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Many Turning To 'Alexander Technique' For Pain, Stress Relief

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - Remember when your mom kept telling you to stand up straight? As it turns out, she was on to something.

Little kids move their bodies with natural ease whether sitting, standing or bending. For most of us, that begins changing after the age of 3 or 4.

As we age, patterns of tension set in. We slump, shoulders hunched, chests concave. Bad habits become normal as we start losing a battle with gravity and daily stress.

"That ease that you had when you were 3 or 4 is still underneath in your system. It's in your nervous system," said instructor Lisa Levinson. "We're going to remember that your head balances at the very top of your spine."

Using mental imaging and gentle guidance, the "Alexander Technique" is designed to improve mind-body communication, to get rid of harmful habits that can cause chronic pain especially in the head, neck and spine.

"It's a way of thinking about how we move and thinking about how we participate in an activity," Levinson said.

It's not just a matter of trying to stand up straight, it's re-learning a sense of balance.

"People tend to think that there's two ends to the spectrum. It's either really trying to hold themselves up or giving up and collapsing," Levinson said.

The "Alexander Technique" has proved to be beneficial with conditions as varied as: neck and back pain, migraine headaches, stress and asthma.

The technique is named after F.M. Alexander, a Shakespearean actor who, more than a century ago, developed the approach to ease his own vocal problems and discovered it was effective for overall improvement of health and well-being.

Levinson, a certified "Alexander Technique" instructor, is working with 40-year-old Zenia Ayrton at UPMC Shadyside Hospital's Center for Integrative Medicine.

Levinson also teaches at Carnegie Mellon University and works with Pittsburgh Symphony musicians.

Zenia, a computer engineer, spends long hours at a keyboard. Plus, she's suffered injuries throughout her career as an elite runner.

What "Alexander Technique" brings is a certain amount of prevention, rather than a cure for a problem.

Big names who've studied the "Alexander Technique" include: Paul McCartney, Hilary Swank, Madonna, Patti LuPone, and Robin Williams.

In weekly sessions over a year-and-a half, Zenia's learned more natural ways to stand, sit and get out of a chair or bed.

However, after trying traditional medicine, chiropractors and acupuncture, Zenia finds it's the "Alexander Technique" that works for her.

"Now, my body just knows how to move and fix itself," she said.


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