The Alexander Technique sounds like a perfect antidote to the pressures of modern life. It has been used for more than 100 years to beat back pain and other stress-related illnesses. Reporter SARAH WARDEN found out more ...

Newcomers to Alexander Technique sessions could be forgiven for thinking they are stepping back into the school classroom.

Sessions have the all too familiar title of lessons and practitioners, while being a long way from being called Miss, are referred to as teachers.

However, all this school-day terminology is for a good reason as teacher Jill Payne explained.

The main focus of a session is for the pupil to learn about how their body works, she said.

The way we sit, lie or stand is very much about habit and often the habits we form aren't the best way of doing things.

As someone who spends a large part of the day hunched over a desk, staring at a screen, I thought I would be an ideal candidate to learn the technique.

Beckenham-based Jill explained the Alexander Technique is all about "learning to do less". This allows you to keep the right amount of tension in your muscles too much and movement is constricted, too little and you collapse.

For this reason, the technique is often used to treat postural problems, which can lead to back problems and serious illnesses.

Jill said: "We wouldn't normally use any kind of equipment without instructions, so why should we think any differently about our bodies?

"Many people, probably more than 50 per cent, sit or stand in a way which causes strain but the positions become comfortable and normal to them.

"When they learn how to hold themselves differently, many of their problems disappear."

The session was very hands-on as well as being very relaxing. But pupils are not encouraged to relax fully, as with some other therapies.

Jill explained: "The pupil has to allow their body to relax but it is not the sort of thing where you can totally switch your brain off. You need think about what is going on in order to learn."

I was quite dubious about the idea of any relaxation technique as a cure-all but as Jill encouraged me to lie down and think about my spine stretching I was converted.

I could feel myself relaxing and changing shape almost immediately.

Jill pointed out people take classes to improve their posture because they see themselves in a mirror and can't believe how unnatural they look.

After the session I felt taller and definitely had better posture.

Many people who study the Alexander Technique for themselves go on to become teachers in their own right this was how Jill, 40, started six years ago.

She described how her own problems had been solved, saying: "I used to be so tense it hurt to sit down and now I'm in better shape than I have been for years.

"I can breathe better and am a much more relaxed and balanced person."

It is important to find a registered teacher before parting with any cash to learn the Alexander Technique.

Jill completed a three-year training course before being able to register with the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique, which is an accepted way to find a good teacher.

Introductory workshops on the Alexander Technique will be held at The Studio, Beckenham Road, Beckenham, on September 28, October 26 and November 16. For more details, call 020 8658 0820.

Birth of a back-saving technique

Frederick Matthias Alexander lived much of his life in Bexley but was born in Tasmania in 1869.

As a young man he worked as an actor but after he started losing his voice during performances, he began working on his now-famous techniques.

When specialists told him he was fine, despite the fact he was in pain, he reasoned the problem must lie in something he was doing.

So, Alexander began to spend time in front of a mirror just observing how he used his body.

His work became so successful he started teaching his secrets to others, moving to London to start a practice in 1904.

He published a book of his discoveries and, in 1920, married and moved to Penhill, in Bexley.

He continued writing and formed the original three-year training course for new practitioners.

He continued working until his death in 1955.