The Alexander technique is a training process in which a person learns to identify and change faulty posture and movements. The goal is to free the body of muscular tensions that cause stress and fatigue by eliminating common postural problems resulting from such habits as slouching, holding the head in an awkward position when talking on the telephone, or carrying a heavy bag on one shoulder. A number of poor posture patterns are the result of well intentioned reminders by parents or teachers to stand or sit up straight. Many people respond by holding their spinal muscles in a constant state of tension instead of aiming for a relaxed balance of head, neck, and torso. Tight or restrictive clothing and high heeled shoes are other common culprits that contribute to incorrect posture and muscle tension.
The technique was developed in the late 19th century by an Australian actor, F. Mathias Alexander, during a period in his career when he was losing his voice. While examining his movements in a triple mirror, he realized that the tense and artificial postures he habitually assumed with his head, neck, and torso during performances were affecting his vocal chords. By changing his self defeating habits, he was able to “liberate” his voice. Encouraged by his success, he began to teach others some of his methods and in 1908, he published one of his earliest pamphlets: “Reeducation of the Kinesthetic System (Sensory Appreciation of Muscular Movement) Concerned with the ,Development of Robust Physical Well Being.” In the decades that followed, he attracted many distinguished followers, among them philosopher john Dewey, authors George Bernard Shaw and Aldous Huxley, as well as a number of physicians and scientists. By the time he died in 1955, his technique was being taught worldwide.
Instructors are trained and certified at centers affiliated with the North American Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique. They may give private lessons and also conduct group classes and workshops. Some doctors and physical therapists use the method, and many hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and pain clinics now offer instruction to their clients. So do performing arts institutions, including the juilliard School in New York and the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts.
When it is used
The technique is most frequently recommended as a way of dealing with back and neck pain. It is also used to counteract some of the effects of scoliosis (curvature of the spine) and arthritis, to improve respiratory function, and as an adjunct to breathing exercises for asthma patients. Some performing artists claim that it has helped them to overcome stage fright; many athletes have found that it not only enhances their skills but also helps reduce the likelihood of sports injuries. A growing number of people who work at computers are investigating the Alexander technique as a way of avoiding stress injuries from repetitive movements, which have become a disabling occupational hazard.