A school at ease with muscular tension

Somebody with a chronic back problem will go to any lengths to get respite from the constant pain

Somebody with a chronic back problem will go to any lengths to get respite from the constant pain. However, in many cases all they really need to do is to change they way they sit, stand or hold themselves.

This is according to author and Alexander Technique teacher Richard Brennan, who has set up the first college of Alexander Technique training in Ireland.

Although there are over 2,000 Alexander teachers in Britain, there are only seven in Ireland, mostly based in Dublin. There is very little awareness of the technique.

Before Mr Brennan set up his school in 1997, anybody wishing to train had to go to Britain for three years and many of the students never returned. This prompted him to move from Devon to set up his college called Saoirse at Kircullen Lodge in Moycullen, on the outskirts of Galway city.


The Alexander Technique was developed by Frederick Matthias Alexander and is unlike other alternative therapies in that it is not so much something you learn as something you unlearn. It is a method of releasing unwanted muscular tension throughout your body which has accumulated over many years of stressful living.

Mr Brennan explains that this tension often starts in childhood and if left unchecked can give rise in later life to common ailments such as arthritis, neck and back pain, migraines, hypertension, insomnia and depression.

"It is not a treatment or manipulation but a method of self-awareness and a reeducation of the muscular system. The way we stand and sit, we tend to relax half of our muscles too much. By teaching people new ways of sitting, standing and walking, I teach them how to change their habits and rebalance themselves."

A former driving instructor, Mr Brennan ended up with a major back problem after spending 14 years sitting on his left hip and constantly turning his neck to look out the rear window.

His search for a cure took him to physiotherapists, orthopaedic surgeons, chiropodists and even homoeopaths but he could find no respite from the constant shooting pain. However, within four to five weeks of starting the Alexander Technique, the pain was gone and it has never returned.

He decided to do a three-year, full-time course at the Alexander Technique college in Devon and has been teaching himself for the past 10 years. As well as running his busy practice in Galway, he holds workshops all around the country and is the author of four books on the technique.

Mr Brennan is a firm believer that the Alexander Technique should be taught in all schools - it is already being taught in some UK schools - as it is often at this stage that bad habits are developed which lead to back problems later in life. He says carrying heavy schoolbags and leaning over desks lead to conditions such as curvature of the spine in children.

"People are under so much stress today and this can cause a lot of migraine, headache, backache and neckache. The faster we go, the more tense our muscles become and the more tense the muscle becomes, the worse our condition gets."

Mr Brennan takes only five students at a time on to his certificate training course which runs over three years for three hours a day, five days a week.

Although the majority of his clients come to him with back pain and other ailments, Mr Brennan also sees people who want to improve their horse-riding or golf skills and musicians who are holding their instruments with a lot of tension. The technique is widely used in Spanish horse-riding schools and at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) in the UK.

Richard Brennan can be contacted at (091) 555800 or e-mail: rickbrennan@tinet.ie

Michelle McDonagh

Michelle McDonagh

Michelle McDonagh, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about health and family