Wilfred Barlow’s research

Wilfred Barlow wrote a number of papers, starting in 1946 with a study which showed that people, when sitting down, pulled their heads back and down relative to the spine. He went to do a number of ‘before’ and ‘after’ Alexander Technique lessons studies until 1959.

An investigation into kinaesthesia

‘An investigation into kinaesthesia’ by Wilfred Barlow reports on a study which was carried out on two groups of Army cadets, between the ages of 17 and 22. By marking the occipital protuberance and the 7th cervical spinous process any ‘O–C’ (occipito–cervical) approximation (a symptom of the head being ‘pulled backwards’) could be observed while the subject was sitting down. The O–C approximation was noted for each subject 1. when sitting down habitually, 2. sitting down while paying attention to the head–neck relationship, and 3. sitting down while trying to prevent any O–C approximation. In addition questions were asked to what extend they were aware of any O–C approximation and how successfully they felt they were in preventing any O–C approximation. The first group consisted of 56 cadets, the second group consisted of 49 schoolboy cadets. All but one had O–C approximation during sitting down, most were not aware of it, and most could not prevent it when asked to do so.[1]

Note: In a later paper (‘Postural homeostasis’) Barlow refers to a 1946 study on 316 male and 45 female subjects in the Army. These numbers do not match the published 1946 study. He writes that he ‘found that in 97.5% there was interference with the head–neck relationship during certain voluntary movements, and, further, that because of inadequate feedback the subjects were unaware of this interference and could not correct it voluntarily.’[2]

Postural homeostasis

‘Postural homeostasis’ by Wilfred Barlow reports on a study with 50 students from a ‘London Voice and Drama College’ (Royal College of Music) who had an average 37 half-hour lessons in the Alexander Technique over a period of 2–3 months. Progress was assessed on 20 subjects by means of Sheldon photography from which it was concluded that ‘marked differences occurred in the subjects without employing physical exercises’. In addition the two professors in charge of the students at the College prepared a progress report where they stated: 1. in all subjects there was a marked physical improvement, which was usually reflected vocally and dramatically; 2. all subjects became easier to teach; 3. eight of the subjects entered a singing competition where the total entry was over 100. Six of the eight students reached the semi-final, in which there were 15 semi-finalists. ‘This is quite out of proportion to what one might expect’ wrote the professors.[3]

Posture and the resting state

‘Posture and the resting state’ by Wilfred Barlow presents a case study of a violinist with a tendency for the muscles of his shoulder and upper arm to go into painful spasm during the playing of a fast passage. Photographic and electromyographic recordings were taken. It also discusses the cases of a woman who had had asthma, a woman opera singer, a young man, and a sedentary worker with low back pain due to lordosis, with photos showing postural changes as a result of Alexander Technique lessons.[4]

Anxiety and muscle tension

‘Anxiety and Muscle Tension’ by Wilfred Barlow is a re-presentation of the study first reported in ‘Postural homeostasis’ but with more discussion of individual case histories.[5]

Psychosomatic problems in postural re-education

‘Psychosomatic problems in postural re-education’ by Wilfred Barlow. With reference to previous studies Barlow discusses what he calls the ‘basic disposition of the body’, which includes such factors as the head–neck relationship, the separation (or lack thereof) of joint surfaces, the hip and shoulder girdles, and ‘bodily behaviour’. He mentions the changes occurring as a result of lessons in the Alexander Technique.[6]

Postural deformity

‘Postural Deformity’ by Wilfred Barlow reports on the results of a survey of postural faults at a Physical Education College, where the entire group of first and second year students were photographed, using a squared background, and a turntable which revolves into three standard positions. The results were compared with a survey carried out over three years at the Central School of Speech (CSS) in order to assess the efficacy of the Laban movement training adopted at the school. The results were also compared with ‘a similar group of students’ from the Royal College of Music (RCM) who had received Alexander Technique lessons (see ‘Postural homeostasis’). It concludes that the CSS students had deteriorated whereas the RCM students had improved.[7]

Anxiety and muscle-tension pain

‘Anxiety and Muscle-Tension Pain’ by Wilfred Barlow considers the influence of stress and anxiety on the muscles, with reference to some case histories as illustrations, with photographs and measurements of EMG. It also discusses the difficulties various treatments (relaxation, rest-cure, tranquilizers) have in effecting a lasting impact. It suggests that lessons in re-education (i.e. the Alexander Technique) as a solution because it teaches a ‘balanced resting state’.[8]

Rest and pain

‘Rest and Pain’ by Wilfred Barlow discusses various kinds of postural and muscular dystonia (misuse). It mentions in passing the results from an investigation by Barlow, consisting of examining the schoolgirls aged about 15 years from six secondary schools in Hertfordshire, where three schools had received traditional gymnastic training and three had received ‘modern training’, i.e. no formal training but free movement. Posture was assessed by means of photographs. There were differences between the two methods of training, especially regarding posture, muscular tension, and musculo-skeletal pain reported by the girls. The study did not include the Alexander Technique, but it is mentioned.[9]

For other papers which do not contain original research by Wilfred Barlow on the Alexander Technique or related to the Technique, see Wilfred Barlow.


[1] ‘An investigation into kinaesthesia’ by Wilfred Barlow in The Medical Press and Circular, 23 January 1946, vol. ccxv, no. 5568, pp. 60–43. Also in Postural Homeostasis by Wilfred Barlow (Mouritz, 2014), pp. 10–17.
[2] ‘Postural homeostasis’ by Wilfred Barlow in Postural Homeostasis by Wilfred Barlow (Mouritz, 2014), p. 81.
[3] ‘Postural homeostasis’ by Wilfred Barlow. Paper read at the Annual Meeting of the British Association of Physical Medicine on April 26, 1952. Published in Annals of Physical Medicine vol. 1, no. 3, July 1952. Also in Postural Homeostasis by Wilfred Barlow (Mouritz, 2014), pp. 79–96.
[4] ‘Posture and the resting state’ by Wilfred Barlow in the Annals of Physical Medicine, October 1954, pp. 113-22. Also in Postural Homeostasis by Wilfred Barlow (Mouritz, 2014), pp. 98–114.
[5] ‘Anxiety and Muscle Tension’ by Wilfred Barlow in Chapter 17 in Modern Trends in Psychosomatic Medicine vol. 1 edited by Desmond O’Neil (Butterworth, 1955, London). Also in Postural Homeostasis by Wilfred Barlow (Mouritz, 2014), pp. 115–44.
[6] ‘Psychosomatic problems in postural re-education’ by Wilfred Barlow in The Lancet, 24 September 1955, vol. 266, issue 6891, pp. 659–64. Also in Postural Homeostasis by Wilfred Barlow (Mouritz, 2014), pp. 147–61.
[7] ‘Postural Deformity’ by Wilfred Barlow in Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine, vol. 49, no. 9, 1956, pp. 670–674, from a Symposium at the Royal Society 14 March 1956. Also in Postural Homeostasis by Wilfred Barlow (Mouritz, 2014), pp. 164–72.
[8] ‘Anxiety and Muscle-Tension Pain’ by Wilfred Barlow in The British Journal of Clinical Practice, May 1959. Also in Postural Homeostasis by Wilfred Barlow (Mouritz, 2014), pp. 173–93.
[9] ‘Rest and Pain’ by Wilfred Barlow in the Proceedings of the Fourth International Congress of Physical Medicine, 6–11 September 1964 (Excerpta Medica Foundation, 1966, London), pp. 494–98. Also in Postural Homeostasis by Wilfred Barlow (Mouritz, 2014), pp. 212–18.