A principle applicable to any goal of changing a habit, size, or shape (including one’s waist measurement or weight), is that of “finding the right teacher at the right time.” I’ve concluded that no matter how efficacious a particular approach, therapy, “hack,” or training regime is, one won’t get the most out of it unless one trusts and respects one’s teacher or trainer. Also, one has to research and choose the best approach that works on an individual basis.
When moving into the more esoteric mind-body therapies and approaches, including corset waist training, the above principles are particularly applicable, because much success or failure in applying the method can be credited to a compatible teacher and method usually based on simple belief coupled with reliance on anecdotal evidence, not randomized controlled trials–the diamond standard for research methodologies. Yet some of these therapies do have RCTs and they are worth pursuing. (However, I don’t yet know of a research grant of say, $150,000, to study what actually happens to the ribs and organs in waist training before and after, with all the variables sliced and diced to a true standard of comparability of subjects. In my lifetime it just won’t happen when it comes to corsets.)
Which doesn’t mean that one should not pursue the more esoteric of therapies and approaches, those with only anecdotal evidence of effectiveness. With a proper mindset, an attitude of flexibility and hope, common sense, an evident rationality behind the theory, and a moderate method, plus the right teacher found at the right time, corset waist training can work for many, and remain permanent–if and only if one does not end the program and then start pigging out (again?) on Krispy Kremes!
I’ve been a fan of the Alexander Technique for several years now, and understand a lot more about how it works after my many classes and more reading in the field. Recently I asked my teacher, Elyse Sharfarman (bodyproject.us) to summarize the differences between that technique to relieve stress and calm the body and mind, with Feldenkrais, another alternative mind-body therapy. A chronic pain program director at Kaiser recently suggested to me that because Feldenkrais was offered in her program to Kaiser members, and because the goals were the same as for the Alexander Technique (light, efficient movement), that was a sufficient option for patients.
The implication at least to me, was that the two therapies or techniques were interchangeable. With Elyse’s crystal-clear explanation of the differences set forth in this blog below, I remain convinced that they are substantially different in method, and that anyone interested in pursuing alternative therapies for better health and stress reduction (including stress eating and portion overload that contribute to a plump figure and certain health risks), should check out both the Alexander Technique and Feldenkrais, and then find a compatible, qualified teacher of the technique chosen–or try both!
Personally, I found the right teacher in Elyse, who has 10 yrs. of teaching experience at the San Francisco American Conservatory Theater plus many more years of study with a well respected teacher Frank Ottiwell, and proper certifications in the technique. Plus she has none of the “attitude” demonstrated by some teachers of the more esoteric mind-body therapies; for Elyse it is not form over substance. Plus she focuses her work on her individual patient’s needs and progress, pulling from her ballroom and modern dance experience/classes, and master’s degree studies in Physiological Psychology.
In her classes I first learned the unique concept of delaying movement (called “inhibition” by F.M. Alexander) so that I noticed what I was doing to habitually over-use and stress muscles (sometimes with improper posture). If I did not first stop and notice what I was doing, then I could not choose to change and saw no reason to do so–a simple but profound lesson! I also learned the concept of self-direction that I easily employ while going about my daily business. Specific mental reminders help me notice and release unnecessary muscle use and strain as I move (walk, stand, sit, read, watch tv, work on the computer, paint picture, etc.), strain that can easily creep back into my body; no specific exercise is required of me.
More importantly, I once and for all learned how it feels in my entire body (brain down to toes) to totally relax every single muscle and finally feel safe and pain free, through “constructive rest” in a supine position. I can only describe this new feeling when supine as being completely flat like a pancake, or being at complete “oneness” during table work with Elyse, and later when I practice at home. By now I can easily duplicate the feeling/thoughts either lying down or standing up and when I want, in order to stop in its tracks any impending muscle tension and stress. The Alexander Technique has become my “biofeedback with a brain” program, and has had the amazing result of improving some of my interpersonal relationship skills as well. I am less likely to jump to conclusions or be critical of others these days, and that is a good thing!
In sum, I believe that this technique provided the final key I was missing to restore me fully to my former sense of well-being, ability, and delight in being alive, after a disabling back/neck spasm triggered in the summer of 2016. Physical therapy exercises given to me by Kaiser’s PT (and followed faithfully each day to a “T” for over a year), plus three-days-a-week-swimming and another three days of walking and back/neck exercises that I continue to this day–useful as they both are and continue to be–were simply not enough to finally cure me of pain.
Of relevance to the Alexander Technique is that there now exist an increasing number of significant, randomized control trials (not just anecdotal evidence) of the effectiveness of the technique on various health matters including chronic back pain; see, e.g., published research on the technique: https://www.amsatonline.org/aws/AMSAT/pt/sp/research and the best study to date: https://www.bmj.com/content/337/bmj.a884.
Here is what Elyse said:
*“Feldenkrais studied briefly with F. M. Alexander, then developed his own method which is also influenced by Judo and physics. The method does not address the habitual way that people move in their everyday life, nor does it teach them how to change this. The assumption (of Feldenkrais) is that by doing exercises (which can be profound), you will move differently automatically. I don’t know if this is true, given that all the triggers for poor movement (stress, bad chairs, hurrying) persist even if you are temporarily moving better as a result of a Feldenkrais lesson. The Alexander Technique teaches you how to change your response to all those triggers for poor movement and pain. Through the Alexander Technique you learn how to use your mind (thinking) to change habits of movement while sitting, standing, driving, walking, etc. In this way, Alexander Technique is much more practical because you don’t need to lie down and do an exercise to practice it. You can improve movement in your daily life by simply thinking, no matter how emotionally stressful your day is, or even with initially poorly-designed posture or movements.
“In sum, Feldenkrais uses movement to change movement. Alexander Technique uses conscious awareness and thinking to change movement. Feldenkrais is about changing habits through learning new movement pathways. Alexander Technique is about changing habits by (1) becoming aware of them, (2) stopping inefficient habits, and (3) thinking about how to organize the body more efficiently.”
–Elyse Shafarman, MA, AmSAT Certified Alexander Technique Teacher
As one certified Alexander Technique teacher once told me when I was deciding what to pursue, the technique is “a thinking person’s PT.” Now I know it to be true!