Alexander Technique review cover image of Chris lying on the ground as instructed by his teacher.
Chris doing his intense Alexander Technique homework.

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In this Alexander Technique review, Chris shares his definition of it, the five most interesting things he learned from ten sessions, and his opinion on whether it has the potential fix the way all us normal people move.

If It Works For Famous People…

This idea was featured in our Unconventional Monthly, which shares one new curiousity-inducing, outside-the-box idea every month.

Don’t feel out of the loop if you’re unfamiliar with the Alexander Technique.

But do feel out of the loop if you don’t know who Madonna, Paul McCartney, Judi Dench, Hugh Jackman, and Hilary Swank are.

They’re among many actors, dancers, and musicians who’ve used the Alexander Technique to improve their posture and the way they move to avoid pain from repetitive stress and boost their performance.

But what about us non-performers?

Does the Alexander Technique have the potential to go mainstream and help us avoid pain and improve performance too?

Out of curiosity, and because my Alexander Technique-teaching friend, Charlotte, offered me a good deal, I gave it a try.

Here’s my review of my Alexander Technique sessions, what I learned, and what I think of it now.

The creator of the Alexander Technique, Frederick Matthias Alexander
What is Frederick Matthias Alexander smirking about?

The Alexander Technique in Brief

Educational Video

This wacky video appears near the very top of the search results for “Alexander Technique” on YouTube.

Featuring semi-famous actor William Hurt as he learns the ins and outs of Alexander Technique, it’s well-meaning, but impossible to take seriously (especially if you read the comments below the video).

It encapsulates the Alexander Technique: well-meaning and potentially life-improving, but with painfully bad marketing.

A (Very Unauthorized) Definition

Since the Alexander Technique’s marketing department hasn’t managed to come up with a mainstream explanation of what it’s all about, I came up with my own:

The Alexander Technique is a way of learning mindfulness for the body. (Body-fulness?)

Just as mindfulness does for our thoughts, The Alexander Technique helps our bodies find the simplest, least stressful ways to deal with life’s obstacles.

Wikipedia Recap

Here’s my best attempt to briefly recap the Alexander Technique’s Wikipedia page:

The Alexander Technique helps you retrain bad habits in posture so that you can move efficiently and pain-free in the way our bodies were designed to.

Frederick Matthias Alexander (1869–1955) invented it to fix his own issues of voice loss while reciting Shakespeare in theatre.

Classes are most commonly taught privately in 30 to 60 minute sessions. They involve sitting, squatting, walking, and lying under the guidance and supervision of a qualified teacher.

These days, it’s popular among stage performers, musicians, and dancers. They apply the technique to improve their performance and reduce the incidence of repetitive stress injuries.

Minimal scientific evidence backs the technique, but the few studies that exist are somewhat promising. They found it may help reduce long-term back and neck pain and be beneficial to people suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

Alexander Technique Review:
5 Things I Learned

1. Unlearn

Of the ten Alexander Technique sessions I did, half were led by my friend Charlotte’s teacher. (Or guru?)

I’ll call this teacher Yoda, because she too is tiny, dresses frumpily, and speaks in difficult-to-understand turns of phrases like:

“You must unlearn what you have learned.”

Yoda (both the Star Wars version and my Alexander Technique “guru.”)

Unlearning, as I eventually untangled from Yoda’s roundabout way of explaining things, is what the Alexander Technique is all about.

It helps us unlearn the bad postural habits that a life in desks, car seats, and couches has forced us into and get back to positions we’re designed to move in.

For people like me who spent too much time on their couches watching TV, and writing blog posts (like this one!) on their computers, that’s a lot of unlearning to do.

Me sitting at desk with bad posture
Someone needs to remind me to think of the space above me.

2. Fill Up Space

This little trick, or cue, that Charlotte would often throw into our sessions is so easy you can try it at home right now:

Without looking up, think about all the empty space between the top of your head and the ceiling above.

What happened?

Did you notice your body straighten* lengthen up a little bit to fill that space?

I sure did whenever Charlotte or Yoda asked me the same question. And I still give myself the same cue from time to time. It helps.

This little trick was one of many they had in their arsenal that started to convince me there was something to this Alexander Technique.

[*”Straighten” is a bad word in the Alexander Technique world because your spine’s natural position is an S shape, not straight.]

Me holding paper with excessive force, as taught by the Alexander Technique.
I’m exerting excessive force on this paper.

3. Be Lazy

Here’s another example of a quick “trick” from my Alexander Technique sessions.

