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The Edinburgh Alexander and Therapy Centre has been offering Alexander lessons and workshops since 1994.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Using the Alexander Technique to get a good night's sleep

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A pupil returned last week and reported how their sleeping had improved as a result of their last lesson - they were getting a good night's sleep and waking up more refreshed. The need to think about how we use ourselves while sleeping, in my experience, is quite common. Alexander thought people’s use while sleeping was often worse than their waking use and, in many respects, this is probably true.


What is also true is that as our use in our waking life improves, we become more aware of areas in our lives where we pull down and tighten up, which is something that often happens when to go bed and ready ourselves to sleep. We snuggle up into something that resembles the foetal position, holding ourselves tight, interfering with our breathing in a way that babies do not. Two things tend to result, the first is that we do not sleep as deeply as we might and secondly we wake up not just tired but stiff from holding ourselves tight over a number of hours.


Over the eighteen years I have been teaching, I have developed a simple lesson for teaching pupils how to apply the Alexander Technique to this, which in most cases sorts the problem out. It consists of five parts, which I am going to give you today.

  • Firstly, check the pillow height to ensure the neck is in alignment; it changes with whether you are on your back or your side. It's not a great idea to sleep on your front.
  • Next find out, by doing it, whether when you close your eyes, you look down and interfere with your breathing. The correction is very simple, just close your eyes again and this time, after you have looked down, keep your eyes shut but allow yourself to look ahead - you should find that your breathing just releases, if it has been held.
  • If you sleep on your side, then how you get there from your back is very important. Most people put themselves wrong by tightening and shortening their legs to turn - don't. You need let your head look in the direction of travel and bring your arm over your torso to point using your pinkie and the finger next to it in the direction of travel - to initiate the movement. If you know how to move from semi-supine to all fours, this is relatively easy. You should end up on your side, neither pulling everything forward or leaning back. Most importantly your breathing should be released.
  • The use of the arms is where people often go wrong, when lying on their side by wanting to tightly cuddle themselves, to give themselves comfort. To understand this, it is a good idea to lay the top arm on your side to help yourself become aware of what you do. From there bring it down to your habitual placement, if your breathing becomes held, then experiment with finding a way to bring the arm down and round without interfering with your breathing.
  • Finally, make sure you are not pulling your knees together - they should always be going forward and away even if touching. Once again, if you have been gripping them together, you should find that your breathing is released when you stop.

To summarise, what you are wanting to ensure is that you are not holding your breath in any way while sleeping. To learn to do this, it really is a matter of learning to put this into practice when you go to bed and want it all to be working in the morning. You will find then that you can gradually adjust over time to a more refreshing and comfortable sleep.

If you find difficulties with this, then come along for a lesson and, providing you have some recent AT background, I can show you how to put this into practice in half an hour.

Richard Casebow

Back in the mid-1980s, I started to suffer from severe sciatica that often made walking and working difficult. At the time, I was training in London to become a Chartered Accountant and I left, as I was spending increasing amounts of time off waiting for the pain to subside. Around this time, I also became depressed, as my prospects seemed to darken with little hope of a normal life. In seeking help I found my way both to a psychotherapist and then to an Alexander Technique teacher, both of which helped enormously. The therapy with forming a life plan and understanding myself, encouraged me to dream of the life I have now. The Alexander Technique gave me the practical tool to help realise it and to allow me to rehabilitate myself to lead a full normal life.

The link between Alexander Technique, Psychotherapy and the art of living intelligently became something that has fascinated me ever since and is something I have continued to explore myself and with pupils and clients since. This blog is my attempt to elucidate the links, as well as to talk about Alexander Technique pure and simple and the benefits of therapy.

I founded the Edinburgh Alexander and Therapy Centre in 1994, Counselling Conversations came later after I became a practising therapist in 2003. Professionally I act as the Treasurer of the Personal Construct Psychology Association and sit on the board of the UKCP’s house magazine The Psychotherapist. When I am not to be found working, there is nothing better I like to be doing than spending time on a Scottish hillside, exploring the arts or just spending time with friends and family, including the family cat.