Constellations and Alexander Technique: The family system in your body 

by Lucy Ascham 

I began using the Alexander Technique (AT) in my teenage years as a trumpet player.  It helped me overcome physical tension, stage-fright, self-doubt and insecurity. Building on my own positive experience I became an Alexander Technique teacher in 2003. 

I first participated in a Family Constellations workshop 20 years ago. It felt like zooming out of myself to see the bigger picture of what was going on for me and my family, the context I was born and raised in, all of which gave me a greater embodied understanding of why I was struggling.  This lead in turn to having the capacity to take my place in the family in a more compassionate way, experiencing more humility and dignity towards my parents and gratitude for my life.  

I work online and in person in Sheffield.  I offer private sessions and group workshops and use either or both of these modalities as required.  If you’d like a chat to see how I might help you, please contact me: [email protected], 07949 522655 or visit

Constellations and Alexander Technique: The family system in your body

Western medicine sometimes fails to investigate, acknowledge or address the origins of chronic pain. If patients are treated with pain killers or surgery without exploring wider aspects of their experience, it may further disconnect them from their often already alienated body and emotions. In my view chronic pain can be a mix of harmful or unhealthy habits, suppressed emotions, a disconnection between body and mind as well as the person’s inability to feel emotions and unresolved trauma in a family system.

Both the Alexander Technique and Family and Systemic Constellations are based on restoring the natural balance of systems. I use them as a toolkit. Clients come and tend to choose one way of working with me depending on where they are starting from and what their goals and /or preferences are. If I feel there would be a huge benefit to the client, I will suggest a change and seek their permission to so.

The Alexander Technique includes body, thoughts, beliefs, cultural conditioning, and habitual ways of thinking and moving. Instead of seeing the body, as a separate entity, it is viewed as a whole system – cells, muscles, bones, fluids and structures, mind and emotions. It is a subtle and thoughtful discipline, practical, problem-solving, as well as transformational.  It helps people to understand themselves better, re-learn how to organise and coordinate their whole self to function better. It helps to see the hidden blocks and obstacles underneath the surface as they learn to move consciously and more easily, being mindful of their whole self as well as particular movements.

However, as much as Alexander Technique can shift pain and tension, in my own experience it didn’t go far enough into the issues I myself struggled with.

Both psychological and physical trauma in the family history gets passed down through our genes being primed for stress or certain illnesses over many generations. If this trauma is not released, it can manifest itself in the body as chronic tension, chronic pain, illness, and/or addictions can arise.

Family and Systemic Constellations include all aspects of the family, their community, the country of origin and addresses unresolved intergenerational exclusions and trauma arising from e.g. experiences of war, violence, migration, abortion etc.

Using constellation techniques, whether in group workshops or one -to-one, can help individuals feel supported and better resourced with a new perspective and wider lens.  This often brings movement to stuck issues that other therapies have not been able to touch. Systemic constellation work teaches us to include all the people, parts and elements which give rise to a physical symptom.  Only when everything and everyone relating to the issue is included, can the energy shift.

When combining Alexander Technique (AT) with Systemic Constellations, the two approaches address both the physical as well as the embodied blockages/trauma that have gotten in the way of healing. AT uses our body as the way in, whereas Constellations work uses the unresolved history and heart-felt longings as a starting point.

Many of my clients come to me with chronic pain issues, usually once they’ve tried everything else. One of these women was Julia*.  Thanks to the pandemic, I was encouraged to try lots of new ways of working.  I am in Sheffield, she was in America, so we worked online.

Julia sought help to address her neck pain that she had been suffering from for seven years.  Her stiff neck was restricting her ability to turn, lift and stretch.  The pain started after she had undergone surgery for breast cancer.

I started with the Alexander Technique, as I have been using my skills and tools for 20 years, and was relatively new to Constellations and hadn’t thought to use this in the same session before! 

I helped her understand how to work with her body, joints and her mind and taught her tools and techniques that she could apply to all of her daily movements.  We started with rest and simple activities like sitting, standing and turning.  This way she could build up a working knowledge of her post-surgery body, moving with more ease into her work, supermarket queue and at home with her boyfriend.  She began to learn to manage herself as the external situation got more stressful – she could then build her skills to look after herself even under pressure.

Then, she suddenly said the pain felt like being strangled. I was surprised and intrigued about the specificity of the sensation and the word. I asked if anyone in her family had any experience of strangulation. “Yes,” she said, “my grandad died of strangulation.” 

