The Advocate – Jan 20, 2019

By Penny McDonald | 150th Celebration

Feb 08

​Alexander Technique teachers celebrate the legacy of F.M. Alexander

​One hundred and fifty years after a North-West man with convict heritage was born, the effects of his invention live on all over the world.

The work of Frederick Matthias Alexander, inventor of the Alexander Technique, was celebrated in his home town of Wynyard this weekend.

Alexander Technique teacher Penny McDonald said teachers from all over Australia spent the morning practicing on each other and reflecting on F.M. Alexander’s life.

“It’s lovely being here in Wynyard and seeing what Alexander grew up with. When you go up on Table Cape and look at that view and you go, ‘no wonder he had a sense of expansion in his body.’

​Balance: Alexander Technique teachers Janette Costin, Helen Thomson and Penny McDonald practice the technique on each other. Sunday marked 150 years since the inventor, FM Alexander, was born. Picture: Sarah Lansdown

F.M Alexander was born at Table Cape to John and Betsy Alexander. He stayed there through his teenage years before moving to Melbourne in 1904 and then on to England.

As an actor, he struggled with losing his voice during a time when amplification technology didn’t exist in the theatre. He sought help from many experts before he studied his movements and posture using mirrors. 

Ms McDonald said the key to his success was when he changed his negative thinking.

“You have to go ‘I’m going to invite my head to be in a different relationship with my spine so that everything changes. His body expanded, his breath improved, his voice came back so I think the real essence is that positive thinking, that we need to redefine our activities in the positive and give our body gentle guidance.”

Alexander teacher Janette Costin began learning the method 32 years ago and found it helped her overcome chronic pain in her neck and back.

She said modern technology and habits were narrowing and constricting the body for many people.

“A lot of it comes down to how we respond to all the different stimuli in our life… whether that be a physical or emotional response and that will begin a habit that isn’t particularly useful to us.

“So it really is interrupting our natural coordination and our breathing coordination in particular that then can set up a bit of anxiety in our system and [Alexander Technique] is a really lovely way to settle things into some harmony. It’s wonderful.”

The technique is widely used in the performing arts around the world. In Tasmania, teachers are based in Launceston and Hobart, with the first course to learn how to teach Alexander Technique to begin in Hobart this year. 

The anniversary celebrations continued at Wonders of Wynyard in the afternoon with a talk from historian Dr Ian McFarlane and a display of the Alexander family tree. A cake with an image of the man himself was also shared to celebrate the milestone.

About the Author

Penny specialises in working with people in the performing arts and for the past 22 years has taught in a private practice as well as many performing arts institutions.