About Jim and Alexander Technique

Read on for Jim Crosthwaite's story, descriptions of the Alexander Technique and an outline of its early history. 

Jim Crosthwaite's story
Jim found Alexander Technique in the mid-1990s. Hip and lower back problems meant that he couldn’t walk to the end of the street without pain. The yoga he had done since his early 20's did not provide lasting solutions, and nor did pilates or tai chi. He undertook a full-time course to train as a teacher of Alexander Technique from 2008 to 2011.

Training as a teacher of Alexander Technique helped in many ways: 
* managing pain when it re-occurs
* stopping pain in most situations
* learning how to release chronic tension
* freeing up the ribcage, which showed that he could truly sing
* engaging with audiences when giving a presentation

Jim has years of office experience, working at a computer for long days. He has worked as an environmental economist, a university teacher, researcher and a statistician. He has worked manually as a labourer on a farm, building sheds and renovating houses.

Jim is also experienced in facilitation, and in running workshops.

Short descriptions of Alexander Technique

Hearing what people say about the Technique conveys its richness. The first two quotes below are from Alexander professional societies. The others are from teachers interviewed bRobert Rickover.

“The Alexander Technique is a set of skills that helps you recognise tension in your body and how to change it. We teach you practical skills and processes that facilitate positive personal change.” www.austat.org.au

“The Alexander Technique is a skill for self-development teaching you to change long-standing habits that cause unnecessary tension in everything you do.”  www.stat.org.uk

Malcolm Balk - running. “A method that helps people unlearn old habits that aren’t working for them, allowing them to do activity with more awareness, freedom and enjoyment.”

Loren Shlaes - occupational therapy. “Learning about your unconscious habits of how you move and hold yourself and use your body … and replacing them with better choices about how you use yourself, and then you can restore your coordination that may have become distorted over the years” 

Virginia Osterman - teenager who has had lessons. “Learning how to use our bodies naturally. Using the right amount of effort.” 

Ann Rodiger - dance. “A movement awareness education – learn to find the most balanced and fluent way, learn the habits that get in the way, and to undo them to find the flow of movement that works best for you.” 

John Macy – pilates “A way for people to learn how to consciously observe and make changes in how they’re moving; learn what to think about and work on to make changes coherently and rationally.”

Ingrid Bacci - craniosacral therapy. “A teacher-student relationship in which a teacher uses both hands and verbal suggestions, on and off table, and in movement, to help release often subliminal tensions in the body – head, neck, legs etc. To release the tensions that may cause pain, and which certainly affect movement.”

Ariel Weiss - musicians. “Learn about their own coordination, and how their thinking affects their functioning – and how this affects outcome of what they’re doing.”

Origins of the Technique
The Alexander Technique originated in the 1890s with the struggles of a young man to deal with his own health problems. Soon he found solutions that helped others as well. 

Within a few years, he had built a powerful reputation and connections with many doctors as well as other prominent people in Melbourne and Sydney, and then London from 1904.  This was Frederick Matthias Alexander, known as Fred to his family and later as F.M. He was born in 1869 and died in 1955, still teaching in that year.

Importantly, Fred’s approach did not grow out of his experiences as if he were Robinson Crusoe. Instead, he engaged with people and books promoting other health-related theories and practices. Some of this he found wanting, while other elements were worthwhile.

Over time, his approach deepened, and he found a language to explain his concepts that were based on a fundamentally holistic mind-body relationship that was then new to Western science and medicine. His approach impressed critical thinkers and scientists of the twentieth century like philosopher and educator John Dewey, neurophysiologist Sir Charles Sherrington, and behavioural biologist Nikolaas Tinbergen, who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1973. 

From the very early years, Fred informally trained family members in his method, and later other people. A training school was set up in the 1930s. By the time of his death in 1955, many more had trained with him. Since then many people have passed through training schools across the world. There are now 800 teachers in the United Kingdom, about 400 in Germany and in the United States, over 100 in Australia and many in other countries. 

A short chronology of F.M. Alexander
1869 - 85 Wynyard, Tasmania
1885 - 88 Waratah, Tasmania 
1888 - 94 Melbourne 
1894 - 95 Tasmania and New Zealand
1896 - 1900 Melbourne
1900 - 04 Sydney
1904 - 55 London (sometimes teaching in New York)

Early influences on the Alexander Technique
You will find many brief histories in books about the Technique. In my view, these tend to present F.M. Alexander as a pioneering individual, and downplay the social milieu and influences of other people on him.

For me, the social context helps to understand the origins and evolution of the Technique.

F.M. was known as Fred in his family, and they all referred to the Work - and several of them were trained in it, and gave private lessons in different parts of the world. He became known as F.M. to his trainee teachers when he set up a training school in the 1930s.

His family. Fred grew up in a small isolated hamlet at Wynyard in Tasmania, and surrounded by many family members – eight younger siblings, as well as many uncles and aunts. He knew relatives who came to Tasmania as convicts.
During hard times, he paid off his father’s debts, came to the rescue of family when two houses burnt down, and for many years supported his mother and sister and brother. 

His health. Fred was sickly as a child having been born premature, and unable to drink his mother’s milk. Until his early 20s, he was often sick. Stress was also a problem. 

In Melbourne, he began to lose his voice when on stage. Amateur theatre was a passion for Fred. The doctor who saw Fred in Melbourne over an extended period about his illnesses and specifically hoarseness of the throat later became a client, and a very enthusiastic one. This was Dr Charles Bage, who gave Fred various remedies over several months from "special diets to resting his throat", and at one stage advised three months away from Melbourne; Fred lived and worked in Geelong for this period.

It was largely through his own experimentation that the throat problems were overcome. The Alexander Technique was born as Fred used mirrors that helped him identify the habit of pulling back his head and tightening his neck that was causing his problems. His overall health benefited enormously as well as he discovered more and more about himself.

School and work. At Wynyard, Fred was disruptive in the one-teacher school, challenging accepted wisdom and easily getting into fights. However, he was loved by his teacher who taught him normal school work and much Shakespeare in the evenings.

Aged 16, he was paid to assist at the school in his last year, which helped him complete his studies.

Leaving school, he soon had three jobs at the same time in the booming mining town of Waratah where he stayed for three years. He not only worked as a clerk for a mining company, but collected council rates and sold insurance policies - perhaps this work helped him with the art of selling his services.

In Melbourne, he worked as a clerk and did theatre at night.  

After some time in Melbourne, and after solving his health problems, Fred took up reciting as a career touring Tasmania and New Zealand, and later regional Victoria and New South Wales.  During this time, he also taught his new method of breathing and began to take on people who had other health problems.

Leisure activities. From early childhood, Fred and his siblings were great horse-riders. He trained a horse at the age of 16, and soon owned a racehorse which did well. 

He was secretary of the gymnastics club in Waratah.

Fred was reciting at an early age, including his own poem to some acclaim. Active in dramatic societies, he also taught himself violin when living at Waratah in Tasmania, and later had lessons in Melbourne for both violin and elocution. The elocution lessons were taken for several years. 

Fred continued to recite and produce plays through the 1890's in part to draw attention to his growing business of helping people with their breathing, voice and posture problems. 

Evans, J.A. 2001 Frederick Matthias Alexander - a family history
Bloch, M. 2004 F.M. The life of Frederick Matthias Alexander