What is the Alexander Technique?
F Mathias Alexander was born in 1869, he became an actor and Shakesperian recitor, but just as his career was about to take off he lost his voice. He sought the help of doctors and specialists but none could offer a permanent cure.
Since there was no evident medical cause for his problem, Alexander thought he might be doing something wrong when reciting, which leading him to strain or 'misuse' his vocal organs.
He observed himself in mirrors and noticed that he stiffened his neck, pulled his head back and down, and depressed his larynx. This went with an audible gasping for air as he opened his mouth to speak. This seemed to be the root of his problem. It gradually became clear to him that this was part of a bigger pattern of tension involving the whole of his body. This tension pattern manifested itself at the mere thought of reciting. Alexander spent several years working out a way to change this habitual reaction and learn how to prevent this harmful misuse pattern, thereby improving his health and functioning in general. As he improved his vocal use, breathing and stage presence, other people started coming to him for help. From about 1894 onwards, he started teaching his discoveries in Melbourne, and later in Sydney, until teaching became his main occupation. A number of doctors referred patients to him. In 1904 he brought his Technique to London, with letters of recommendation from JW Steward MacKay, an eminent surgeon in Sydney. He established a thriving practice in London, published four books and from the 1930s trained about 80 teachers in his Technique.
What is the Technique?
The Alexander Technique is a skill for self-development, teaching you to change long-standing habits that cause unnecessary tension in everything you do. Whatever your age or ability, the Technique can help boost your performance in any activity and relieve the pain and stress caused by postural habits, like slouching or rounded shoulders. Everyday things like tensing when the phone rings, rushing to pick up the children from school or worrying about deadlines lead to physical and mental strain. Over the years, this accumulates and can cause illness, injury or common aches and pains that may seem to come from nowhere.
Working with me, you will learn to recognise your usual reactions to the stresses of life. You will find out how you have been contributing to your problems, how to prevent them and regain control.
Alexander Technique lessons stimulate your ability to learn simultaneously on different levels; physically, intellectually and emotionally. You learn to recognise your harmful habits, how to stop and think, and to choose a better response. Gradually you learn to apply your new understanding and skill in everyday activities and more complex ones, to bring awareness and poise into everything you do. Just like riding a bike, once learned, the Technique stays with you for life!
The Technique teaches us the skilful 'use of the self' i.e. how we use ourselves when moving, resting, breathing, learning, organising our awareness and focus of attention and, above all, choosing our reactions to increasingly demanding situations.
Changes brought about by good habits of diet and exercise are well understood. The long-term effects of good habits of the 'use of the self' are less well known, but equally life-changing. You learn to become aware of, and then gradually strip away, the habits of movement, tension and reaction that interfere with natural and healthy coordination.
Coordination and poise rely on the natural balance of the head, neck and back, what F M Alexander called 'the primary control'. The Technique works through re-establishing this natural balance to promote easy upright posture and efficient functioning, body and mind. The Alexander Technique is a subtle and thoughtful discipline, but essentially practical and problem-solving.
FM Alexander - the actor who lost his voice
Famous people who have benefitted from the Alexander Technique
People who you may have heard of who have learnt the Technique include:
Madonna, Victoria Beckham, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chrsitopher Reeves, Hugh Jackman, Dame Judi Dench, William Hurt, Kevin Kline, Paul McCartney, John McEnroe, Robin Williams, Julie Andrews, Paul Newman, Sting, Yehudi Menuhin, Jeremy Irons, James Galway, Pierce Brosnan, Ruby Wax, John Cleese.
Past students of FM Alexander include: John Dewey, Sir Stafford Cripps, Aldous Huxley, Sir Charles Sherrington, Raymond Dart, George Bernard Shaw, Moshe Feldenkrais