Medical Program for Performing Arts: Washington University Orthopedics
“What is the Alexander Technique?”
Recreational and professional dancers, musicians, actors, artists or singers rely on correct body alignment and near perfect body mechanics. When an injury occurs, the treatment goals for performing artists are to return to performance quickly and at full function, as well as to reduce their risk for future harm.
Common injuries sustained by performing artists include pain in the neck, back, sacroiliac joint, hip and knee. Dancers are especially at risk for foot and ankle injuries. Musicians are prone to upper extremity problems including the neck, shoulder, elbow and wrist. Strained muscles can result in tendonitis or bursitis, and overuse injuries are ubiquitous.
There are many options for treatment of the performing artist ranging from conventional to alternative treatments. One technique that can be very helpful is the Alexander Technique. The underlying theory of Alexander Technique is the “fundamental unity” of the person with the mind and body functioning together as a whole. F.M. Alexander developed this technique while trying to address his own problems as a performing artist. He discovered that he couldn’t just “fix” one part of himself because changing any one part affected the whole. He also discovered he couldn’t treat physical problems as only physical because his thoughts and ideas were also integral to how he moved his body. Skilled movement doesn’t happen except by intentional neural control from the mind. Alexander realized that to effectively address any “physical” problem he had to consciously re-pattern his intentions to direct better action. Once he accomplished this re-education of his general coordination, partial problems (including some he wasn’t even aware of) corrected themselves.
The Alexander Technique works by studying individually with an Alexander teacher. An Alexander teacher has undergone a minimum three years in the same process of re-education and change that they teach their students. A teacher uses hands-on guidance and begins with simple ordinary movements, like sitting, standing, or walking in order for the student to experience improved coordination in movement. Over time, the student becomes familiar with the new sensation of moving well and learns to employ it at all times, no matter what activity they are doing.
The Alexander Technique is practical for improving performance, everyday activities and addressing pain. It is a method of daily-living practice for performance enhancement and for “being more effectively”.
Exerts taken from “The Alexander Primer” by David Marchant, M.AmSAT