F. Matthias Alexander (1869 to 1955) (known universally as FM) was born in Tasmania and became a reciter – an actor putting on a one man show, declaiming mainly Shakespeare plays in New Zealand and Australia. He became very well known, but having achieved such success he encountered severe problems with his speech which scuppered his performances. Not getting any solution from the medical profession, he spent several years of painstaking experimentation, observing himself with mirrors. Eventually he discovered part of the the answer which he called primary control. By employing this, he was able to achieve conscious control of all his activities in everyday life.
The Alexander Technique, as it became known, was a revolutionary concept at the time, and Alexander began to develop and teach his discovery in 1894 in Australia, then moved to London in 1904 where he established a reputation amongst the great and the good which spread to North America where his brother A.R Alexander also began teaching Alexander’s method.
Eventually in 1931, Alexander established a training course in London for teachers of the Alexander Technique which is now taught by over 3,500 teachers in more than 30 countries world wide.
Although simple in its concept, the Alexander Technique is elusively difficult to explain in simple terms. Many have tried, including FM Alexander himself, who wrote four learned books and many articles about it. In his writing he made huge efforts to be clear as to what he put, at the same time entreating readers to “Be careful of the printed matter: you may not read it as it is written down”
“Every living human being is a psycho-physical unity equipped with marvellous mechanisms and it is through these, when set in motion by the stimulus of some desire or need, that all reactions take place. Every reaction therefore is associated with a particular manner of use of these mechanisms”
From Chapter 1 of The Universal Constant in Living by FM Alexander
Whilst I always try to avoid jargon wherever possible, a lightening tour of a few common expressions used in this work may be helpful. I’ve put these notes at the end for the curious to see, as in my teaching and writing I do refer occasionally to these expressions.
Primary Control: F.M. Alexander discovered that if a certain ideal relationship exists between the head, the neck an the back, it results in a greatly improved use of the whole self. He referred to it as his Primary Control. This is often referred to as Alexander’s Discovery – although he made many other discoveries in fact. Achieving this ideal relationship is fundamental to practising the Alexander Technique.
A Stimulus is an action, influence or agency that produces a response within a living organism,which could be within or outside ourselves as humans, or indeed another organism, such as a horse, dog or fish. We encounter millions of stimuli each day.
A reaction is a response to a stimulus. All of our reactions are influenced by the manner by which we use ourselves as a psycho-physical unity. In other words, our reactions are dependent upon the frame of mind and the physical state that we are in, and of course our beliefs about that particular stimulus.
By the process of inhibiting our habitual reaction to stimuli, we learn how to prevent misdirected use and substitute better use by giving directions to different parts of our bodies.
Inhibition is our conscious decision to refuse to react to a stimulus, so that we can then choose to work out a more appropriate means whereby we can to respond to that stimulus and thus prevent harmful patterns of use.
Directions are consciously reasoned out messages, sent to different parts of the body in order to prevent the misdirected use of those body parts that are interfering with the functioning of our human mechanism.
Put simply, trying to make something happen without thinking of the means whereby just does not work. That’s what we call end gaining.
In Alexandrian terms, end gaining means pursuing a desired end by allowing our sense of feeling to dictate our actions, without thinking and reasoning out whether our manner of use is satisfactory.
Quite often, what we think and feel is going on within us (sometimes known as our kinaesthetic sense) is not in fact correct which is why we learn to inhibit our reaction to certain stimuli.
Means Whereby is the concept that the manner in which we are using ourselves is not ideal or satisfactory; so we need to reason out the means whereby a more satisfactory use can be brought about. We therefore consciously project the directions required for putting these means into effect.
Would you like to know more about Alexander’s discovery?
Sign up to my mailing list opposite to find out what ExpandingSelf can do for you!