The Alexander Technique is the name given to the work of Frederick Matthias Alexander. F.M.Alexander was born in 1869 in Tasmania and he died in 1955 in London.
Alexander was a reciter and actor who at the beginning of a successful career found himself struggling with hoarseness and eventually loss of voice while performing. He sought help from doctors and voice coaches but no one was able to find the cause of his problem.
As his problem did not seem to be a medical one and only troubled him during his performances, he concluded that his loss of voice must be caused by something he was doing to himself whilst performing.
Determined to find a cure for his problem he began a long process of self-examination and experimentation which led to some amazing discoveries. These discoveries enabled him to develop processes which he could use to stop the unconscious and habitual patterns of thinking and movement, which had been causing his problem.
He began to share his discoveries with those experiencing similar difficulties, and soon realised that his technique was applicable to many other conditions for which people had previously found no cure.
In 1904 F. M. Alexander left Melbourne and moved to London where he soon established a successful practice teaching his technique; he worked with many well known figures of the time; these included George Bernard Shaw, Aldous Huxley and John Dewey. Alexander started his first teacher-training course in 1930 and continued this work until his death.
Alexander’s work was carried on and developed by his students , and today is taught around the world.
During his lifetime F.M. Alexander wrote four books illustrating and explaining his work:
Man’s Supreme Inheritance (1910)
Constructive Conscious Control Of The Individual (1923),
The Use Of The Self (1932)
The Universal Constant In Living (1941)
INTRODUCTION TO THE ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF THE INTERACTIVE TEACHING METHOD (ITM).
In the Interactive Teaching Method we start with a simple teaching definition which is: “
The Alexander Technique is the study of thinking in relation to movement.”
We use the word ‘study’ as this is something that requires a little work on your part. This is an educational process that takes some time and effort to learn. You are training yourselves and you are learning to do this work for yourselves.
We are going to use the word ‘thinking’ in its broadest sense meaning all nervous activity, and the kind of thinking or nervous activity that interests us in this work is the kind that we make a choice about; movements that we are deciding (consciously or unconsciously) to do like nodding our heads or crossing our arms.
It is this ‘thinking’ or nervous activity that causes most of our voluntary movements and therefore this thinking can be described as causal. In order for a voluntary movement to happen, a message has to be sent from the brain via the nerves; and this message precedes, designs, directs and accompanies the movement.
This is a key concept. What it says is, that if I am making a movement and I want to change it I have two options: I could try to change the movement directly and typically people try to make these kinds of changes directly and they try to make different movements, or all I have to do is to change the causal thinking that I am making which means that I will end up with a different movement. The second option might be an easier way to change things.
So as we are beginning this work by studying the relationship between thinking and movement it would make sense to start our study with a thought rather than some kind of movement. In the Interactive Teaching Method we call this thought the ‘One Thought’ and it is this:
The poise of the head
in relation with the body in movement is the key to freedom and ease of motion.
Why do we talk about ‘poise’? More often we will hear the words position and posture used to describe the relationship of our body parts to each other; both these words tend to have us think of a correct position and suggest things being static and/or held in place. But we are not static beings. We are alive and in constant movement and this why we use the word ‘poise’ as it has this kind of dynamic movement built in to it.
Ease of motion: this means using only as much energy as is required to perform our tasks and no more.
So why is ‘the poise of the head in relation to the body in movement’ so important? All animals with a spine are wired up through the nervous system in a head to tail or top down way, and movement or motivation is from the head downwards.
One could say we are learning to consciously take advantage of this simple physiological truth and if we can do so we will have learned an invaluable mental discipline that we can apply to every area of our life.
THE PRIMARY CONTROL
HEAD, NECK, BACK
FROM THE HEAD AND NECK TO THE WHOLE OF YOU
The orientation of the head and neck not only influences the coordination of the body but determines it outright. Observe a body learning to walk. The baby won’t find her balance until she figures out what to do with her head and neck. Test it for yourself; while walking, place your head and neck in an exaggerated lopsided position. You might feel so uncoordinated as to walk into a wall.
