What is The Alexander Technique? Do you know the phrase “Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime”? The Alexander Technique takes this teaching approach. It involves a teacher helping a student to experience how their body feels without those unnecessary habits we all pick up over time.
The student then learns how not to do, with the movement muscles, those things that are causing pain, tension, inefficiency and over-effort. The posture muscles are allowed to re-establish their rightful role in keeping the body balanced without effort. In this way the technique deals with the underlying cause of problems; this is in contrast to more familiar approaches which offer short term relief of the symptoms.
There are perhaps as many formal definitions of The Technique as there are teachers. One of the most succinct definitions is:
A method that develops and maintains the dynamic alignment of the head, neck and spine, in order to reduce unnecessary strain within the body and release tension in the muscles.
It does this by reducing the pressure on the sub-occipital muscles. These muscles have the most spindle fibres of all muscle groups. Their job is to balance the head lightly on top of the spine, and to maintain a tiny rocking motion which is believed to circulate the cerebral spinal fluid. They are also responsible for the body’s co-ordination. If the body is mal-coordinated or tense, the suboccipital muscles will reflect this.
Similarly, if there is tension within the suboccipitals, the body’s efficiency and coordination suffer.
The Alexander Technique teacher suggests the release of the suboccipital muscles with a non-manipulative touch. The student is able to experience the lightness within their bodies on the release of these muscles.
Alexander Technique Lessons
Students are asked to wear comfortable clothing (preferably trousers and socks).
The student is guided through everyday activities in an increasingly easeful manner. Practical, stress relieving, homework is given to reinforce and enhance the benefits gained during the lessons and so that the student may begin to become independent with application.
The technique was founded by Frederick Matthias Alexander who was born in Tasmania in January, 1869. In his young days he studied Shakespeare and later made a living out of traveling around the country reciting great speeches from Shakespeare’s plays.
He began having throat trouble, even losing his voice at times, and was advised by doctors to rest his vocal cords. This made little difference. He decided to find out for himself what was causing the trouble.
Standing in front of a mirror he found that when speaking he was continually pulling his head backwards, lifting his chest, arching his spine, narrowing his lower back, stiffening his legs and pushing his toes into the floor – movements which were restricting and constricting his breathing.
He began to believe that good natural posture was the secret to full unrestricted breathing – if the head was correctly balanced on the body, breathing would take care of itself. In order to achieve this balance he realised that the neck had to be free so that the head could go forward and up, enabling the spine to lengthen and widen.
Gradually he began to develop an understanding of how his head, neck and back could work harmoniously together and his throat trouble disappeared and his voice became reliable and effective.
His general health also improved because , among other things, there was a far greater quantity of air going in and out of the lungs and better oxygenation of the blood, and he realised that poor breathing was not limited to those with vocal problems but applied to many people.
(History adapted from article by Stan Solomons on openwriting.com)
F.M. Alexander – underlying points of his philosophy
- There is unity between the mind and the body
- In the absence of interference, (excessive tension caused by overbearing habit) the right thing does itself – nature takes care of itself
- Interference manifests not only in the results of performance, but also in the condition of the instrument (the body)
- The work of The Alexander Technique is to detect interference, stop it, or better prevent it happening