Alexander Technique and Massage Therapy

by Rita Corell, MA, LMT

ID-10038310I have studied the Alexander Technique for over four years now, and I will be practicing it in one form or another for the rest of my life. Working with its principles in my massage practice has improved the freedom within my own body, as well as helped my clients to release their patterns of tension more readily.

I liken it to a hose… if there is a kink in the hose the water will not flow, but if the kink is released everything opens up. If you think of someone who is very uptight and then bring someone to mind who seems more relaxed in their nature, which person would you like to give you a massage?

When I ease up in my body through the use of the Alexander Technique, my clients sense it and immediately their bodies ease up as well. Touch is a powerful form of communication and the Alexander Technique helps me keep myself as free as possible when I work with a client, giving them a freer space to be in, as well as helping me to avoid taking on their patterns of holding on.

I am also able to release discomfort and strain in my own body while I am working.

I think of massage as a biofeedback session. A person receiving a massage has an opportunity to see exactly how they are physically, where their tension patterns are, and what it feels like to be more relaxed.

While we work, I often have them notice and release the excess tension that they may be holding in their shoulders, hands, neck, etc. I use gentle stretching, myo-fascial release techniques, and range of motion in my work.

My work is gentle yet quite physical. Not only has the quality of my touch and massage work improved over time while utilizing the Alexander Technique, my own body has gone through several positive changes as well. My body is more open and relaxed, and I have learned how to work with my whole body –ergonomically– instead of loading the pressure up in isolated parts creating excess strain and potential injury. While I still feel my shoulders pulling in as I do some of the work, I am more aware of them now and have an option of how I may move. After 23 years in this field I am learning new ways of working with old patterns and changing them.

This is a technique that everyone in the hands on professions could benefit from. My practicing of the Alexander Technique has had a two pronged effect: it has improved my functioning which improves the quality of touch that my clients receive. It has also freed me up in the work that I do so that I have less shoulder, wrist and lower back pain.I am anticipating that my focus with this work will help me practice massage therapy much longer than I would have had I maintained my old use patterns.

The Alexander Technique is not the fountain of youth, but it is pretty darn good!

Is the Alexander technique a massage technique? For me it overshadows all the years of my training as a massage therapist. I utilize the Alexander principles in practicing all of the techniques that I have studied over the past 23 years.

I hosted a workshop for a teacher from New York City in Omaha two years ago, and had an insight during the workshop that I would like to share. We had a good morning workshop, practicing the Alexander principles– and then went to lunch at Wild Oats. As I was going through the buffet line a woman, who is also a therapist, came up beside me and said “Which seminar are you going to?” I answered “The Alexander Technique.” She said “What’s that?” I said “It’s a seminar about the Alexander principles and how we use our bodies.”

She said something about the workshop she was attending and that there was a myo-fascial release, lymphatic drainage and something else going on that weekend. The whole time she was talking to me– from her first approach– I had this whole other dialogue in my head.

The first thing that I noticed when she approached me was a giant knot hitting my stomach, and my head, neck and jaw tightening and pulling down, the sensation moving slowly through my body. As she talked I asked myself what was happening, where was this coming from? Then I realized that I was so relaxed and calm from the Alexander workshop that I was like a mirror, picking up immediately and reflecting back on this woman’s pattern of holding. It was quite an epiphany.

There are times when a client comes in that I can sense pain in some part of their body. But this experience came out of the blue with a stranger. I wasn’t so happy about this but then I realized I would be getting it anyway, whether I was aware of it or not. Being aware, I had a choice of how I wanted to handle it.

Also, as she spoke on and on about the different workshops, I can remember quite clearly thanking God that I was attending the workshop on the Alexander Technique! I could relate to some part of all the material that she was discussing about the other workshops. I realized in that moment the true gift and beauty of being in touch with your own body first.

This is why I feel that it should be not only a part of continuing education credits for massage therapists, but taught massage therapy training programs. In fact, everyone in the helping professions– doctors, nurses, counselors– all could benefit from learning how to free up their own bodies and help themselves first.

It makes your work both gentler and easier for yourself as well as for others to receive. I would call it giving from a full cup.

There is a website: alexandertechnique.com that will have many articles, definitions, and information on research about the work, as well as testimonials from other health professionals.

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Rita Corell has practiced massage therapy for 30 years in Nebraska, and studied the Alexander Technique for the last 6. She has used the Alexander work to not only discover easier use patterns for herself but also helped clients with little guided direction during the massage as well. The Alexander work is a delight to integrate into hands on therapy work.

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