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Alexander Technique - Background Information

Background Information

You can use the Alexander Technique ...


to perform better
for your health, fitness and well-being
for your self-development

A Brief History

F. Matthias Alexander (1869-1955) was an Australian actor and teacher. He originally developed the Alexander Technique as a method of vocal training for singers and actors in the 1890s. While Alexander was developing his method of voice training, he realized that the basis for all successful vocal education was an efficiently and naturally functioning respiratory mechanism. So, in teaching voice, Alexander focused primarily on helping the breathing mechanism to function more effectively. Because of his focus on "re-educating" the breathing mechanism, some of Alexander's students, who had come to him for vocal training, found that their respiratory difficulties also improved. These improvements were recognized by medical doctors who began referring their patients with respiratory ailments to Alexander for help. In this way, F.M. Alexander's technique of vocal training developed into a technique he termed "respiratory re-education."

Alexander had also made the discovery that breathing and vocalization are part and parcel of how the body functions as a whole. Habitual breathing and vocal patterns are parts of habitual patterns of general coordination. In fact, many problems we see as involving just one particular part of the body, e.g. lower back pain and "RSI," are often symptoms of larger habitual patterns of malcoordination.

Just as people had found Alexander's "vocal" technique helped them with their breathing problems, so a number of his students found his method of respiratory re-education helped them with other physical difficulties. Basically, Alexander had evolved a method for learning how to consciously change maladaptive habits of coordination. (Coordination includes movement, posture, breathing, and tension patterns.) He had come to the understanding that the mind and body function as an integrated entity, a rather unusual realization for that time. Alexander found that habits, whether "physical" habits or "mental" habits, are all psychophysical in nature. He observed that how we think about our activities determines how we coordinate ourselves to do those activities, and, equally, how long-held habits of excessive tension and inefficient coordination affect how we feel and think. In a relatively short period of time, Alexander evolved his technique from a method of vocal training into a method of breathing reeducation and then into a comprehensive technique of psychophysical reeducation. His technique deals with the psychophysical coordination of the whole person, or what he termed more concisely as "the use of the self."

To perform better
performers can improve stamina, increase clarity of perception, free up spontaneity and manage stage fright. Improved self-awareness allows them to get rid of poor habits and develop a wider repertoire of skills, to deliver the performance they envision.

Sports people can improve flexibility, timing and efficiency, to be on form more consistently. They can learn to channel their effort more appropriately and find ways to overcome limitations with ease.

With the Alexander Technique, you learn to understand the basis of coordination and how to attend to process. performing artists and athletes of all standards around the world apply the Alexander Technique to their practice. It is also taught at most of the major drama, music and dance colleges in the UK, in some cases as a required part of the course.

"My times became faster as I looked at the readouts on my displays while training using the AT. It was a real boost to my mental training to have the AT in my back pocket when I placed ninth in the 1999 Canadian women's Open Lightweight Erging Championships and when I rowed in the Masters Nationals (5 gold) and World Lightweight Championships (2 gold) and the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta (1 gold). I was thrilled with my placings in these events and I can definitely say without hesitation that I wouldn't have had the rowing success that I have had the luxury of experiencing in my short time on the water without finding the AT and the great teachers that I have had the privilege to work with."
Valerie Thompson Williams , Rowing masters gold medalist

"Through the Alexander Technique I was able to rehabilitate my running after 25 years of being unable to run through injuries, to the extent that I was able to set ten world records for veterans in 1982."
paul Collins , Canadian national marathon champion in 1949-1952

For your health, fitness and well-being
Learning the Alexander Technique can help you to prevent or alleviate conditions associated with undue tension or poor posture. These include many difficulties with coordination and movement, joint and muscle problems, breathing disorders, and stress-related conditions.

Examining the way people carry themselves, move and hold tension can address the underlying cause of many such problems. The Alexander Technique can enhance rehabilitation after surgery, injury, or illness, and provide support during pregnancy and preparation for childbirth.

It can improve management of stress and pain, and provide coping skills for chronic illness and disabilities.

"I recommend the Alexander Technique as an extremely sophisticated form of rehabilitation... From personal experience we can already confirm some of the seemingly fantastic claims made by Alexander and his followers - namely, that many types of underperformance and even ailments, both mental and physical, can be alleviated, sometimes to a surprising degree, by teaching the body musculature to function differently. We already notice, with growing amazement, very striking improvements in such diverse things as high blood pressure, breathing, depth of sleep, overall cheerfulness and mental alertness, resilience against outside pressures, and in such a refined skill as playing a musical instrument."
professor N. Tinbergen ,1907-1988, Nobel prize for Medicine, 1973

For your self-development
The Alexander Technique offers you a method for life-long learning. You can use it to develop self-awareness and self-reliance. The Technique can add a new dimension of creativity to your life and lead to on-going self-discovery.

"The Alexander Technique can be sustaining; it is something that if learned well, can be carried along with you for the rest of your life. It gives you confidence to be who you are when you are up in front of an audience."
patrick Maddams , Managing Director, Royal Academy of Music

John Dewey, a leader of the progressive movement in education in the United States. Dewey met Alexander and referred to his work in several books as being in line with with his own theories. About the educational aspects of the Alexander Technique he said:
"As one goes on with Alexander lessons, new areas are opened, new possibilities are seen and then realised; one finds himself continually growing, and realises that there is an endless process of growth initiated."
professor John Dewey , American philosopher and educator, 1859-1952

"From early childhood onward we make many decisions about how to be and how to live. These decisions shape the habits of our bodies as well as our minds. The AT's in-depth approach helps us move out of unwanted habits and back into choice."
Mary Cox , Teaching and supervising psychotherapist

Copyright 1996, 1999, 2004 Marian Goldberg

Many Thanks to Marian Goldberg
Alexander Technique Center of Washington
info@alexandercenter.com

Further Reading

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