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History of the Alexander Technique

by Molly Johnson

History of the Alexander Technique

F.M. Alexander (1869-1955) was a Shakespearean actor whose career was jeopardized by recurrent voice loss. Frustrated by medical prescriptions, Alexander took it upon himself to uncover the cause of his ailment. Alexander had noticed that when he rested, his voice recovered, but when he performed, he would become hoarse. He realized it must have been something he was doing when he performed that caused him to lose his voice.

Alexander spent years in practical experimentation, using mirrors to help identify what he was doing. He found his body responded to the idea of public speaking with deep-seated tension and that this tension was also present, to a lesser degree, when he spoke normally and in everything he did.

With further experimentation, Alexander discovered the relationship between the head, neck and back dramatically affects every aspect of our behavior. When functioning properly, our system naturally coordinates to respond to the force of gravity by lengthening the spine, allowing us the necessary support to move without tension, to breathe unimpeded, and to consciously control our actions at a high level. Conversely, when the head is pulled back and down on our spines, our backs become shortened, our intentions and movements become laborious and cause tension or pain.

We can see the agility all Alexander students are working towards in young children. Their ability to squat, balance, and effortlessly carry cumbersome objects seems amazing in comparison with the typical way most adults use themselves. Alexander showed it is possible to regain this dynamic poise and coordination, what he termed “use,” by understanding and changing our habitual reactions to the demands of life.

In the end, Alexander not only rid himself of vocal problems, but he discovered how he could function at a higher level. Into his eighties he was known as the young man with the white hair because he used himself so effortlessly.

Alexander started teaching other people while in Australia, but moved to London in 1904 at the request of physicians who had been impressed by the range of improvements in his students. He worked with many prominent actors, but soon attracted people of different interests. Some of Alexander’s biggest supporters were author Aldous Huxley, playwright George Bernard Shaw, and John Dewey, renowned for his writings on education and philosophy.

There is now an ever-growing community of Alexander Teachers, stemming from Alexander’s own Teacher Training Course in London. The magnitude of Alexander’s discovery is slowly starting to be recognized by scientists, medical experts, educators, psychologists, and the general public.





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