Frederick Matthias Alexander, 1869-1955. Unrecognized Genius
Only genius explains this remarkable man's ability to comprehend subtle aspects of human functioning AND develop a radically unique practical technique that can be of tremendous use to its practicers.
In the beginning we place F.M.- as he was known- as a child in Tasmania. The grandson of three convicts transported from England for petty crimes, Alexander was a sickly and difficult child deemed too disruptive to stay in the small school of the frontier town his family lived in. A kindly Scots school master tutored him at home. Primarily self educated, he was trained to be keenly observant of the natural world around him by his father and gained the ability to attend to work from his mother. When, as a young man, his growing career as a recitalist became threatened by recurrent loss of voice, he diligently followed conventional treatment. They failed. He then went to work on himself, employing his novel mental abilities. An account of this self-experimentation and discovery is related in his book, "The Use of the Self". What Alexander invented was a way to combine several inhibitory practices that subdued automated reactions to stimuli and a specific muscular pattern that is associated with stress. The benefits were substantial and widespread. His ability to recite in performance did indeed become reliable, and with enhanced aesthetic qualities. Numerous other benefits became apparent: better respiration and general health, and, which he came to prize greatly, an enhanced general control over his reactions. Alexander's writings detail a kind of self-regulation in aid of bringing more reason to bear on the activities of living: a means to enjoy and develop what we now call Executive Function---the kind of thinking that makes a difference.
As Alexander benefited from his discoveries and self-practice, he realized others might benefit as well. It became clear that, as with himself, other's judgement of their sensory experience of themselves and their environment wasn't necessarily accurate and helpful. The term "Faulty Sensory Appreciation" is unique to the Alexander Technique. It refers to an important aspect of functioning and why its reliability is of key importance. Other terms in aid of understanding this aspect of functioning are "appraisal process" and "information processing." Alexander proposed that we suffer from "mIss-appraisal" and therefore our experiences and actions are not always productive of health, growth and well-being.
The manual guidance in a lesson enables the pupil to have an experience of using themselves in a way which they are very unlikely to be able to produce themselves. The daily round is comprised of one activity after another, primarily guided by automated processing and actions habituated through time. The muscular component of the moment, no matter how maladaptive or harmful, is part and parcel to how we are used to being and feeling. After all, we don't hit our heads on the ground that often; things must be working fine! Alexander found he reacted automatically, not just to the stimulus to speak, but to most everything. The maladapted muscular pattern he identified was, seemingly, inseparable from his automated reactions. Since Alexander suspected, and we now know, the pattern he identified is highly associated with stress...one might imagine the benefits gained by learning a technical practice that subdues these aspects of behavior. Alexander found that he could speed his students learning process by skillfully and gently guiding them with his hands. It's not unusual for students to have experiences in lessons where their judgement of their shape and bearing after guidance is dramatically different than what they see in a mirror. Simply put...what we feel may not be what's really going on!
Throughout its history, the Alexander Technique has attracted many interesting people to it's roster of students. Including Alexander's mail carrier. Perhaps most notably, many write and speak to the difficulty of representing a unique body of work that requires one to be guided, practice, have new experiences and likely change one's view of how humans function. It you don't perfectly understand the Alexander Technique from reading the information on this site...GREAT!. Try a few lessons.
A number of well-known people have studied the Technique throughout its 120 year history, ranging from literary figures George Bernard Shaw, Aldous Huxley, Robertson Davies and philosopher John Dewey to contemporary personalities like the musician Sting and the actor Dame Judy Dench.
"The Alexander Technique has given me a new way to approach my future. A direction, and energetic template of sorts; going forward and up in my life, not down. Having worked for forty years as an Emergency Room Nurse, I know what down looks like. It's hard to describe the technique and even harder to explain the ramifications that occur on many levels. All of which happen without effort or trying or doing. Learning to say "no" and not-doing were exotic concepts for me and led me to many unexpected side effects, the best of which was giving me access to a treasure trove of energy I didn't know I had left. That alone was worth the price of admission. I am a person who likes to get the most bang for my buck, maximum results from my effort. This technique is for anyone of any age who would like to do something wonderful for themselves and I'd say the younger you start the better. I am not young, so I needed it and appreciate it more. If you are a parent who wants to give their child a great gift...give them lessons! Set them up for life. I was fortunate to find a talented and amazing teacher, Rebecca Robbins, without whom none of this would have been possible." - Janie Petersen.