Just as misusing your primary control discombobulates you, using it well structures you. Suppose you’re standing still and you decide to point your head somewhere in space, magnetising it toward a particular destination - the ceiling for instance. If you direct your head affirmatively, your whole body responds affirmatively. Suppose you start walking or dancing. The well directed head spurs the body into well organised movement, “the head leads, the body follows”.
In a healthy animal, the neck exists as a completely integrated part of the spine rather than something distinct from it. Observe little kids walking, running and playing. Their necks seem quite elongated , while the neck of the average adult appears shorter in comparison. In fact adults tend to break the unity of the neck and spine and create a unit between the neck and head instead. One of the main characteristics of the primary control, then, is that it integrates the neck to the spine while allowing the head to remain mobile and somewhat autonomous relative to the neck.
The toddler’s poise of the head and neck is inseparable from her personality. Her primary control is the meeting point, so to speak, of attitude, posture, movements, energy, thought, and emotion. The same applies to you: our primary control is tied in with your identity...
To improve your primary control doesn’t entail you doing the right thing. Rather, it requires that you stop doing the wrong thing. This does’t involve the same type of muscular acts you use to lift an object or open a door. Instead, you first need to stop contracting your head into your neck, and then prevent this contraction from recurring. The process isn’t physical but psycho-physical, and it involves letting go of those wishes and desires that cause your neck to contract in the first place. To put it succinctly your task is to pass from doing to non-doing.
Positioning your head and neck won’t help you coordinate yourself; but directing your head and neck certainly will.
These extracts are taken from the book ‘Indirect Procedures’ by Pedro De Alcantara
The first discovery that Alexander made was that in every movement you make there is a change in the relationship of your head with your body which proceeds and accompanies the movement, and which will either be helpful to you or get in your way.
In other words every time you move there is a change in the relationship of your head with your body that initiates or organises the movement throughout your mechanism.
This movement will take on one of two major characteristics. Either you will move your head in such a way as to increase the amount of muscular tension in your neck – a tension that will distort all succeeding relationships within you, pull you “out of shape “, and lower the standard level of your general performance and coordination, OR, you will move your head in such a way that there will be a reduction in the amount of local and general muscular tension so that your system will subtly shift to conform to more natural and attractive internal relationships and your motor coordination in the performance of activities will, in turn, improve the quality of the performance itself.
The first of Alexander’s two combined discoveries, therefore, could be summarised in this way:
In every movement you make, there is a change in the relationship of your head with your body that precedes and accompanies the movement, and which either helps you or gets in your way.
The second thing that Alexander discovered is, if anything, more important than the first discovery. As a result of his reasoning and experimentation, Alexander discovered that the conscious mind has the capacity to override every system, including the natural ones. In other words, Alexander discovered that our conscious minds have the power to give us control of our own potentialities or to prevent us forever from becoming all that we can be.Our conscious mind have the capacity to override every system – or sensory system, our manner of movement, even our reflexes.
Alexander discovered that what we think and how we think it can have a tremendous effect on the functioning of our mechanism. Like the organising movement of our head with our body, the effect of our manner of thinking can be for our benefit or our detriment. And it doesn’t matter if you believe in these principles or not, they are in operation in everything you do.
No matter what you believe, you are going to proceed and accompany every task specific movement activity you perform with organising movements of your axial and appendicular structures in such a way that you are either helped or hindered.You are going to “create and operate” yourself based upon your ideas of what is right and wrong, and your “natural system” will adapt itself to fit your ideas in a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, even to the point of distortion and structural damage in activity.
In other words, the conscious mind has the power to give us control of our own potentialities or to prevent us forever from becoming all that we can be.
(THese extracts are taken from Donald Weed's book 'What You Think Is What You Get'