THE ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE – The History
The Alexander Technique is an Australian innovation developed by a Tasmanian, Frederick Matthias Alexander, and taken to the rest of the world throughout his lifetime as he lived and worked in England, Europe and the USA.
F.M. Alexander, after whom the Technique is named, was born on 20 January 1869 at Table Cape near Wynyard on the remote northwest coast of Tasmania. He attended a small country school in Wynyard, where his teacher introduced him to poetry and Shakespeare, and in 1885 he gained employment as a junior bookkeeper at the Mt Bischoff tin mine in Waratah. In his spare time, he took part in local drama and music productions and taught himself to play the violin.
Alexander moved to Melbourne in 1889 and began a successful stage career. Five years later, he returned to Tasmania, touring and teaching in Hobart. In 1895, he headed to New Zealand to give dramatic recitations and teaching acting and reciting skills, before returning to Melbourne.
His promising career as a young actor was plagued by vocal problems that doctors were unable to cure. He concluded that it must be something he was doing when reciting that was causing him to strain or “misuse” his vocal mechanism.
He set up a collection of mirrors around his room so that he could observe himself, and noticed that he stiffened his neck, pulled his head back and down, and depressed his larynx when reciting. After a little time, it became clear to him that this was part of a bigger problem of tension throughout his whole body. Alexander spent several years working out a way to change these habitual reactions and understand how to prevent his harmful pattern of misuse.
He started teaching his discoveries in Melbourne and Hobart, then moved to Sydney in 1900, where his work attracted the attention of the medical world and many doctors referred their patients to him.
In 1904, Alexander left Sydney for London, where he established a thriving practice, and his reputation grew with eminent students, including actors, doctors and members of parliament including George Bernard Shaw, Aldous Huxley, Ronald Searle and 1973 Nobel Prize winner, Nikolaas Tinbergen.
Alexander made annual visits to the USA during the First World War until the 1920s, establishing quite a following there, including the eminent philosopher and educator, John Dewey who said:
“Alexander created what may be truly be called a physiology of the living organism. His observations and experiments have to do with the actual functioning of the body […] under the ordinary conditions of living – rising, sitting, walking, standing, using arms, hands, voice, tools, instruments of all kinds.”
Alexander produced many pamphlets regarding his discoveries, both in Australia and London, and went on to write four books between 1910 and 1941:
Man’s Supreme InheritanceConstructive Conscious Control of the IndividualThe Use of the SelfThe Universal Constant in Living
In the 1920s, Alexander established a small school for children based on his principles.
From 1931, he trained teachers in his Technique.
Alexander suffered a stroke in 1947, from which he was able to recover and continue to teach. He never returned to Australia, teaching until his death in London in 1955.