Frederick Matthias Alexander was born in the remote north-west of the Australian island of Tasmania in 1869. His education at the hands of an understanding and intelligent village schoolmaster who recognised Alexander's potential, left him with a passion for Shakespeare which fired his desire to become an actor. At seventeen he left home to work as book-keeper in a mining project, and after accumulating enough funds moved to Melbourne to study acting, elocution and the violin. Unfortunately, after a while he began to suffer from recurring hoarseness and loss of voice to the extent that it threatened what looked like being a very promising career. His doctors and advisers could find nothing organically wrong with him, but neither were they able to solve his problem. So he decided to find out for himself what was wrong.
In his spare time, between earning a living and studying, he set out on an epic journey of self-observation that resulted in the discoveries that form the basis of what we now know as the Alexander Technique. With infinite patience he gradually got to the heart of the matter. In his search to solve what he thought of as a personal and local problem, Alexander came to a practical understanding of the workings of the whole human organism in activity. The principles he developed can truly be termed universal. He explains how he worked, his questions, difficulties and subsequent understanding in his book “The Use of the Self” published in 1932.
Alexander was able to bring about such a remarkable improvement in the use of his voice, his presence and poise that other people became interested and wanted to learn what he was doing. From about 1894 onward, he had a busy practice in Melbourne, and later in Sydney, until this teaching became his main occupation. In particular, his ability free the respiratory processes led to his being called "the breathing man. After a while medical doctors became interested in his work and would send him their patients with breathing problems: asthma, bronchitis and other conditions. The most influential of these, W. J. Stewart McKay, of international reputation, finally convinced Alexander to go to London to disseminate his Technique. He arrived in London in 1904, aged thirty-five, armed with letters of introduction to many eminent medical men.
Alexander made an instant impression on these and other important people, including many of the most famous actors of the day. (Today, also, many of the household names in acting utilise the Technique). This was the start of a success story that went from strength to strength as the profound benefits of his Technique became more widely known. For fifty-one years after his arrival in England he worked tirelessly to spread his ideas and practice. He wrote four books on his work, and in 1931 started a teacher-training course to ensure the continuation of the Technique. He died in 1955. Up to within two weeks of his death, in his eighty-seventh year, he was still teaching eight lessons a day.
The Technique must be learned on a one-to-one basis, so Alexander knew there could never be a mass input into society as a whole. He did hope, however, that enlightened people might introduce his Technique into the schools, and that the medical profession would incorporate it into their training. In fact, nineteen eminent doctors wrote to the British Medical Journal advocating just that. Unfortunately this much-desired situation has not come about, but science has continued to this day to corroborate Alexander's findings.
Not a bad result for the work of an amateur, a young man with no previous knowledge of his subject, simply observing himself with the aid of mirrors, well over a century ago!