An Introduction to the Alexander Technique
Marjorie Barstow (1899-1994), first graduate of F.M. Alexander’s first teacher training course, sometimes said “It’s just too simple for you” when asked about the Alexander Technique.
And it is simple. We have a design for living that involves how we move through our days—and the quality of everything we do improves when we are cooperating with that design.
The Alexander Technique is a psychophysical learning process using conscious thinking to restore coordination and/or prevent mis-coordination in human functioning. What F.M. Alexander (1869-1955) observed is that the relationship between head and spine in movement is a key factor in vertebrate coordination—a fact that has subsequently been verified scientifically. Whenever a vertebrate goes out of optimal coordination, the system compensates with excessive work in the relationship between head and spine.
Frank Pierce Jones, a Tufts researcher who studied the Alexander Technique, says in his book Freedom to Change:
F. Mathias Alexander discovered a method (a “means-whereby”) for expanding consciousness to take in inhibition as well as excitation (“not-doing” as well as “doing”) and thus obtain a better integration of the reflex and voluntary elements in a response pattern.
The goal of the Alexander Technique is to teach people to restore an optimal relationship between head and spine, and, when necessary, replace faulty concepts that cause the mis-coordination with more accurate, constructive concepts. The results of this process include greater flexibility and grace in movement and speech, clarity of thought, and for many, absence of physical pain and stress patterns.
Again from Jones:
The Alexander Technique opens a window onto the little-known area between stimulus and response and gives you the self-knowledge you need in order to change the pattern of your response—or, if you choose, not to make it at all.
It is in this tiny moment in time, the “area between stimulus and response,” that change can take place – allowing for freedom in the activity. As long as our responses are the result of habitual, unconsciously driven mis-coordination, both what we think and what we express fall short of what is possible.
The causes of mis-coordination include but are not limited to:
· mistaken ideas about anatomy and physiology (Body Map)
· learned patterns (e.g., from sports, music, dance) that are misapplied to another activity
· attempts to use muscular contraction for tasks that do not require muscular contraction
· compensation from previous injury (which is possibly no longer necessary)
· trauma, emotional or physical
· learned misuses – what F.M. Alexander called “cultivated habits”
· technology-driven concepts of thinking/moving
· imitation of family patterns or teacher/mentor patterns
The teaching and learning of the Alexander Technique involves taking a careful look at behaviors and habits in relationship to any particular desired goal. This observation and awareness can then be followed up with “constructive thinking” in order to create a conscious plan for change.