The Alexander Technique has been helping people function easily and efficiently, for over 100 years.
Despite the many descriptions one can read online or in books, people often find it challenging to imagine what the Alexander Technique is, or how one learns it. The technique teaches you a new approach to familiar activities, and it can be challenging to describe the new experience in terms of what you already know.
The best way to find out about the Alexander Technique is to have a lesson. The technique works as it is applied to daily living. There are no exercises or prescribed movements to learn. Rather, students learn by applying the technique to everyday activities such as sitting, standing, walking, speaking, playing an instrument, and/or anything else an individual may do in daily life.
Alexander himself did not set out to develop a technique that promotes well-being and a good use of the self. Like most people, Alexander had a particular problem to solve.
Frederick Matthias Alexander (1869 – 1955) was a Shakespearean actor who suffered from persistent vocal problems that interfered with his livelihood and success on the stage. He developed the Alexander Technique in an attempt to find a solution to his growing dilemma. What effectively changed his approach to reciting and ultimately everything he did, was realizing that it was something he himself was doing, when he recited, that caused his vocal problems.
He spent years observing himself in front of a mirror and experimenting with the way he recited. He found that he had an habitual way of responding that affected, not only how he recited, but everything he did. The challenge was to bring more conscious awareness to what he did and change the way he used his whole self. The important discoveries he made about human movement, habit, and making lasting change became the basis of his technique. He spent the rest of his life refining his work, training others to teach, writing books, and teaching people to improve the use of the self he was so successful at achieving.
What helped Alexander make such lasting change were a few crucial ingredients. First, he developed awareness. In order to change what he was doing, he had to know what he was doing. The practice of noticing the self through the senses is the first step.
Alexander noticed that his habit of tensing and “pulling down” happened automatically, as soon as he thought to do something. He had to give himself time in order to think. He called it inhibition, as he would respond to a stimulus with non-action. Today, we might say we might say he delayed gratification in order to choose a new way of responding.
Preventing his habit unleashed a freedom of movement between his head and his spine. He identified this relationship as a key to improving not only his voice but his whole system. When he released his neck, his head moved forward and up, his back lengthened and widened, and his whole system functioned better. Letting go of the downward pressure of his head on his spine, allowed his body to lengthen and move much more easily. He practiced thinking into his body to allow a new poise between his neck, head, and back, and as a way to continue to move in a new direction.
The Alexander teacher is highly skilled at observing and sensing through hands-on touch what a student is doing. Students are given time and the opportunity to become aware of their bodies, especially as they think to do something. As they prevent unnecessary effort and tension, they learn to move with clarity and direction, as well as experience lightness, length, and freedom of movement.