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 would become hoarse and eventually he even lost his voice. Doctors were unable to cure his hoarseness, 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 unconsciously, pulling his head back into his neck. This put unnecessary pressure on his vocal chords, blocking their functioning.

He also noticed that many of his unconsciously held ideas added to this excessive 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, shortening 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 the neck, head and back 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 and physical unity ‘the Self’. 

He thought big; he hoped for the next step in human evolution to be ‘the more conscious response of the individual to all stimuli of daily life’. Alexander saw many people in his practice with all kinds of complaints, illnesses and unhealthy habits of movement. On top of that he experienced 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 healthy and make choices that are better for ourselves, our society and the world as a whole. To put this ideal into practice he set up The Little School, where children were taught with the principles of the Alexander Technique. Unfortunately the school had to close during World War Two.