It is common for people who are otherwise in good health to complain of back pain, excessive fatigue, poor posture, physical tension. Although these conditions seem to be inflicted upon the body, often they are the result of the way in which the body is used in such ordinary daily activities as walking, speaking, standing, sitting, bending. The pain or a backache or a neckache is sharp and localized, yet the cause is likely to be a phenomenon impossible to isolate: improper use of the body. When the Alexander Technique is applied, the body alignment changes: the head moves up from the top of the spine; the spine lengthens to relieve abnormal curves and pressures; the musculature supporting the skeletal frame is neither contracted nor relaxed, but dynamically balanced. This dynamic balance, along with the improved relationship of head, neck and torso, is freely maintained without physical effort at all times.
“…it is in movement rather than posture that the Alexander Technique uniquely manifests itself. ‘Smoother, easier, lighter’ are adjectives chosen by students to describe their movements when the Technique is demonstrated to them.”
-Frank Pierce Jones, An Experimental Study of the Alexander Technique
Application of the Technique is not confined to lesson hours, nor is it “practiced” for set periods of the day; it becomes integral to the activities of daily living. The values of the Technique, in Alexander’s words “. . . are not to be won in sleep, in trance, in submission, in paralysis, or in anesthesia, but in a clear, open-eyed, reasoning, deliberate consciousness and apprehension of the wonderful potentialities possessed by mankind. . .”
The Technique is of special interest to those who must use their bodies with maximum ease and effectiveness (musicians, actors, dancers, athletes), but absolutely anyone can benefit from Alexander work. There is no area of a person’s life to which the principles of the Technique cannot be applied. As Lulie Westfeldt states: “It is used by the businessman in an interview, the actor at an audition, the woman in childbirth, the pianist at a concert, the singer, the dancer, the golfer, the rider; it is used by a wide variety of people in all situations that require their highest skill and competence. It is used when we are shy, awkward, and above all, when we are tired.”
“The Alexander Technique doesn’t teach you something to do. It teaches you how to bring more practical intelligence into what you are already doing; how to eliminate stereotypic responses; how to deal with habit and change. It leaves you free to choose your own goal but gives you a better use of yourself while you work toward it. . . It opens a window onto the little known area between stimulus and response and gives you the self-knowledge you need in order to change the pattern of your response-or, if you choose, not to make it at all.”
-Frank Pierce Jones, Body Awareness In Action
The Technique was developed around 1900 by the late Frederick Matthias Alexander, an Australian actor and Shakespearean reciter. Afflicted by periodic loss of voice, for which medical treatments gave only temporary relief, Alexander suspected that the problem might be the result of something he was doing with his vocal mechanism. He began using a mirror to observe himself while he spoke, and discovered that what he was doing wrong did not stop (or start) with his vocal mechanism, but involved a pattern of malfunctioning that he carried out throughout his entire body. He also realized that what he felt he was doing was quite different from what he observed in the mirror. His customary use of his body, although it caused his problems, felt natural and “right,” while new improved habits at first felt strange.
In the painstaking course of solving his problems, Alexander developed a new approach to physical education and health, an approach that has enabled thousands of men, women and children to use their bodies with ease, grace, flexibility and freedom from strain. Alexander established a school in London seventy five years ago; since then the Technique has spread throughout the world.
“Everyone wants to be right, but no one stops to consider if their idea of right is right.”