The Alexander Technique
What is the Alexander Technique?
Definition and discussion by Idelle Packer, M.S., P.T., C.T.A.T.
The Alexander Technique is a practical skill that people of all ages, abilities, and professions can learn to improve the way they feel, the way they move, and the way they look ... knowledge to enhance health and performance.
WHAT HAPPENS IN A LESSON WITH A CERTIFIED TEACHER?
If you were to study the Alexander Technique, you would learn unique self-management skills that identify and overcome inefficient body habits that produce muscle imbalance, chronic tension, poor posture, and other postural and movement dysfunction.
You would become more aware of your body and how you think about movement. You might notice more ease in breathing and speaking or decreased neck or back tension, pain, or muscular effort.
The teacher would most likely begin by observing and guiding you in simple movements such as sitting and standing, turning the head, walking, reaching, bending. Through observation, experimentation, and the experience of an Alexander teacher's guidance and feedback, you would learn to alter inefficient movement patterns and prevent unnecessary muscular tension in these simple movements.
Eventually you become proficient at applying the skills learned in a lesson to daily activities and then to specialized skills of sports, the performing arts, various work efforts, or touch-typing at the computer. You are able to consciously inhibit habits that interfere with your performance goals. Your body works better for you with ease, mobility, dexterity, and expression.
Frederick Matthias Alexander (1869-1953), the Technique's founder,
theorized that many human ailments, pain, and injuries were caused
and/or complicated by poor postural habits.
He identified the habitual malalignment of the head and neck to the
torso as the primary cause of malcoordination limiting human function
and movement potential. When instead, the same person learns to use the
proper head, neck, back relationship (primary control), general
coordination changes: the spine lengthens in a natural, dynamic way that
counters gravity and easily guides the torso upward.
Alexander developed a teaching method, the objectives being, one, to
restore the innate, reflexive relationship between the head, neck and
torso of his pupils and, two, to teach them skills to renew and maintain
this relationship while performing any activity. The result: optimal
coordination, balance, mobility, and comfort.
CAN I LEARN THE TECHNIQUE ON MY OWN?
Habits are, by their nature, unconscious. Initially you will make the most progress by working with the trained eyes and hands of a teacher whose observations and guidance offer skills to heighten your perception and change your ingrained patterns.
With a gentle, supportive touch, an Alexander teacher helps you notice areas of tension and experience your body in a new way. You will be able to utilize the skills learned in lessons at home and self-lesson skills are eventually incorporated into the lesson. The goal is to "own it", to be independent of the teacher, and learn to apply the techniques to all the activities of your life.
Where do You Stand on Posture,
Non-Doing in Action
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE? WHAT DOES IT COST?
Duration of study depends on your initial condition and personal goals. You will make changes in 2-5 lessons; 10 lessons provide a more in-depth introduction; 30 lessons is recommended for a thorough course of study. Lessons average 30-45 minutes. Rates vary from $60-$85. Contact Idelle to learn current rates.
HISTORY OF THE ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE
F. M. Alexander (1869-1955) developed the Technique's premise from experimental observations of his own movement habits. An Australian actor and solo Shakespearean orator, his performance career was interrupted at the age of nineteen by chronic vocal problems: restricted breathing, strained speech, and loss of his voice. When doctors could not identify the source of his affliction nor offer a cure, Alexander looked at his own movement for the source of his vocal trouble.
Through nine years of rigorous self-observation and experimentation, Alexander was able to identify the habitual movement patterns of his head, neck, torso, and breath that compressed his larynx and shortened his breath compromising his speaking stamina. He recorded his story and results in four volumes and numerous articles and lectures over the course of his life.
His discoveries, however, encompassed more than the vocal and breathing mechanism. While reclaiming his voice, he discovered some basic truths about what he termed, the "use of the self", about how the human organism learns and functions optimally. His discoveries led him to develop a technique that has helped people of all ages and walks of life to effect simple cognitive and physical changes that optimize performance.
Alexander's work with his colleagues and others suffering from a wide variety of physical and mental problems demonstrated the universal application of his personal self-discovery. In each case, he sought to restore primary control, the innate, reflexive relationship between the head, neck, and torso, facilitating a general freedom and fluidity in movement.
