length. There is no disrobing; Alexander lessons happen fully clothed. Comfortable street clothes are appropriate but be prepared to take off your shoes. Group classes vary in length and are arranged to meet the needs of the group, and can range from one hour to one day, from a one-off to a regularly scheduled event.
How many lessons do I need?
Because this is an educational process, I recommend committing to a series of at least 10 lessons; 30 lessons is the standard recommendation to gain a degree of proficiency. Some people take an initial series of lessons and are satisfied while others take lessons for months or years – I had my first lesson in 1992 and work with a teacher of my own to this day.
Does this work for back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, wrist pain, hip pain or injury?
Yes, the Alexander Technique is an effective and proven self-care method that is highly regarded as a solution to pain.
If you experience frequent or chronic neck, back, shoulder, wrist, hip, or knee pain, you are not alone. Research shows that 80% of Americans suffer from lower back pain severe enough to consult a health professional or use drugs to relieve pain. In 1988, lower back problems ranked seventh among reasons for all U.S. hospitalizations. Back pain is the number one reason for worker absenteeism, costing businesses in the U.S. $30 billion annually in lost time and medical benefits.
The cause of such pain is most often the result of the way in which we use ourselves; that is, how we sit, stand, breathe, talk on the phone, walk and perform all the activities of life. We all have habits that underlie each of our most basic movements. These habit patterns feel normal to us, even if they are causing us pain.
87% of back problems are known to be muscular in orgin, which means they are, by definition, related to how you move. The conventional view is that exercising or stretching in order to strengthen our weak areas or loosen overly tense muscles will alleviate pain, and doing so may appear to help. More likely, however, exercises and stretches simply mask the pain, soon to return. Exercises will not change habits. In fact, mindlessly repeating exercises can actually strengthen our habits of mind and muscle as we unconsciously practice them. For this reason, the Alexander Technique is useful not only by itself as a back pain solution but it can also help you attain maximum benefit from your exercises, physical therapy, kinesiology, chiropractic adjustments, or work with an osteopath.
In my experience, so-called weakness or tightness is due to a lack of appropriate intrinsic coordination. Coordination can only be improved by changing the habits that interfere with our innate optimal functioning.
Becoming aware of our habits is the first step towards a very practical, real, and lasting solution. Awareness allows you to make intelligent choices where before you had none.
Is the Alexander Technique like…
The Alexander technique has things in common with all of these practices while at the same time it is completely different from any of them.
Yoga is a multifaceted 3,000 year-old spiritual practice; the physical practice of yoga is what most people seem to know these days. The physical practice consists of a series of movements or poses, and the Alexander Technique does not involve movements or exercises per se. However, using the principles of the Alexander Technique will enable you to meet the goals of your yoga practice, as well as make it more fun, easier and injury-resistant.
Pilates is a method of physical exercise which emphasizes using the “core” or “powerhouse” as creator Joseph Pilates (1880-1967) called it. (Incidentally, his former teaching studio is one block from my studio in New York!) Pilates emphasizes poise, fluidity, and lengthening and “goes” perfectly with the Alexander Technique. I practiced Pilates in the past with a very experienced Pilates teacher and she frequently commented on how my knowledge of the Alexander Technique enabled me to perform the exercises efficiently and as they were intended. She took Alexander lessons as well and we frequently noticed that, although Pilates doesn’t seem to have been familiar with the Alexander Technique, there is lots of philosophical common ground, although the purpose of the two are different.
The Alexander Technique can be used both in busy times and quiet ones; learning how to sit in meditation without physical pain is a great contribution to the practice. When we learn how to stop our habitual holding patterns – physical, mental and emotional – it is my experience that meditation practice becomes easier and more enjoyable.
People get massages for different reasons; these might include stress relief, help with a sore or injured neck or back, improved circulation, or just experiencing the pleasure of being touched. My experience with massage is that it feels great while I’m getting one and I feel pretty spaced out afterwards – what we usually consider to be very, very relaxed. By the time I’ve gotten home, my sore neck or back or the problems that were making me feel uptight in the first place are usually starting to creep back in. The Alexander Technique involves touch, so it shares that element with massage (although in Alexander lessons you are fully clothed), but where it differs is that I teach my students to respond, rather than react to the stimuli of life. It becomes possible to choose not to stiffen your neck, not to obsess over the stressful events of life, not to slump while using the computer. The benefits of doing so include a greater sense of ease and well-being in everyday life, improved breathing and circulation, and the release of long-held excess tension in the neck, back and limbs.
Will this help me with singing? Running? Yoga? Working at the computer?
Yes to all of the above, and many more. Using the Alexander Technique in your daily activities will help you perform all those activities better, with greater ease and less strain. I find it very beneficial to work with my students directly in activities. Singing, playing an instrument, doing yoga asana or running, for example, can be a completely different experience with hands-on guidance. I encourage my students to bring to their lessons whatever they have happening in their lives. I enjoy working with whatever challenge presents itself.
Of course, those who are professionally required to perform at the highest possible level, such as musicians, very often find the Alexander Technique to be an essential tool. In fact, in the UK and the United States an increasing number of music and acting conservatories require their pupils to learn the AT. The Drama Department at the Juilliard School in New York bases their entire curriculum around the Alexander Technique and at the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University (where I used to teach) private Alexander lessons are a requirement of the Music degree program, to give just two examples of very, very many.
A fantastic introduction. Well-written and accessible.
Indirect Procedures by Pedro deAlcantara
Aimed specifically at musicians and a must for anyone who sings or plays an instrument. The first part of the book, in my opinion, is among the clearest writing about the Alexander Technique to date and relevant to anyone.
The Resurrection of the Body: the Essential Writings of F.M. Alexander, edited by Edward Maisel
A great way to get acquainted with F.M. Alexander’s own writing. Maisel has excerpted some of the most interesting and thought-provoking sections of Alexander’s writings.
The Use of the Self by F.M. Alexander
Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual by F.M. Alexander
These are the two of Alexander’s four books that I find most accessible. Having said that, they can be a bit of a difficult read but worth the effort if you like going right to the source.
None that I can think of, or that I can even imagine. I have worked with people over the course of chemotherapy, while they had broken bones, and at all stages of pregnancy. My own students have included people with fused joints, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s, whiplash, spinal stenosis, Cerebral Palsy, Down’s syndrome, vertigo, Hashimoto’s disease, and arthritis, to name a few.