Who was F.M. Alexander?
F.M. Alexander was born in Tasmania in 1869. He was an actor who recited Shakespeare and unfortunately lost his voice. He went to the doctor and was told to go on vocal rest until his voice came back and then he could perform again. This began a vicious cycle for Alexander of performing, losing his voice, vocal rest, regaining his voice, performing, losing his voice, vocal rest, regaining his voice, etc... until one night, at a big performance, he got so hoarse mid-performance he could barely speak. Since the definition of insanity is repeating the same action and expecting a different result, Alexander returned to his doctor and said: "Is it not fair, then, to conclude that it was something I was doing that evening in using my voice that was the cause of the trouble?" The doctor agreed, but could not say what it was or how to change it, so Alexander decided to find out for himself.
He set about on a long series of experiments involving mirrors and self-observation and discovered that there were things he was doing that were damaging his voice and yet they seemed quite impossible to change, no matter how hard he tried, how much effort he invested. This is how he discovered the concept of "use," a key pillar of the Alexander Technique. He realized that his use of himself had affected his structure and functioning. Further, he realized that his kinesthetic sense of himself was inaccurate, making it very difficult for him to bring about the changes he needed to correct his use and stop hurting his voice. Knowing that the doctor had no solution for him, F.M. decided to create a whole new system of re-education:
"Discouraged as I was, however, I refused to believe that the problem was hopeless. I began to see that my findings up until now implied the possibility of the opening up of an entirely new field of enquiry, and I was obsessed with the desire to explore it. 'Surely,' I argued, 'if it is possible for feeling to become untrustworthy as a means of direction, it should also be possible to make it trustworthy again.'"
F.M. Alexander, The Use of the Self p. 24-36, Orion Books, 1932.
The process of re-establishing a trustworthy kinesthetic sense of self that allows you to have conscious choice in how you use your whole self in various activities is the heart of the Alexander Technique.
Alexander wrote four books (Man's Supreme Inheritance, Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual, The Use of the Self and The Universal Constant in Living) and trained a generation of teachers. I am fourth-generation Alexander, I suppose (probably 4.5 is most accurate). I trained with Debi Adams and Tommy Thompson, who trained with Frank Pierce Jones, who trained with F.M. Alexander. So, in the larger family of Alexander Technique practitioners, I guess that makes me a great-grandaughter. My work has been influenced by a long lineage of AT teachers and their insights that build upon F.M. Alexander's initial work. My most notable influences are: Debi Adams, Tommy Thompson, Betsy Polatin, Belinda Mello, Jamee Culbertson, Bob Lada, Eliza Mallouk, Rachelle Palnick Tsachor, Sarah Barker, Peter Grunwald, Elizabeth Langford and Rolfer/experiential anatomy teacher: Aline Newton.
Image: F.M. Alexander and a dog put hands-on (paws-on) each other.