The Alexander Technique and Mental Health by Bridget Malcolm

It’s about Control, Choice, Change and Consent
ApplicationMany people are aware of the value of the Alexander Technique in helping sufferers with back and posture problems, muscle aches and pains, headaches and stress. It is also used by musicians, actors and by sportsmen and women to help with performance and has proved invaluable for women in pregnancy and childbirth.

Not so much is written about the benefits of this wonderful technique in the field of mental health.

In an Alexander lesson or class, students are taught to become aware of how they undertake daily activities such as standing, sitting or walking and to notice where they are holding unnecessary tension. By learning to pause and then become aware of their unhelpful holding patterns, students can then be taught how to release and let them go simply by changing the way they think. The Alexander Technique is not a therapy which is done to people, rather a self-help tool which students are taught to apply for themselves. Thus students are taught to engage fully in the process of learning, to take responsibility, exercise choice and give or withhold consent for the teacher to work with them i.e. they learn new skills about how to take more care of themselves and make their own decisions about the pace at which they wish to learn.

Underpinning the Alexander Technique is the concept of psycho-physical unity i.e. that mind, body, emotions – and some would say “spirit” – are all integrally linked. Thus when people “let go” of unwanted tension in their muscles they may also let go of the emotions trapped in them. Whilst not a therapy as such, people often feel a sense of well-being and relaxation following an Alexander lesson as well as being able to move more freely. Thus the Alexander Technique can, and does, have a therapeutic, and in some cases, cathartic, effect.

Since the Alexander Technique teaches people to be more “present” and “in the moment”, it helps them to become aware, not just of how they habitually use their bodies, but of the behavioural habits they use to respond to the day-to-day stimuli of life. Students then have the choice whether or not they wish to change these habits, and to think about things in a different way, thus giving them a greater feeling of control over their lives. Additionally, by learning to be more “present” in themselves, students learn to become gradually more self-accepting whilst admitting of the possibilities of change – if they so choose.

As an Alexander teacher, I use gentle hands-on guidance, verbal explanation and feedback to help people find greater ease, freedom, control and choice in their everyday lives. By enabling students to connect more to, and take ownership, in an holistic way of their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual selves, the Alexander Technique enables people to be truly free.

Bridget Malcolm works at the Oxford Practice in Malmesbury.