Frederick Matthias Alexander and the development of his technique

Frederick Matthias Alexander was born in 1869 in Tasmania, Australia.

He grew up in the countryside and moved to Mont Bischoff when he was sixteen. He earned his way working odd jobs, and his evenings were devoted to his passion: the theater. He took acting and music lessons and soon was in charge of his own amateur theater company.

Over time he specialized in the recitation and dramatic reading of Shakespeare texts.

At the age of twenty, he began to become hoarse during his dramatic readings more and more, so much so that he once had to stop in the middle of a performance.

Since the doctors with whom he consulted could not find any medical cause to explain the loss of his voice during performance, Alexander decided to research the cause himself, and – if possible – to eliminate it. He assumed that the manner in which he used his voice was the key to his problem.

Alexander began to observe himself using a mirror while reciting. He saw that when he began to speak that he habitually pulled his head back. With this action he pressed on his larynx, which got to the point that his vocal apparatus did not function correctly.

This undue muscular tension in the neck led to compression of his whole body, along with rigidity in the torso, curvature of the spine, constriction of the abdominal cavity, etc.

This discovery did not immediately lead Alexander to discard his habit of pulling his head back before reciting. He had to realize that he unconsciously behaved time and again in his familiar way, and not only while reciting or speaking, but also as a habitual response to different stimuli. Furthermore, he realized that this action of pulling his neck back was not an individual habit, but one which is apparently quite common. In other words: the quality of the relationship between his head, neck and back which primarily determines the quality of general use of the self was not much better in those around him.

Alexander found that there is only one way to change his unconscious, habitual bad self-use: He had to resist to temptation to directly react to stimuli, and instead to react by giving himself a certain »order« not to pull his head back. In the course of the following action he had to give himself this same order along with other orders necessary for a sucessful action.

He called this »holding back« of habitual response »Inhibition«, and the orders are called »directions«

After Alexander started sucessfully practicing his method of conscious use of the self, his voice problems disappeared. Around the turn of the last century, he was successful not only as an reciter, but also as a teacher of the technique he developed from continuous self-observation and reflection. His clientele included in the meantime not only actors, musicians, dancers, etc., but rather more and more people who realized that their health problems could be lessened or even eliminated through improving their own use.

Various circumstances led F. M. Alexander 1914 to Europe. He worked in London, where he attracted a core of regular students almost immediately.

His first book, Man's Supreme Inheritance, in which he describes the principles of his work, appeared in 1910.

Just as in England, F. M. Alexander quickly attracted students and advocates of his work in the USA, which he first visited in 1914. Meanwhile prominent people of the time such as George Bernard Shaw, Prof. John Dewey and Aldous Huxley were among his students.

In ten years that followed, Alexander worked continuously, dividing his time between the USA and London.

His second book appeared in 1923: »Constructive Conscious Control Of The Individual«.

In 1927, he founded the »Little School« together with the Irene Tasker, a Montessori teacher. Here children received instruction in the now famous »Alexander Technique« which he developed, in addition to their normal curriculum.

Finally, after many requests from his students, Alexander began to educate people to teach his technique. The first class of future Alexander Technique teachers started in 1930.

Alexander described the development of his technique of self-observation to self-change in his third book, »The Use of the Self«, published in 1932.

His fourth book, published in 1941, »The Universal Constant in Living«, contains different discussions and essays concerning his method.

F. M. Alexander taught until his death in 1955.

Today worldwide there are several thousand teachers of the F.M. Alexander Technique. In Germany alone there are around 300 practicing teachers of the technique.