What is the Alexander Technique
The Alexander Technique is about movement – how we move, and how we think about movement. It teaches us to use our bodies in cooperation with our inherent design, moving and functioning as a well-coordinated, balanced whole being, fully connected with our surroundings.
“You can’t do something you don’t know, if you keep on doing what you know.”
~ F. Matthias Alexander
Life is a constant influx of stimulus-response moments. Stimulus-response, stimulus-response. Our senses connect us to the world around us, and send what we perceive to our brain, which in turn sends back a response through the body. We see something – we respond. We feel something – we respond. We have a thought – we respond.
stimulus // RESPONSE . . .
STIMULUS // response . . .
. . . stimulus // response
Over time, our responses become automatic, and we form habitual patterns of thinking and movement. For the most part, we are unconscious to the fact that we are the ones who have created these patterns . . . which is actually really great news!
If it’s something we’ve created, rather than something fixed that perhaps we were born with, then there’s the possibility of change.
But how do we go about doing that?
Watching young children as they move around, so free in their own skins, spatially aware, their eyes bright, we see them moving with natural coordinated ease, in perfect correlation to the world as it occurs for them.
The young child bounces with ease and agility into a natural squat, maintaining a lovely long back, his heels and feet down on the ground, bright eyes leading the head to turn freely around to catch what’s happening over there.
Do you remember when you were last able to do it like that?
As we grow and experience life, we form ideas about ourselves, our bodies, and how we should move. Our more sedentary city lifestyle means that the use of our musculature has changed since the days our ancestors roamed through natural terrains. Bigger demands on our time and energy coupled with a faster pace of life has led to higher levels of stress.
Being the incredibly adaptable creatures we are, we altered how we use our selves to compensate for the changes in our lifestyle. But at a cost – without realising it, sitting on chairs and sofas, driving in cars, using devices for hours each day, some of the muscles we use to do the things we do in our day are being overused, while others actually crucial to maintaining our strength and stability get underused, which compromises the wellbeing and functioning of our musculoskeletal system.
But the marvel of it all, the great gift of learning how to use ourselves better is that it gives us the opportunity to choose, and to have agency over how we function. You become present, conscious to what you’re doing and how you’re doing it, and right in the moment, you choose – you can keep doing what you’re doing in the same manner as you’ve always done it, or… you can make a fresh choice to proceed with more ease and renewed balance.
The Alexander Technique gives you the tools to learn your way out of pain.
“It looks like we are working on the body, but use patterns are held in the brain. We are looking to change our unhelpful ‘default’ patterns of use back to ‘factory settings’!”
~ Penelope Easten
The first step in the process is to become aware, to see yourself in action, to notice how you are moving, and where you might be tightening, gripping or holding yourself unnecessarily.
As soon as you have an idea to do something, your whole system immediately fires up to answer the call. Right then is the opportunity to stop, to not allow your habitual way of moving do its thing.
In cooperation with your body’s design, you learn how to think and move in a coordinated way, so tension and pain are reduced, and both wellbeing and performance improve.
Frederick Matthias Alexander (1869-1955) was born in Tasmania, Australia. He became a successful Shakespearean actor, but developed serious voice problems that interrupted his performing career. When medical doctors couldn’t help him, other than prescribing rest, he was unsatisfied with this result, so he began considering alternative solutions.
In one of those game-changing light bulb moments, he realised that since this debilitating condition showed up only when he went into performance mode, but didn’t present itself through normal conversing, it must be something he himself was doing that was interfering with his use of his voice. He decided to investigate, to see if he could uncover what exactly he was doing.
Using strategically-placed mirrors, he soon found the problem. In preparation for oration, he’d throw his head back, take in a huge gasping breath, and grab the floor with his feet. But that information in itself didn’t make any difference. Each time he went to perform, even though he had firmly decided not to do those things, in the very last moment his old habitual ways kicked right back in.
He did finally figure it out, how to stop himself before those habits had any chance, and after years of investigation, he made a discovery that led to much more than just fixing his vocal problems. He distinguished the crucial relationship between the head, neck, and back, and its role in the optimal functioning of the body.
This most significant connection is crucial for optimal functioning, such that when it is brought about, it is sensed as
“… an integrating force that preserves freedom of movement throughout the system, so that energy can be directed to the place where it is wanted without developing strains either there or elsewhere.”
– Collected Writings on the Alexander Technique,
A Technique for Musicians,
Pt.1 Awareness, Freedom & Muscular Control,
by Frank Pierce Jones
Others are interested in improving their performance skills, whether in music, sports, or everyday life. The Technique is taught at most of the top music and acting schools around the world, including here in Melbourne at the Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM) and the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA). Many well-known professionals have endorsed the Technique as having made a profound difference in their careers, including Yehudi Menuhin, John Cleese, Ruby Wax, Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Colin Davis, and Dame Judi Dench.
“Using the Alexander Technique empowers me and gives me a balanced sense of tension rather than relying on creating tension to do something in order to produce a sound or an act that is preconceived. I realized that I cannot control a set of circumstances outside of myself so I can go on a journey relying on the state of mind and body that the Alexander Technique gives me.“
“Alexander students rid themselves of bad postural habits and are helped to reach with their bodies and minds, an enviable degree of freedom of expression.”
Director, The Juilliard School, New York USA
“The Alexander Technique will benefit anyone whether they are an elite athlete or whether they just wish to live life without the aches and pains that many people suffer and accept as part of life. It is a pity that these techniques are not shown to us all at an early age for I have no doubt that this would alleviate many of the causes of ill health in our communities.”
Australian test cricketer (1970-1984)
Captain of the Australian Cricket Team (1975-1976)
The latest research shows that over 50% of Australia’s musicians experience performance-related musculoskeletal disorders.* Learn your way out of pain to play your instrument with greater ease of movement and improved technique and tone for better performance.
voice & breath
Imagine using your voice naturally, dynamically, and with less effort when speaking or singing.* Learn to identify and replace patterns of use that interfere with the vocal mechanism. Discover the delight of breathing for improved wellbeing and function.
*The Dimon Institute
The AIHW report ‘Chronic Pain in Australia‘ reinforces the spiraling health, social and economic costs of chronic pain. Painaustralia CEO Carol Bennett said, “1 in 5 Australians aged 45 and over are living with persistent, ongoing pain. […] Australia is facing a pain epidemic.”
*Painaustralia CEO Carol Bennett,
The aim of re-education on a general basis is to bring about at all times and for all purposes, not a series of correct positions or postures, but a coordinated use of the mechanism in general.
~ F. Matthias Alexander
In 2008, the results of a randomised controlled trial of Alexander technique lessons, exercise, and massage (ATEAM) for chronic and recurrent back pain was published in the British Medical Journal.
The conclusion . . .
“One to one lessons in the Alexander technique from registered teachers have long term benefits for patients with chronic back pain.”
How does the Alexander Technique work? What were the authors’ findings of the clinical and cost-effectiveness of the treatment? Watch these videos to find out.