Why Alexander Technique? Choose continual improvement

Continual improvement could be as tricky - and as rewarding - as climbing a mountain, as this man is.

Last week I spoke about the counter-cultural nature of the Alexander Technique. I wrote that people who use the Alexander Technique to change the way they think in order to change the way they move, work from an opposite assumption to the way most people live. That is to say, the Alexander Technique does not hold to the view of inexorable physical deterioration. We who work with Alexander’s ideas believe – or at least experiment with – the idea that continuing improvement is possible and attainable no matter what your age.

So why do we believe this? What are the physical mechanisms that make this possible? And what are the implications of it for our day-to-day life?

The body – geared for health

I’ve recently been reading Dr Michael Greger’s book, the provocatively titled How Not to Die. [1] His premise, stated right from the very first sentence of his book, is that death from old age doesn’t really exist. We deteriorate (and die) because we get ill, and at least some of that illness is created by choices we make during our lifetime. Greger’s focus is on diet, and you can take or leave his ideas – I present it here because it is an interesting parallel. 

Because… what if this is true on a movement level? What if the beliefs we have about movement lead to physical choices that can either help us consistently move well, or cause us to experience consistent deterioration?

Alexander’s discovery

When FM Alexander first investigated his vocal troubles, he went to the doctor and tried various treatments, but without success. After a particularly disastrous performance, and having followed the doctor’s treatment plan carefully, Alexander went back to the doctor and asked the following question:

‘Is it not fair, then,’ I asked him, ‘to conclude that it was something I was doing that evening in using my voice that was the cause of the trouble?’[2]

There are a number of points about this question that are really important.

  • If Alexander was doing something to cause his voice trouble, It wasn’t a structural problem – it wasn’t that his vocal mechanism was broken, or that he had an infection.
  • If Alexander was doing something, he could in theory just stop doing it.
  • If he just stopped doing the thing that caused the trouble, then the trouble would disappear of its own accord.
  • When the trouble disappeared, his vocal mechanism would work fine.
  • If Alexander’s vocal mechanism worked fine when he didn’t interfere with it, then we could extrapolate that all of his system would work fine if not subject to interference.
  • If that’s true of FM Alexander, it’s probably true of us, too.
  • We could also extrapolate that, if it is possible to use our structures in a way that causes them to work poorly, then it is also possible to organise our movement to take advantage of our structural integrity. If we did this, we would experience improvement.
  • If we did this consistently, we would experience continual improvement.

The concept of continual improvement

What if it was really true that your body, even if subject to injury or disease, will try to function to its best? What if bodies are intended to function well? This idea, the concept of being just fine as we are, is one of the working assumptions of the Alexander Technique. I love it because it is hopeful. I enjoy the idea that I can experience continual improvement in the way I move by working on changing what and how I think.

It helped Alexander sort out his vocal troubles. It helped me recover movement and flexibility in my arms, and gave me the tools to cure my stage fright. What can it do for you?

[1] Gregor, M. & Stone, G., How Not to Die, London, Macmillan, 2016.

[2] Alexander, F.M., The Use of the Self, London, Orion, 1985, p.25.

Photo by Michele Campeotto – used under Creative Commons 2.0