The Alexander Technique

A conversation:

Student: So, what is the Alexander Technique?

Teacher: It’s the name given to the work of Frederick Matthias Alexander.

Student: Who’s he?

Teacher: Well, he’s nobody – he died in 1955.  Before that he was an Australian actor.

Student: So is it an acting technique then?

Teacher: No.  It’s something that he first developed because he kept losing his voice on stage, but it’s much more than that.

Student:  Such as?

Teacher: It’s a process for learning a way of thinking that you can use to respond flexibly, co-ordinatedly and appropriately to any situation.

Student: Whoa! What does all THAT have to do with losing your voice?

Teacher: Well, Alexander discovered that it was his own ideas about how to go about speaking that caused him to speak in a way that strained his voice.  In fact he found that he went about all of his activities in this same unhelpful and strained way.  When he tried to change he found that he couldn’t reliably do so.  He kept going back to his old way of doing things.  His technique is the process that he went through to solve this problem.

Student: Nope – don’t get it.  Say it more simply.

Teacher: He lost his voice because of what he thought he had to do to speak.  Basically he was using too much effort and straining his voice.

Student: Okay.

Teacher: After experimenting he found that he was straining himself in just the same ways in everything he did.

Student: Okay.

Teacher: He worked out what his problem was but he didn’t have much success in stopping doing things in his old unhelpful ways.

Student: Why not?

Teacher: I think he kept trying to feel if he was doing it right.  Unfortunately what felt right was what he’d always done – so he ended up just doing his old ‘stuff’.

Student: Bummer.

Teacher: Yeah.  He had to develop a set of mental disciplines to overcome this hurdle.  Together they became a whole new way of thinking.  One of his most famous pupils called it ‘thinking in activity’.

Student: Could you explain these mental disciplines?

Teacher: I could but I’ve got a better idea.  Alexander encouraged people to read his books.  He described how he worked out his technique in the first chapter of his book ‘The Use of the Self’.

Student: Okay.

Teacher: Why not read it?  If you find that this line of thinking appeals to you then come and see me and I’ll give you an introductory lesson for free.

Student: Thanks.  I’ll do that.

Teacher: I look forward to it.

Student: See you.

Teacher: Bye for now.