The Alexander technique can be hard to master, but it can offer lasting pain relief

Stand up. Sit down. Walk. These are everyday activities that we do without thinking, but that, according to the principles of the Alexander Technique, is precisely the problem.

I spent an hour with Richard Casebow performing all three actions - sometimes while he held my neck in a gentle grip, either restricting or facilitating proper movement.

Part of the time I merely stood or sat, while he subtly adjusted my position. Yet after just an hour, which also comprised a bit of "table work", I felt taller, spinally aligned, and more relaxed.

Hide Ad

With its emphasis on releasing tension and eliminating strains and stresses, the technique is said to be useful for alleviating conditions such as back and neck pain, stress, breathing disorders and ME. It is also helpful for people who rely on their bodies, to make a living, such as actors and athletes.

The technique shows us how to move more easily, with more conscious awareness.

It does this by focusing attention on our "habitual co-ordinations" - in other words, our proprioception, which is an internal mechanism for judging the effort necessary for moving. By breaking old, bad habits, we leave room for a more natural way of moving to emerge.

First, and vitally, I learned to stand with my feet at 45 degrees rather than parallel to one another.

This created a more stable base and opened up my diaphragm to facilitate breathing. At the same time, I focused my eyes straight ahead rather than looking down (or back at the chair I kept trying to sit upon).

This had the bonus effect of elongating and strengthening my neck. I was also gently instructed to tip my centre of gravity back, so that I wasn't leaning forward all the time.

Hide Ad

When it came to getting in and out of a chair, I was instructed to keep my head straight, eyes forward - this concentrating of the vision and the mind is key - and to move my head along a horizontal plane rather than jerking it around. The technique is very experiential, and makes for baffling reading, which is why it's advisable to try a session to see what it's all about.

One of the most famous fans of the technique was Aldous Huxley, who was virtually bedridden with a host of ailments (fatigue, insomnia and a weak stomach) before he met F Matthias Alexander and became his student.

Hide Ad

For information about a teacher near you, contact The Society of Teachers of Alexander Technique at, Richard Casebow can be reached at Edinburgh Alexander Centre, 86 Causewayside (0131-662 4500, A one-hour introductory lesson is 55, and 30 minute regular lessons are 35. Introductory three-hour group workshops (the next one is 5 February) cost 30. A one hour introductory lesson costs 55

This article was first published in The Scotsman, 8 January, 2011