I am neither convinced that our scientific methods are all-mighty (we’re only humans, with limited cognitive and perceptive abilities, so…) nor am I a believer in “supernatural” forces. I believe in the scientific consensus, with an awareness that even scientists bring their unconscious bias and sometimes stubborn ambitions to work, which makes for suboptimal science.
Retired British-German academic physician and researcher specialising in the study of complementary and alternative medicine Edzard Ernst put it nicely: some alternative therapy forms have an actual positive health effect, even if we do not fully understand how yet, some are straight up dangerous, and others are somewhere in-between.
When I first heard of the Alexander Technique (AT), I didn’t get any hint that there was a debate amongst practitioners about whether the AT was a therapeutic method or not, and if we could legitimately market ourselves as “therapists” of some sorts. Up until recently I would be very sceptical about any such claims. As a matter of fact, I am still having a negative reaction every time I read “alternative therapy” in relation to the AT due to the charlatanism that is so commonplace in “alternative medicine”.
My current understanding of the technique is that it cannot be described as a form of “therapy” since it is not meant to “treat” nor “heal” anything. I do understand why many, individuals as well as some governments, do speak of therapy when they talk about the Alexander Technique though:
First, most people coming to AT teachers (or, well, “Alexander therapists”) do so because of chronic pain that medical doctors could not alleviate. And in many cases, those seeking help do get better when learning the technique.
Hell, I also was convinced that the AT was extremely valuable because of how it almost immediately improved some joint situation that I had been having for many years and which had prevented me from walking pain-free during a couple of years. Medical specialists had been utterly unhelpful (and infuriatingly patronising) in that case, and I knew I needed a more “holistic” approach to my problem, or rather problems. Conventional medicine only had resignation and orthopaedic aids to offer. So, when I unblocked my chronically sore joint unintentionally during my very first (!) Alexander Technique lesson, and when it started to further come back into a healthier shape after a month of teacher training (several hours, 4 days a week), I was personally convinced of its therapeutic effects. Indirect therapeutic effects, mind you, but therapeutic, nonetheless.
Now, for me, the Alexander Technique is a self-exploration and re-education technique at this point. An embodied learning method. Many teachers I know would deny that what they do is a form of therapy. Meanwhile I know some who do, and their perspective seems worth exploring.
One of these “Alexander Technique Therapist” is Mario Schenker and I straight up asked him about it. Mario explained that the AT was considered a “complementary therapy” in Switzerland and hence part of the complementary offerings of the public health system there. Frederick Matthias Alexander discovered the principles that underlay his technique and documented his discoveries in various books and their reeditions between 1910 and 1946. Back then, he both distanced himself from calling his work a form of therapy, and claimed to treat various illnesses, with a great support from the medical community in London at the time. For the record, the Alexander Technique is well known in the United Kingdom and some outpatient pain clinics offer such lessons directly as part of the official NHS service.
So, what do I make out of all this?
The Alexander Technique has well-documented indirect therapeutic effects in case of long-term back and neck pain, it can help carry out everyday tasks and feel better for Parkinson’s disease patients. It certainly helps recovering a healthier pattern of movement and stillness, without stiffness. It is extremely subtle and yet astonishingly powerful.
I am happy for those whose contribution to pain-free and easier living are recognised by some public health systems.
I am also fine with focussing on the self-exploratory and re-education part of this technique for now. Now being in the second month of my 3 year-long professional training, I will keep you posted…
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