Caregivers
 


By Dr. Nora DeVoe, Ph.D.
Geriatric Care Manager

 

The Alexander Technique and Better Posture

If you have arthritis or other conditions that cause muscle tightness, you may find relief from the Alexander Technique, an exercise method that helps improve movement, balance, support, and coordination. which, in turn, relieves muscle tightness and related discomfort.

The Alexander Technique may be particularly beneficial if you suffer from neck pain. There is also some evidence that people with back pain, Parkinson's disease, or who have suffered a stroke, may be helped by the Alexander Technique.

The Alexander Technique was developed in the 19th century by an Australian actor and is taught by certified teachers around the world. The Technique is a method of relearning how you move your body, to do so in a biomechanically efficient manner. A key feature of the Alexander Technique is body (or kinesthetic) awareness- that is, being able to feel where your body parts are in relation to other body parts during movement. The idea is that you learn to better coordinate your musculoskeletal system, which will help ease pain and stiffness, and increase mobility. The Alexander Technique also aims to reduce the wear and tear effect of gravity, which practitioners call a downward pull, since this can cause misaligned and sometimes detrimental biomechanics.

Pain is often caused by a habitual tightening of the muscles and moving the body ineffectively, especially in the neck and back. By adapting the way their muscles have tightened, people inadvertently accept the resulting stiffness and immobility as normal. The result is that they fall into a repetitive cycle that can reduce flexibility and increase the discomfort. Over time, many people develop patterns of posture and movement (such as slouching) that cause muscle tightness. Chances are the person has no awareness of slouching, even when they look in the mirror, because it is such a habitual pattern that it seems normal to them and they may not understand how to recreate good posture. However, the Alexander Technique does not call for having the person simply stand up straight in order to alleviate slouching. If they go to the opposite extreme and pull their shoulders back to alleviate the pressure of the slump, they are just rearranging the tension in their body and creating another form of tension.

One of the key principles of the Alexander Technique is that the head controls the body's alignment and movement. The head weighs 10-12 pounds, and how its weight is managed has huge implications for the rest of the body. Most people do not allow their head to balance efficiently on top of their bodies. But not holding it properly can contribute to misalignment and pain all the way down to the feet.

Usually 10-15 lessons are needed for people to learn the Alexander Technique, although you may need more depending on your goals and physical condition. In a session, the teacher will gently help you learn to guide your head into a different relation to your neck and torso. Ideally, you should learn how to achieve this on your own. A teacher can also educate you in important skills in order to fully benefit from the Alexander Technique and go about your daily activities with less physical effort and less tension. You will be taught how to briefly pause, consciously check your posture, redirect yourself if needed, and choose a course of action.

While the Alexander Technique can be learned from a book or DVD, working with a certified teacher will deepen the experience. The American Society for the Alexander Technique (www.amsaton-line.org) has a register of local teachers. Unfortunately, most insurances do not cover the costs of this method, and costs vary depending on where you live.

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Nora DeVoe is a Gerontologist specializing in Eldercare and Caregiver issues. She may be reached at (716) 667-7299.  
 
 
 




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