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Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Alexander Technique -the next research project?

Annie Whitehead (First published in STATNews, January 2009)


I became ill with severe CFS, or ME as it used to be known, in 2001. By September of that year I was so ill that I could not really function at all. It was taking me two hours to recover from getting showered and dressed. I could not walk more than 300 yards. My 18 month-old daughter was at childcare from eight in the morning until six in the evening because I could not look after her. Now, in January 2009, I am fit and well and running my own business as an Alexander teacher. I play football with my daughter and life is good.

I started Alexander Technique lessons in 2002 when I heard on the grapevine that it was good for people with energy problems. I had weekly lessons for a year and was so impressed with how much I had improved that I started training to become an Alexander teacher in January 2004. I missed a lot of the course in the first year through ill health, but by the second and third years my health had improved to such an extent that I was attending regularly. I qualified as a teacher in April 2007 after completing the training in three years and one term.

The Technique is not a panacea for CFS. In my opinion it is a piece of the jigsaw which promotes recovery. But why does the Technique help people with CFS? Firstly, if a person learns to use their body more effectively, the energy they have available to them is able to ‘go further’. So if you are using less energy every time you carry out an everyday activity such as getting out of a chair or picking something up, then the energy you have lasts longer.

Secondly, I personally believe that the Alexander Technique increases your energy base. In my case, when I started lessons my ribcage was locked and I held a huge amount of tension. The gentle but powerful effect of the Technique resolved this issue for me. The belief that it helps people with CFS is not medically proven, but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that this is the case. I can personally attest to the fact that regular Alexander lessons were a significant factor in my recovery from severe CFS. Also, in Yorkshire alone, there are at least four Alexander teachers who are ex severe CFS sufferers. It is certainly an empowering experience to be so ill and find something that you can learn to do to enhance your sense of wellbeing and which has a significant calming effect at a time of great stress. It would be very interesting to carry out a research project to explore the effect Alexander lessons have on calming people’s stress responses such as the fear reflexes.

Incidentally, I have a friend who also used to have severe CFS and trained for three years to qualify as a shiatsu teacher. She is also almost completely recovered and working full-time. We are both of the opinion that to recover from CFS you have to embark on something which addresses the need to improve energy flow in the body. This is not to say that pacing, nutrition, removing toxic relationships etc. are not all valuable parts of the healing process. As I said above, the Alexander Technique can be one part of a jigsaw which needs to come together to enable recovery.

I think the work STAT did to enable the ATEAM back-pain trial to come to fruition was marvellous. I would very much like a similar project to take place on CFS, with a small feasibility study being carried out first, progressing to a larger trial. There are eight regional centres that provide treatment for CFS sufferers on the NHS. One of them is in Leeds, and I attended their group programme in May and June 2002.

I have not yet approached anyone formally about this idea. Maureen White (another Yorkshire-based teacher) and I hope to be part of a team who submit a proposal to the Leeds CFS Clinic in the Spring. If anyone else is interested in this embryonic project we would love to hear from you. Please contact either Annie Whitehead or Maureen White to discuss further.

© Annie Whitehead 2009



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