"Genius, in truth, means little more than the faculty of perceiving in an unhabitual way."
Frederick Matthias Alexander (1869-1955) was a Shakespearean recitalist in Australia whose career was being ruined by chronic hoarseness and loss of voice. He was diagnosed with inflamed vocal cords and advised to rest his voice. Since his hoarseness always returned shortly after he resumed reciting, he reasoned that there might be something he was doing while reciting that caused his vocal problems. His physician agreed, but couldn't tell him what it was, so Alexander decided to work it out for himself.
Through years of careful observation Alexander noticed that when he spoke he habitually pulled his head back and downwards, inhaled audibly, and depressed his larynx. He also noticed that he arched his back, locked his knees and gripped the floor with his feet. His efforts tended to shorten his stature, and interfere with his breathing.
Alexander gradually realized that this unnatural "use" of himself was not confined to his speech but was a pattern of response he brought to all his activities. He coined the term "use" or "use of the self." This pattern had been hard to recognize or change because it was so much a part of his approach and felt normal. Alexander learned to stop this habitual response and replace it with a more natural and coordinated relationship of his head, neck and back. This new poise tended to lengthen his stature and free his breathing.
Through this new way of using himself, Alexander's vocal health and performance were restored, and he was able to resume his career reciting. He soon realized that many people have developed similar habits of use that negatively impact their lives. Based on his own experience, Alexander developed a technique for learning how to recognize and stop unproductive habits and establish a more coordinated pattern of behavior, even in stressful situations.
F.M. Alexander spent the rest of his life developing and teaching what came to be know as the "Alexander Technique." He had many influential supporters among whom were Sir Henry Irving, George Bernard Shaw, Aldous Huxley, Sir Stafford Cripps and Nobel Prize winner Nikolaus Tinebergen.
The philosopher John Dewey, referred to the Technique as "thinking in activity." He said, "The Alexander Technique bears the same relation to education that education itself bears to all other human activities."
F.M. Alexander wrote four books:
- Man's Supreme Inheritance
- Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual
- The Use of the Self
- The Universal Constant in Living
Please refer to the Resources page for other books about the Alexander Technique.
Teaching aphorisms, F.M. Alexander:
- "Everyone wants to be right, but no one stops to consider if their idea of right is right."
- "This end-gaining business has got to such a point- it's worse than a drug."
- "They prevent the very ideals in which they say they believe from materializing by the principles on which they work."
- "You are not here to do exercises or to learn to do something right, but to get able to meet a stimulus that always puts you wrong and to learn to deal with it."