Making the Crooked Straight
- by Simona Fuma – reprinted with permission
They're the words a girl loves to hear: "Have you gotten taller?" "You've lost weight!" Such were the unsolicited comments I received when I visited the United States from my home in Israel recently, where, for the last three months, I had been practicing the Alexander Technique (AT)—a movement re-education program that involves hands-on adjustments to improve posture and coordination.
While yoga, Pilates and other posture-enhancing methods have swept the U.S. in recent years, AT has enjoyed a thriving presence under the radar. Its hubs include London, New York, San Francisco and Israel, which boasts one of the highest numbers of AT teachers per capita (300). Stateside, there are an estimated 800 certified teachers and tens of thousands of students.
Oscar-winning actress Hillary Swank was one of those students while preparing for her 2001 role as an 18th-century French countess in The Affair of the Necklace. "Jean Louis [her AT instructor] taught me that an aristocrat didn't just sit down in a chair," Swank famously told the The New York Times. "She floated down. And she floated up and down stairs. She certainly didn't climb them, for that implies effort." AT also counts Lady Judi Dench, Paul McCartney and Sting among its famous fans.
According to Dana Ben-Yehuda, media spokesperson for the American Society of the Alexander Technique (AmSAT)—and, perhaps fittingly, the daughter of an Israeli father—in the U.S. the Alexander Technique is popular among two categories of people. "Singers, actors and musicians use the technique to enhance their performances," she explains. In fact, the father of AT, Frederick Matthias Alexander (1869-1955), was an Australian actor who developed the method to help him overcome chronic laryngitis.
The other category comprises people who are in pain and looking to AT for relief. After all, most health experts agree that good posture and proper muscle relaxation go a long way toward preventing back pain, the fifth most frequent reason for all physician visits in the U.S.
Dr. Howard L. Rosner, medical director of The Pain Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, says that the number one complaint of the patients he sees is lower back pain, and he recommends the Alexander Technique, along with other forms of physical therapy, to treat muscular-skeletal pain. "The Alexander Technique can retrain people to use their bodies more constructively," he says. "It can impact neck pain, low back pain and carpal tunnel syndrome."
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