Alexander Technique and Physical Therapy
The Alexander Technique


By Idelle Packer, MS, PT, CTAT
certified teacher of the Alexander Technique

      COPD is a category of breathing disorders that includes Chronic Bronchitis, Emphysema, Asthma, Cystic Fibrosis and Bronchiectasis. These patients suffer episodic wheezing, decreased airflow during exhalation, airway obstruction during inhalation, hypertension, flattened diaphragm or paradoxical breathing (a reversal of the normal pattern), or oxygen dependency. Symptoms are often accentuated during sleep and always during activity where any exertion is perceived as effortful when airways are deficient.

      Without skills to control shortness of breath, the person with COPD typically avoids activity. Exercise and walking are perceived as too difficult. When postural muscles weaken there is the added problem of an inadequate skeletal frame for normal breathing. Without the normal exchange of gasses muscles are deprived of oxygen, and muscles that are weak need more oxygen than strong ones. Balance, posture, and stamina deteriorate until every activity from bathing, dressing, and even resting is accompanied by shortness of breath and the patient is oxygen dependent.

      Beacon Healthcare Associates under the direction of David Clements, MD and Body Sense, physical therapy practices, under the direction of Idelle Packer, PT have collaborated to create a unique and comprehensive six-week program for the patient with COPD or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Together with Martha Hoffman, C-PA, specialty in nutrition, and respiratory therapist, Amy Trees, the team created a comprehensive physical therapy program that includes patient education about their disease, medication, and correct inhaler use, occupational therapy, naturopathic medicine, Alexander Technique for postural reeducation and breathing coordination training, as well as mobility, strengthening, and aerobic exercise that patients will continue to do at home after the six week program finishes.

      Results are confirmed by the participants: increased stamina, less dependency on oxygen and medication, elimination of secondary complaints of neck and back pain, and a strong sense of accomplishment and pride. Ms. Trees has documented a decrease in hypertension among participants. The objective measures of the six-minute walk test and spirometry reading to access lung and functional status of the patient taken at the end of the six weeks as compared with initial testing demonstrate improvement in total distance walked, decreased resting pulse, blood pressure, and self-rating on Borg scale (report of less effort to breath during and following the 6-mainute walk test).

      Beacon Healthcare office manager, Evan Richardson, observed the need for patients with COPD to network with each other and envisioned the possibility of a constructive and comprehensive program that would teach patients about their disease and offer life-changing skills to reverse the cycle of debilitation. In collaboration with Idelle Packer, physical therapist and certified teacher of the Alexander Technique, the structure of the program was realized: each patient would receive four informative lectures, 9 private physical therapy sessions to learn a comprehensive 50-minute home program of posture, balance, mobility, stretching, strengthening, and aerobic exercise modified to each patient's needs and abilities.

      The success of the program demonstrates the value of creative solutions to address the needs of seniors, the need for patient reeducation, and the ability of individuals to take responsibility for their condition by applying their skills learned in the program to daily activity and continuing a daily discipline of exercise.

Copyright © Idelle Packer 2007
For more information on the respiratory program, contact Beacon Healthcare 828.254.4899 or Body Sense 828.687.0407

Breathing is a skill that can be improved
Image Gallery

"I often ask myself if efficient breathing begins with dynamic alignment, or if balance and coordination rely on efficient breathing? Wherever
you begin, developing a kinesthetic awareness of the breathing is vital for life."

Jessica Wolf, certified teacher of the Alexander Technique, certified Movement Analyst, practitioner of Carl Stough's Breathing Coordination