Thespians and workplace staff everywhere have cause to be grateful to Australian actor Frederick Matthias Alexander. Troubled by problems with his voice on stage, and unable to find help from conventional Victorian medicine: Alexander created his own therapy, based on observation of his own body and posture.
The technique is based on the relationship between the head and the spine, from which the condition of the rest of the body flows. Slouch and you will suffer – create delicate poise and you release unnecessary muscle tension and relieve everything from neck and back pain to arthritis, migraines, sciatica, insomnia and even depression.
Keen to experience the benefits of the technique for its staff, the British Library uses the Alexander Technique as part of its corporate wellbeing programme.
According to HR director Mary Canavan, the idea came from the staff themselves, some of whom had attended classes individually and enthused about its benefits. So the organisation arranged for an Alexander Technique teacher to run classes in the workplace at a reduced rate for staff.
‘The workshops have been well received and individuals who regularly attend the classes have commented on feeling more alert and productive,’ says Canavan. ‘They sleep better at night, and there is a reduction in back problems and an improvement in general wellbeing.’
Two one-hour Alexander Technique workshops are run each week, with places for six staff members each. Half-hour private lessons are also available for those who want to pursue the technique at their own expense.
As befits the implementation of a holistic therapy initiative, there are no specific productivity statistics to justify the financial investment.
Instead, the programme is seen as part of a ‘complete and coherent package’ that provides benefits to the business as well as individual employees.
Among these, Canavan cites a healthier workforce, leading to what she describes as a ‘virtuous circle’ of lower absence, reduced costs of absenteeism and increased productivity. Another aim is engagement by demonstrating the emphasis the library places on employee health – ‘this is a valuable recruitment and retention tool,’ she notes.