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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - The Alexander Technique is based on a simple idea: if an activity hurts, stop doing it that way.
The offending action can be just about anything from sitting at the computer to running a marathon, playing the piano, or just getting out of a chair.
"The Alexander Technique is basically a way to change harmful positions and postures," Dr. Arya Nick Shamie, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, said in an interview.
The technique re-educates the body. Through a series of one-on-one lessons with a certified teacher, a student develops the skills to execute any action with minimized strain and maximized balance.
The good news is that it's painless, you can do it in your street clothes, and it seems to work. The bad news is that it takes time and patience, and it'll cost you.
"When a violinist with carpal tunnel syndrome goes to an Alexander Technique specialist, the specialist will examine that individual in the act of playing the violin, notice that the wrist is not in the ideal position and make recommendations" Shamie said.
"It makes sense and it's based on good medical logic" the physician added.
"But it's like telling someone who has high blood pressure to change their diet. In the western world we want quick fixes. Or we want a surgeon to take out the disc," said Shamie, himself a spine surgeon at the UCLA School of Medicine.
The Alexander Technique was the brainchild of Australian-born Frederick Matthias Alexander (1869-1955), a Shakespearean orator plagued by laryngitis. Through painstaking self-observation he came to realize that muscle tension was to blame.
He then developed a method of vocal re-education that evolved into a whole body technique.
American philosopher John Dewey was an advocate, and novelist Aldous Huxley was so impressed with Alexander that he made him a character in his 1936 novel "Eyeless in Gaza."
Alexander's technique is especially popular with musicians and actors; the Juilliard School and the Yale School of Drama are among many arts institutions that offer AT classes.
But it is not for artists alone.
"A lot of baby-boomers and seniors come for lessons," said Marian Goldberg, director of the Alexander Technique Center of Washington's Teacher-Training Program, in Washington, D.C.
Goldberg says her students range in age from 15 to 95.
"Many people come because of chronic pain, often exercise-related," she said.
"The student is guided through sitting, standing, bending, and some work while lying on a table,' she explained "The technique does not involve spinal manipulation. It works at a basic, neuromuscular level."
A study in the British Medical Journal last year found that patients with chronic back pain who were taught the Alexander Technique were significantly better at the end of a year.
But improvement doesn't happen overnight and the training can be costly.
Alexander himself recommended 30 one-on-one sessions, at an average cost these days of $45 per half hour. The extensive teacher training requires a daily commitment of three years.
"Learning the technique does require some time. Basically, people are learning to stop/undo tension habits that they have been doing for most of their life," Goldberg said.
"This, of course, may take a while."