The Alexander Technique

I had previously referred to the Alexander Technique, and have since been asked to explain more about it.

The Alexander Technique (named after its creator Frederick Matthias Alexander) is a psychophysical re-education of the body and the brain. What we think affects the body; similarly, the body affects the brain. Alexander taught that a person has to control thinking in order for the body to act at its optimum. In essence, the technique has to do with the development of conscious learning to affect the body.

Alexander started his movement because he felt that what he was doing with his body was incorrect. By studying his posture and movement before speaking, he discovered that his sense or feeling was unreliable. He started to practice receiving a stimulus and refusing to do anything regarding an immediate response. He referred to this process as “inhibition.” He believed that our feelings are not trustworthy. Alexander continually referred to this as the “power of choice.”

As Joshua Foer stated in “Moonwalking with Einstein” (p. 172), “The secret to improving at a skill is to retain some degree of conscious control over it while practicing—to force oneself to stay out of autopilot.”

The Alexander approach in speaking was to (1) inhibit the immediate response to speak a sentence, thereby stopping at its source any uncoordinated movement. (2) He consciously practiced projecting the direction necessary for his improvement. He would think of letting his neck be free by having it go forward and upward. (Think of raising the lump in the back of your head.) This directed his torso to lengthen and widen. When the neck is operating and the head is going forward and up, the whole torso lengthens and widens, thereby freeing the movement of the pelvis. (3) He would continue to practice this until he was confident he could maintain his body control while speaking. (4) At the moment he was going to speak, he would stop again and consciously consider where he was in the process. He left himself free to perform another action, such as lifting an arm, walking, or simply remaining still. Whatever he chose to do, he would continue to be aware of the new pattern.

He found that by paying attention to the quality of his action—rather than to a specific goal—Alexander began to free himself from his previous movements that felt right but were not optimal to his success.

In essence, his approach and technique is concerned with undoing poor body habits. He found that this required a willingness to suspend judgment conveyed of feelings.

Put succinctly, the key is inhibition and re-direction; in other words, think first to inhibit, and then direct.

John Dewey, George Bernard Shaw, and Aldoux Huxley among many other notables of his day applauded the Alexander technique during his lifetime. Tony Buzan was a devoted advocate, and thousands of actors train in the Alexander Technique today.