F.M. Alexander:  A Brief History

by marian goldberg

F. Matthias Alexander (1869-1955) was an Australian actor and teacher. He originally developed the Alexander Technique as a method of vocal training for singers and actors in the 1890s. While Alexander was developing his method of voice training, he realized that the basis for all successful vocal education was an efficiently and naturally functioning respiratory mechanism. So, in teaching voice, Alexander focused primarily on helping the breathing mechanism to function more effectively. Because of his focus on “reeducating” the breathing mechanism, some of Alexander's students, who had come to him for vocal training, found that their respiratory difficulties also improved. These improvements were recognized by medical doctors who began referring their patients with respiratory ailments to Alexander for help. In this way, F.M. Alexander's technique of vocal training developed into a technique he termed “respiratory re-education.”

Alexander had also made the discovery that breathing and vocalization are part and parcel of how the body functions as a whole. Habitual breathing and vocal patterns are parts of habitual patterns of general coordination. In fact, many problems we see as involving just one particular part of the body, e.g. lower back pain and “RSI,” are often symptoms of larger habitual patterns of malcoordination.

Just as people had found Alexander's “vocal” technique helped them with their breathing problems, so a number of his students found his method of respiratory re-education helped them with other physical difficulties. Basically, Alexander had evolved a method for learning how to consciously change maladaptive habits of coordination. (Coordination includes movement, posture, breathing, and tension patterns.) He had come to the understanding that the mind and body function as an integrated entity, a rather unusual realization for that time.

Alexander found that habits, whether “physical” habits or “mental” habits, are all psychophysical in nature. He observed that how we think about our activities determines how we coordinate ourselves to do those activities, and, equally, how long-held habits of excessive tension and inefficient coordination affect how we feel and think. In a relatively short period of time, Alexander evolved his technique from a method of vocal training into a method of breathing reeducation and then into a comprehensive technique of psychophysical reeducation. His technique deals with the psychophysical coordination of the whole person, or what he termed more concisely as “the use of the self.”

FM Alexander walking

F. Matthias Alexander

Habits Affect Our Functioning

Though the child or adult may eventually sense that something is wrong with his movement, posture, or other aspects of his functioning, his senses involved in coordination (proprioception) have become so altered by his habits that he finds he can't rely on these senses when he tries to make changes and improvements. The on-going interference of his habits may be causing him excessive and constant stress but the child or adult finds it difficult to “stop” his habits because they feel familiar and “right” to him.

In the following two photos of children, the older child has established habits that interfere with his natural coordination and cause him to slouch and use excessive tension as he holds a phone. His habits feel familiar and “right” to him. In contrast, the younger child's natural use has not been interfered with by habits. Notice her naturally lengthened back and neck as she easily bends forward to hold of the block.


cell phone posture
child playing with natural good posture and movement

Learning the Alexander Technique can have profound quality- of-life benefits for people of all ages, from pain relief* to improved posture to greater self-awareness and enhanced mindfulness in everyday life.

*British Medical Journal study: Private lessons with Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique (STAT) teachers provide significant long-term benefits for back pain patients. British Medical Journal 2008;337:a884. Little P, Lewith G, Webley F, et al.

Human beings are born with an innate sense of ease, poise and balance. All too often, however, people acquire tension habits that upset this balance, eventually leading to restricted and uncomfortable movement.

FM Alexander
child's natural movement

Changing Habits

Changing chronic-tension habits that interfere with healthy functioning can be difficult without an effective method to guide the process. The Alexander Technique is such a method: it provides a unique means to restore the effortless and natural movement, breathing, and posture that we enjoyed as young children. It teaches a practical and remarkably effective process for choosing healthier responses to the stresses of daily life, thereby revitalizing the innate sense of easy and efficient coordination that is our birthright.