How Is Alexander Technique Different From Feldenkrais, Physical Therapy, Tai Chi, Yoga?

Ari Gil has been teaching Alexander Technique for 30 years.

Ari tells Robert Rickover: “Let me give the example of a runner who’s calling me because of a knee problem. He’s tried physical therapy. He’s done some acupuncture. He tried some deep tissue massage. Maybe acupressure. And he still has the problem. And he’s asking me, why should I come to you now? How can you help me when all these modalities did not seem to resolve the issue?

“I tell him, Alexander Technique addresses the issue differently. You receive treatments, but the minute you step off the table from the treatment, you start usually to do the same thing that brought you to the treatment because the treatment usually does not change the consciousness people have about movement.

“If you come to me, you will not be a patient. You will be a student. I will be a teacher. You will learn to observe your habits, the habits that get you in trouble, you will learn how to not act on those habits, and you will learn how to direct your movement in a different way. This different way of directing your body. It’s not just your knee. Your knee is just a symptom of the whole way of movement of the body. By learning to move differently, the knee pain will subside and often disappear.

“The same will hold true for someone who comes with a back pain or shoulder pain or a neck injury.”

Robert: “Treatments often change the results of patterns of movement, but they don’t necessarily change the pattern that brought about those results.”

Ari: “The underlying patterns includes the consciousness that has to change. The habit has to change.”

Robert: “I’m going to have to do some thinking. I’m going to have to take an active role in this process. For some people, this might not be appealing.”

“If you are not prepared to put some mental effort into your lessons, Alexander Technique is going to be frustrating.”

Ari: “They will be discouraged because they will have to go home after the lesson and think about what they’re doing.”

“In Alexander Technique, the person learns to heal himself. The teacher is but a guide.”

Robert: “I tell my students that 99% of the work is going to have to come from you, not me. I can’t follow you around all day. They’re going to have to be responsible for themselves.”

Ari: “Some people move for the joy of moving. But that is not true for everybody. Some people move from a sense of duty. They feel they have to stay fit and strong and flexible. They will often exercise in a not mindful way. They’ll listen to music while walking or watch TV while exercising.”

“So why would some of these people come to see me? Some of them are frustrated with their lack of progress. They feel stiff. They feel rigid. They feel slow. Some find they are getting injured. They don’t know how to get out of that cycle.”

Robert: “I’ve worked with a lot of runners and most of them are not happy campers as they’re running. They’re doing it out of a sense that I’ve got to get my cardiovascular points in. If you look at most runners, they don’t look that happy about what they’re doing.”

Ari: “I’ll point out to somebody who runs hunched over that his lung capacity is reduced this way. His heart is getting restricted.”

“When a runner comes to me with back or knee problems, I remind him that he’s engaged in an activity that demands complex sets of movements that he is not aware of. To run, one needs to know, am I walking correctly? Am I standing correctly? Am I bending my knees correctly? If a runner has a problem running, there are probably problems there at the baseline and if they are not corrected there, they will affect his running.”

Robert: “If you have some harmful habits around walking, when you switch into running, you are going to exaggerate those. It’s going to bring out the worst of what you have because the impact is stronger.”

Ari: “The principle of doing less and non-doing. Usually people want to add to what they know, but if there is a mistake in the program, I can’t just add. I have to empty. If I made a mistake in the route, sometimes I have to go back to where I made the mistake.”

“Some people endeavor in cycling or fencing or running or yoga or tai chi. Why choose Alexander and not yoga or tai chi? In my years of working with people in those disciplines, I saw people who started in these disciplines at a young age. Their basic habits were formed in line with these disciplines and they could progress without difficulties.

“More often, I see people who did not start young. They’ve already formed habits of misuse and they are not aware of them. Usually yoga and tai chi, etc, do not teach them how to address those issues at the basic pattern, so they’ve started to build on top of that. Sooner or later, they go off-track. The further they go, the more they encounter the problem.”

Jon* emails: One can fix the knee-hamstring issue by switching to barefoot shoes, it works! It makes you naturally go to correct alexander position, since you are walking/running on the balls of your foot and splaying your toes rather than landing forcefully on your heels, so the force goes into the calves rather than the knees.

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About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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