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‘I am like a physiotherapist in that I use my hands on my clients’ muscles and joints; the difference is that a physio’s main focus is therapeutic, whereas mine is educational.’

 

- Jenny Skinner, Alexander Technique teacher, Exeter

Exeter Physiotherapy and Alexander Technique

Pictured above: Castle Street - where my workplace is located, one of the rooms at The Practice Rooms, and me 

When people ask me what I do for a living I always pause briefly to assess how much they want to know, as I have one of those jobs that is hard to sum up in a nutshell.

 

Over the years I’ve described what I do in many different ways and since coming to Exeter I’ve settled on using the statement at the top of this page to tell people about my work in terms that are easy to grasp.

 

I identify closely with practical techniques like physiotherapy and osteopathy. If I begin with mentioning ‘Alexander Technique’ people generally have no idea what that means and run the risk of assuming it’s a ‘complementary therapy’, when in fact:

 

‘The Alexander Technique is a well established method of teaching people to (among other things) return their general level of muscle tone (which is invariably selectively increased in certain disorders) towards a more normal level.

 

'It is not an alternative technique (based on a non-conventional view of human physiology such as those of acupuncture or homeopathy) but is entirely consistent with orthodox medical and physiological theory and practice. It has been taught in this country for over 100 years and claims for Alexander lessons have been paid by major medical insurance companies, such as B.U.P.A. for over 50 years.’

 

- Dr Miriam Wohl, GP specialising in making functional assessments of
 people who have applied for Disability Living Allowance

 

Here are some rough guidelines:

 

If you have an acute injury or issue – see a physiotherapist

If you have a chronic injury or issue – see an Alexander teacher

 

If you have a serious medical problem – see a physiotherapist

If you have something doctors find harder to explain or treat – see an Alexander teacher

How to choose which expert to use:

 

 

Physiotherapists are trained professionals who help their injured patients get back to the highest possible range of movement. You may need help from a physiotherapist in the following situations:

– You are injured

– You live with chronic pain

– During and after pregnancy

– Post-operatively

– To prevent chest complications *

– To prevent thrombosis *

– To prevent pressure sores *

– To prevent muscle wasting and joint mobility

– You have a chronic condition or neurological disease

– You decide to start exercising or take up a new sport

 

* In these cases a physio should definitely be consulted rather than an Alexander teacher. In many other cases both should be consulted and in some cases an Alexander teacher is best.

 

Make sure you only see a ‘registered’ physiotherapist.

 

Having access to a physiotherapist is one of the best ways to speed up your recovery and get your body back to normal. It isn’t an easy road - it can be painful and hard work.

 

Physiotherapists have a vast amount of practical knowledge and are much better known than Alexander teachers as they are usually available through the NHS. 

Based In Exeter? How to know if you need an Exeter physio

When do you need an Alexander Technique teacher?

Alexander teachers are trained professionals who help their clients get back to the highest possible efficiency of muscular ‘use’. You may need the help of a teacher in the following situations:

 

– You are injured *

– You live with chronic pain

– During and after pregnancy

– Post-operatively *

– To prevent muscle wasting and joint mobility *

– You have a chronic condition or neurological disease *

 

* Alexander teachers are not usually medically trained and will not have specialist knowledge of injuries and conditions; however, the doctors and physios will not have the skills needed to help a person regain balance and efficient ‘use’ in the long term.

 

Typically, following an accident or illness resulting in a stay in hospital, a person will have a course of physiotherapy and THEN continue with Alexander lessons. Alexander lessons are not usually available free of charge, unless they have been recommended by a consultant as part of a treatment plan and are covered by medical insurance.

 

Alexander teachers are the only people capable of fundamentally re-training the brain to ensure maximum, automatic efficiency of muscular ‘use’. However, they are NOT usually available through the NHS.

 

Make sure you only see a ‘qualified’ teacher.

Like me, perhaps  :)

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‘Physiotherapy is a specialist branch of medicine that helps remediate impairments in movement, and promote patients' quality of life through physical intervention to improve mobility and function.’

 

- The Complete University Guide

 

Alexander Technique can be described in exactly the same way except that it is not currently recognised as a ‘branch of medicine’. However, when Mr Alexander had his practice in Harley Street, London, his scientific approach to remediating impairments was held in highest regard by the medical and scientific community of the day:

 

‘We are convinced that Alexander is justified in contending that "an unsatisfactory manner of use, by interfering with general functioning, constitutes a predisposing cause of disorder and disease," and that diagnosis of a patient's troubles must remain incomplete unless the medical man when making the diagnosis takes into consideration the influence of use upon functioning.’

 

- Extract from a letter signed by nineteen medical men and published in the British Medical Journal on May 29, 1937

 

Whether you need physiotherapy, or Alexander Technique, or a combination of both, depends entirely on each individual case.

 

I suppose a rule of thumb might be: If it’s acute see a physio; if it’s chronic see an Alexander teacher. If it’s ‘medical’ see a physio; if it’s postural see an Alexander teacher.

