What is the Alexander Technique?
The Alexander Technique is an intelligent and practical method for moving with ease through all of your activities. People study the Alexander Technique for a variety of reasons including back, neck and shoulder pain, performance anxiety and enhancement, repetitive-strain injury, post-rehab recovery, breathing problems, neuromuscular issues and posture.
The technique is based on Frederick Matthias Alexander’s idea that when you are able to stop overusing or overworking your neck muscles, your head can rest lightly on top of your spine and the muscles of your back can relax, affecting your total coordination. The Alexander Technique does not involve learning exercises. Instead, you will learn some basic principles that you can apply to all your activities.
We all have movement habits that are always present, even in the simplest of activities such as walking up stairs or sitting at a desk. As we move through our day, these habits directly affect the relationship of our muscles to our bones. We ordinarily think of various exercises as the only way to change that relationship—but whether you are exercising or not, all of the activities that you perform, from brushing teeth to sitting at a computer, affect your musculoskeletal system, often leading to injury or discomfort. You can unintentionally compress your internal organs as well, which affects your general health.
Alexander Technique teachers show you how to undo or unlearn these sometimes subtle but habitual patterns. We all operate within the context of our own kinesthetic sense—our internal sense of what feels like the “right” place for our muscles, joints, tendons and bodily position. Using verbal directions and gently guiding your head and back, an Alexander teacher will gently take you out of your habitual kinesthetic experience, enabling you to feel something new and allowing you to change that experience. People often describe this new feeling as a sense of lightness, calmness, or “walking on air.”
Frederick Matthias Alexander (1869–1955) was an Australian actor who discovered his technique while solving his own vocal problems. Suffering from chronic laryngitis, he was unable to find a cure through his doctors. Alexander spent many years observing himself in a mirror—he became increasingly aware of his own “use” or “mis-use”, first observing his movement habits as he spoke and eventually realizing that those same habits were inherent in everything that he did. With time and persistence he was able to improve his vocal issues and eventually he was encouraged by a doctor in Sydney to share his method.
Initially Alexander taught actors–eventually a large variety of people came to him for a variety of reasons. He moved to England in 1904 and spent some time teaching in the United States as well. His students included the Nobel-Prize-winning scientist Nikolaas Tinbergen as well as John Dewey, Aldous Huxley and George Bernard Shaw, all of whom wrote about the Alexander Technique.