COMPANION

Breathing

F. M. Alexander

There was a period in Alexander’s early years of teaching where his method focused on breathing. Between 1903 and 1909 he wrote short pieces such as ‘A Respiratory Method’ (1905), ‘The Theory and Practice of a New Method of Respiratory Re-Education’ (1907), ‘The Dangers of Deep Breathing’ (1908).

In ‘A Respiratory Method’ (1905) he lists the benefits of his method:

The employment of Mr Alexander’s method, under medical super-vision, has shown that it restores the control over the true thoracic mechanism; prevents ‘sniffing’ and ‘gasping’ in breath-taking; ensures perfect dilatation of the nasal passages; removes all strain in respiration and vocalization from the region of the throat; secures the maximum of thoracic mobility and vocal development with the minimum of effort; increases the size of the thorax; prevents that undue fall of air pressure in the lungs, throat, and nasal passages, that occurs when the ‘sniffing’ or ‘gasping’ mode of breathing is employed in physical and vocal effort; ensures an adequate supply of oxygen; prevents thoracic rigidity in physical effort; eradicates mouth breathing, and makes nasal respiration possible in vocal and physical efforts at all times and under all reasonable circumstances; and renders a rigid thorax adequately mobile, thereby greatly benefiting the general health, and materially assisting the vital organs in the proper and full performance of their functional duties.[1]

From 1910 onwards Alexander’s emphasis changed from presenting his method as a respiratory method to one of conscious control and guidance; henceforward breathing is one of many indirect benefits of his technique. References to breathing occur later in Alexander’s writings. The only procedure Alexander used which in an obvious way affected breathing was the whispered ‘ah’ (see Whispered ‘ah’). However, some Alexander teachers have adopted or used a variety of ways to work directly with breathing (and indirectly, through voice work, see Voice).

Writings – Articles

  • ‘Alexander’s treatise “The Human Voice” sheds new light on the origin of his full-chest breathing method’ by Malcolm Williamson compares Alexander’s little 1900 booklet with other writers of the time, in particular Leo Kofler.[2]
  • ‘Up your nose’ by Malcolm Williamson surveys opinions on nasal vs. mouth breathing, from the time of F. M. Alexander to the present.[3]
  • ‘Breath as postural process’ by Ron Dennis is a very short introduction in bringing together anatomical and biomechanical information into a practical synthesis of working knowledge by a teacher of the Technique.[4]
  • ‘A theoretical “disconnect”’ by Walton L. White; on Alexander teachers using breathing methods instead of the breathing approach inherent in the Technique.[5]
  • ‘Alexander’s inspiration’ by Walton L. White; on using the Technique to avoid sniffing and/or gasping.[6]
  • ‘Checks and balances – Learning more about breathing’ by Kathryn Miranda; on her experiences and experiments with breathing.[7]
  • ‘The breathing dance’ by Robin Gilmore looks at breathing using a mixture of bodymapping and movements such as ‘childpose’ and ‘leg-spiral’.[8]
  • ‘The art of breathing’ by Jessica Wolf reports that some of the conditions she deals with – asthma, gastroesophageal reflux disease, consequences of smoking, mood disorders – impact the respiratory system in similar ways.[9]
  • ‘Misconceptions about breathing’ by Jessica Wolf; on misconceptions she has encountered in her teaching: holding the breath to strengthen the diaphragm, abdominal breathing, and on Carl Stough.[10]
  • ‘The inspired breath’ by Jessica Wolf reports on her Congress workshop, on the importance of non-interference with the breath.[11]
  • ‘The theory and practice of Alexander’s breathing method’ by Ron Dennis argues that Alexander’s breathing method disappeared after his death and that the author re-discovered it independently from medical and anatomical literature and describes it as ‘Breath as postural process’.[12]

Writings – Books

  • Teaching Breathing: Results of a Survey edited by Ruth Rootberg contains 13 voice teachers’ answers to over 100 questions regarding breathing and the teaching of breathing. They are primarily voice teachers for actors, of which one teacher is also an Alexander Technique teacher, and some are influenced by the Alexander Technique.[13]
  • How to Breathe by Richard Brennan is inspired by Carl Stough and the Alexander Technique.[14]

See also Whispered ‘ah’, Voice, Singing, Breathing problems, Carl Stough.

References

[1] ‘A Respiratory Method’ (1905) in Articles and Lectures by F. M. Alexander (Mouritz, 1995, London), pp. 27–28.
[2] ‘Alexander’s treatise “The Human Voice” sheds new light on the origin of his full-chest breathing method’ by Malcolm Williamson in STATNews vol. 9, no. 1 edited by Jamie McDowell (STAT, May 2015), pp. 17–18.
[3] ‘Up your nose’ by Malcolm Williamson in STATNews vol. 9, no. 1 edited by Jamie McDowell (STAT, May 2015), pp. 19–21.
[4] ‘Breath as postural process’ by Ron Dennis in The Congress Papers 1991, A Spirit of Learning Together edited by Jeremy Chance (Direction, 1992), pp. 68–69.
[5] ‘A theoretical “disconnect”’ by Walton L. White AmSAT News issue no. 57 (Fall 2002), p. 32–34.
[6] ‘Alexander’s inspiration’ by Walton L. White in AmSAT News issue no. 73 (Spring 2007), pp. 25–27.
[7] ‘Checks and balances – Learning more about breathing’ by Kathryn Miranda in AmSAT News issue no. 60 (Summer 2003), pp. 16–17.
[8] ‘The breathing dance’ by Robin Gilmore in The Congress Papers 2011, Learning from Each Other edited by Siriol Jones, (STAT Books, 2012), pp. 198–205.
[9] ‘The art of breathing’ by Jessica Wolf in The Congress Papers 2015, Empowering Humanity, Inspiring Science edited by Rachel Gering-Hasthorpe (STAT Books, 2016), pp. 313–16.
[10] ‘Misconceptions about breathing’ by Jessica Wolf in STATNews vol. 9, no. 4 edited by Jamie McDowell (STAT, May 2016), p. 13.
[11] ‘The inspired breath’ by Jessica Wolf in The Congress Papers 2018, Advancing Global Perspectives edited by Paul Marsh (STAT Books, 2019), pp. 266–68.
[12] ‘The theory and practice of Alexander’s breathing method’ by Ron Dennis in AmSAT Journal issue no. 15 (Summer 2019), pp. 20–22.
[13] Teaching Breathing: Results of a Survey edited by Ruth Rootberg (author, 2002).
[14] How to Breathe by Richard Brennan (Eddison, 2017).