The History of the Alexander Technique
There is no such thing as a right position,
but there is such a thing as a right direction.
~ F. M. Alexander
The Alexander Technique was developed in Australia around the turn of the twentieth century. Today it is recognized worldwide as an effective means of coordinating and retraining the neuromuscular system. Forward-thinking medical professionals and insurance companies endorse the Alexander Technique as a means of alleviating pain, preventing injury, and improving ease and efficiency of movement.
Alexander practitioners (referred to as teachers, because an Alexander session is called a lesson) are trained in accredited schools and overseen by national and international professional associations. The Canadian Society of Teachers of the F. M. Alexander Technique (CanSTAT) is the governing body for Alexander practitioners in Canada.
Who was F. M. Alexander?
Frederick Mathias Alexander (1869–1955) was born in Tasmania, Australia. His promising career as an actor was jeopardized when he repeatedly became hoarse and eventually lost his voice altogether on stage. The doctors could find nothing wrong with him, so they simply advised him to rest and wait for his voice to return.
Alexander soon noticed that the problem occurred only when he took the stage. He could speak easily enough during everyday encounters. Reasoning that he must be doing something himself to cause this loss of voice, he organized a system of three-way mirrors so he could watch himself in action.
Observation in these mirrors showed Alexander that he became tense and stiff whenever he began to recite. Through long, patient study and experimentation, he developed principles that enabled him to not only solve his voice problem, but also profoundly improve his health and well-being.
Alexander discovered that certain muscular tensions caused compression of the head–neck–spine axis, resulting in respiratory problems and even loss of voice. Decreasing these tensions relieved the pressure and allowed the spine to return to its full natural extension. Through better mind–body communication, Alexander was able to recover much of his natural ease of movement, leading to both economy of effort and improved performance.
Alexander opened a centre in Sydney and began teaching what he called “psychophysical re-education.” He also affectionately referred to it as “organized common sense.” His work earned him the nickname “the breathing man.” He was so successful at helping actors and singers make dramatic, lasting improvements in their coordination and health that his work became popular with people from all walks of life.
In 1904, Alexander was invited to London, England, where he remained until the end of his life. He made a number of teaching trips to New York and Boston. He began training teachers in 1932, and continued teaching until the week before his death at age 86, in 1955.
Many celebrities of the day sought out Alexander for private lessons. They included the great English actors Sir Henry Irving, Viola Tree, and Oscar Asche, writers Aldous Huxley and George Bernard Shaw, Lady Clementine Churchill, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple, the Viceroy of India, the Earl of Lytton, and the American educator and philosopher John Dewey.
Alexander wrote four books: Man's Supreme Inheritance: Conscious Guidance and Control in Relation to Human Evolution; The Use of the Self: Its Conscious Direction in Relation to Diagnosis Functioning and the Control of Reaction; Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual; and The Universal Constant in Living. These titles suggest the great scope of his thinking.
The Alexander Technique in the Twenty-First Century
Today the Alexander Technique is used by professional musicians, actors, dancers, athletes, and many others interested in improving their “body use.” It's also used by people who enjoy all manner of recreational activities.
It helps them move more efficiently, so they don’t waste energy or place unnecessary stress on their joints and soft tissues. The resulting economy of effort and absence of tension allow them to perform at higher levels.
In addition to a competitive edge, those who practise the Alexander Technique report enhanced health and a sense of well-being.
The Alexander Technique is endorsed by scientists, educators, Nobel prize winners, artists, and athletes.
Many countries now have national societies to set standards for training and certification, as well as professional codes of ethics. In Canada, that society is CanSTAT.