Meet Alexander: Can his technique help your asthma?

Patient Expert

As a person with asthma, I carry a lot of tension in my upper chest and in my upper back. Are you like me? Or perhaps you carry a heavy purse or bag and you're listing to one side even after you put your bag down? Or perhaps you're a nighttime jaw-clencher and wake up with headaches and you don't know why? Does any of this sound familiar?

Now what do you to take care of that tension? Do you stretch in the morning? Do you meditate or use positive imagery to think away the discomfort? Maybe going to the gym releases some energy? Or are you popping lots of Advil or Valium hoping that will fix it?

Ever hear of the Alexander Technique? I know, me neither. If I hadn't had some friends in the drama program in college I'd be stumped too. Alexander was a required class for the drama kids, and they all raved about it -- but I never took it.

Fast-forward to now. A dear friend [and wonderful singer and teacher] has been begging me to try Alexander. So confident is she that it will help my overall health that she kindly bought me a series of four classes and I tried my first recently. (Thanks D.)

Thus far, [ahem, one class] this is what I understand about Alexander: it's a subtle technique of self-releasing and self-relaxing your muscles -- I'm thinking bio-feedback, meets alert, present meditation with the possible benefits of physical therapy. Possibly.

From the Alexander technique web site: "Rather than being solely a recipient, you learn to soothe your own nervous system, release your own muscles and balance your own structure... the Alexander Technique is a way to heighten awareness of how you move and to better coordinate your body during activity, it helps you do specific postures, procedures or exercises with less strain and more comfort..."

Specifically for those of us with asthma, this is what the website says: "Asthma is the body's respiratory reflex gone awry. Neck muscles tighten, shoulders yank up to the ears, and the abdominal muscles contract. Sufferers say the greatest problem is rising panic at an attack's onset -- the fear that they won't win the fight for the next breath. These responses are elements of the startle pattern. With the Alexander Technique, asthmatics can halt the startle pattern and calm the nervous system, inviting an easier balance in body and mind."

Panic is a huge component in the asthmatic response. Even pre-panic thinking about having a possible asthma attack makes me panicky. So, I'm open to trying something new to help me release that panic, something that doesn't involve medications [I don't like meds] and involves using my body's natural ability to relax itself.

My first lesson was one of subtleties. I lay on a table whilst she held different parts of my arms or legs and told me to relax them. I "released" them whilst she manipulated my body to get me into a completely relaxed and conscious state. It's called constructive rest, and I've been practicing it every day since that first lesson.

Resting takes practice. After my first lesson I left feeling lighter, almost floaty. I noticed my posture was straighter, the curve in my lower spine less pronounced even though it seemed like not much had "happened" on that table.

It was intriguing, enough for me to continue and see where it leads.

Read more of Sloane's blogs:

Are your cleaning supplies making your asthma worse?

The dreaded asthma itch

The inhaler changeover -- here comes the anxiety