 

If it’s something recognisable that a physio normally treats – go ahead; if it’s not, see an Alexander teacher. If in doubt, see an Alexander teacher because hopefully they will be honest, like me, and only work with you if it’s appropriate.

Do You Need Physiotherapy or The Alexander Technique?

When professionals disagree

 

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Unfortunately I have sometimes encountered exercises prescribed by physiotherapists that I have profoundly disagreed with, usually concerning the muscles of the neck.

 

I once had a client who had been training in the Alexander Technique for over a year and was doing very well. While away on holiday she hurt herself and the physio she saw recommended that she lie on a table on her back with her head sticking over the edge, and drop her head backwards.

 

This gave her a mild whiplash injury which set her back many months – an outcome that would have been obvious to a good Alexander teacher.

 

This was an example of a physiotherapist making a mistake which harmed the client – something which is pretty unlikely with Alexander Technique, as it is so gentle and non-intrusive, but which is all too possible with any manipulative therapy.

 

I once had a friend who showed me the exercises for his neck that he had been prescribed by his physio. My friend already had huge amounts of habitual tension in his neck which caused headaches and Temporomandibular Joint problems.

 

Unfortunately the exercises increased the pressure and tension, whereas Alexander lessons would have focused on reducing it. This was an occasion where physiotherapy was definitely NOT the solution.

 

I once knew a young man who had brain damage following a severe road traffic accident. He had spastic rigidity in one arm which his physio was working on using exercises and weights etc. One half-hour Alexander lesson immediately returned his arm to normal tone whereas the physiotherapy had failed to do so over the course of a whole year.

 

This is because the physio was using brute force and determination, whereas the Alexander Technique was simply reprogramming the brain to find new neural pathways. This was an occasion where a combination of physiotherapy and Alexander Technique would have been the solution.

 

I know a carpenter who has to go to see his physio on a regular basis. From my point of view, the physio will never make him better because the problems come from the man’s habits of use, i.e. he rounds his back, stiffens his neck, retracts his head and fixes his ribcage all the time, without realising.

 

The physio clearly makes him feel better at the time but there’s no possible way he will make any long-term progress. In this case, Alexander lessons would be the solution.

Training To Become An Alexander Technique Teacher

 

Training to teach the Alexander Technique takes 3 years on a full-time course, which includes studying anatomy, physiology, and the correct use of elderly exercise equipment, but mainly involves learning a highly specialised use of the hands.

 

For courses, see the following links:

http://www.alexander-technique-college.com

http://www.constructiveteachingcentre.com

 

For an in-depth description of the analysis of the specialised use of the hands in Alexander training, see the links to this MA thesis:

http://thealexandertechnique.net/advice/nicholls.pdf

http://www.carolynnicholls.com/analysis-of-the-specialised-use-of-the-hands-in-alexander-technique-teaching/

As an Alexander Technique teacher, when I place my hands on a client, rather than sensing pain and trauma that might then be fixed, I sense the entire muscular system and the conscious effort the brain is making to control the individual muscles.

 

This skill, which takes years to learn and a lifetime to master, is akin to the skill needed by a top horseman. To the untrained eye, the way a rider gets a horse to perform complex dressage manoeuvres or to jump huge fences might seem mysterious, when in fact it is mostly a matter of muscular control.

 

The rider can sense everything the horse is doing through their ‘seat’ and the reigns, and can influence the horse by subtly communicating through changes in their own muscular activity.

 

The way I work is very similar. Through my hands I am able to feel the patterns of tension throughout a person’s muscular system and I am able to influence their brain to make the necessary adjustments in tone which will bring about a more efficient distribution of effort.

In Summary

 

Physiotherapy tends to focus on strengthening groups of muscles which are deemed to be weak with the intent of returning balance to an area of the body. Sometimes this is really important, and sometimes it is a crude approach.

 

The focus on strengthening muscles can create pressure, tension and increased effort in the body, whereas Alexander Technique focuses on an infinitely more subtle but thorough re-education of the brain controlling those muscles, with a result which is natural, comfortable, permanent and probably more effective in the long term.

 

I will always refer clients to a doctor, an osteopath or a physiotherapist when I think they are more appropriate than Alexander lessons. However, it is quite common for referral not to work in the opposite direction, i.e. often a client will be seeing a physio on a long-term basis, where Alexander lessons would be much more effective.

 

The Alexander Technique is not well known, partly because it’s an expensive option, and partly because human nature means that people favour a ‘quick fix’ as opposed to something which they have to make an effort to collaborate in.

 

For more information, please take a look around my website, in particular my page about the Alexander Technique in Exeter and also my blog.

 

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BA (Hons) 
MSTAT 
DBS checked

Where To Find Me:

The Practice Rooms

15-16 Castle Street

Exeter

EX4 3PT

Click here to view my profile on the TPR website