The Alexander Technique

Just before leaving on our family vacation, Chris took a week-long voice training workshop under the tutelage of his choir director. Several hours of the training involved the Alexander Technique, a technique familiar to many musicians, dancers and actors and people wanting relief from back pain. The Alexander Technique part of the workshop was taught by a highly experienced AT teacher. (Note: The Alexander Technique is not a therapy.)

F.M. Alexander was an Australian actor at the turn of the last century who developed chronic laryngitis. Repeated visits to physicians yielded no solution to his problem so he began to study what it was about his body position that may have contributed to his condition. It took him nine years. He started with the premise that it was the way he held his neck. He needed to move his head forward and up, away from his body, to lengthen his spine. When that did not make the problem go away, he realized that rather than start by correcting specific movements, he needed to look at the general misuse of body movements.

He came to the remarkable insight that even though he felt he was moving correctly, he often was not, and therefore he could not trust his own feelings. Old body habits die hard and try as he did to correct, he would revert to his old habits. He developed a method to execute the procedure even though his body was telling him the procedure felt “wrong”.

“I would stop and consciously reconsider my first decision, and ask myself “Shall I after all go on to gain the end I have decided upon and speak the sentence? Or shall I not? —and then and there make a fresh decision to

a. not to gain my original end
b. to change my end and do something different, say, lift my hand
c. to go on after all and gain my original end

“In each case I would continue to project the directions for maintaining the new use.”

The method forward in this statement by Alexander reminds me very much of Hamlet’s famous “to be or not to be” soliloquy (Act 3 Scene 1), which can be interpreted as an action/no action oriented dilemma. The method could lead to destabilizing behavior when executed by someone like Chris, who was struggling with his perceptions of reality in the first place. Some people can become very emotional because the technique can open up a flood of suppressed feelings and emotions.

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