Charlotte told me to hold a piece of paper in front of me. She then asked me how hard I was squeezing the paper on a scale of one to ten.

“Three,” I said.

“Can you hold the paper with a one or two out of ten instead?”

Of course I could.

Why, then, was I squeezing the paper unnecessarily hard? What a waste of energy!

We then spent most of that session chatting about this. What other mundane activities was I was wasting energy on? And how could I save stress throughout the day by being more practically lazy?

Going from a three to a one is a small change, but when you learn to do so for hundreds of movements throughout the day over decades, it can make a big difference.

Assess yourself right now. I bet some part of your body is excessively tense and could be a bit lazier right now.

Chris trying to stack his bones in a handstand, like the Alexander Technique prescribes
I’ll never learn a handstand if I force my muscles to be do-ers instead of be-ers.

4. Be a Be-er Not a Do-er

Imagine a big-shot CEO who tries to respond to every customer call and email. She’ll burn out in no time.

As Charlotte and Yoda explained, our bodies have a similar thing going on.

We have “do-er” muscles (the CEOs) and “be-er” muscles (the assistants). The “do-ers” are supposed to do the heavy lifting while the “be-ers” keep everything in balance.

But when we have poor posture our “do-er” muscles take over the “be-er” muscles’ job. And eventually they flame out. Our sore backs, necks, and shoulders then scream at us, “Enough already!”

To get my “be-er” muscles back in action, Charlotte and Yoda taught me not to think about sitting or standing up straight, but about stacking my bones.

And they taught me how to feel when they’re stacked. My bodyweight feels heavier as it pushes down in the same directions and I gently sway as my “be-er” muscles do their job.

Stool and mirror in Alexander technique studio
This is the classroom where we did our work. I had homework too.

5. Break Habits With Your Mind

After most of my sessions, Charlotte gave me homework.

My most frequent assignment was to lie on my back for ten minutes.

Easy!

Another homework assignment was to periodically freeze where I was standing and ask myself how my bodyweight was distributed between my right and left feet and where my head was positioned relative to my body.

The “right” answers should be 50/50 and right on top. I was rarely “right.”

But physically before correcting myself, Charlotte instructed me to take mental note of my position and what changes I needed to make to get into an ideal one. This way I became more conscious of my habits I needed to unlearn.

Slowly my brain untangled itself to unconsciously put my body in the “right” position more often.

Long Story Short

Final Verdict on The Alexander Technique

As I write this, it’s been six months since my last Alexander Technique session.

By no means am I back to moving perfectly naturally like a young child but, surprisingly, I’m still feeling residual effects.

A couple times a day, I’ll catch myself being imbalanced—slouching on a chair, for example—and will make a mental note of what I’m doing wrong and readjust. And for some movement patterns, like how I get down to pick stuff off the ground, I seem to have unlearned my bad habits.

I’m improving!

With some better marketing (including some YouTube videos filmed later than 1995) and a more mainstream approach, the Alexander technique has the potential to help a lot more people than the actors and musicians who make the most use of it now.

I wouldn’t pay full price for a private teacher but if some entrepreneurial modern Alexander Technique “guru” were to make the “body-fulness” equivalent of mindfulness apps like Calm or Headspace, I’d get back into it for sure.

Update: Alexander Technique Teachers Review My Review

Someone shared my Alexander Technique review in an active Facebook group of professional Alexander technicians.

Their comments and feedback is worth noting for anyone who’s wondering about signing up for some sessions:

  • It’s not just about the body. The mind and body are intertwined, so the technique works on awareness, feelings, habits, and poise of the whole self, not just the physical self.
  • Posture is the wrong word. Rather than posture, the Alexander Technique emphasizes poise.
  • Touchy-feely. Alexander Technique sessions are hands-on experiences, which is something I admittedly didn’t touch on enough. They say this makes an app unfeasible.
  • Admirable reactions. Instead of responding with internet equivalent of road rage, like most people do these days, they were unanimously grateful for my feedback and sought improvement opportunities within it.

What Do You Think?

Share your own review of the Alexander Technique or questions about it with me, Kim, and fellow readers in the comments.

Chris looking sad at empty plate
During my 3-day fast I didn’t just stare forlornly at an empty plate the whole time.

More Regular Joe Reviews

If you found my Alexander Technique review interesting, check out these:

7 comments

  1. Thanks, this is a helpful and realistic assessment of your experience, albeit incomplete. But why wouldn’t you pay full price for the expert guidance and support you received in just 10 short lessons? How could you get that from an app? You didn’t mention anything about your teacher’s touch or hands-on guidance, and for a body-based method you don’t describe much about your sensual experience. You make it sound all mental. I’d love to hear more about how practicing the AT has affected your life.

