The Alexander Technique is an alternative therapy that teaches awareness of your body and how you move. The theory is that we develop habitual movement patterns that damage are health such as hunching or slouching whilst sitting which compresses the organs and constricts breathing. The technique does not teach posture as such. Instead it gives you and understanding of how your body works and feels like when it is correctly balance. Once the principles are learned it is possible to apply them to any situation.
As with many alternative therapies web sites, Alexander Technique practitioners list numerous issues that they can help which commonly dyslexia and ADHD. So with my history of dyslexia and poor posture from a lifetime working with computers I decided to give it a try. I found a local teacher, Ann Kestenbaum and started attending once a week. Each session lasts about 40 minutes with the first twenty minutes spent with me standing, sitting and moving under Ann’s guidance. The second part involves lying on a massage table whilst Ann’s moved my head, neck and limbs. Alexander Technique is a therapy which involve active participation by the patient. Even when lying on the table you are required to pay attention to how your body feels. Despite this active involvement it is a very calming and relaxing process.
Does it work? That depends on you objectives. It won’t cure dyslexia or ADHD (something no self-respecting practitioner would claim) but it can make you feel better and help deal with some of the symptoms. I kept up with the treatment for over a year (which at £140 per 6 sessions is not cheap) so I obviously felt I was benefitting. I am more aware of my posture, less tense and generally move better. Other people have commented on this without prompting so the change isn’t purely internal.
How it works is more debatable. Firstly any treatment has a good chance of generating the placebo effect. This is not a criticism of the method. If something makes you feel better, even if its a placebo, you are still gaining benefits from it. A second possible explanation is that it helps with primitive reflexes. These are patterns of movements that are seen in infants but in normal children they disappear over the first two years of life. There is a lot evidence that in dyslexic and ADHD children these reflexes are retained. A lot of Alexander Technique focus on the neck which is also the site of two important primitive reflexes: Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex and the Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex .
Thirdly the Alexander Technique may improve the cerebellum, an area of the brain that has been linked with dyslexia and ADD, especially by Dore Centres / DDAT. The main role of the cerebellum is coordination of thoughts and actions, something which is often poor in children with learning difficulties. Through the Alexander Technique you learn to move your body in a controlled manner which requires you to learn a level of mental discipline. It should not be forgotten that the body is a very complex organism that is sending many different pieces of information to the brain: How hot am I? Where are my legs? What can my fingers feel? Do I need to go to the toilet? With all this information rushing into the brain, swamping the under-developed cerebellum, its conceivable that as a coping strategy the brain just ignores it. This could give rise to the clumsiness and inattentive behavior as the child is ignoring the signals the body sends it. With the Alexander Technique, it possible to become aware of the bodies signals in a controlled manner.
The scientific research on the benefits of the Alexander Technique on learning difficulties is very, very, sparse. Some studies have been made looking at how it might help a range of areas from parkinson’s disease to improving musical performance the results of which were equivocal so no firm conclusion can be drawn from them.
The bottom line is that I would not generally recommend Alexander Technique as a treatment for dyslexia or ADHD because I think approaches undertaken by INPP or DDAT are more effective though you are more likely to find an Alexander Technique practitioner near you. I would strong recommend the technique to older teenagers or adults who have already made good progress with DDAT or similar. Habits of movement developed because of dyslexia need to broken and new habits learnt once the underlying cause of the problem has been dealt with.
The Alexander Technique International website has a list of practitioners all over the world. The Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique has listings of teachers in the UK and beyond. American Society for the Alexander Technique has listings for the US and elsewhere.
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