"After working for a lifetime in this new field, I am conscious that the knowledge gained is but a beginning… knowledge of the self is fundamental to all other."
Frederick Matthias Alexander, 1869-1955
Individuals study the Alexander Technique because of a desire for change. They may be seeking relief from pain, stress or injury. They may wish to enhance the quality of their performance and/or to improve the quality of their lives in general.
F.M. Alexander was an actor. When he began experiencing vocal problems, he sought help from medical professionals and voice trainers. He found only temporary relief, however, and his vocal difficulties worsened. Observing that he only experienced these difficulties while performing, he suspected that he was doing something that caused his vocal problems.
From this first observation, he began to experiment with ways to improve his use. These experiments led him to fundamental discoveries about human coordination. With these discoveries, he developed a process to end his vocal problems. He also found this process could be applied to improve the quality of his functioning in any activity he chose.
This process is the essence of the Alexander Technique, and can be used by anyone. It teaches people to understand the ways they are interfering with their natural coordination. It then teaches them how to stop that interfering. Alexander called this inhibition. Over a course of lessons, students acquire skills they can use any time and anywhere, to improve how they do any activity. Clear and consistent practice of the Technique, either alone or with a teacher, enables individuals
Employing the Technique typically allows an individual to respond in a continually adaptive way to any situation, with a continued alertness, awareness, ease and poise.
How we are using ourselves - the way we do things - affects the results we get. The Alexander Technique is a means of improving that use. It has been called a "pre-technique" which people can apply to furthering their special skills and activities. It is also essentially a preventive technique with which we can learn to improve and maintain our health.
The individual is the focus of the Alexander Technique. We are all unique, with different bodies, different experiences and different problems. We go about the process of change in different ways and at different rates. For these reasons, what happens in a lesson depends very much on the needs of the student at the time. But everyone who studies the Technique learns how to prevent unnecessary stress and expand their capabilities.
Obviously, since patterns build up over many years, a permanent change rarely happens overnight. However, individuals who learn to think constructively about how they uses themselves in everyday life will find that this simple procedure can have far reaching results.
When individuals study the Technique today, they recapitulate for themselves the journey that Alexander made in developing his Technique. However, they have the advantage of being able to work with a teacher.
The Teaching of the Technique
An Alexander Technique teacher uses to a combination of verbal explanations and gentle touch to enable students to experience themselves released, connected, and supported. The teacher’s hands-on contact combined with verbal instruction helps students continue inhibiting their habitual response to a stimulus. This allows students to consciously direct themselves in new ways.
The Technique can be taught privately, in groups, or in workshop formats. Most students want, and most teachers offer, a series of lessons over a period of time. Private and group lessons vary in length. Workshops can be any combination of private or group lessons.
Teachers vary in their approach depending upon the needs of their students at any given moment. A wide variety of teaching practices can be used to teach the Technique. Teachers are encouraged to be creative and flexible in their responses to each student's unique needs. Regardless of teaching style, however, teaching the Technique always involves helping students improve their observation and awareness. It also helps them learn the skills of conscious inhibition and direction.
Although many people report great physical and mental benefits from studying the Alexander Technique, the Technique is not a medical or psychotherapeutic treatment. It is not done to a client for the purpose of restoring mental or physical health. Rather, it is an educational process by which people learn to observe themselves and stop interfering with their own natural, best use. It is only as a result of learning how to stop this interference, and learning how to consistently apply the principles of the Technique in their daily lives, that people experience long-term benefits.
It is also important to note that the use of hands by Alexander Technique teachers differs in intent, character and result from that of practitioners of "bodywork" or massage, and should not be confused with either of these methods. Alexander Technique teachers use their hands to demonstrate directly a quality of easy and unforced movement. They bring the student’s attention to areas that may be habitually out of the student's awareness. A teacher's hands are used to educate the student, and are not used to effect a direct change on the condition of body tissues or range of motion. While at times a teacher’s touch may vary as required by the particulars of the moment, it is at all times educational, non-invasive, and respectful.
Experience of the Technique has led to praise from George Bernard Shaw, Aldous Huxley, Prof. John Dewey, Sir Charles Sherrington, Julian Bream, John Cleese, Kevin Kline, Roald Dahl, Robertson Davies and many others. It is taught at the Juilliard School of Performing Arts in New York, at the Royal College of Music and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, The Stratford Shakespearean Festival, Boston University, Brandeis University and many other centers.
"As one goes on, new areas are opened, new possibilities are seen and then realized; one finds himself continually growing, and realizes there is an endless process of growth initiated.”
Prof. John Dewey, philosopher, educator and author
Further information about the Alexander Technique is best gained from a teacher near you as your changing experiences through lessons are the only real way to understand what is possible (see the ATI Teachers List to find a teacher near you). If you want to read more deeply about the Technique explore ATI's on-line Library of over 65 articles or see the list of available books and videos (many of which you can purchase on-line through Amazon Books).