Thursday, 8 May 2014

Background History to How the Alexander Technique was Developed

Devised by Frederick Alexander, the Alexander Technique involves training your body in better posture, body movement and positioning.  The idea behind the Alexander Technique is that as you learn to carrying yourself in a more natural poise, not only will it help to realign your spine, but it will help to relieve pressure on joints, muscles and internal organs too.


Frederick Alexander was an Australian actor in the late 19th century, when to his dismay he found his childhood respiratory problems return and while performing in Shakespeare plays found that his voice started faltering to the point where in one performance he completely lost his voice.  Doctors advised Alexander to completely rest his voice for 2 weeks, which helped until his next performance when the hoarseness returned.

Disillusioned with the doctors’ advice, Alexander was determined to find a solution to his problem.  He noticed when he rested his voice or spoke normally, the hoarseness would disappear, but as soon as he began to project his voice during recitals, the hoarseness would return.

With the above in mind, Alexander begin to experiment in front of a mirror, firstly speaking normally and secondly projecting his voice as he would in a recital.  On doing this, he noticed that when he projected his voice, he had a tendency to pull his head back and down onto his spine, depressing his larynx, impairing his breathing, and sucking in air through his mouth.  Although he was doing a similar thing when speaking normally, it was too a much lesser extent and he realised he was exerting much unnecessary tension when reciting.

Trying not to tense his neck muscles, depressing his larynx nor make gasping sounds proved to be difficult for Alexander.  But what he did discover was that he was able to stop pulling his head back and down.  This discovery indicated to Alexander that the tension in the neck was the root cause of the other problems.

This discovery led to what Alexander called “Primary Control”, referring to the main reflex in the body which is situated in the neck area and which governs all the other reflexes in the body.  Primary Control therefore equates to the relationship of the head with the rest of the body, particularly with the head, neck and back.  Excess tension in the neck area will therefore interfere with this relationship and affect the reflexes throughout the whole body.

With practice, Alexander discovered that preventing the tension from building up in his neck muscles helped to reduce the hoarseness of his voice.

With further observations over time, Alexander realised that he also had a tendency to pull his head back, shorten his stature, and to arch and narrow his back.  This excess tension originated in his neck and caused further tension throughout the body.  Further experimenting, indicated tension in his legs and feet and even his toes.  He noticed that the tension in his toes caused his feet to arch and this in turn threw his weight off balance, adding further excess stress to his body.

Alexander began to realise that the tension he was observing in different body parts was in fact an overall tension of his whole being and he still believed that if he could free the tension from his neck, then the tension throughout the rest of the body would resolve itself.

Alexander realised in order to resolve his problems, he had to condition himself to let go of the old instinctive habits that were unconsciously causing the problems, and replace them with new habits on a conscious level.  With this in mind, he developed what he termed “Directions” – a series of orders to remind himself to direct his body actions in a new way.


The 3 main Directions that Alexander gave himself were as follows:

·         To allow his neck to be free.
·         To allow his head to go forward and upwards.
·         To allow his back to lengthen and widen.

Alexander learnt to combine the above directions with a process which he called “Inhibition”.  “Inhibition” in this sense, was to put a pause in before taking any action and then giving himself Directions to prepare himself to carry out the action.

Combining Inhibition with Directions was the turning point for Alexander and he soon found that it brought about the health changes he was looking for, his vocal problems were solved and he cured his asthma.


As Alexander returned to his acting career, there was so much interest in how he had overcome his problem, that he soon found he was teaching his technique to other actors who were suffering from similar problems.

News of his success spread and before long doctors started to send patients to him for help.  This led very quickly to Alexander teaching his technique full time and as his workload increased, he asked his brother Albert to join him in the practice.  Together, the 2 brothers worked side by side and modified the technique as time went by.

In 1904 Alexander brought his technique to London and was later joined by his brother, whereby they set up a thriving Practice helping people from all walks of life.

Alexander went on to publish several articles and books, including Conscious Control.

At the beginning of World War 1, Alexander when to America and continued to teach his technique, dividing his time between America and England.

In the mid-1920s Alexander set up a class in England, which later became a school where his technique was taught to children with the idea being that bad posture begins at an early age and can lead to problems later on in life, so with the right teaching children should be able to avoid these problems.

Around the age of 60, Alexander was persuaded to set up a training school to teach other people how to teach his technique, so that his technique would never disappear.

To this day, the Alexander technique continues to be taught all around the world by trained teachers and has helped many people with a whole range of health conditions, including backache, headaches, migraines, stiff neck, frozen shoulders, hypertension, asthma, breathing problems, voice problems, arthritis, and many other health conditions.

Helping Yourself

Although it is best to have a series of treatment sessions from a trained teacher, there are many self-help measures you can adopt to help yourself, including closely observing your own posture, and implementing the 3 main Directions listed above.  Being aware of your actions, observing and adjusting the way you perform even just simple activities like standing, walking, sitting down and getting up out of a chair can all help.  Read our article Correct your Posture and Improve your Health with the Alexander Technique for more information and examples of simple techniques you can adopt to help improve posture and movement with common everyday actions.

N.B.  Alternative health practitioners seek to work in conjunction with the medical profession and a person is always recommended to see their G.P. for any serious condition.  Practitioners do not diagnose disease, nor can they prescribe pharmaceutical or other products, unless qualified to do so.  A practitioner cannot guarantee a cure for any illness.  If you have any concerns regarding your health, it is always advisable to consult your doctor or health care professional.

Prices/discounts indicated correct at time of writing/publishing.  E&OE.

Related articles:

Click here to go back to homepage

No comments:

Post a Comment