We are all familiar with the idea that the way we use an instrument or tool affects the outcome of our efforts. The Alexander Technique is concerned with the way we use ourselves. Poor handling of our most important tool can lead to discomfort, pain or even injury.
The Technique is based on the principle, that the relationship between head, neck and back determines the way the rest of the body functions. Through conscious control of this basic co-ordinating mechanism the best working condition of our musculature can be obtained, thus eliminating excess tension, strain and interference with the natural functioning of the body.
F. Matthias Alexander was born in 1869 in Tasmania, Australia. As a child he suffered from ill health and was educated at home, rather than at school. Despite his physical weakness F. Matthias Alexander enjoyed life on his father's farm and became a keen and good horseman.
His other passion was the theatre, especially reciting Shakespeare on the Victorian stage. Due to recurring hoarseness and loss of voice in connection with his theatrical career he had to consult the medical profession, alas without result. He tried everything the doctors suggested, but to no avail. Finally he decided to take matters into his own hands. During many years F. Matthias Alexander studied carefully the way he was reciting, speaking, moving, etc - in short the way he 'used himself' as he would later put it. With the help of mirrors and a lot of patience he discovered and developed his Technique.
Fellow actors were so impressed with the changes in his voice and general improved state of health that they came to him for lessons. Gradually the teaching took over from his performing on the theatrical stage. The Alexander Technique had evolved and in 1904 F. Matthias Alexander came to London to teach. He opened his first teacher-training course in the early thirties and continued teaching throughout his life until his death in 1955.
Lessons in the Alexander Technique focus on the actual process of turning thought into action. Looking carefully at what happens to the general body mechanics at the moment we think of an action helps us to discover our unconscious habits in response to our thoughts. At the origin of each impulse to act (or re-act) we create an unconscious pattern of unnecessary tension and movement that interferes with the head-neck-back relationship (which we call the Primary Control). This pattern is often well established even before there is any real reason to act in a specific way. The result is poor use of the self as a whole.
During lessons the pupil receives from the hands of the teacher the experience of an improved Primary Control. Once this condition is established the teacher goes on reinforcing it both manually and with verbal instructions while introducing a task for the pupil to accomplish – such as standing up, taking a step, speaking, etc. The pupil now has the opportunity to discover precisely when and how he or she interferes with this basic co-ordinating mechanism. The next step is to learn how to prevent this interference from overriding the action even before any movement actually has taken place. As the new awareness is maintained the teacher is able to go on guiding the pupil through the action without any unnecessary muscular effort on the pupil's part.
Thus a new experience is gained which is entirely different from the feeling usually associated with that action. It then can be performed without effort and with remarkable smoothness. By repeating this procedure at each lesson the pupil learns to maintain the new pattern of use more consciously. Gradually through a course of lessons the ability to sustain this new use of the self is developed, so that it can be continually employed in every phase of daily life. That way a whole new way of thinking and moving has been established, an overall better and easier functioning of the whole.
The Alexander Technique is not treatment but the re-education of the way we use ourselves. The side effect of good use is often improvement of the general health. An increased well being is like the result of good treatment. But only the pupil's active participation in the learning process can bring this change about.
Since the Technique deals with so deeply rooted and tenacious habits, this process may take some time. It is recommended to have an intense period of lessons for a few weeks, followed by regular refresher sessions at longer intervals. But each individual's needs are different and sometimes just a course of four or five lessons may be sufficient to start the process. For: the scope of improvement begun has no end of possibilities.
By Susanne Pearce
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