Monday, 30 April 2012 05:38

What Is the Alexander Technique?


People sometimes ask if the Alexander Technique is like yoga or acupuncture or if it is an alternative therapy or the derivative of an eastern discipline. It is none of these. It was developed by a thorough and practical man who had no exposure to eastern philosophies and long before alternative medicine became popular. Frederick Matthias Alexander's Technique is now established in its own right in many countries and is incorporated in the curricula of the world's leading music and drama schools.

It is used to relieve and prevent back, neck and limb pain, headaches and musculo-skeletal problems; to reduce tension and enhance performance in the pursuit of complex skills such as the playing of musical instruments, singing, stage performance or sport; to remove strain from activities that are repetitive and strenuous; to manage stress and to restore freedom of movement after accidents or chronic illness. It has even been used to train fighter pilots to enable them to keep calm and make clear decisions under extreme pressure. Because it has such a therapeutic effect, the Technique is often seen as a remedial approach or treatment. However, a therapeutic side effect is only one of the comprehensive benefits to be won from this remarkable process of re-education.

We need to be clear from the outset that the purpose of the Technique which Alexander developed was not to treat symptoms or specific complaints. Such symptoms and complaints are the result of something deeper: a general pattern of "misuse of the organism" endemic in Western humankind which is neither recognized nor addressed by our science or institutions. Identifying and successfully dealing with this pattern of misuse was Alexander's great contribution.

In 1973, when Professor Nikolaas Tinbergen received the Nobel Prize in the category Physiology/Medicine, he dedicated his acceptance speech to Frederick Matthias Alexander, declaring:"Alexander's story of perceptiveness, of intelligence, and of persistence, shown by a man without medical training, is one of the true epics of medical research and practice."

Before you go on, put aside any preconceived ideas you may have. Alexander was obliged to do that when he was confronted with a serious loss of voice which failed to respond to medical treatment and threatened to end his promising vocal career. He was forced to consider everything from a fresh perspective. The challenge led him on an odyssey during which he made crucial discoveries about our functioning which were to form the basis of the Technique we know today.

Our evolution

The human organism evolved over time in an environment where the force of gravity was a constant and formative influence on its structure and functioning.
As we evolved, our neuro-muscular-skeletal system responded to the gravitational force by evolving the means to neutralize its effect. Today, the large extensor muscles of the back are called the anti-gravity muscles. Our inadequate response to the stresses of modern living has left our anti-gravity capacity in a state of confusion and disrepair. Alexander discovered that underlying his vocal dysfunction was a general distortion of his posture and functioning which was related to the failure of his own anti-gravity mechanisms. He managed to restore his lost voice not by treating his troublesome throat with conventional remedies, but by learning instead how to educate these mechanisms to work efficiently.

From this initial crucial discovery, he proceeded to develop a technique for restoring to full working order his inbuilt mechanisms for expanding in response to the gravitational pull. This does not imply that he learned to fly. . . but he did learn how to optimize the functioning of his postural reflexes. The unforeseen benefits this brought to his general functioning are the reason his Technique soon gained its wonderful reputation. But restoring the good functioning of his postural reflexes was only part of Alexander's discovery.

Published in What is AT?