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Research on the Alexander Technique

by Molly Johnson

F.M. Alexander (1869-1955) developed the method of postural and movement re-education we now call the Alexander Technique. Alexander discovered that the way we “use” ourselves has a dramatic impact on our overall functioning.

F.M. Alexander’s important discoveries came about through his attempts to understand and resolve his own difficulties with his voice and breathing. The work of F.M. Alexander first gained popularity in the early 1900’s with actors and people with breathing and vocal difficulties.

Quickly, the usefulness of the Alexander Technique to people with a range of issues was realized by medical doctors. Alexander became aware of relevant research being done at the time by Sherrington on neural conduction and by Magnus on the role of neck tone in posture and movement. He realized that the new understanding of what he termed “use” was supported by even the very first explorations into neuroscience and motor control.

The first research directly related to the Alexander Technique started in the 1950’s by Frank Pierce Jones (1965). Jones was a professor at Tufts University in Boston and an Alexander Teacher who taught himself new research methods in movement science in collaboration with the Tufts Psychology department. Jones performed many studies on the startle reflex and head poise, many using motion capture during the movement from sitting standing.

Since Jones’ pioneering work, research on the Alexander Technique has been increasing. The Alexander Technique has been shown to:

  • Improve respiratory function (Austin & Ausubel, 1992);
  • Improve balance in elderly individuals (Dennis, 1999);
  • Decrease disability from Parkinson’s Disease (Stallibrass, Sissons & Chalmers, 2002; and
  • Have potential for decreasing Repetitive Strain Injury (Shafarman & Geisler, 2006).

Taken together, this research suggests a wide range of issues improved by the Alexander Technique.

One of the most common issues that brings people to the Alexander Technique is back pain. In fact, the most compelling research done on the Alexander Technique shows that it can be very helpful for addressing back pain (Little et al, 2008; Cacciatore, Horak & Henry, 2005) and that Alexander lessons and exercise are a very cost-effective way to address back pain (Hollinghurst et al., 2009).

In addition to clinical research, there is research being done on the mechanisms by which the Alexander Technique decreases pain and disability. In a group of surgeons, Alexander lessons improved posture and surgical ergonomics (Reddy et al., 2011). Research on Alexander Technique practitioners suggests that long-term study of the Alexander Technique improves postural tone and can change how we coordinate basic movements (Cacciatore et al., 2011; Cacciatore, Gurfinkel, Horak & Day, 2011). This area of research continues to grow as the importance of the principles guiding the Alexander Technique becomes better understood.

There are a few Alexander teachers who have received PhD’s in neuroscience, psychology, or a related field who are involved in research related to the Alexander Technique. Please contact me if you are interested in collaborating on research related to the Alexander Technique and I will connect you with potential collaborators.

References are available within theĀ Alexander Technique Research Bibliography.

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