Pilates & the Alexander Technique

Overview

The Pilates method of exercise and the Alexander technique feature totally different movement styles, but these complementary alternative therapies often are used in conjunction. Both of these techniques can enhance postural alignment, reduce muscular tension and promote coordinated and fluid movement patterns. These methods are taught at health clubs, fitness studios and wellness clinics.

History

It’s interesting to note that these two masters of movement were born in the 19th century, albeit on opposite sides of the world. Frederick Matthias Alexander was an Australian actor who was born in 1869. He developed his technique in the 1890s as a means of enhancing the vocal capacity of actors and singers. Alexander believed that dysfunctional breathing patterns impede vocal strength and healthy movement patterns. Years later, Joseph Pilates, born in Germany in 1881, came to the same conclusion. Pilates was a frail and sickly child who developed his technique as a means of overcoming his physical limitations. The coordination of breath and movement is essential to the Pilates technique.

Identification

Pilates and Alexander both stressed the importance of lengthening the spine. Alexander used head and neck alignment as the basis for postural reeducation. Pilates focused on what he called the “powerhouse”–the deeper core muscles. Although the techniques have similar goals, the methods of execution are different. Pilates is an exercise method that features workouts for the upper body, legs, gluteal muscles and abdominals. Alexander focused on correcting habitual faulty movement patterns in daily activities. Students of the Alexander technique practice standing, sitting and walking.

Benefits

Both of these techniques have the potential to correct postural alignment and enhance balance, coordination, athleticism and fluidity of movement. The strength-oriented exercises in the Pilates technique improve muscle tone. There are no official Alexander abdominal exercises, but people who practice the technique on a regular basis tend to stand straighter, which minimizes posture-related abdominal paunch. The core strength developed from practicing Pilates, as well as the improved posture and movement patterns developed in the Alexander technique, can help alleviate chronic neck and lower-back tension.

Expert Insight

Many physical therapists and sports medicine experts use Pilates and the Alexander technique as supplementary forms of rehabilitation. Professor Karim Khan of the Centre for Hip Health and Mobility and Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia presented an overview of these practices in the December 2008 edition of the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Khan cites recent research about the effectiveness of the Alexander technique for treating lower back pain. While he does not specifically mention Pilates, he cites the work of Australian physical therapist Paul Hodges, whose research indicated a direct correlation between core activation and lower back pain.

Potential

Many physical therapists and sports medicine experts use Pilates and the Alexander technique as a supplementary form of rehabilitation. Professor Karim M Khan of the Centre for Hip Health and Mobility and Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia article in the December, presented an overview of these practices in the 2008 edition of the “British Journal of Sports Medicine.” Khan cited recent research about the effectiveness of the Alexander technique for treating lower-back pain. Although he did not mention Pilates, Khan cited the work of Australian physical therapist Paul Hodges, whose research indicated a direct correlation between core activation and lower-back pain.

About this Author

Lisa Marie Mercer has been a professional writer for nearly 10 years. She has authored “Open Your Heart with Winter Fitness,” “Breckenridge: A Guide to the Sights and Slopes of Summit County” and “101 Fitness Tips for Women.” She’s worked as a fitness professional, tour guide and ski resort employee. Her work has appeared in “Aspen Magazine,” “HerSports,” “The Professional Skier,” “Pregnancy Magazine” and “Wired.”