F.M. Alexander, founder of the Alexander TechniqueFM Alexander 1
Frederick Matthias (F.M.) Alexander (January 1869 – October 1955) founded the Alexander Technique in the 1890’s to cure chronic voice and respiratory troubles that were preventing him from continuing his acting career. He taught the Alexander Technique up until his death in 1955.

His story
F.M. was born in Australia, where he grew up and pursued acting. He became a passionate reciter of Shakespeare. As his career took off and he began to perform, he experienced recurring trouble with his voice. When performing his voice would become hoarse, and at times he could hardly speak afterwards.

Doctors advised him to rest his voice and use it as little as possible. This proved helpful, as his voice would return so long as he didn’t speak too much. However, when he went to perform again the hoarseness would quickly return. He concluded that it must be something he is doing while he’s speaking that is causing him to lose his voice. He brought this up to the doctor and the doctor agreed that it must be something he is doing with himself. When Alexander asked the doctor what he was doing to cause his voice troubles, the doctor said he did not know. That is when Alexander decided to take matters into his own hands and find out for himself.

He began observing himself in a mirror to see what he did when he began to speak or recite. He discovered a whole set of reaction patterns that resulted in excessive muscle tension throughout his body. He could clearly see that he was misusing himself, but since this misuse was habitual he found he could not stop it by willpower alone. Eventually, through painstaking observation and experimentation over a period of 9 years, he was finally able to prevent his misuse patterns and therefore cure himself of his vocal and respiratory troubles. The principles he discovered and the process that he used to help himself became known as the Alexander Technique.

Discovery of Alexander Technique principles
What Alexander observed was that when he began to speak he would pull his head back, depress his larynx, suck in breath, and lift his chest. His first major discovery was that when he was able to prevent the pulling back of his head, the other tendencies were held in check. He called this phenomenon the Primary Control. Furthermore, he discovered that when he was pulling his head back, he was really pulling it back and down onto the top of the spine. And that this habit was bound up with his habit of lifting his chest and shortening his stature. Thus, to prevent pulling the head back and down he needed to also prevent other wrong habits that caused him to tighten up. This led him to discover the importance of looking at the whole (ie the whole self).  The best way to prevent the strain on his voice was to allow his head to move forward and up (back and down was wrong, so the opposite, when one stops pulling back and down, is forward and up in relationship to the top of the spine).

Unfortunately, he could not stop the wrong use of himself by willpower alone. His habitual misuse automatically came into play when he reacted immediately to his impulse to use his voice. So his next discovery was that if he did not react immediately to the impulse to use his voice, then he could prevent the habitual pulling back of the head, depressing the larynx, etc… from automatically happening. The term he used for this process of not reacting immediately to a stimulus was inhibition (note: Alexander did not use the term inhibition to mean feeling inhibited, shy or self- conscious, which is the common definition of the term today).

During Alexander’s period of observation, he also discovered the unreliability of the kinesthetic sense, referred to as unreliable sensory appreciation. Meaning that what he “felt” he was doing was not what he was actually doing. There was a discrepancy between what he felt and what he saw in the mirror. For example, when he was away from the mirror he felt that he was putting his head forward and up in order to lengthen the stature, which is what he decided was the right thing to do. But, when he went back to the mirror he was startled by the fact that he was still pulling his head back and down and shortening his stature, the very opposite of what he intended. This led him to the idea of direction, which he defined as the process involved in sending messages from the brain to the various parts of the body and in conducting the energy necessary for their use.

He reasoned that he needed to consciously direct himself, which meant thinking about the correct and proper use of his body without using his feeling to judge if he was right or not. Once he was able to replace a conscious direction (thinking and trusting) from an instinctive direction (feeling for the right thing), he finally freed himself from the tendency of his wrong habitual misuse in speaking. Once free from the tendency to misuse himself, he became free from his vocal troubles as well as respiratory issues that he had experienced since birth.

Alexander then realized that most people used their bodies in a defective manner, just as he had, and that it was the cause of considerable human suffering. He began teaching his technique to pupils in Australia, and then moved to London where he had an extremely active teaching practice. Although he spent most of his professional life in London, he spent time teaching in the United States as well, mostly in New York and Boston.


F.M. Alexander quotes

“Everyone is always teaching one what to do, leaving us still doing the things we shouldn’t do.”

“Like a good fellow, stop the things that are wrong first.”

“Everyone wants to be right, but no one stops to consider if their idea of right is right.”

“Trying is only emphasizing the thing we know already.”

“We can throw away the habit of a lifetime in a few minutes if we use our brains.”

“You are not making decisions, you are doing kinesthetically what you feel to be right.”

“The experience you want is in the process of getting it. If you have something, give it up. Getting it, not having it, is what you want.”

“Change involves carrying out an activity against the habit of life.”

“If you stop doing the wrong thing, the right thing does itself.”

“Re-education is not a process of adding something, but of restoring something.”