The Alexander Technique, Fibromyalgia & CFS: Part 2; End Gaining and the Four Concepts of Good Use

by Dr. Mark Shaw

Society has made remarkable medical and scientific advances over the last few hundred years, but there are still many serious diseases that continue to baffle doctors and scientists.

Indeed, many "diseases of modern society" are reaching epidemic proportions.

These include backache, neck and shoulder pain, arthritis and spinal diseases, asthma and auto-immune conditions, depression, neuroses and insomnia.

At the very apex of "diseases of modern society", come 6 million diagnoses of Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in the US alone.

The answer to many if not all of these diseases will never be found in a laboratory.

Numerous drugs come and go from the market every year dashing sufferers hopes on the rocks of corporate America

The answer of course is to be found in the very way we live our lives, and this is why I employ the Alexander Technique as an adjunctive strategy to my core techniques as a key part of my Fibromyalgia and CFS recovery strategy.

Alexander's Technique can restore free choice to peoples' lives, free from the tensions and worries that we impose largely upon ourselves.

Alexander describes his view of the process of decline:

"We live in supposedly the most advanced, civilized, democratic and technological society on the planet yet the lack of "real" happiness manifested by most adults is due to the fact that they are experiencing a continually degrading and dysfunctional use of their "psycho physical" selves.

This deterioration is a manifestation of our personality traits, flaws and temperament.

These characteristics of badly coordinated people, struggling through life burdened with maladjustments, combine together and generate conditions of irritation and pressure which are self perpetuating."

In many respects the result of this decline in "psycho physical" awareness that Alexander noted so long ago, is what we refer to in modern society today as "Unhappiness".

To put this in Layman's terms, as our psychological state deteriorates our physical state begins to mirror it and so the stage is set for an episode of Fibromyalgia and CFS, or any another chronic condition.

How we move is a mirror of our emotional state.

If you need evidence of this phenomenon, examine the movement of a person who is in the first throes of love and compare it to a person on their way to work on a Monday morning to do a job they do not like.

As we grow through childhood into adults, our natural happy state is replaced by fear; fear of failure, rejection, and financial fears. At first the fear is only psychological but slowly it infiltrates into our very muscular and skeletal makeup.

Controlled by the Autonomic Nervous System is our fear reflex, often referred to as "fight or flight".

It is of course no coincidence that the ANS is a key system, implicated in recent developments in Fibromyalgia and CFS science, and the focus of a great deal of my therapy.

The ANS had already been under so much stress that when you were subjected to your particular "trigger infection", this system collapsed and you became one of the unfortunate people who go on to develop Fibromyalgia and CFS.

In individuals who become victims of Fibromyalgia and CFS, the fear reflex is often so strong that their tension becomes habitual, particularly in the neck and shoulders, and begins to stretch and pull the body into a distorted posture which slowly becomes fixed.

If you need evidence of the power of the fear reflex do this exercise; next time you go to work, take the busiest most congested unpleasant route, note how you feel on getting into the car at home, note how you feel when you hit the congestion and note how you feel in your head, neck and shoulders when you finally get out of the car at the other end.

On another day take a quiet country road to work and see how you feel when you get there, compare and contrast.

In my article on CFS, Fibromyalgia and the Stress Spiral, I wrote about the particular characteristics of Fibromyalgia and CFS sufferers, how they were often ambitious, go getters, highly stressed individuals with little time to spend examining their psychological, emotional condition.

Fascinatingly 60 years ago, Alexander expressed his belief that as human beings most of our modern diseases and syndromes have occurred because as a race of people we have become so goal oriented, all that ever matters is the result, never how we get there.

Alexander referred to humans as "a race of End Gainers",

By adopting the "End Gain" philosophy we are unwittingly wearing out our bodies, but as has now become even more prevalent we have actually even managed to wear out the planet. What a legacy to pass onto our children.

Alexander actually commented before his death that unless we stop and think about the consequences of our actions we would not only destroy ourselves with muscular tension, but we would actually destroy our very species on a global level.

One has only to read the news regarding what we have done to the climate and our natural resources to see how apt his words have become.

Alexander's legacy was to leave us with the option to use the reason, choice and common sense that we are given as children.

Unfortunately, due to societal pressure to conform we usually decline this option at the first possible opportunity, imitating the behaviour and examples of others instead of doing what we know and feel is right.

As children we are forced to conform, we are taught to be afraid of being different.

We learn a fear of being unique and individual at a time when we should be promoting such qualities.

By following the Alexander Technique we can reprogram our consciousness and choose the manner in which we live our lives.

• We can choose to experience stress in a different way.

• We can choose to follow the herd in terms of how we sit, work, eat and drive, or not.

• We can choose how much tension we will allow in our head, neck, shoulders and back that are contributing and exacerbating our Fibromyalgia and CFS symptoms.

• We can choose to inhibit spontaneous reactions and learn to let go.

At the very hearts of Alexanders' techniques are the four concepts of good use:

The end result of an Alexander lesson is an efficient easy use of the body, but the procedure that a student must go through is essentially a mental one and these articles can assist in preparing you for this journey.

We have all been told at some point to stand up straight; we instinctively pull our shoulders back and try to force our spine into a rigid column, but we will then notice how this leads to a very uncomfortable muscle tension after only a few minutes.

Alexander noticed this too in his acting work and he spent years developing four basic concepts which lie at the heart of the Alexander Technique.

The first two are aimed at the head neck and torso and the second two are aimed at the legs and shoulders.

By applying these concepts you will feel your neck and shoulder muscles becoming less tense and your back becoming longer and your hip joints becoming freer.

The four concepts go like this:

1. Allow your neck to release so that your head can balance forward and up.

2. Allow your torso to release into length and width.

3. Allow your legs to release away from your pelvis.

4. Allow your shoulders to release out to the sides.

Note a common thread running through all the concepts….RELEASE!!

"Release" is essential particularly to Fibromyalgia sufferers in order to break the tension cycle which can bring on and maintain a "trigger point attack".

Unnecessary tension in skeletal muscles can set the stage for pain and injury to other structures of the back such as the ligaments and joints.

By release we mean asking your muscles only to work just as hard as they have to in order to perform the task you set for them.

Practice releasing muscles

Many people at first find consciously releasing muscles rather more difficult than it sounds.

In parts 3 and 4 of this series we examine closely with examples exactly how to "release" and also define it more accurately.

I will outline how to practice and experience the 4 concepts in real life with examples. I will also talk about "Inhibition" which can be considered Alexanders 5th and most important concept, essential to the technique.

The Alexander Technique, Fibromyalgia, CFS and Musculoskeletal Balance: Part 1

The Alexander Technique, Fibromyalgia & CFS: Part 2; End Gaining and the Four Concepts of Good Use

Fibromyalgia, CFS, and the Alexander Technique: Part 3: Implementing the Four Concepts

Fibromyalgia, CFS and the Alexander Technique: Part 4. Inhibition and the Four Concepts


Dr Mark J Shaw. Mark is the author of a new digital book and training manual “Beat Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome" Mark also publishes in a regular blog at:

Complete Guide to the Alexander Technique