FM Alexander (1869 - 1955), was a Shakespearean actor who regularly lost the quality of his voice while performing. By careful self-monitoring while speaking he noted that muscular tension accounted for his vocal problem, bought on by poor posture.
This led him to discover that the spine plays an important part in physical well-being, and good positioning of head, neck, and spine can reduce the tension on the bones and muscles that relate to the spine. He developed this further to become a hands-on method for dealing with certain physiological complaints.
Benefits and Practice
One of the largest groups to benefit from the Alexander technique is musicians: singers and instrumentalists have improved the quality of their performances by removing some of the physical tension.
As an example, classical guitarists often have problems with back pain because of the way that they tend to hunch over the instrument. Something as simple as a higher chair, or footstool, or even a cushion to raise the guitar can all help to improve posture and reduce ancillary pain.
The technique also encourages re-thinking how physical actions are carried out. Comparisons are made, for instance, with how a child would pick up an object from the floor and how an adult would do the same task. Emphasis is placed on the weight of a human head (heavier than two house bricks) and the effort needed to hold the head when it is out of line with its pivot point.
During a session, the teacher discusses the tasks that are likely to be causing physical tension and studies the posture of the student. At some point during a session, there may be a relaxation period, either to a tape, or under the guidance of the teacher. Although there is a hands-on part of the session, it is not manipulative; rather, the teacher's hands seem to be pointing the body into a better posture and allowing the body to find its best position.
Several sessions may be needed to achieve the best results - many people are quite happy to have monthly sessions as part of a general therapy for well-being.
Be aware that the Alexander technique is not a cure for everything. It should not be used as a replacement for conventional medicine where physical causes other than stress are responsible, although it is often used to complement other medical techniques. For example, someone who had suffered a shortening of a leg due to an accident may need surgery to extend the leg; the Alexander technique could be used to improve balance and reduce strain on the rest of the body whilst walking with the shortened limb. The technique should not be confused with osteopathy and other manipulative methods.
It is however, likely to be successful in easing ailments such as Repetitive Strain Disorder, stress headaches, and so on, that have their causes in inefficient movement or poor posture.