COMPANION

The House of Lords, United Kingdom

The House of Lords, United Kingdom, has on occasion mentioned the Alexander Technique, in 1977, 1990 and 2004. The 1990 speech by Lord Richie of Dundee is a general introduction to the Technique. The following extracts are from the official records, Hansard.

1977

Lord Ferrier asked the question whether or not it is intended that a doctor of chiropractic will join Professor Cochrane's Working Group to study back pain. This turned into a debate regarding the membership of the Working Group on back pain to which Lord Hankey asked:

My Lords, is it possible for other groups that are interested in this area of treatment – such as groups interested in the Alexander technique – to make representations to this Working Group?

It was answered that it was up to the committee to co-opt further members.[1]

1990

Lord Richie of Dundee spoke on the Alexander Technique at the debate in the House of Lords 9th May 1990. The debate was introduced by Earl Baldwin of Bewdley, a member of the Research Council for Complementary Medicine and chairman of the board set up to accredit the training of acupuncturists. Lord Richie of Dundee said:

My Lords, I should like to add my congratulations to the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, on introducing the debate and on doing so with such an excellent and comprehensive survey of the present position. . . .

A number of complementary therapists are keen to convey to their patients the idea that they must play an active part in their own therapy. That is an excellent principle. Even if it helps only the mental attitude, it is a crucial factor in any healing process. The idea of self-help leads me to speak briefly on a subject I have mentioned before in your Lordship’s House. I refer to the Alexander technique. It is not strictly speaking a therapy. It is a re-education. Those who practise the technique are particular not to class themselves with other complementary therapists. Nevertheless, I do not think they would mind their being talked about briefly.

Noble Lords will probably know about the little Australian actor who was born in 1869. He was beginning his career in Melbourne when he was suddenly stopped short by a failure in vocal control. He would start a recitation with his voice in perfectly good trim but by the end of the evening he would become so hoarse that he was practically speechless. He could not discover why this happened. He consulted doctors, who gave him medicine, gargles and throat sprays, but there was no difference. He decided – and this shows that he was an exceptional man – that he must find out for himself.

He set up an elaborate arrangement of mirrors and, believe it or not, sat in front of them, whenever he had a spare moment, for nine years. He was looking to see precisely what happened when he recited. He watched his minutest movements. In the end he stumbled on the discovery that as he recited he thrust his head slightly backwards and down. This constricted the free passage of his vocal powers.

He discovered later that not only did he do this when he was speaking but also with every action – when he sat down, when he got up and when he did anything else. There was an infinitesimal and almost imperceptible backward thrust of the head. He came to the conclusion that it had bad effects on the body as a whole.

It compressed the spine and the whole upper part of the body so that he could not breathe properly. The internal organs were compressed as well.

His final discovery was that he was not unique. He discovered that all his friends were doing the same thing. He became so interested that he gave up all idea of being an actor. He decided to learn how to help himself and others to overcome this difficulty by using the body more effectively. His methods were extremely subtle and involved the utmost sensitivity of the hands, which guided his pupils – those who learn the technique are pupils and not patients into the correct use of the body. Incidentally, it is not, as many people think a relaxing process; it is a process of releasing energy, which is much more interesting. He devoted the rest of his life to it.

The technique has been found to be beneficial in numerous ways. It facilitates correct breathing, an essential to health, and eases back problems. The noble Earl, Lord Clanwilliam, and the noble Lords, Lord Glenarthur and Lord Clifford, referred to the economic as well as the human cost of back pain.

I venture to say that had many people been lucky enough to be pupils of the Alexander technique they would never have gone as far as to see an osteopath. It is also thought to have been helpful in blood pressure problems, insomnia and circulation defects. It leads to an upright and most graceful carriage, which is why it is of interest to actors and why most drama schools have the use of an Alexander technique teacher. . . .[2]

2004

Mr. Colman asked the Secretary of State for Health what research he has commissioned into spondylolisthesis. Dr. Ladyman [holding answer 7 June 2004]:

The Medical Research Council (MRC) currently supports three on-going clinical trials looking at interventions to relieve low back pain, including both recurrent and chronic back pain that may be of relevance to spondylolisthesis. A further MRC trial has recently been completed and the results are soon to be published. The clinical trials include comparison of the effectiveness of surgery to stabilise the spine with physiotherapy rehabilitation, and comparisons of various other interventions including exercise and manipulation by massage, chiropractors, osteopaths, or physiotherapists, and use of the Alexander technique.[3]

References

[1] Cochrane Working Group and Chiropractors, 22 February 1977, vol. 380, cols. 9–10.
[2] Hansard vol. 518, no. 82, col. 1425–27, quoted in ‘House of Lords’ debate’ in STATNews vol. 4, no. 1 edited by Adam Nott and Malcolm Williamson (STAT, September 1991), pp. 4–5.
[3] 8 June 2004, Hansard vol. 422, cols. 366W.