International Journal of Care and Caring (published online ahead of print 2022) Woods, C., Wolverson, E., & Glover, L. (2022)
Why is it that a person taking lessons in the Alexander Technique (AT) for a bad back, or to improve their public speaking, should find that their relationship with a person they are caring for, and their attitude to their caring role, also improves? This article considers this question.
Clearly, the question of care is not only of interest to people in the Alexander world: people’s utter dependence on both state-provided and informal care were brought sharply into focus by the Covid-19 pandemic. As care became more prominent in people’s thinking, the article’s intended readership was mainly those unfamiliar with the AT but with a professional or academic interest in how best to support people providing care.
The paper is based on responses from 84 AT teachers to an international online survey, and the authors’ own direct experience of caring. The responses included the perspectives of AT teachers specifically in relation to dementia care, and these are presented in a separate paper (Glover et al. 2022). The survey was about unpaid, informal care, typically provided by a family member or close friend. However, the theoretical and practical implications of the argument set out are relevant to the AT and caring more generally.
Alongside the common physical and psychological benefits of AT lessons reported in prior research studies (reduced pain, increased flexibility, reduced stress, greater sense of calm etc), the AT teachers surveyed had found that they themselves, or perceived that their AT students, had been helped by the AT in a number of carer-specific ways. These included: making carers more aware of how the demands of caring for another person might lead them to neglect their own wellbeing in ways that could have negative consequences for both parties; and strengthening the relationship with the person in their care.
Conceptually, in proposing an original explanation of the AT’s relevance to care, the paper brings together research and theory in three main area: (i) the concept of carer ‘self-loss’ from clinical psychology, which arises from the stress of caring and engulfment in the caring role, and is associated with depressive symptoms and loss of self-esteem and self-mastery (eg Skaff and Pearlin, 1992); (ii) evidence pointing to the fact that aging and stress can interfere with interoception – awareness of our own body-based feelings – which in turn can trigger a wide-range of problems, including reduction in a person’s sense of agency and their attunement with others (eg see Van der Kolk, 2014) (iii) the notion that care is an embodied phenomenon, ie it is something that is felt or experienced, and mainly conveyed non-verbally (via touch, tone or voice, facial expressions etc), rather than by words or actions (eg see Hamington, 2004).
It is this embodied aspect, the lived experience of caring, that is of interest in the article: what it feels like, the emotions and bodily sensations of the care partners, or to use a more academic term, the phenomenology of care. Hamington (2004) argues that the ability to care can be thought of as embodied knowledge, or habits held in the body that, in normal development, are acquired unconsciously from others through direct experience of being cared for. Like other forms of knowledge, caring habits can be attended to and developed, or neglected and lost.
The article extends the notion of care as an embodied phenomenon by proposing and illustrating (i) two specific embodied habits of care and (ii) the means whereby they are acquired, or re-acquired, during AT lessons. This is a significant contribution, because while Hamington (2004), Kontas (2005) and others have made powerful theoretical and philosophical arguments for adopting an embodied understanding of care, what has been broadly lacking are concrete suggestions of what such habits might be, and of ways to make the idea of care as an embodied phenomenon of practical relevance to people involved in caring.
The article highlights important practical and philosophical differences between AT lessons and other more cognitively-oriented interventions to support carers. It suggests that these differences challenge common assumptions about carer support, invite fresh thinking in the area and indicate the potential contribution of the AT in developing embodied approaches to research, theory and practice in supporting care.
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Glover L., Wolverson E. & Woods C. (2022) ‘I am teaching them and they are teaching me’: Experiences of teaching Alexander Technique to people with dementia. European Journal of Integrative Medicine, 56, 102200. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eujim.2022.102200
Hamington, M. (2004) Embodied care: Jane Addams, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Feminist Ethics, Urbana and Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press
Kontas, P. (2005) Embodied selfhood in Alzheimer’s disease: re-thinking person-centred care, Dementia, 4(4): 553-70.
Skaff, M.M. and Pearlin, L.I. (1992) Caregiving: role engulfment and the loss of self, The Gerontologist, 32(5): 656–64. doi: 10.1093/geront/32.5.656
Van der Kolk, B. (2014) The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma, London: Penguin Random House.
Data from an international survey of teachers of the Alexander Technique – an embodied form of self-care – illustrate their perspectives on how the Alexander Technique supports caring by combatting carer self-loss. Understanding of care as an embodied phenomenon is furthered by describing: (1) specific embodied habits that seem highly pertinent to care of self and others; and (2) how they might be (re)acquired in learning the Alexander Technique. In offering both practical and philosophical ways in which the Alexander Technique differs from alternatives, the article invites fresh thinking about theory and practice in supporting care, and argues that research on the Alexander Technique in the context of caring is warranted.
Embodiment; Alexander Technique; self-loss; self-care, phenomenology
To cite the article use:
Woods, C., Wolverson, E., & Glover, L. (2022). Extending understanding of ‘care’ as an embodied phenomenon: Alexander Technique teacher perspectives on restoring carers to themselves, International Journal of Care and Caring (published online ahead of print 2022). Retrieved (date) from (URL)
About the authors
Charlotte Woods retired from a Senior Lectureship at the University of Manchester in 2016 after almost forty years of international experience in teaching, teacher education and in educational policy and leadership. She qualified as a teacher of the AT in 2017 and is a member of the STAT Research Group.
Emma Wolverson is a clinical psychologist specialising in dementia care, and a long-term student of the Alexander Technique. She works as a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Hull, and with the Humber Teaching NHS Foundation Trust.
Lesley Glover was a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Hull, and retired in 2022. She is an HCPC registered Clinical Psychologist and Health Psychologist. She qualified as an Alexander Technique teacher in 2014 and is a member of the STAT Research Group.