Alexander technique is a method of education that allows you to learn experientially about yourself, mentally and physically. You learn to regain the balance, co-ordination and poise that all human beings are designed to have. You only need to observe young children with their ease and joy of movement to know that it is possible.
The technique was devised by Frederick Matthias (FM) Alexander in the 1890’s. As a young man he worked as an actor, he developed a persistent voice problem that baffled doctors and threatened his career. Being an inquisitive individual he decided to see if he could work out what was causing the problem. By using mirrors he observed himself, and eventually noticed, as he started to recite, a whole list of reactions: he sucked in air, depressed his larynx, lifted his chest, hollowed his back, lifted his chin and rotated his head “back and down”. This was the “use” he adopted as he spoke. Once he was aware of this, he could see that this pattern of response was there even in normal speech, but to a lesser degree. This was his habitual response to the stimulus ‘to speak’; a response he had not been aware of and as a consequence had not had a choice to change. This pattern of response and subsequent use was responsible for his voice problem. He had found out that to change his use he needed
- an increased awareness of his response
- to find a way to stop his usual response
- to know a more helpful response to replace it.
FM increased his awareness through observation. He discovered how crucial the balance of his head and the tone of his neck muscles were to his overall awareness, but also in allowing him to stop his usual response and replace it with a new one. Stopping the usual response when faced with the stimulus ‘to speak’ proved most difficult because the old habit was so strong, but also he had no sense of what his new way of speaking should feel like. He continued to develop his ideas overcame this issue, improved his use and his voice problems disappeared. He recognised his observations and subsequent findings had relevance for everyone. He began to teach his findings to others. In 1904 he set up a practice in London, and later a teacher training school; where he taught until his death in 1955.
You may well be asking what does that have to do with me? OK so……
What are you doing right now?
Seem a bit of an odd question?
Well I know that you must be reading my website, but what I’m really asking is, whilst you are reading what else do you notice? What is the whole of you “doing”? How are you sitting? Are you slumped? Are you frowning, tensing your jaw or crossing your legs? What are you thinking? I could go on.
Unless you already know about Alexander Technique I’m guessing that the answer is that you probably weren’t aware of any of this, at least before I asked the question, and probably weren’t aware that you would need to know the answer.
This “what you do as a whole” is considered your “use” in activity, your habitual response to the stimulus to do something, in this case, read a website.
So now I’ve asked the question you are more aware. However, can you change it? Why do you need to?
With every single thing we do on autopilot we have no real choice how we complete it. If every time we read a website we tense our jaw, frown, slump and cross our legs, we have exerted unhelpful and unnecessary tension within ourselves; tension we often don’t release afterwards. Consider the number of activities you complete in just one day, the unhelpful, unnecessary tension you produce in these. The accumulated effect of this tension from everything we do can reduce our potential or develop into all types of problems, some we mentioned earlier.
Thankfully you do not have to start from scratch, like FM, to see if you can change it; you have the chance to work with a teacher. An AT teacher acts as your mirror whilst your sense of yourself and your AT skills are developing. Your teacher helps you to maintain the required balance of your head and the tone of your neck muscles whilst you explore everyday movement. Their guidance through their hands means that you are able to experience a new sense of being, a glimpse of how you can achieve balance, co-ordination and poise through practised use of the technique.
I hope that this gives you some idea about the technique but if you want to read more, find out how else AT can help or look at the research that is available I suggest you look at The Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique website.
I have included a link to the research on back pain published in The British Medical Journal http://www.bmj.com/content/337/bmj.a2656.abstract just because this was the research that convinced me to go and have lessons.