What is the Alexander Technique?
The Technique doesn't fall into any neat categories, since it's concerned with many aspects of our living, and treats the whole person, knowing that body and mind are inseparable. It's not a therapy, and it's not an exercise programme. It works on a different principle. Its results are achieved not by doing things to get better, but by undoing the things that have been hindering us.
The range of its applications reflects the deep principles involved. A few key words can give you an idea:
awareness here and now well-being
coordination poise tonicity flexibility
integration stress reduction confidence personal growth
Each of these qualities can be applied to any dimension of our being: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual.
The Technique is taught in forty countries around the world. Almost all of the most important music, drama and dance institutes, where acquiring awareness and coordination is vital, have at least one Alexander teacher on their staff. It has well over a century of success behind it, and the solid backing of current scientific understanding.
Who can it help?
Anyone interested in better functioning for themselves and looking to fulfil their potential. Generally this means two broad categories: people wanting to solve problems, and people who want to improve their skills.
In the first group there will be people wanting to get rid of various conditions, such as fatigue, backache, postural problems, headaches, sciatica, breathing or vocal problems and so on. Or they might be recovering from an illness, injury or an operation.
Among those in the second group will be sportspeople, actors, dancers, musicians and the like, people whose body really has to perform well. Naturally there will also be those who don't fall into any obvious category, maybe people on a personal path seeking more freedom and well-being.
Anyone can benefit from the Technique's unique method of enriching the quality of life. There is no age limit, improvement is always possible.
What does it do?
It shows us how to stop interfering with our own functioning; how to get out of our own way. Alexander discovered that if we are not functioning so well, it's largely because, unconsciously, we've got into habits that don't allow us to operate properly. We're "using ourselves" badly. Eliminate the hindrances and nature's own processes can take over again and do the job much better, as they did when we were little children. So the Technique facilitates the path towards well-being.
After much research on himself, Alexander identified the body's innate coordination patterns, its own way of organising itself. In so doing he eliminated the physical problems that had led him to his research in the first place. He arrived at his amazing discovery by self-observation and a growing awareness of the inseparability of the mental and physical processes.
By re-uniting the sensory and the mental, the Technique gives you the instruments to find a more natural state of being. If you get out of the trap of your habitual patterns, then you are free to improve your overall functioning and performance. Physically, you'll undo your constrictions, you'll breathe better; you'll be doing everything with less stress and effort, and feeling much better for it. Mentally, you will have gained a conscious method for assessment and change in any field of your life.
How does it work?
The Technique doesn't work through exercises, movement routines or other procedures, but through awareness. We are made aware of our own particular habits and tensions, which unbeknown to us have always accompanied us in everything we do. We are made aware of the contrast between our habits and how the body would really like to behave. Then we learn to let the body organise itself according to its own principles. There's nothing to “do” in the ordinary sense of the word; we just have to free the body by getting out of the way. So we learn consciously to let it use its own innate "programme" to look after our balance, posture and movement. As Alexander said: "Stop doing the wrong things and the right things will do themselves".
Our new-found awareness creates a new relationship to ourselves, and becomes our means of maintaining better functioning. The world of the body now becomes present in our daily living, so we live in the here and now of our physical presence. Our awareness gives us a greater sense of control over what we do and how we do it, so our confidence increases and we are less subject to stress. The tools the Technique gives us can be used as the basis for our personal growth and will stand us in good stead for the rest of our lives.
What happens in a lesson?
The Alexander Technique is a re-education not a therapy, so you will be actively involved in learning it, and practising it between lessons. It is not a one-size-fits-all technique; it treats each individual's particular situation, so lessons are one on one.
Lessons are entirely practical. You'll be busy expanding your awareness and attending to things like how you move, and letting yourself do things in a different way from normal. You'll be aiming to notice your previously unconscious habits, and to learn how to stop using them; how to drop away unwanted tension and so on.
Your teacher will guide you not only verbally but especially by a very skilful and subtle use of the hands. This use of the hands is exclusive to the Alexander Technique and is a unique aid in the freeing process you're working at.
You will be taken through simple movements like standing up, sitting down or walking, to give you an understanding of the principles on which all body activity is based. At the same time, the teacher's hands will help you perceive what you might be doing to interfere with your own good functioning, while making it more possible for the desired changes to come about. As you progress you will be able to start applying the basic principles to more elaborate activities.
Most teachers will also make use of a table, where you lie down happily while the teacher's hands very delicately interact with the body, so that it can release unwanted patterns more easily and get back to a freer state.