Who was F.M. Alexander? How did the Alexander Technique originate?
Frederick Matthias Alexander (1869-1955) was raised in north-western Tasmania and became a successful stage actor. At a certain point in his career, he developed chronic performance-induced laryngitis; that is, he lost his voice each time he would perform. After doctors offered no insight, Alexander was determined to find out for himself what it was that he was doing on stage that was causing him to lose his voice.
Extensive observation using three-way mirrors revealed habit patterns that were clearly observable. Each breath, each movement was preceded by a stiffening and a shortening that was very evidently counter-productive. However, Alexander found that he could neither feel that he was doing these things nor could he seem to stop them from happening. How, then, to change this deeply-ingrained reaction to the very idea that he was going to perform a monologue, speak a line, or even take a breath?
Alexander realized that the body functions as a coordinated whole and that this functioning can not be seen or treated as separate from mental activity. Experimentation led Alexander to discover how we can guide ourselves consciously and use what he called our “psycho-physical mechanism” in an optimal way. The more we optimize the use of ourselves, the more we improve how we function on all levels.
The Alexander Technique is over 100 years old. There is often a perception that it is something new or even “New Age”, but in fact the Alexander Technique has its roots in gold-rush Tasmania, post-penal colony mainland Australia, and Edwardian England.