by Franis Engel

The Alexander Technique teaches how intention and habits affect physical coordination and learning capacity. It takes its name from Frederick Matthias Alexander, (nicknamed F. M.) 1869 – 1955, who originated it during 1891-1901.


The Alexander Technique educates the sense of kinesthesia or proprioception. This sense is used to internally calibrate bodily location, and to judge the effort necessary for moving. Alexander Technique teachers believe that humans have a built-in proprioceptive blind spot. People design habitual responses of movement and learning when faced with repetitive or important circumstances. Adapting is mostly a learning advantage, because new habits can be added onto previously trained skills. The serious drawback to adapting is that most habitual remedies are purposefully designed to disappear and run automatically in the background. Even if those habits were intended to be temporary compensations, usually no provision was made for stopping them. Over time, the sensitivity used to judge effort becomes flooded from accommodating too many opposing purposes. People forget which movement habits they have taught themselves to do, often only continuing to add more. These frustrating mysteries encourage resignation, along with loss of balance, stiffness, old injuries, social ostracizing or even a verdict of a lack of talent. According to Alexander teachers, giving up troublesome activities are not required if a learner is willing to change their old ways of doing them. By preventing these sorts of small cumulative stresses, many painful health concerns related to limited movement ability can be mitigated, improved or completely outgrown.


The Alexander Technique has broad applications. It is required curriculum in the performance schools of music, acting, circus, dance, and some Olympic level sports training. It's remedially used for gaining full recovery of balance and ease of motion, for stuttering, voice loss and speech training, to unlearn and avoid repetitive stress, and to cope with dwindling mobility as in for people who have Parkinson’s disease. Because self-image is linked to postural carriage, it also has an indirect positive influence on personal confidence and social standing, depression, phobias, and anxieties. It is regarded by the UK National Health Service to offer alternative complementary management for back problems. Students report freer movements, increased objectivity and descriptive ability, improved awareness, balance & and gaining an experimental attitude for choosing new responses. Commonly, adults gain height

The immediate effect of Alexander lessons can feel very unusual. Lightness, fluidity, and many unusual metaphors illustrating effortlessness are commonly reported. Gradually, perceptual ability expands to simultaneously encompass many complex factors necessary to sustain the first fleeting freedoms experienced during lessons. Beyond the time it takes to learn, Alexander Technique can be practiced while doing any other activity, fitting into busy schedules.


Many of the principles of the technique are unique concepts. You’ve already read how kinesthetic sensitivity tends to disappear from continuous repetition. Alexander’s term for this concept was Debauchery of the Senses, but behaviorists now call that Sensory Adaptation. A required ingredient to get results from experimentation is a readiness to welcome what is unfamiliar. Since what is really new feels odd, this is how newly emerging, easier possibilities can be noticed instead of being prematurely eliminated or missed entirely.

The most original principle Alexander discovered is termed "Primary Control." Its long-term importance in structural function is just now being scientifically studied in movement gait research laboratories. This is this key answer that emerges when habitual limitations are removed.

The principle of Primary Control teaches that the neck and head relationship leads quality of motion and response – and this determines the success of results for good or ill. Learning from faded modeling, guiding and example, students "free their neck, so their head can move very slightly forward and up" towards expanding their stature. Students learn to continue following this subtle initiation of motion with the rest of their body as they go into action.

Another unique, foundation concept is a specialized use of the word "Inhibition." This term means to recognize and prevent habitual limitations, used for choosing, allowing or discovering a new way. Exactly how to do this positive inhibiting varies with each Alexander teacher's experience. Building a more constructive "means whereby," suggesting, sidestepping, stalling, tricking, slowing or boring the old habitual routine - anything is fair game if it can strategically get the old habit to disengage and relinquish control.

When used with these principles, coordinating any additional intentions of thinking or acting will tend towards improvement.


These principles can be recombined and expressed in a myriad of ways. Additional principles and terms exist that are not mentioned here.

