Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the AT and lessons
The Alexander Technique (A.T.) is a skill for self-development, a way of learning how to change long-standing habits that cause unnecessary tension in everything you do. In lessons, you learn to carry out everyday activities in a new way - one that is freer and easier than you probably ever thought possible.
Why do people come for lessons?
People have lessons for a wide variety of reasons. Amongst the most common are back pain and other joint/muscle pain, RSI, posture, stress and for the enhancement of performance skills.
As well as helping you to do just about anything with greater skill, efficiency and poise (which is why the A.T. is taught in almost all of the most prestigious music, drama and dance schools and is used by many elite athletes), lessons are a remarkably effective way of overcoming poor posture, back pain, neck and other joint pain, balance problems, anxiety and stress, breathing and vocal problems. People also learn the AT to develop ease and elegance in movement and to enhance business and self presentation skills. Women find using the AT helpful during pregnancy and childbirth.
What is the evidence for the effectiveness of the A.T?
The AT was originally developed for the refinement of performance skills. However, from very early on, students reported many other remarkable health benefits and some of these were investigated in small studies with encouraging results. It is only in the last few years that these have been the subject of larger scientific studies.
A large, randomised, controlled trial published in the British Medical Journal found that a course of 24 lessons reduced days of chronic low back pain by an astonishing average of 86% (and just 6 lessons by 50%), and that these results were maintained at a 12 month follow-up. Another major study found that just 14 lessons reduced longstanding chronic neck pain by 31%, sustained at a 7 month follow-up. There are now several published studies for a number of other health conditions.
To the extent that poor habits of posture and movement are a factor in the causation and/or continuation of problems, the AT is likely to prove beneficial.
What happens in lessons?
In a lesson the teacher first finds out if something the person is doing is causing their problem and then teaches them how to stop doing it. The teacher uses gentle hands-on guidance together with verbal explanation to help people to learn to attend to head poise and lengthening of the spine in a way that facilitates healthy postural tone and co-ordination. At the same time, poor habits that adversely affect muscle tone and co-ordination and involve shortening of the spine are identified and brought to the person’s attention. Continual assistance and constructive feedback are given to help the person prevent unwanted self-damaging habit. Lessons are rarely at all physically uncomfortable (most commonly quite the reverse), and no clothes need to be removed.
Lessons are tailored to people’s individual needs and capabilities and applied to daily activities such as moving from sitting to standing, walking, bending, lifting, working at a computer, etc. Part of the lesson may take place with the person lying supine on a table with the head supported, knees bent and feet on the table. The principles of the Alexander Technique are explained and related to the individual’s particular circumstances.
How many lessons will I need?
As with any skill this depends on where you are starting from, where you would like to end up and how quickly you are able to learn. However, as a guide, in a large randomised study just 6 lessons halved days with back pain and 24 lessons reduced them by 86%. On average, people need about 30 lessons to develop sufficient skills to continue to improve further without the assistance of a teacher.
Am I expected to make a commitment to a certain number of lessons?
No, you are always completely free to make your own decision about whether to book another lesson. However, it is important to recognise that lessons are a process of re-education and ought not to be seen as a "quick fix". The effects of lessons usually build one upon the other, and it can take several lessons for symptoms to begin to improve. For this reason, it is generally best if you can allow yourself at least six lessons (preferably close together) before deciding whether you would like to continue.
How frequently should I come for lessons?
When you start lessons, straight away you will be working to overcome the habits of a lifetime. There is a distinct advantage to scheduling lessons closer together for the first few weeks. Twice or even three times a week is a good guide, although many people do well with less. Your teacher can advise.
How long do lessons last?
This can vary between teachers, although 40 minutes is probably about average. Because lessons are quite intense, longer lessons are not usually beneficial for most students.
Are lessons suitable for everybody?
The Alexander Technique involves no specific exercises, requires no special clothing or equipment, can be practised wherever you are and is suitable for people of all ages and levels of fitness.
Are good results guaranteed?
Both learning and applying the AT demand the active participation of students. Learning to change long established habits can be a gradual and challenging process. Good results depend on the interest and ability of individuals to follow the advice received and on their resolve to apply what they have learned to their daily activities. Although teachers do not aim to, nor offer a “cure”, people usually experience valuable health benefits.
Do all teachers teach the same way?
Most teachers teach the same principles and other core material but their approach will vary according to their training, experience, skills, personality and interests, and according to the needs of the individual student.
What do lessons cost?
Charges generally vary according to the experience and overheads of teachers and these can range from about £45 per lesson for a relatively new teacher to over £120 for a very experienced teacher practicing in central London (2023). More experienced teachers are generally (although not inevitably) more skilled and so a higher rate for such a teacher may be well worth paying. Some students may wish to try more than one teacher to determine who is the best fit for them.
Are teachers regulated and insured?
Members of the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique (STAT), which represents the great majority of teachers, have successfully completed a three year training course recognized by the Society, have professional indemnity insurance and an enhanced disclosure DBS (previously CRB) certificate, and are subject to a Code of Professional Conduct. There is an established complaints procedure. In the UK there are about 800 teachers registered by STAT.
Are there risks associated with Alexander Technique lessons?
One of the great advantages of the AT is that it is remarkably safe. As an example of this, in the large randomised controlled trial of AT for low back pain, not one of the 579 participants reported an "adverse event" (negative result), and this is quite typical. Not many effective health interventions can make such a claim!
The risks in AT lessons ought not to be any greater than those associated with simple everyday activities; if anything rather less, because your teacher has been trained to prioritise your safety. However, if you have an illness or a disabilty that significantly increases your risk of falling, it is important that you let your teacher know at your first meeting.
Are AT lessons funded through the NHS or private insurance companies?
NHS departments in different areas and different insurance companies follow different policies. On occasion the NHS may pay for AT lessons. When another large, randomised study on the effectiveness of the AT for back pain is published, it is likely that lessons will be made more generally available on the NHS, especially in pain clinics, but this will probably not be before 2024. Many private medical insurance companies reimburse AT lessons. In addition, a number of major companies provide lessons in the AT for their staff.
Can I learn the Alexander Technique from a book or online?
Almost any person who has errors of co-ordination will not be able to learn the AT from a book or online. This is for two reasons:
Firstly, when our co-ordination goes wrong, we are not actually doing what we think we are doing. Our senses have become unreliable so that the 'wrong' thing has come to feel 'right' and, because of this, the 'right' thing can at first feel quite wrong.
Secondly, most of us attempt to resolve our problems by endeavouring to do what we imagine to be the 'right' thing. Not only may we be mistaken about what is 'right' (see previous paragraph) but, even if not, this approach is exactly the opposite of the method of the AT. In AT lessons, the student learns to become aware of the 'wrong' thing that they are doing so that, by ceasing to do this 'wrong' thing, the 'right' thing is free to happen, spontaneously, and by itself.
Because these two principles are at first so counterintuitive to most people, in practice almost everyone requires skilled individual assistance to learn the AT. I have written more about this here.
What about learning in groups?
Groups can provide a useful introduction to the Technique. However, unless the groups are very small, or taught by several teachers, they are not a substitute for the individual practical attention required to learn the AT. For more on this, see "Can I learn the AT from a book or online?" above.
I'd like to hear more...
There's a rather good introduction to the history and principles of the AT on YouTube here.
How do I find a teacher?
You can find a full searchable list of teachers on the website of the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique.