Who was F.M. Alexander

“You can’t do something
you don’t know,
if you keep on doing
what you do know”
F.M. Alexander

Who was F.M. Alexander

The Alexander Technique was developed about 120 years ago by the Australian actor F.M. Alexander (Australia 1869 – London 1955). While reciting on stage he became hoarse and eventually he even lost his voice. Doctors were unable to cure him, so he decided to observe himself in the hope of pinpointing the cause of his voice loss.

After long observation he discovered that his hoarseness was caused by the fact that his neck, head and back were not in balance with each other. He tended to overly tense his neck muscles, pulling his head back and down into his spine. This put unnecessary pressure on his vocal chords, interfering with their functioning.

He also noticed that many of his unconsciously held ideas added to this excess tension. For instance, he had always mistakenly assumed that it was helpful to push his toes down hard into the floor while reciting.

Alexander first tried to restore the natural equilibrium between his neck, head and back by actively ‘doing’ the changes that he had in mind. However, every time that he wanted to recite something he noticed that he still tensed his neck excessively, and was still shortening, narrowing and contracting his back. Eventually he broke this impasse in an unorthodox manner: not by ‘doing’ but by stopping doing what he did not want, and only thinking about what he did want.

He discovered that his new approach to coordination and movement not only solved his vocal problems, it also had a considerable effect on his general health, breathing and well-being. He soon noticed that many others had similarly lost their natural functioning of their necks, heads and backs and he realised that his technique could contribute greatly to health and well-being in general. He began to teach his technique in Melbourne and Sydney and became known as ‘the breathing man’.

In 1904 he moved to London in order to spread knowledge of his technique more widely. He soon gained the support of several pre-eminent physicians, philosophers, scientists, Nobel Prize winners and artists; including A. Huxley, C. Sherrington, J. Dewey, G.B Shaw, N. Tinbergen and R. Magnus. In 1939 he established the first Alexander Technique teacher training course.

F.M.Alexander was a man ahead of his time. He found out through long years of self-observation, that it is impossible to separate the ‘physical’ and ‘mental’ in any human being. He called the mental, spiritual and physical unity that we are ‘the Self’. 

Alexander hoped that the next step in human evolution would consist of ‘individuals responding more consciously to all stimuli of life’. He saw many people in his practice with all kinds of complaints, illnesses and unhelpful habits. He also saw the horrors of two World Wars. This made it clear to him that our instinctive, fast responses to stimuli (anger, unnecessary tension, holding breath, holding on to own/ political beliefs systems) should and could be prevented in order to live together more peacefully. Alexander believed that with each individual having more control and awareness over their reaction patterns we could live our lives more healthily and make better choices for ourselves, society and the world as a whole. To put this ideal into practice he set up The Little School, where children received education based on the principles of the Alexander Technique. Unfortunately the school had to close during World War Two.