Origins of the Alexander technique
The Technique was put together by Frederick Matthias Alexander (right), an Australian actor and reciter born in 1869. Whilst attempting to cure his own hoarseness and voice-loss he made several important observations about human functioning:
Most human activity, eg, standing, speaking, walking etc. is performed on a largely unconscious basis. This frees us to simultaneously perform other complex tasks, eg. talking, listening, preparing food, etc….all very clever stuff. The problem is that unconscious habits develop as we go about our everyday activities and some of these habits pull us out of shape, introduce unnecessary tension and cause us to interfere with our optimal functioning.
A good relationship of the head, neck and spine is crucial to our health and functioning.Our ability to stand and walk around on two legs is a triumph of evolutionary achievement. Central to that skill is the ability to balance our heads freely on top of our spines without strain or effort. People, on a daily basis, interfere with that basic freedom by unconsciously generating tension and holding in the neck and shoulder area. Over years and decades this behaviour can pull us out of shape, establishing problems with breathing, digestion and the comfortable functioning of our joints.
We cannot separate mind and body. Every thought we have has its counterpart in the neuro-muscular system. Alexander Technique is therefore a psycho-physical approach which explores how our thoughts and emotions are mirrored in a physical outcome. Through developing awareness of ourselves, our ‘mind-body’, we can choose to be less dictated to by the momentum of our habits and have more freedom to be the way we’d truly like to be.
Alexander overcame his vocal problems after years of diligent self-study. The principles by which he overcame his difficulties became known as ‘The Alexander Technique’. He travelled to London in 1904 and established a busy teaching practice which he maintained for over fifty years. Many famous pupils passed through his hands; notably George Bernard Shaw, Henry Irving, Lily Langtree and Aldous Huxley.
Freud and Alexander were contemporaries. Freud established psychotherapy in the early twentieth century. Physiotherapy also had its origins around this time. However, Alexander had no time for this separation of mind and body and was more interested in how people employed their ‘whole selves’ in their daily activities, encouraging them to move from ‘unconscious habit’ to ‘conscious choice’.