Who is F. M. Alexander? And what is the Alexander Technique?
Born in 1869 (died 1955), in Tasmania, Frederick Matthias (F. M.) Alexander became an actor. He first performed in Australia, then established his career in England.
His professional life was gravely threatened when he began to lose his voice in performance. Desperate, he tried everything the medical experts recommended, but nothing helped. At last he asked, “Am I doing something that is causing me to lose my voice?” The experts had no answer.
So, Alexander began to observe himself and analyze what he was doing as he recited. He noticed that he tightened the large muscles in the back of his neck when he performed, causing systemic interference that put pressure on his larynx. This pressure interfered with his ability to breathe and make sound. He discovered that he also did this when speaking socially, as well as when orating.
In years of experimentation, trying to find a constructive system to replace his destructive pattern of moving, he learned that interference with natural coordination causes serious problems in every activity of daily life. He developed a reliable strategy to take charge of his patterns of movement and thinking in order to gain the outcome he desired.
Soon he was teaching others how to master their own patterns of thought and movement. Advances in neuroscience now verify and explain what Alexander had observed.
Alexander called his method, simply, “the work.” It is now referred to as the Alexander Technique.
For more information, see F. M. Alexander, The Use of the Self. The first chapter, “Evolution of the Technique,” describes Alexander’s years of experiments.
What Alexander’s work means at The Breathing Lab
My teaching paradigm is active. I teach students as they engage in their daily activities so they can experiment with how they think and how they move.
As my students experiment with the sequence of their thinking and movement, they observe themselves in order to accumulate accurate information. They have the opportunity to find what works for them and what does not. In class, they gain confidence to utilize this new information so they can continue to apply it, when they choose, on their own.
Class includes playfulness, laughter, support, kindness, and confidentiality as students discover their own capacity to care for themselves.
I teach F. M. Alexander’s principles, using modern-day language. I teach the system that he created so that people can make a new plan to replace the interferences they develop that cause them problems with coordination, causing pain. This system is a process to renew natural coordination.
Alexander’s first student, Marjorie Barstow, studied and worked with him, later teaching worldwide. Her entire life she continued to refine ways to efficiently communicate Alexander’s discoveries about movement.
My teacher, Cathy Madden, trained under Marjorie Barstow, and then traveled the world as her assistant. Cathy continues to experiment with approaches to teach Alexander’s technique effectively.
This is also the premise of my own teaching. The language I use is different from Alexander’s original; I rephrase his principals to be immediately understandable.