History of the Alexander Technique

The Alexander Technique evolved as a product of one man’s determination and persistence. Frederick Matthias Alexander was born in 1869 in Winyard, Tasmania, the eldest of a large family. He was a sickly child and not expected to live very long, consequently he was educated at home by private tutors. This may have helped develop his quality of independent and radical thinking. He had two passions throughout his life, theatre and horses. When he left home to carve his way in the world he chose to become a reciter, delivering Shakespearian monologues etc to large audiences, and he was evidently very good, as he was able to earn a living doing this as quite a young man.

Trouble struck when he received a very prestigious booking and found himself going hoarse during the performance. The specialist advised vocal rest between engagements, but the problem recurred whenever he spoke on stage. The specialist advised more rest. Alexander then did what few of us have the courage or quick wittedness to do. He dismissed the recommendation and said he was not prepared to do that, posing the question “It must be something I am doing on stage that is different from normal which is causing the problem. He then set out to observe himself reciting.

He noticed three things. He was depressing his larynx. He was gasping in his breath. He was pulling his head back and down.

Simple. Just do the opposite. He found he had no direct means of influencing the first two behaviours, but by thinking of sending his head forwards and upwards (he called this Directing) up to and during the activity he could prevent the pulling backwards and downwards. Sometimes. On those occasions when he was successful he noted that he also eliminated the other two unwanted behaviours.

Why, though, was it only sometimes?

Eventually he came to realise (by using a system of mirrors) that on the unsuccessful occasions he was doing exactly what he wished to avoid, but his feelings were unreliable and were not letting him be aware of the error. But why was he doing what was totally contrary to his will?

The reason turned out to be habit, which he was discovering to be exceptionally powerful. He needed a means of defeating his habitual pulling of his head backwards and downwards, and eventually came up with what he called Inhibition, by which he would come to the point of action and then make a genuine fresh decision whether to continue or to do something completely different, while still issuing instructions to himself to send the head forwards and upwards.

This all seems simple and quick, but the whole process of evolution of the Alexander Technique took nearly ten years, during which time Alexander continued to perform professionally.

Alexander came to England in 1904 and taught the technique here and in the USA until his death in 1955.