Why is it called the Alexander Technique?
The Alexander Technique was developed in the beginning of the last century by Frederick Matthias Alexander (1869-1955). F.M. Alexander was born in Tasmania, Australia and grew up on farm where self sufficiency was a given. During his late teenage years he moved to Melbourne where he pursued his interest in music and the theater. As a young actor he suffered from a vocal problem that interrupted his career as a Shakespearean actor. Frustrated by this limitation and the advice he received from physicians and vocal coaches, he began to study his own movement for the cause of the problem. Through a long process of self observation and experimentation, he discovered a way to restore full use of his voice.
In exploring how to help himself, he discovered how the organization of the entire neuromuscular system controlled not only his voice, but also his use of effort, breath and ease of movement. He also discovered that his problem stemmed from doing too much and thereby interfering with his own natural poise. He taught himself how to observe his habitual patterns and how to prevent them from recurring. He later developed a way to teach other people this skill which is called the Alexander Technique.
How did you discover the Alexander Technique and why did you become a teacher?
I discovered the Alexander Technique as a modern dancer in the 1980's when I recognized a fluidity and ease in the dancers in Trisha Brown Dance Company. I had been dancing professionally and teaching at Portland State University for a number of years and knew that what I was recognizing wasn't just good dance technique. I later attended a workshop with the company and learned that many of them studied the Alexander Technique.
I moved to New York a few months later and soon started studying with June Ekman and Jack Moore in a small group class for dancers. I also took private lessons from June Ekman. I continued to benefit from my studies over the next six years while dancing and choreographing in New York. During that time I experienced many changes. The most noticeable change being increased ease in movement. I later realized that I had experienced a gain in height and width through my torso. The surprise was that as my use improved my asthma disappeared.
Becoming a teacher was a natural progression from my years of teaching dance. I was inspired and I wanted to learn more about the technique. What better way to learn than to spend three years immersed in the principles of the Alexander Technique in a teacher training course?
I recognize the importance of continuing that process of learning by attending workshops, taking private lessons with master teachers, exchanging work with colleagues and studying books by F.M. Alexander and other brilliant teachers/authors of the technique.
Does an Alexander Technique teacher correct bad posture?
Posture is the end product of how we organize ourselves in activity - sitting, standing or playing a violin. If we habitually pull down on ourselves, or continuously tighten in our neck and lower back, or collapse in on ourselves, the end result will be bad posture. However, an Alexander Technique teacher doesn't teach a person where to put things and how to hold body parts in correct places - as is often thought to be the way to correct posture. Instead the teacher will guide the student to stop doing habits long enough to allow the student's natural poise and balance to support the activity. The Alexander Technique addresses habits of the nervous system and how they effects the use of the self.
Who can benefit from lessons?
Anyone seeking to acquire a clearer understanding of their coordination and how to meet the demands of daily life with greater ease can benefit from lessons.
The following is a list of some of the reasons people take lessons:
- improved performance in sports, dance and playing music
- relief from repetitive movement patterns
- improved posture through integration
- fluidity in yoga practice
- ease in sitting meditation
- adrenaline management for performance and public speaking
- pre and post natal self care
It has proven especially beneficial for performing artists and is included in the curriculum at many universities like Juilliard, New York University and The Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.
How is it different from Pilates, The Feldenkrais Method, or Rolfing?
The Alexander Technique addresses how you function as a whole - psychophysically - in your daily activities. It is a tool used to recognize and stop reacting to stimuli out of habit and instead respond consciously. It is not a an exercise program, or a series of exploratory movements, and it does not involve structural manipulation.
How many lessons are recommended?
The number of lessons depends on the intent of the student. I have had students report a significant change after a short series of lessons and some who need to study for much longer before they recognize their patterns and are able to make changes. Some students find the sense of ease and flow from the technique so rewarding that they choose to make it a lifetime study.
An introductory series of 10 lessons will provide a good sense of the long-term benefits of the Alexander Technique. A basic study of about 30 lessons is necessary for most students to learn to readily apply it to their daily life. Many performing artists take weekly lessons to prevent injury and enhance performance through out their entire career.
Can the Alexander Technique solve problems with chronic pain?
People with the following diagnoses have found the technique to significantly increase range of motion, reduce pain, enhance breathing, coordination, and improve overall functional strength and mobility:
- chronic pain conditions: back, neck and joints
- tension, stress, anxiety
- posture and spinal problems
- rehabilitation need; post-operative, trauma and injury recovery
- depression and fatigue
- greater movement control and balance for people with Parkinson's and MS
Please note the Alexander Technique teachers are not medical advisors or therapist and are not in the position to diagnose.
What do I wear for a lesson?
Students wear comfortable clothing which will allows for ease in movement.
How often should I come for lessons?
I recommend you take as many lessons as possible in the first few weeks of study. You are up against the inertia of habits practiced over years. I have recognized that a concentrated practice in the beginning dramatically improves the value of the future lessons.
Is it better to start in a group class or with private lessons?
Nothing is as effective as learning the technique in a private lesson with the undivided attention and hands on work of a qualified teacher. However, introductory workshops are fun and often others ask question that help with the learning process.
How do I find a teacher?
The list of certified teachers on the AmSAT or STAT website is a great place to start. Many students come to me by referral. I do strongly recommend a teacher who has completed a STAT or AmSTAT certified training course. There are varying opinion regarding certification in any field and I do acknowledge that one is as likely to find excellent teachers who have a different affiliation as well as certified teachers who are not so great. Trust your intuition. A good Alexander Technique teacher demonstrates the characteristics of good teacher of any discipline: compassion, patience, a good sense of humor, creativity, and the ease and simplicity of mastery.
Most teachers welcome a single private lesson with a potential student. In that first lesson you can determine whether or not the Alexander Technique makes sense to you and whether or not you are comfortable with the teacher.
What is the point of the table work in the lesson?
A portion of the lesson takes place on a massage table to give the student an opportunity to practice not reacting out of habit to movement without negotiating gravity. Most of our patterns of misuse arise as we move within gravity. On the table the student does not need to be concerned with balance and finds it therefore easier to learn new patterns. I often have students arriving for their lesson rather wound up and need therefore to literally decompress and quiet with table work so that they may benefit more from their lesson.
Why does my teacher ask me to keep my eyes open when it is easier for me to relax or to concentrate with them closed?
The Alexander Technique is not a relaxation technique. The work aims to align your thinking with your activity so that you are quietly alert and enlivened. Your teacher is encouraging this integration. Very few of us go through our day with our eyes closed. If you are concentrating so intensely that you must close your eyes, you are narrowing your power of attention and that is usually accompanied with excessive muscular tension. If you are dosing off you either need to get more rest or have mistaken the technique as a passive form of bodywork and therefore you are not acknowledging your part in managing your own psycho-physical habits.