Frederick Matthias Alexander developed his techinique in the 1890’s. His acting career was threatened by recurring vocal problems of which the doctors could find no cure. Therefore he set about experimenting on himself, closely observing what happened when he began to recite. He noticed tension and stiffness in his neck which affected his breathing and thus his performance. However with further experimentation he came to realise that the tension was not confined to his neck but to his whole physical use of himself. Gradually, as he learnt how to improve the way he moved he discovered a new mind-body relationship that not only improved his health but evolved into a unique technique. He wrote about this new discovery in depth and in detail in his first book ‘The Use of the Self.'
Alexander established a sucessful practice and set up a teacher training course in London in the 1930’s teaching until his death in 1955. His technique aroused interest in the medical and scientific fields. Many Doctors referred patients to him including Peter MacDonald the future chairman of the British Medical Journal. A group of physicians even suggested including the technique in their training, a suggestion that was unfortunately rejected. Nikolaas Tinbergen, who was the Nobel Prize winner for Physiology/Medicine 1974 devoted a large portion of his acceptance speech on the Alexander Technique. He did so to demonstrate how observation and reasoning could contribute to alleviate human suffering.
What is not measurable and what couldn’t be tested or explained at the time of Alexander’s discovery was the effect of his hands on his students. A central key to the technique is the use of touch. Very often students call this kind of touch magical due to the wonderful feeling they have from it. The teacher places both hands on the student firmly or so lightly that he hardly feels them on him. The teacher can feel various tension and holdings in the student’s body and gives him directions to simply think about. For example, he encourages the student to release any tension he feels in himself, to be aware of his surroundings, to think of letting his head go up and forwards, to allow his upper back and shoulders to lengthen and widen. Although this is the classic rather dated approach, the principle remains that our thoughts, feelings and physical responses operate in unity.
During the 1930’s it was impossible to support Alexander's own experience, that thoughts could bring about a physical response. Unlike today when neuroscientists use scans and RSI to digital technology to track parts of the brain and neuromuscular response.
F.M. Alexander described the experience as being in touch with your primary control. By this he meant the neuromuscular mechanism in humans that enable true ‘psycho-physical unity’. In other words the delicate global harmony of our functioning as entire beings. He argued that whenever we interfered with this unity there would be some disfunction in ourselves, whether physical, emotional or cognitive because everything worked as a whole and we could not separate ourselves into parts. So the stress of daily life, or getting up from a chair in a certain way or our habitual thinking about something could disrupt this delicate system of ours. In Alexanders own words: «You translate everything, whether physical, mental or spiritual, into muscular tension»
There is quite a lot of research data about the positive effects of the technique but one study in particular was in 2008. A randomised controlled trial was conducted to study the effects of the Alexander Technique, exercise and massage on chronic and recurrent back pain. The results were published in the British Medical Journal in which it concluded:
'A series ofbmj 24 lessons in the Alexander Technique taught by registered teachers provided long term benefits for patients with chronic or recurrent low back pain....... The results of the study indicated that of the 579 people who participated in the clinical trial, the average number of days in pain per month was reduced from 21 to 3 and importantly, this benefit was maintained a year later.'
The Evolution of the Technique
The results of his work have enabled people from all walks of life to refind their health and well-being. Since those early days neuroscience has made enormous leaps in uncovering how, in fact, our way of thinking or our belief systems influence our physical and mental health. Such findings have supported the extensive and empirical research of an ex-Alexander Technique teacher called David Gorman. He set out to examine FM Alexander’s work more closely questioning anatomically and physiologically how the primal control actualy worked. What he discovered
was a new model of human organisation which has become known as the Anatomy of Wholeness work.
Another aspect he was interested in was to help the student learn how to learn for himself, hence the name, he gave to his work, LearningMethods. He describes how « a huge part of our chronic problems lay not in the 'body' but in our consciousness and habitual way of seeing things and how we misinterpret our daily experiences and then become caught in reaction to these misunderstandings.»
The workshops I propose will take some of the main priniciples of the Alexander Technique and integrate them into the LearningMethods and Anatomy of Wholeness work. You will have the opportunity to explore this work and apply it to your particular issue using your own faculties of observation, intelligence and intention to adapt and change your existing habits. My role is to guide you through the process, take the mystery out of the Alexander Technique and lead it into the 21st Century.
“Mr. Alexander’s method lays hold of the individual as a whole, as a self-vitalizing agent. He reconditions and re-educates the reflex mechanisms and brings their habits into normal relation with the functioning of the organism as a whole. I regard this method as thoroughly scientific and educationally sound.”Professor George E. Coghill, award-winning anatomist and physiologist