A simple description of the Alexander Technique is that it is the best way I know of looking after yourself – now and for the long term. It is a method of self-care, as well as a means for change and personal development.
Two of my colleagues have just published an insightful perspective on how care is enhanced in so many ways through the Alexander Technique. The analysis not only illustrates an appreciation of the role of Alexander teaching as a care intervention, but also takes forwards a more general understanding of care itself.
Charlotte Woods and Lesley Glover are both academic researchers as well as Alexander teachers. Together with fellow researcher and dementia specialist, Emma Wolverson they collaborated on an international survey of Alexander teachers to discover their experiences of teaching carers and, for some, of being carers themselves.
The survey used mostly open-ended questions to enquire about how experiences of non-paid care, usually of family members, were impacted by learning and applying the Alexander Technique. Responses were received from 84 Alexander teachers from eight countries, and the data were analysed according to appropriate, well-established qualitative research methods.
Reported benefits for carers of learning the Alexander Technique included improvements in confidence, resilience, mood, motivation and physical comfort, as well as reductions in pain and levels of anxiety.
Themes that emerged from the analysis were a ‘rediscovering of self’, a growing sense of embodiment, and changes in how carers related to others.
Learning the Alexander Technique was reported as a means of countering the loss of self that so often happens when people take on a carer role. There was growing self awareness and greater valuing of self, and a realisation of the need to prioritise self care in order to be able to care effectively for another. Carers became less ‘held’ in themselves and more ‘present’, with the gentle touch of the Alexander teacher leading to a sense of ‘peace’ and ‘ease’.
Relationships with others were reported to change, including an improved carer-care recipient relationship. Carers learnt from the non-judgemental and seemingly effortless touch of the Alexander teacher and found themselves changing the way they interacted with the person they cared for. This benefited both the carer (safer and easier lifting for example), and the recipient, with one person describing a marked change to being ‘handled (by their partner) with feeling, as a human, not like a sack of flour’. Carers also found themselves more able after Alexander lessons to set appropriate boundaries, as well having more patience and tolerance.
The study data were examined and discussed in the light of existing theoretical frameworks around care. It was clear that many of the skills acquired through Alexander lessons came from explicit teaching of concepts, knowledge and understanding, combined with learning from embodied experiences of easier ways of moving, being and responding. The authors proposed that another way in which attitudes to self-care and to care of others were positively influenced was through subconscious learning from Alexander teachers who embodied an implicit model of ‘healthy care’.
The open, non-demanding gentle touch of an Alexander teacher is a powerful and enabling means of non-verbal communication and connection. Moreover, it was argued that, through both explicit teaching and by implicit modelling, teachers enabled the carers to grow and retain self-awareness while attending to another person. This more encompassing awareness was thought to lead to a greater sense of agency and self-assurance.
The authors point to the distinctive nature of the Alexander Technique. Its insistence on the indivisibility of mind-body represents a challenge to the Western paradigm of care which is based on a ‘self’ that equates to ‘mind’, with a lesser status accorded to ‘body’. Learning the technique provides a means of acquiring ‘embodied knowledge that is fundamental to care’ as well as to self-care.
Data from the international survey were also used by the same researcher group to explore Alexander teachers’ experiences of teaching people with dementia. This will be the focus of my next blog post.
Woods, C, Wolverson, E and Glover, L. (2022) Extending understanding of ‘care’ as an embodied phenomenon: Alexander Technique teacher perspectives on restoring carers to themselves. International Journal of Care and Caring, DOI: 10.1332/239788221X16643644394404