The Alexander Technique was developed by Frederick Matthias Alexander (1869-1955) over the course of his life in Tasmania, Australia and England. It is a practical method for self-improvement. Through a series of lessons with a teacher, students learn to observe and change the way they “use” themselves as they engage in the activities of living. Through consistent application they are able to greatly improve their general function. Alexander observed that the ways we respond to the world, or engage in virtually any activity, are often determined by subconscious patterns of habit that are largely self-conflictive and destructive to the integrated function of the whole self.
Alexander discovered that human movement is organized around a group of reflexes he called “the primary control” that operate in the relationship of the head, neck and back, and create the basic conditions of our upright balance and poise. Alexander saw free, upright posture (“poise”) as a species-defining endowment of evolution (as Darwin did), and something that normal children possess in their first years. However, poise is generally lost or compromised during adolescence and adulthood due to the pressures of life, particularly our culture. Through a long observation of human function, he established a set of principles identifying how our poise operates within us, and how it can be restored.
Alexander concluded that habit is not just a physical matter and cannot be changed without also changing thinking. Underlying his principles was a core belief in human capacity for constructive conscious awareness: that we could become aware of these conditioned responses to the world and learn to choose other, more enlightened reactions. He recognized that effective change in any individual must be brought about by that individual. This is why the Alexander Technique is a process of education.
The Alexander Technique is:
• a study of integrated function, energies used in concert rather than conflict;
• a technique for restoring the optimal conditions of balance, coordination and ease by integrating the entire self: body, mind and emotions.
• a way to learn to use the most appropriate energy for any given task;
• a technique for learning to redirect one’s responses to stimuli from subconscious habitual patterns into conscious choice.
It is not:
• a therapy
• a cure or remedy of any kind
• alternative medicine
• a healing art
• a religion or cult
• a system of exercises
People come to the Alexander Technique for a wide variety of reasons. Often it is because of pain: a sore back or an injury that has not responded well to other treatments. Others desire enhanced performance skills. (Athletes, actors, dancers, musicians, and singers probably form the largest group of students of the Technique and it is a basic part of the curriculum at all the major performing arts conservatories in the U.S. and England.) Others are interested in personal transformation of many varieties.
Each person’s patterns of physical use are highly individual, as is their capacity to observe and bring about changes in the self. Because of this, Alexander Technique is taught through one-to-one lessons with a qualified teacher. The teacher uses explanation and guiding touch to raise the student’s awareness of the amount of tension, ease or effort they bring to simple tasks. Group lessons are sometimes available but are generally less effective.
The first lessons focus on basic movements such as sitting in a chair or standing up from one, walking, or bending the knees. These raise awareness of habitual dysfunction, open pathways to better usage and ultimately allow energy to be directed in ways more integrated within the whole self. The student becomes lighter, freer, more coordinated. With practice, the wonderful natural poise of the self is restored, with many related benefits including alleviation of joint and muscle problems, backaches and headaches, breathing and stress disorders, and anxiety.
The number of lessons a student undertakes depends upon their needs and goals. As the process involves changing long-standing habits, improvement depends upon active participation and sustained commitment by the student. A course of 30 to 40 half-hour lessons provides a good foundation for maintainable self-development. Keep in mind that experience is essential to understanding the Technique. It cannot be learned by reading books, seeing muscle charts, or looking at skeletons. The skills involved are completely experiential. For instance, reading books on how to play the piano, ride a horse or play golf will not yield a person skills, not to mention mastery.