“Every man, woman and child holds the possibility of physical perfection; it rests with each of us to attain it by personal understanding and effort.”
Frederik Matthias Alexander, better known as F.M. Alexander, was born in Tasmania, Australia, in 1869. He was a premature baby and his life expectancy was just a few weeks. His childhood passed between illnesses, he suffered asthma and other respiratory problems. Although he started studying in school, he soon had to give up due to poor health and received private education from a teacher in the village during the afternoons. This gave him much free time during the day which he spent with his father, when his health permitted it, helping him and learning to treat horses in the family business.
Gradually he became an expert in equestrian training, developing a special sensitivity in touch and careful observation that later on would be essential in the development of his technique.
A trait of his personality that helps explain his discovery of the technique is that he wasn’t prepared to accept any given explanation unless it was explained logically. He himself once said to Walter Carrington that “he had never understood how it was possible to believe anything without first experiencing it”.
When he reached 20, he had saved enough money to go to Melbourne to start a career in the theatre world. He trained as an actor and soon specialised as a reciter of Shakespeare, one of his great passions since childhood.
He established himself immediately as an actor with a very good reputation. While he was becoming known for his abilities as an reciter, he suffered repeated loss of voice on stage and one day became totally voiceless in the middle of an important performance.
Unable to continue his career and having visited various doctors looking for a cure, being tired of not finding any effective help to solve the problem, he decided to embark on a process of self examination that permitted him to discover the reason for his problems. He was clear of one thing: it had to be something he did when reciting that produced the loss of voice, given that he didn’t lose it when he spoke normally. Later he realised that the problem was not with the vocal chords, but the way in which he used his body in acting, and also to a lesser degree, in his daily life.
After a long process of self-observation and exploration, with the use of several mirrors, he discovered the vital importance of the relation between the neck, the head and the back. This relation he later named ‘PRIMARY CONTROL’. Later on he also discovered, after carrying out many ‘experiments’, that the most important and most difficult was “to stop doing”: ‘TO INHIBIT’. He noticed that he couldn’t change anything until he had stopped his habitual reaction. Thus he discovered ‘’INHIBITION’: to say ‘NO’ to the stimulus to organise his body and maintain a good relationship between the neck, the head and the back (‘Primary Control’) before acting.
When he returned to acting, once recovered after many years, his work colleagues and some doctors were interested in the technique and they were keen for him to show them. He thus started his work as a teacher of the Alexander Technique to which he gave his name.
Alexander subsequently made use of his hands to transmit with more clarity and precision that which he had previously explained with words. Thus he taught individually, noticing the use of each person and reaching a better understanding, not only mental but also physical, for each one of his students.
He lived betweenLondon and New York, where he devoted himself to teaching and promoting his technique. He founded his first school in London, in 1931, were he taught his method, and where the first Alexander Technique teachers qualified.
His life continued to be linked to the ‘stop doing, to start doing in another way’. At 75 years he suffered a stroke that left half his body paralysed. Although the doctors diagnosed a difficult recovery, within a few months Alexander was already working again. He recuperated thanks to having dedicated his life to developing a technique that permitted him to have control over himself.
He died in London at the age of 86. He continued giving classes of the Alexander Technique up until two weeks before his death.
The four books he wrote to record his technique were: