If you sit at a desk all day, you are probably bothered by tight shoulders, a sore back, aching wrists or more. While there are a few quick fixes – some upgrade their office chairs to better, more ergonomic chairs, and some simply throw them out and use exercise balls instead. Others, suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome, buy expensive track pads and keyboards that are specially designed reduce wrist strain.
None of these quick fixes, however, addresses the root cause of all these aches and pains – a deeply-ingrained set of bad desk habits and poor posture. Repeating the same bad movements day in and day out is bound to leave you wracked with chronic pain.
The Feldenkrais Method
According to Dr Moshé Feldenkrais, the only solution is to relearn – from scratch – everything you know about physical movement. Based on scientific principles of physics, neurology and physiology, the Feldenkrais Method uses structured exercises to guide patients through the essential dynamics of a particular movement or action (such as sitting up, standing and so on). Think of it as learning how to move as if you were an infant again, learning how to crawl.
In each Feldenkrais exercise, patients go through a cycle of sensing, feeling, resting and moving that helps their bodies relearn basic patterns of movement. The objective is to reduce unnecessary effort and improve awareness of one’s whole self in action, and so replace the bad habits that created the chronic pain with good habits.
Although Dr Feldenkrais developed his ideas early in the 20th century, subsequent advances in science have confirmed his theories, in particular, the way movement, sensation, thinking and feeling are determined by one’s mental “self-image”. Neuroscientist Dr Esther Thelen, a pioneer in the field of infant motor development, discovered that her theories about how humans learn movement had already been explained by the Feldenkrais Method.
The Alexander Technique
Similarly, the Alexander Technique also seeks to eliminate pain and tension by unlearning bad habits and improving physical alignment. It is not a form of exercise, but rather a technique that re-educates the mind and body, helps release unnecessary tension and frees up more energy for other activities.
Practitioners of the Alexander Technique claim that chronic pain is often caused by people repeatedly mis-using their bodies over long periods of time – perhaps by standing with their weight unevenly distributed, holding their heads incorrectly, or moving inefficiently. With the Alexander Technique, you learn more about how your body works, and how to make it work better for you. With it, the focus is on letting the head be free, allowing the torso to lengthen, allowing the legs to release away from the hips and allowing the shoulders to release.
It is a technique that goes beyond curing the aches and pains of an office-bound worker – the Alexander Technique is also used by artists and athletes alike to further develop their physical capabilities. Famous students include actors Robin Williams and Judi Dench, and musicians such as Madonna, Paul McCartney and Sting.
While the Alexander Technique and Feldenkrais Method each has its devotees, both therapeutic methods are based on the same scientific principles of awareness and movement and have the same positive effects – users report less pain, and improved movement.
The benefits are not just anecdotal; research has shown that both methods result in lasting improvements in terms of pain and movement. A study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that patients who received Alexander Technique lessons reported afterwards having less back pain and significant improvement in their quality of life. A study in the Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation also reported that female office workers who underwent Feldenkrais treatment reported significant decreases in neck and shoulders complaints.
So if you are frustrated by chronic aches and pains – perhaps it is time to give one of these methods a shot. Check out these videos for more information.
Best Feldenkrais® Moves for Back Pain Relief Part 1
Actor William Hurt and the Alexander Technique