Mindful Alexander Technique for recovery from opioids, benzodiazepines and alcohol

ManaMindful Alexander Technique (MAT) evolved out of my healing from severe neck/spine pain and neuropathy caused by a diving accident at age 13 in which I almost broke my neck and back.

For decades I lived with chronic pain and anxiety, and became addicted to the pain pills and tranquilizers prescribed for panic attacks and other symptoms of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), which was diagnosed in 2009.

I went through stints of outpatient and residential treatment, regularly attended Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings, and worked on a 12 Step recovery program. I was unable to build ongoing recovery because I still took pain pills for chronic pain and neuropathy, and tranquilizers for anxiety, panic attacks and trauma symptoms.

By my late thirties, I was in a vicious cycle of various lengths of sobriety accompanied by relapses.

Desperate for help, I resumed lessons in the Alexander Technique, an evidence-based mind/body practice utilized by Integrative Medicine providers such as Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins. The Alexander Technique is best known in the performing arts, taught world-wide in music, dancing and acting schools such as Juilliard, Yale and the Royal Academy of Music.

Outside of lessons, I integrated the Alexander Technique as a daily, embodied mindfulness practice into my activities whenever possible, including when sitting in
AA meetings. I especially focused on developing mindful awareness of mind and body that are central to a practice of the Alexander Technique.

Other embodied mindfulness practices that I incorporated into my daily recovery included labyrinth walking, as well as meditative walking practices that I could do anywhere, from parks to high school or college outdoor/indoor tracks. Labyrinth walking and meditative walking have been part of my spiritual and personal path since college.

I developed a 24/7 practice of Alexander Technique-based, mindful movements that became an integral part of my recovery from opioids, tranquilizers and alcohol, as well as provided methods for better managing pain, stress and trauma symptoms.

I learned to physically and mentally pause, and then stop my habitual reactions and behaviors. The “pause” gave me a moment to choose to re-direct into new healthier actions instead of acting out old habits and thoughts.  This method proved complementary and helpful to my 12 Step AA program of recovery.

I named these practices Mindful Alexander Technique (MAT).  Daily MAT practices reduced chronic pain, anxiety and trauma symptoms to the point that, with a physician’s supervision, I was able to taper off pain pills and tranquilizers.

Once I was free of the pills that dominated my life for decades, I went into a residential drug and alcohol treatment program to get and stay sober, and further establish a solid foundation for recovery.

When I left treatment, I continued daily MAT practice, and resumed frequent Alexander Technique lessons.  These practices helped prevent relapse with easy, in-the-body “mindful moves” that enabled me to handle stress and anxiety better, and develop distress tolerance and resilience.

MAT practices also helped improve body mechanics, and patterns of holding tension in movement and basic daily activities such as sitting and using a computer, walking, and standing.

After 20 years of chronic relapse, the MAT practices, regular attendance at AA meetings, and working a 12 Step program has kept me clean and sober
since January of 2009. Daily MAT practice continues to help me in dealing with pain and PTSD issues.

In my second year of recovery,  I realized the MAT practice had reduced or eliminated some PTSD/ trauma symptoms, and anxiety and depression was less severe.

I’m not as hyper-vigilant and triggered from sudden movements and noises, and can respond better to stress, anxiety and pain. When a stressful event occurs, I’m able to respond, and then disengage and “reset” back to a neutral level.

After another couple of years of recovery, I noticed another benefit of alcohol abstinence and the improved body mechanics I’d gained with my MAT practice:
bone loss exacerbated by years of drinking and taking opioids was greatly reduced, and I’d regained about 1/2″ height.

Bone loss and impaired bone health is a global health issue for addicts and alcoholics, particularly for women, and young girls who start drinking and using drugs in their teens.

My healing and ongoing recovery inspired me to become certified as a teacher of the Alexander Technique, a process that includes 1600 hours of training, with additional studies in neuroscience and anatomy.  I’m certified with the American Society for the Alexander Technique.

Mindful Alexander Technique (MAT) is taught in lessons, classes and workshops. Customized MAT practices such as Mindful Recovery Practices are taught in chemical dependency treatment programs and alternative sentencing programs for substance abuse, and co-occurring disorders, including anxiety and trauma disorders.

Other MAT practices include: Walking with Intention classes and workshops for Mindful Walking and Mindful Labyrinth Walking, taught for addiction and co-occurring disorders.

I’m continually researching evidence-based practices that can be incorporated into MAT. MAT now offers a fusion of several evidence-based mind/body practices and research:

  • The Alexander Technique
  • Power Poses research and wellness methods developed by
    Harvard Professor Amy Cuddy
  • Gravity Health research and work of former
    NASA Life Sciences Director  Dr Joan Vernikos

For more information on these MAT fusion practices, please go to the Home page on this website.

 

Mana   30″ x  22″   Mixed media and gold leaf on paper.  2006.
Courtesy of K Guy.  Private collection.