Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais, Massage, Reiki and Acupuncture Stress Reduction Techniques
Harry Mills, Ph.D., Natalie Reiss, Ph.D. and Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.
The Alexander Technique is a kinetic method for teaching people how to sit, stand, and engage in daily activities without experiencing unnecessary tension. Using a combination of verbal instructions and gentle manual posture guidance, Alexander Technique teachers show their students how to recognize and alter bad posture and movement habits that contribute to tension.
The Alexander Technique is taught on a one-to-one basis. A typical lesson involves analyzing the student's pattern of habitual tension during common movements (e.g., while bending, walking, reaching, sitting, or talking). In addition, the student learns how to respond to stressful situations without producing excess or unnecessary muscular tension. The number of sessions necessary to produce stress-reducing effects is variable. Up to 10-25 sessions may be necessary, making the Alexander Technique one of the more expensive stress relieving options. See the Alexander Technique website for more information.
The Feldenkrais Method is another form of therapy based on movement education. Feldenkrais practitioners suggest that there is no separation between mind and body, and thus, that learning to move better can improve one's overall (mental and physical) well-being. Feldendrais practitioners teach methods for "better movement," which is movement that uses minimal effort, increases the flexibility of joints, and distributes effort evenly across the body's neuro-muscular system.
The Feldenkrais method offers two teaching formats: group work emphasizing the learning of movement sequences, and individual work emphasizing manual body manipulation. During group work, clients lie on the floor and are guided through movement sequences (there are over 2,000) designed to improve the body's flexibility and efficiency. During an individual lesson, a practitioner will use his or her hands to guide a student's movement through a range of motion while sitting, lying down or standing. Through this guided movement practice, students learn to eliminate excess effort and move more freely and easily. As is the case with the Alexander Technique, the number of sessions needed to achieve stress reduction varies. See the Feldenkrais website for more information.
Haptic (Touch) Strategies for Stress Relief
Haptic strategies for stress relief involve the use of touch, generally in the form of physical manipulation of the body, to reduce muscular tension, balance and stimulate bodily energies, and to create comforting and relaxing sensations.
A great deal of research supports the positive physical and emotional benefits of therapeutic touch. Therapeutic massage triggers the relaxation response, relaxes tense muscles, reduces anxiety, improves the functioning of the immune system, and helps restore a calm mind and and overall sense of well-being.
There are several different schools of therapeutic massage, each originating in early medicine and healing arts. Some of the more popular and well-known varieties practiced today include:
Acupressure, involving the application of pressure to specific pressure points on the body
Swedish massage, the classical European manipulation technique utilizing a combination of stroking and kneading of muscle tissue
Reflexology, involving manipulation of pressure points in the hands and feet so as to increase relaxation and promote healing
Shiatsu, a Japanese form consisting of pressure and assisted-stretching techniques
Chiropractic, involving manual manipulation of the bones and associated muscles and joints to promote health and relaxation.
It may not be necessary to visit a professional massage therapist to obtain a stress-relieving massage, but it is generally more likely that massage will be effective for you if it is provided by a professional. Professional massage therapists are trained in specific techniques and routines for releasing muscular tension and promoting a sense of well being. They know where to look for tension spots in the body and how to manipulate those spots so as to promote relaxation. They are also trained in how much pressure to apply, and how best to apply that pressure so that they don't hurt themselves or you. They have the stamina and the education necessary to provide you with massage that lasts for an hour or longer. Their technical knowledge and educational achievement are often documented in the form of state licenses which provide a minimal assurance of training and quality. Massages provided by romantic partners or friends (or by using massaging chairs or other another apparatus on yourself) may be pleasurable and offer a temporary release at the end of a hard day, but these "sessions" are seldom as thorough or in-depth, and may not be as effective as specifically designed stress reducing massage therapies.
Reiki is an alternative medicine therapy that originated in Japan. Practitioners seek to transmit a universal energy to a person (called "ki"), either from a distance or by placing their hands on or near that person. The ultimate goal is to raise the amount of ki in and around the client, heal the pathways for ki, and reduce negative energies. This goal of balancing the flow of energy within the body is shared with other Asian-inspired therapies including acupressure, acupuncture and shiatsu massage.
During a session, Reiki practitioners place their hands on or slightly above the client's body in 12 to 15 different specified positions. Each hand position is held until the practitioner feels that the flow of energy has slowed or stopped (usually about 2 to 5 minutes). The number of sessions required to reduce stress varies, but usually involves at least four sessions of 30 to 90 minutes each.
Acupuncture is an ancient traditional Chinese medical practice consisting of the insertion of fine needles into the skin so as to stimulate specific anatomic points for therapeutic purposes. The treatment is designed to balance the movement of energy (called qi) within the body to restore health. The needles used in this therapy are extremely small, and most people report that they feel nothing but a slight twinge when they are inserted. In addition to needles, acupuncturists may also use heat, pressure, friction, suction, or electromagnetic energy impulses to stimulate acupuncture points. The specific course and duration of acupuncture treatment depends on the nature and severity of stress-related symptoms. A typical course of treatment might involve ten to twelve weekly sessions. Acupuncture therapy is now widely available in many Western cities.