For over four years, every working day has ended the same way for Arun Srinivasan, 32, a software professional based in Bangalore: with stiff shoulders and a great deal of pain in the neck. This despite regular sessions of yoga, massage and exercise. “The pain always returned... I finally went to Recoup, a neuromuscular rehabilitation centre where I was asked (by orthopaedic specialist Deepak Sharan) to try (the) Alexander Technique,” he says.
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With the aid of Alexander
The Alexander Technique (AT) makes use of your own perception of movement to improve muscle coordination. The method was formulated by F. Matthias Alexander, a theatre actor who devised this regimen in the final decade of the 19th century. It has since evolved into a method that can identify how a person is misusing his body and show him the way to reducing superfluous muscular tension or force. “By the time I had attended 12 sessions, I began to feel the release of tension in my muscles and the pain has gradually come down,” says Srinivasan.
He is not alone in benefiting from therapeutic AT. In a study of 579 English patients with chronic back pain, those who got 24 AT lessons had 18 fewer days of back pain than the control group. Published in the British Medical Journal last year, it also reported that patients treated to a combination of six AT lessons plus prescribed exercise saw a 72% reduction in back pain—similar to those who had the 24 AT lessons.
“In isolation, Alexander Technique has extremely limited value in treating musculoskeletal disorders,” says Deepak Sharan, medical director, Recoup, which has centres in Bangalore, New Delhi, Hyderabad and Pune, and organizes AT training for patients (see ‘Learn’). “However, it is a useful adjunct in a holistic, integrated treatment protocol that includes manual therapy, yoga and cognitive behavioural therapy.”
Who does it help?
Recoup assigns patients with generalized musculoskeletal disorders a “severity score” to identify who will benefit from mind-body interventions such as AT. For instance, Dr Sharan advocates AT for habitual deep muscle tension, an involuntary tightening of the neck and upper back at work, with spontaneous relaxation after hours.
Chronic pain from fibromyalgia or complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) can also be treated. Increasingly, AT is also used against respiratory and digestive tract disorders, osteoporosis, blood pressure and migraine. Take 21-year-old architecture student Sheeba, who has suffered from upper back pain for as long as she can remember. She is learning AT from Bangalore-based Padmini Menon, the country’s only registered AT teacher.
How it works
AT helped Sheeba identify kinks in her posture and habitual movements. “I used to walk in a certain way, almost bouncing; I am now relearning how to walk,” she says.
“We address a very basic pattern of muscle organization that is individual to each person. If that basic pattern is leading to problems, then this technique can make you aware of it,” says Menon, who trained at Brighton Alexander Technique College, UK, approved by the Society of the Teachers of the Alexander Technique.
During a lesson, the teacher guides the student to improve coordination and reduce muscle tension in various activities (sitting down in a chair, standing up, lying down), using her hands to provide tactile feedback. AT addresses the fundamental way a person supports the body. “This is not commonly understood as having any bearing on our state of health,” says Carolyn Nicholls, head of training, Brighton Alexander Technique College, “but the way you coordinate your breath and balance are not separate issues.” Indeed, she believes it has profound effects on the way a person’s body works—or doesn’t work, leading to discomfort.
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