The "activity" teaching model begins with an experimental task. The student briefly identifies their wishes and previous problems. The teacher asks strategic questions detouring how a student usually prepares to respond. The next step might be to suspend or actively prevent previously known urges to answer the goal, using “Inhibitory” techniques. A way that integrates the Alexander principle of guiding “Primary Control,” is taken for a spin. Results are noted and described. In evaluating, the presence of relative ease is the signal determining success. In keeping with Sensory Adaptation, customary kinesthetic orientation that previously "felt right" is compared to results; differences reveal unnecessary assumptions. A similar process is practiced again to integrate the desirable discoveries.

No matter how often the learning process is used, an excitement for tapping the unexpected continues because the student learns to recognize gradual, unlimited progress. Ideally, motivation tends to increase for tolerating and even enjoying the unfamiliar. A characteristic of elusive unpredictability is what makes Alexander Technique beyond description for many.


For personal practice of the Alexander Technique, teachers recommend twenty to forty private lessons or classes. The effect of private lessons with a teacher should be immediate. Most students are slow to reliably sustain the effects of lessons on their own, because it's difficult to influence what cannot yet be perceived. Speed of learning seems to depend on motivation to shed outdated habits, frequency of lessons and availability of support from other students.

In difficult cases, habits seem to possess defensive self-preservation - as if a person’s old habit fears its uselessness. Alexander’s work addresses these tricky, sophisticated & complex issues of the substitution strategy.

Once freed to change, advanced students find that motives for why they choose their desired criteria have become more flexible. Of course, sampling a number of teachers is advisable, although teachers usually do not determine any criteria beyond the most physical, reasonable and functional.


A pupil’s motion is often guided by the teacher with specialized hands-on modeling, usually with a very light touch, during a repeated action of the student’s or the teacher’s choice. The teacher gives subtle indications of “Direction,” timing and coaching that the student follows. Depending on the causes of limitation, structural posture may or may not improve, but freedom of movement, and most often economy of motion always will improve during a lesson.

For part of the lesson, some teachers have learners ie on a table, so the student can experience the principles in action without having to pay attention to maintaining balance. “Working on oneself” while lying semi-supine with knees up is taught as a way of taking a break during the student's workday. In groups, students often watch each other, in turn, taking shorter lessons. Group explorations of the principles are also sometimes taught.

Unlike many similar self-improvement regimens, the Alexander Technique is not a series of exercises. Teachers do not lecture. Instead, students learn specific inter-related governing characteristics from direct experience, the example of others, questioning and personal experimentation.

To take improvements away from lesson time, dedication and attentive experimentation is required on the part of the learner.


Originator F. M. Alexander was a Shakespearean orator who developed problems losing his voice onstage. Careful self-observation revealed that he needlessly stiffened his whole body in order to recite or speak. By 1900, he had completely solved his loss of voice by putting his original ideas and observations into practice on himself and was ready to teach others. Alexander trained teachers of his Technique in London from 1931 to 1955, up until his death.


Now, the Alexander Technique has the lifetime dedication of only a few thousand practicing teachers worldwide. Alexander teachers have attended over three years of full-time training to qualify to join professional organizations, which require many efresher workshops. Only a few who were trained by the founder are still living. Most Alexander teachers in the field are of the professional opinion that no informative substitution exists for classes or lessons; words do not suffice to describe the Alexander Technique, it must be experienced.


Since 1983, Franis Engel has been talking about Alexander Technique to anyone who expresses a vague interest. She writes and reviews for Direction (the profession’s trade magazine,) and has written a handbook on Alexander Technique principles titled, "Use Your Head" that her private Alexander students use as a textbook. She specializes in making the operative principles and terms simple to understand, and introducing Alexander Technique to groups and workshops in lecture demonstrations. She has been a guest teacher at circus & music summer camps, meditation retreats, physical therapist's & bodyworker workshops by invitation during the spring and summer months.

Discovery In Motion
Alexander Technique
Franis_Engel (at) yahoo (dot) com
P.O. Box 586, Bolinas, CA, 94924
(415)-868-0420 Cell: (415)-717-3405

The Complete Guide to the Alexander Technique provides a comprehensive source of information about this method