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Master Migraine

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Master Migraine

In 2002 doctors interviewed patients attending a Columbia University outpatient headache clinic about the complementary and alternative therapies they use to self-treat headaches.

In 2002 doctors interviewed patients attending a Columbia University outpatient headache clinic about the complementary and alternative therapies they use to self-treat headaches. Of the 14 percent who admitted they had heard about the Alexander technique, none had tried it.

Yet this little-known method, developed by the Australian actor F.M. Alexander (1869 to 1955), is widely used in theatre training to encourage actors to conduct themselves more efficiently on stage. It is also an effective way for migraine sufferers to consciously realign the body to address their pain and discomfort.

Some migraine pain has been traced to a misalignment of the head, neck, and shoulders. In 1993 researchers at the University of South Australia School of Physiotherapy studied 60 women between the ages of 25 and 40, who, in equal numbers, reported frequent migraines or none at all. Researchers found a statistically significant relationship between migraine and misaligned natural posture. This connection was more recently confirmed in 2004 in the European Journal of Pain where researchers reported that test subjects who frequently reminded themselves to maintain natural posture experienced fewer headaches.

When we feel stressed, our natural reaction is to tuck the chin into the neck and hunch the shoulders. In an Alexander technique lesson we learn to recognize this stress reaction and the choices we have about how we respond to it. An Alexander teacher can show you how to check in with your body frequently throughout the day to remind yourself to free movement in the neck, allow the head to move up, and widen the shoulders. This in effect lengthens the spine, consciously improving posture to deal with one of the underlying causes of migraine.

A certified Alexander teacher, who has completed a three-year, minimum 1,600-hour course, can offer hands-on instruction in the Alexander technique. Teachers practising in your area are listed on the website of the Canadian Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique (canstat.ca).

Three Primary Directions

Pause often during daily activities to consciously realign the head, neck, and shoulders using these three primary directions:

1. Allow the neck to be free.
2. Allow the head to go forward and up.
3. Allow the back to lengthen and widen.

Source: Mind and Body Stress Relief with the Alexander Technique by Richard Brennan (HarperCollins, 1998)

Daily Relaxation Pose

The semi-supine position is basic to the Alexander technique and helps the muscles recover from daily stress. Try to relax in this way for 10 to 20 minutes each day:

  1. Lie on your back on the floor, with knees bent and head resting on a small stack of paperbacks. Adjust the number of books until you feel the back of your neck release and the muscles along your spine lengthen.
  2. Too many books will drop your chin toward the chest. Too few books will tilt back the head. If you’re uncertain how many books to use, simply use a firm pillow.
  3. Keep your eyes open throughout your relaxation session to help you focus on the places in your body where you hold tension.
  4. Think of your neck muscles lengthening and your shoulders widening. Think of your knees pointing up to the ceiling and your feet flattening to the floor and widening.
  5. As your body relaxes, focus on the relaxed feeling and summon this sensation in your body whenever you feel it tense up.

Maintain Posture While Sitting

Sitting is a complex and dynamic activity that requires attention to multiple factors. Guided hands-on work with a certified Alexander teacher will help you achieve a comfortable posture you can use whenever you sit to work at a desk or computer.

Sit in a chair with both feet flat on the floor. Allow the back of the chair to support your spine and rest the weight of your body on your sitting bones. Widen the shoulders and drop them away from the neck. Lengthen the back and consciously align the head, neck, and shoulders. You should be able to sit comfortably in this position for some time, but get up every 20 minutes to ensure muscles don’t tense.

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