The Alexander Technique is a method of kinesthetic learning and re-education that enables one to move and breathe during any selected activity with efficiency and ‘energetic’ coherency. Typically, with the assistance of trained teacher, students will learn to consciously unravel, re-organize, and redirect chronic patterns of neuromuscular tension that have (unconsciously or consciously) become a habitual part of an individual’s postural support, movement, breathing, activity and interactions in the world.
The Alexander technique was developed out of necessity by an Australian actor/orator, F. Matthias Alexander. F.M. Alexander (1869-1955), who had developed a pattern of ‘hoarseness’ while performing. After exhausting help from the medical profession he embarked on a journey of self-observation to uncover the habitual patterns of movement and tension that he believed were creating interference in his speaking and acting. He identified habits that interfered with his voice, practiced inhibiting these habits, discovered the means to improve his voice and then consciously put these means into practice and eventually, in the last decade of the 19th Century, he began teaching the technique. Educational philosopher John Dewey was a student of the Alexander technique and defended Alexander’s progressive views that many of the illnesses that people experience are the direct result of disharmony between the intellect and the basic functions of the body.
For a short video of FM Alexander at work view the following;
During a lesson your teacher will use verbal instruction and a gentle touch to help you develop your awareness in conjunction with your psycho-physical coordination. Ideally lessons will help restore your neuro-muscular systems to a more balanced state. This balanced state will involve undoing and letting go of excessive tension while indirectly strengthening areas of weakness such as the spine and back musculature. A typical lesson usually involves table and chair work although it is quite common for individuals to bring in activities where they notice their general functioning is compromised. For example; carrying or playing musical instruments, playing golf, walking in high heels, chopping vegetables, running, yoga postures, or working at a computer.
A large portion of any Alexander technique work is dedicated to getting in and out of a chair. Most of us perform this activity frequently but with little thought or focus. An Alexander teacher is trained to guide you to sit and move in and out of the chair while learning to economize your motion, find expansion, and increase lengthening. Looking for the “perfect chair” is an exercise in futility. While some chairs make it easier to have a healthier upright posture in the end it is each unique body that is sitting in a chair whose primary attention must be to improve general functioning – that is, what you do with your body when you sit. An Alexander Technique teacher can help you find ways to direct your body so that you can have an easy upright posture in virtually any sitting situation. Your teacher will ask you to engage your thinking in simple, productive ways that help enhance your skill and understanding of the Technique as well as improve overall comfort and health.
Table Work/Lie down
An integral part of learning the technique is incorporating daily, semi-supine active rest (lying on back with knees pointing toward the ceiling) into your day. It is recommended students do so for at least 10-15 minutes twice a day. In a lesson your teacher will work with you, fully clothed, on a firm table and help you to develop the skill of lying down and various other elements of the technique that are easier while in a more passive position. The conscious lying down work can be extremely beneficial as it eliminates the added challenge of having to balance, helping you to become more aware of your patterns of tension. Your teacher will gently move you and guide your thinking in order to help you to unravel chronic patterns of tension and best direct energy. An Alexander Technique teacher’s touch should be gentle and never manipulative or forceful.