    1. This comment took the words out of my mouth! I enjoyed reading about your experience with the technique, which you put so nicely into words. As a certified AT teacher, I find it very exciting to hear about other people open up to this wonderful thing and even share it with the world. That is great! But then you end up with the app thing, which totally misses out on the real deal. You can’t do it by yourself! Even experienced teachers are better off getting some outside view by other teachers. We too have to remind ourselves to unlearn what we know already… Otherwise we get stuck in the same thing over and over again. Who wants to do that? “Forever changing” we call it in our school. Also, if I may, the use of the word “posture” is also a miss, for posture is a shape- a position, and that could be many things. In our school we use the term “poise” which refers to the condition that comes from a clear choice and direction of the mind that translates into the body. This is something we can improve and work on with the assistant of a good teacher. For me AT is not about posture but about poise. It is a mindfulness approach to managing yourself in a more organic and natural way. Like nature intended. Marketing the technique as something that helps you to “correct your posture” is not doing justice to the work, which is a more holistic and life changing then anything else. It’s freaking amazing! And we have F.M Alexander to thank for that. Genius! Thank you for sharing and best of luck in everything. And remember: ease of being is what it’s all about 🙂

      1. Hey Amy and Matan. Thanks for stopping by The Unconventional Route and sharing your thoughts and expertise.

        One thing I though while reading your comments is how much I admire the way you and the other Technicians (?) comment in such a positive, constructive way. No doubt AT has something to do with that, right?

        When I get the chance in the coming weeks, I’m planning to go through your feedback, plus the many comments on the AT Group Facebook post that I believe brought you guys here, and update my post accordingly.

  2. I’m an alexander teacher and I’m thrilled that you’ve gotten so much out of your sessions. We in the field are extremely aware of the “bad marketing” — this stuff is hard to put into words precisely because it is so experiential, as in: you have to have a session to really get it. I would say after reading this review that a) this is not just a body technique, but includes way more of human experience including your emotional life, habits of mind, how you talk to yourself, awareness of far more than posture. You sell yourself and the technique short by focusing just on the body because b) there is no mind-body split. That is a superficial construct most of us operate in. But artists (and, frankly, people in a lot of pain) like this technique and respond to it because it offers a more whole-person experience, not pieced-out into chunks (my body, my posture, my habits).

    Also, clearly some of us in the field need to address that wikipedia page.

    In the meantime, if you’re a person who insists on science:
    https://annals.org/aim/article-abstract/2467961/alexander-technique-lessons-acupuncture-sessions-persons-chronic-neck-pain-randomized

    https://www.bmj.com/content/337/bmj.a2656

    1. Thanks Kyra! Hmmm, maybe the fact that all of the holistic, mind-body stuff you mention didn’t resonate and stick with regular old me means that either A) I’m a bad student (though I promise I listened intently) B) My teachers weren’t compelling enough on this point (which I can’t imaging, since Charlotte and Marge were FANTASTIC) or C) These concepts might need to be put in more accessible, layperson’s terms (which comes back to marketing). Maybe there’s a D) or E). Either way, it will be a fun challenge for you and the Alexander community to figure out how to get your message across (and to stick) with the masses. And since I do believe in the Technique, I truly hope you succeed!

  3. How awesome! I love your recap and explanation. It represents one way of using the AT very well.

    I am an extraordinary performance coach, and I use the AT (I am a certified teacher, as well as professional performer) to coach the most elite performers in the world. (Cirque du Soleil, Broadway, marathon runners, etc.) What we do is use the principles of peak performance, human design, movement and thought to do the things we most desire.

    Coincidentally. I just started a youtube channel, and since you mentioned it, I welcome you to check it out.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8iRmohrmyKQ&t=26s

    Also: I love the typeface you’re using. Gorgeous- what is it?

    Cheers,
    Kate

    PS I HIGHLY recommend you read Cathy Madden’s “Onstage Synergy” which is the best book out there about actually using the AT for yourself. (Less than the cost of a lesson.;)

    1. Multiple thanks, Kate! I’m going to see if I can’t get my hands on that book (maybe Charlotte has it already), I signed up for your newsletter (sounds like you might have some good ideas for us!), and next week I’ve added it to my to-do list to give your breathing technique a try (and measure if it increases my HRV with my Oura ring.

      The fonts we use (as of this writing, since Kim likes to change things up regularly) are Georgia and Mada.

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