Car with drived hunched over

It's a bit like driving a car. If you drive it into the ground with high revs, excessive braking, in a stressed and tight manner and don't look after it or service it, it will give you poor performance, it will be unreliable and forever into the garage for repair work and it will not last long.

Car with driver sitting up straight

If, on the other hand, you learn to drive it smoothly and efficiently, in a relaxed and alert manner and you look after it and service it, it will give you little trouble, will be a pleasure to drive and will last you a long time.

Alexander's phrase for this concept was 'Use Affects Function', ie how we 'use' our body in everyday life affects how it functions now and for the rest of our life. Thankfully, with his Technique we can change how we 'use' our body for the better in the short-term and therefore in the long-term.

Car drawings by R Armstrong

What is the Alexander Technique?

Alexander Technique looks at the root cause or contributory cause of many back, neck, joint or stress problems, ie the unconscious habitual 'misuse' of the body in our everyday life, which unfortunately is part of our Western culture. Over months and years this 'misuse' sets up and embeds in our musculo-skeletal structure stresses and strains which may eventually lead to a bad back, neck or joint and/or mental or emotional stress. Once this happens, the likelihood is that the body will become ever weaker and more prone to damage.

With the help of an Alexander Technique teacher, this bleak state of affairs can be reversed and the pupil/student can both 'unlearn' the habitual misuse and 're-learn' the original balanced and effortless good use of the body with which we were all born (we can see this 'birthright' of poise and mobility in any young child).

This reversal is achieved in accordance with individual needs via the teacher's verbal and 'hands-on' guidance and by the student's active participation in the learning process. Thus the techniques can gradually become 'second nature' and can therefore be carried into the normal working and playing day for the rest of the student's life.

It is of course always up to the individual student, but generally the body can become gradually stronger again and more resistant to strain. As freer mobility and balance usually return, so improved performance of any task is a natural consequence. At the same time, mental alertness and a greater sense of wellbeing can be a pleasant bonus.

Is it effective?


Recent clinical trials by Portsmouth and Bristol Universities looked at the effectiveness of the Alexander Technique and were published in the British Medical Journal(BMJ 2008;337:a884). The research covered 579 patients with chronic or recurrent low back pain in England, and looked into the comparative long-term effectiveness of a number of back-pain treatments over a timespan of 12 months.

Treatments tested were:

  • normal NHS care (painkillers, physiotherapy, etc)
  • massage
  • Alexander Technique
  • prescription for exercise from a doctor with nurse delivered behavioural counselling.

According to the results published in the BMJ and widely reported in the news, the group who had undertaken Alexander Technique sessions was by far the most successful group in terms of eliminating/extensively reducing their back pain and had by far the the best record for KEEPING the pain at bay once sessions had finished. They concluded:

"One to one lessons in the Alexander technique from registered teachers have long term benefits for patients with chronic back pain...and quality of life improved significantly."

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Gail Barlow AIL DipM MSTAT 01748 884450

Teacher of the Alexander Technique in Northallerton