I began a new line of enquiry based on this information. I asked Julia if it would be ok to try something different, another tool I had which I thought would help in this situation.  She was happy to give it a go. 

Together we worked on acknowledging her Grandad’s traumatic experience. I invited Julia to see her grandad in her mind’s eye and to speak the following sentences out loud, directed towards him: “I am so sorry that you died in such a shocking way. I am so sorry for any pain and fear that you had when you died. I see your loss. I thank you for living your life. Because of you, I exist. I thank you for my life.”

In this way we disentangled Julia’s neck issues from her ancestor’s neck trauma. I invited Julia to say:” I leave your burdens with you now. Your pain is no longer my pain.”

The benefits were almost instant. She was immediately able to move her head more freely. Over the coming days and weeks, the worst of her pain had gone.  When she became stressed or pressured, some pain would return, and we used AT to help her manage this.  Her friends noticed the difference in how she looked – less strain in her face, more relaxed in her movements, and the muscles in her neck had visibly softened.

Encouraged by this, I began to use both approaches more and more in my practice with clients.

Janet* came to work with me online with agonising shoulder pain which got worse when being on her feet all day to the point she dreaded getting her jacket off at the end of the day. She had tried various manipulations over the years, which had only worked in the short term. As soon as life was stressful, the pain came back. She didn’t understand what her body was trying to tell her.

Working together I reminded her how we use to move our body when we are kids and taught her some simple tools to free up tension in her spine and hips.  (We didn’t go directly to the shoulders as the pain is often a result of problems elsewhere in the body-system.) We got quite some way using Alexander’s discoveries, but, after working together for a few months, something was still missing.

In Family Constellations we typically associate the left side of the body with the mother and the right side of the body with the father.  As the main issue was with her left shoulder, I asked her permission to explore her maternal ancestral line.  She was reluctant as she didn’t have a great relationship with her mum, and her grandfather had sexually abused Janet as a child.  She could barely acknowledge she had this family line and would have preferred to concentrate on her father’s side. That was a strong indication for me that I was onto something.

Before we started the constellation, I asked her if she could think of any people in her maternal line that could be a resource of support and nourishment so that she could feel safe. We found some resources who wished her well and placed them in the form of objects, which she felt drawn to, on the floor. These objects were a water bottle, yoga block and glasses case; ordinary things she had in her room. I asked her to place an object to represent herself close to the object for resource. I asked her to find objects to symbolize her mother and her grandfather and place them in relation to herself in the room as well. 

I then invited her to take her place in the constellation by standing by her resource and family members.  She experienced a massive impact on her body as she felt hot and sweaty and little dizzy. I asked her to speak to her object-mother and give her back the shame and guilt that Jane had carried on her mother’s behalf. This helped explain her frozen shoulders. The emotional weight had put too much pressure on her body but it was not hers to carry.

Then I invited her to speak to her object-grandfather and set a clear boundary between him and her for safety, as well as acknowledge that she was his grand-daughter and that she was alive because of him. Jane experienced grief, which showed in the form of anger, and tears. Her body started shaking, which was a clear sign to me that trauma-related tension was being released.

After the emotions had moved through her she calmed down and described a great reduction of pain and tension in her shoulders, and compassion towards her mother. Instead of regressing back to two frozen shoulders as she had over the years, Janet is now free from this agonising pain and has tools and techniques to use if she ever gets a hint of stress-related pain with her busy training and events job. She reports that she has let go of resentments towards her mother and grandad and had some good conversations with her mother. For the first time in her life, she enjoyed looking at old photos and connecting with her childhood memories.

Whatever the starting point to a client’s journey, using Alexander Technique  with Systemic Constellation work enables me to provide clients with the safe space to feel and sense into themselves and address what has been out of balance or missing, often for years. My role as a practitioner and facilitator is not to fix the issue for the client but be the vessel or the mirror through which clients see a missing or out of balance part of themselves and begin to address whatever has caused these imbalances.  I use ritual, healing sentences and restoring order in the family system.

For some people one session may be enough to shift their story and restore order and harmony within.  Others return to follow the next thread and work away at various strands in their life.  For myself these two methodologies work beautifully together.  Many years of working on myself have helped me become attuned to my embodied experience and feeling the entanglements keenly.  This gives me a stance on the edge of what I see and notice and am better able to steer the exploration and guide the seeker and group to new insights and perspectives.  


*clients’ names changed.

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