Alexander's identification of "primary control" preceded investigations by his contemporary, Rudolf Magnus, whose experiments on vertebrates in 1925 and later on humans confirmed the existence of a central neural control that mediates the body's dynamic postural balance and alignment of the body in space.
Alexander not only conceptualized a primary control mechanism; he demonstrated that habits of muscular response can interfere with it. Furthermore, he developed a practical method to reverse the compensatory muscular imbalance that leads to painful conditions and compromised function.
Alexander brought his work to Great Britain in 1904 and introduced his Technique in the United States in 1914. He worked with students from many disciplines, including philosopher and educator John Dewey, who wrote the introduction to two of his books, and writers Aldous Huxley and George Bernard Shaw. After studying with Alexander, renowned anatomist and physiologist, George E. Coghill (1941), provided the introductory remarks to Alexander's fourth volume,
The Universal Constant in Living. Anatomist, Raymond A. Dart, and neuroscientist, C.S. Sherrington also endorsed the Technique after studying with Alexander.
WHO STUDIES THE ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE?
Athletes, fitness enthusiasts, hairdressers, computer users, frequent flyers, drivers, writers, public speakers, waiters & waitresses, parents, pregnant women, children, dentists, medical technicians, surgeons, psychotherapists, nurses, physical and occupational therapists, body workers, film & theater directors, actors, musicians, singers, dancers, conductors, performers, visual artists, craftspeople, architects..In other words, people of all ages and walks of life.
In praising the life work of F.M. Alexander, educator, John Dewey remarks, ".there is no aspect of the maladjustments of modern life which does not receive illumination."
1.) PERFORMING ARTS
For nearly 100 years, actors, dancers, singers and musicians have studied the Alexander Technique in order to reduce performance anxiety and enhance performance and stage presence. Heightened sensory awareness, mental acuity and energy gained in a study of the Alexander Technique are essential for the performing artist.
The Technique is taught in universities and conservatories including North Western, Indiana, Cincinatti, Hart College of Music, the Juilliard School, New England Conservatory of Music, Aspin Music Center, Brevard Music Center, San Francisco Conservatory, Boston Conservatory, Manhattan School of Music, and the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television.
Professional performing artists who have incorporated the Alexander Technique into their disciplines include Sir Colin Davis, William Hurt, Jeremy Irons, James Earl Jones, Kevin Kline, Paul McCartney, Kelly McGillis, Paul Newman, Lynn Redgrave, Maggie Smith, Mary Steenbergen, Sting, Robin Williams, Joanne Woodward, members of the Trish Brown Dance Company, the Metropolitan Opera, and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.
"Of all the disciplines that form the actor training program, none is more vital, enriching and transformative than the Alexander Technique." Harold Stone, Associate Director Theater Department, The Juilliard School
2.) RELIEF, RECUPERATION & PREVENTION
The Alexander Technique benefits people with a variety of neurological and musculoskeletal problems, including: neck, back and hip disorders, traumatic and repetitive strain injuries, chronic pain and arthritis, breathing and coordination disorders, stress-related disorders and migraines. Doctors also refer patients with shortness of breath from asthma, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis to the Alexander Technique to focus on the breathing mechanism and retraining of the postural musculature to increase energy conservation and involvement in movement activity. Some patients point to the Alexander Technique as the key to lessening the depression and anxiety associated with chronic conditions.
3.) DAILY LIFE
The Alexander Technique is an intelligent way to solve common body problems and improve your self-image. Study of the Technique optimizes your strength, endurance, muscle tone and flexibility.
Athletes and fitness enthusiasts use the Alexander Technique to complement training, prevent injury, and refine skills.
Leaders in the field of mind/body medicine and behavioral science throughout this century have supported Alexander's innovative research. Clinical studies have shown that students of the Technique are able to improve breathing capacity and posture, modify stress responses and gain self-care skills that can reduce chronic pain. A medical research packet can be obtained through the American Society of Alexander Technique (AmSAT).
Links and Resources
Learn more about the Alexander Technique