Scientific understanding of the Alexander Technique (AT) increases year on year. Here I’ve created a snapshot of the most important scientific studies to date. In addition, I’ve included some of my own publications on AT and science in the final section.
You can click on a link below to access the relevant section.
AT Health Benefits
In 2008, the NHS and the UK’s Medical Research Council spent over three quarters of a million pounds on a groundbreaking study which concluded that one-to-one lessons in AT had ‘long term benefits for patients with chronic back pain’.
In the study, 579 patients with chronic back pain were randomly assigned four different treatments. These comprised normal GP care (control group), massage and six or 24 AT lessons with a qualified teacher. Below illustrates one of the main findings:
As can be seen, the patients who were assigned AT lessons started from a place of experiencing pain every day. But after 12 months, those who took 6 AT lessons had reduced their pain levels down to 11 in 28 days (about one day in every three); and those who took 24 AT lessons had reduced their pain levels down to only 3 in 28 days (less than once a week). This was a significantly better result than those patients who were assigned massage or normal GP care.
The research was published in the British Medical Journal and a video about the study was also made at the time.
The above research was a Randomised Control Trial (RCT), considered the gold standard for clinical research. There have also been two other RCTs investigating AT. One study found that AT lessons led to ‘significant reductions in neck pain and associated disability compared with usual care’ and the other study found that AT lessons likely lead to ‘sustained benefit for people with Parkinson’s disease‘.
How AT works
Recent years have seen scientists look into the ‘black box’ of the Alexander Technique (AT) to try and understand how it achieves its effects.
Although most people probably think of posture as the position that someone holds themselves in, scientists now know that postural support is complex and regulated by a number of different processes. These processes include the alignment of body segments, the distribution of muscle tone through the body, the opposition to external forces such as gravity, the adaptivity of muscle tone and how muscles group together to act as one.
Studies have now shown that AT improves two key postural support processes. Namely:
- the adaptivity of postural tone (reduced stiffening);
- the resistive ‘matching’ of external forces such as gravity.
AT is also known to create smoother movement and improve balance, and one hypothesis is that it is the above improvements to postural support that are responsible; i.e.:
Below is a short video demonstrating changed movement patterns following Alexander Technique lessons:
But how does AT actually influence postural support processes? It seems likely that the skills developed in AT lessons alter the brain’s representation of the body’s configuration in 3D space, known as the ‘body schema’.
Although experiments into AT and body schema are yet to be conducted, below is one simplified proposal for how certain scientific processes relevant to the Alexander Technique are likely be organized:
For a discussion of the science of the Alexander Technique and links to the latest research papers visit alexandertechniquescience.com.
My AT Publications
Over the last decade I’ve published a number of papers and chapters on scientific aspects of the Alexander Technique. I was one of the first to suggest links between the Alexander Technique and concepts such as body schema, hemispheric differences in attention and affordances. Three of my publications on the Alexander Technique are available for download below.