By Holly Dobbs
Holly Dobbs (Alexander Technique School New England [ATSNE], 2014) trained with Missy Vineyard. A professional massage therapist since 2004, Holly also has a BFA in illustration and, as a former picture framer, extensive experience preserving art. Holly’s membership in the Boundless Way Zen community contributes greatly to her philosophy as teacher and therapist.
The first edition of this book, titled Working Without Pain, was co-authored by Sherry Berjeron and Bruce Oliver. The new title of this second edition speaks to the fact that we can apply the Alexander Technique for relief from workplace and everyday life stresses. This edition is reorganized, edited, and has new photographs. It focuses primarily on how the Alexander Technique can help common repetitive strain injuries (RSIs).
This book contains all the elements of a good Alexander Technique primer, with some terminology that makes it unique. Berjeron uses the terms Risk and Advantage to describe mis-use and Primary Control, respectively. Each condition is examined within the context of Risk and Advantage. Berjeron has organized the discussion for improvement around three tools: awareness, pause (inhibition), and direction. The book does not go deeply into clinical or anatomical detail about any condition but instead talks about symptoms in terms a layperson can understand. This approach maintains an appropriate scope of practice by not stepping into a medical role.
The first five chapters of the book introduce Alexander’s concepts and their applicability to RSIs, with carefully designed stories of individuals and their struggles that illustrate the principles being described. Chapter 3 is titled “Early Detection.” In it, a subsection called “Commonly Occurring RSIs” details, with relatable stories for each, these common medical conditions: tension neck/cervical syndrome, thoracic outlet syndrome, rotator cuff tendinitis and bicipital tendinitis, epicondylitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, herniated and deteriorated discs, sciatica and low back pain, and hip, knee, ankle, and foot problems. I liked that it did not explain the pathologies of each condition in medical detail but instead spoke of them from the perspective of use and the factors that affect use.
The next four chapters discuss Risk and how to apply the tools of awareness, pause (inhibition), and direction to activities such as working at a desk, using the telephone, driving, reaching, and looking up. Berjeron examines talking on the phone by asking questions that evoke self-awareness and then suggests procedures, which include some classic Alexander procedures as well as practical routines that Berjeron developed to solve RSI-related problems. Photos that compare the subject at risk versus using his or her advantage offer a visual comparison.
The final chapter hints at the scope of the Alexander Technique beyond recovery and prevention, suggesting the possibility of better performance, creativity, and improved energy. There is also practical information in the appendices. Appendix A has information about chairs and useful products. Appendix B, called “Teaching Solutions,” talks about the value of finding a teacher. Berjeron gives her own contact info; teachers giving, recommending, or loaning this book might include their own contact info as a bookmark.
This book would be helpful to teachers and trainees both as an introduction to RSIs and as a resource of ideas translating the Alexander Technique into terms a layperson can more easily connect to and work with. The non-classic “procedures” Berjeron includes seem to remain true to the Alexandrian principles. While her use of the term procedures might not sit well with purists, teachers of a more flexible mind-set will probably still appreciate the activities for their usefulness.
The book would also be useful to people who think they have bad posture and suspect that improving ergonomics is not the complete answer. I recommend teachers give a copy of this book to human resource departments, students who complain of stress and pain at work, parents of children with “text neck,” anyone suffering from an RSI, holistic-minded wellness offices, and open-minded medical professionals who are interested in addressing the opioid painkiller crisis. I plan on giving a copy to the director of a nearby hospital spine center, a person who is very supportive of alternative medicine practitioners!