This post is prompted by the students I have had recently who have experienced significant medical problems. They come to me in pain, and want to know if the Alexander Technique can cure them. I have even been asked if the Technique could help fix a prolapsed disc (like a slipped disc, but worse) without surgery. So… Can the Alexander Technique cure medical problems?
I can almost hear the intake of breath. Yes, the Alexander Technique is fantastic, and any teacher you ask will tell you stories of students who have begun lessons in significant pain and discomfort who experienced dramatic improvement. But the Alexander Technique is not medicine, and does not cure structural conditions. The Alexander Technique deals with functional matters – what FM Alexander called our manner of use – the stuff we do to ourselves that limits us.
The difference between structure and function.
One of the most striking examples of the difference between a structural condition and functioning was FM’s brother, AR Alexander. He suffered severe back injuries in a horse riding accident, so severe that doctors initially believed he would not walk again. He initially walked with two canes, but later with just one. A contemporary described his walk:
When I knew him … he could walk, with a curious swaying motion, for a considerable distance, his trunk very upright and his legs swinging smoothly from the hips. *
Clearly AR had suffered a major structural problem. Yet he not only was able to walk but did it so well that he was accosted by at least one passer-by who was struck by the way he moved.
[A passer-by] stopped in front of him one day and said, “Sir, I’ve watched you for a long time and I wish I knew what you have that other peole don’t have.” “I’ll warrant you do,” said AR laconically, and swinging up onto his cane he [walked away]. **
This is the difference between structure and function in a nutshell. AR’s structure was compromised. But he was able to use the compromised structure that he had very well indeed. As a result of the time he spent working with the Alexander Technique, functionally AR’s movement was so free and easy that it invited wonderment.
If you are reading this and you are suffering from pain or discomfort, I bet you have one question for me right now:
So how do we know if a problem is structural or not?
This is why I recommend that students seek advice from primary healthcare. If your back is painful, you really should get it checked by a doctor. Yes, I know this is obvious, but so often people don’t take this step!
However, even if there is a structural problem, an Alexander Technique teacher may be able to help you to deal with your reaction to the problem or injury. So often in order to avoid discomfort, we subtly alter our movement to ‘accommodate’ the injury we have. And these accommodations may actually do us more harm than good.
So can the Alexander Technique fix my friend’s prolapsed disc? No! But I can help them use their body more easily and efficiently within the bounds of that structural problem. And moving better may even aid their recovery, making it faster and less painful. And that, surely, must be worthwhile in anyone’s book.
* Frank Pierce Jones, Freedom to Change, p. 69.
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