The Alexander Technique

By Fadzo Chanakira

Everyone knows that exercise is good for you. Most people have heard the axiom that a strong body, mind and spirit are necessary for complete health of the individual. The busyness of our daily lives, however, frequently causes us to compartmentalize not only our activities, but also the above three facets within ourselves. We go to the gym and think about 20 other things while on the treadmill. I frequently see college students getting their reading assignments done on the stair master. One might go to church, temple or satsang and pay attention to the spiritual message or experience you are there to absorb without once giving thought to your posture. People attend seminars for hours or days at a time without attending to their body or their spirit because they get so caught up in the mental demands of their conference. We all do it. We attend to a corner of what I will refer to as the body, mind and spirit triune whenever we can squeeze it in. We seldom experience the triune as a whole and in harmony. The Alexander Technique is a great way of experiencing that triune.

Frederick Mathias Alexander lived from 1869 – 1955. Understanding certain aspects of his personal history enlightens the novice as to how his technique can work for him or her. FM, as he is popularly referred to within the Alexander community, was a self-taught man who was born and raised in Tasmania. He loved horses and at a young age absorbed himself in studying their movement. A love of Shakespeare led him to the theatre, and eventually to Melbourne, Australia, in pursuit of lessons and a career in acting. FM, however, developed a problem with hoarseness in his voice when he was on stage that almost ended his acting career. Given that this hoarseness was specific to his stage performances, he thought that he might be doing something to impact his vocal chords while on stage, and if he could figure out what that was and correct it, it would solve his voice problem. He proceeded to observe himself while on stage, and with the help of friends in the medical establishment, he was able to create a method by which to heal his condition.

The idea of self study and therefore self-correction is a fundamental theme in the learning of the Alexander Technique. This method works from an assumption that poise is innate. In the course of living we develop habits of movement that inhibit that poise. Chronic pain is often due to the cumulative effect of incorrect patterns of movement. After years of relying on such patterns, we actually believe that their use is normal rather than being the source of our physical distress. The technique is more of an educational process than it is a treatment. The student learns (or relearns) how to use the appropriate amount of strength for specific actions, thus reducing the amount of unnecessary tension in his or her movements. Much emphasis is put on the spine and neck tension in the way the student behaves physically. The Alexander Technique is taught by certified instructors who have undergone a 3-4 year training period. Instructors observe the student’s movement patterns in either a group or individual session and make corrections either verbally or with gentle hand movements. It usually takes several sessions for the instructor to ascertain how quickly the student will progress, after which it is then up to the individual (as in any educational process) how far they want to go.

A good resource book that goes into this technique in depth is “The Alexander Technique” by Wilfred Barlow. He uses a wonderful example in this book of a student who came to one of his classes complaining of chronic neck and shoulder pain. It became apparent to Barlow, after observing this man for some minutes that when he talked he was constantly moving his head, and remarked that it was no wonder that his neck and shoulder hurt. Upon working with him further, he was able to observe that his jerking movements were associated with fear, which went all the way back to his childhood, when his father had traumatized him as a boy through physical abuse. The head jerking was a defensive behavioral pattern that arose from the need to be constantly “on the lookout” for a violent parent that might pounce on him at any moment. This example illustrates how the Alexander Technique, by fostering this awareness of movement, can uncover deeper emotional or psychological motives that explain our movement patterns. It must be stated, however, that while it may bring awareness of those issues, it will not necessarily solve them. It is recommended that should this occur, you couple your sessions with treatment from a licensed psychotherapist.

Thus the Alexander Technique is an excellent way to foster awareness, grace, and ease of mobility in your day to day activities whether it be while driving your car, or playing softball with your kids. It can be implemented at any level of physical ability by any one who is cognizant enough to observe their movement. FM used this technique on himself in his later years to regain functionality after a stroke. He actually recovered sufficiently to continue teaching for the last seven years of his life, until his death at the age of 84. The Alexander technique has been endorsed by celebrated athletes, musicians, actors, philosophers and scientists including Sting, Paul McCartney, George Bernard Shaw, James Earl Jones and Moshe Feldenkrais, who developed the Feldenkrais Method that includes certain aspects of the Alexander Technique.

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Fadzo Chanakira is a freelance writer that divides her time between Arizona and California, where she both lives and works. In addition to having written holistic articles for print and the internet on a variety of topics, she has a holistic business specializing in nutritional supplementation and truly natural beauty products called Alchemy of Beauty. Her undergraduate studies were in Kinesiology at Occidental College in Los Angeles, California. Fadzo also authors a free bi-monthly e-newsletter called The Alchemical Beauty News. She is currently working towards her Masters in Spiritual and Live Food Nutrition with the College of Living Arts in Patagonia, AZ.

The Complete Guide to the Alexander Technique