F. M. Alexander did not define the Alexander Technique, partly because he did not use the name ‘the Alexander Technique’ himself, but in later years only referred to it as the ‘work’.
F. M. Alexander
Although F. M. Alexander did not define his work there are indications of how he viewed it. For example, the aim of the Technique appears to be to reach ‘a plane of constructive, conscious control’, and he is making clear the differentiation between the aim and the method: ‘In this connection I wish it to be understood that throughout this book I use the term ‘conscious guidance and control’ to indicate, primarily, a plane to be reached rather than a method of reaching it.’ (He repeats this in UCL.) Elsewhere he hints that this work sets ‘in motion a process of genuine development on a plane of conscious control in the use of the organism.’
In UCL Alexander regards it as a technique for developing control of human reaction:
My technique is based on inhibition, the inhibition of undesirable, unwanted responses to stimuli, and hence it is primarily a technique for the development of the control of human reaction.
As he writes ‘primarily’, it is not only a technique for the development of the control of human reaction.
He opposed his work being labelled a system (but appears that he did not object to the word ‘technique’, see Origin of the name Alexander Technique):
My work is in the wide sense educational, but it cannot by any stretch of the imagination be labelled a ‘system,’ for that implies something limited, complete, calling for the employment of direct means in the gaining of ends; whereas in my technique the procedures are carried out by indirect means which lead the pupil from the known (wrong) to the unknown (right) in experience, the ﬁrst imperative in the employment of these procedures being to provide for the child, adolescent, or adult the ‘means-whereby’ or standard by which, ﬁrst, to judge and direct his own psycho-physical mechanisms in the activities of life, and then, in accordance with this standard, to judge the value of ideals and suggestions proposed to him in experience.
Definitions by first generation teachers
Below are a number of statements by first generation teachers as to what the Alexander Technique is. Please note these are taken from various texts and therefore are not in context.
It [the Alexander Technique] is the discovery by F. Matthias Alexander of the natural rhythm within the human body which exists in the sensory and motivating nerve circuits.
The Alexander Technique, briefly, is a method of showing people how they are mis-using their bodies and how they can prevent such mis-uses, whether it be at rest or during activity.
[T]he Alexander Technique doesn't teach you something new to do. It teaches you how to bring more practical intelligence into what you are already doing; how to eliminate stereotyped responses; how to deal with habit and change. It leaves you free to choose your own goal but gives you a better use of yourself while you work toward it.
Frank Pierce Jones.
The Alexander Technique might be defined as a method for knowing simultaneously what you are not doing as well as what you are doing.
Frank Pierce Jones.
The Alexander Technique is a method of self-help. Its purpose is to help people to avoid doing things that are harmful to their general wellbeing.
‘The Alexander Technique reveals art in the commonplace; in the way you move, breathe, and accomplish your everyday tasks. It counters compressions of the spine and literally frees you up. It enables you to do your work without harm to yourself. It empowers choice.’
‘The Alexander Technique is a method for developing conscious use of oneself in all activities of living.’
‘The Alexander Technique is the teaching that imparts the meaning of the use of the self.’
‘§17. The development through an educational process of accurate proprioceptive perception is thus the main purpose of work in the Alexander Technique.’
‘STAT’s definition limits itself to the change of habits causing unnecessary tension:
The Alexander Technique is a skill for self-development teaching you to change long-standing habits that cause unnecessary tension in everything you do. ’
‘The Alexander Technique is an educational method used worldwide for well over 100 years. By teaching how to change faulty postural habits, it enables improved mobility, posture, performance and alertness along with relief of chronic stiffness, tension and stress. ’
‘A proven approach of self-care, the Alexander Technique is a method that people of all ages and abilities can learn to relieve the pain and stress caused by everyday misuse of the body. ’
Previous definition (1) by AmSAT.
‘The Alexander Technique is an educational discipline cultivating psychophysical coordination in everyday living. ’
Previous definition (2) by AmSAT.
Definitions by dictionaries and encyclopaedias
‘A method of improving somebody’s health by teaching them how to stand, sit and move correctly. ’
Oxford English Dictionary
‘The Alexander Technique (A.T.), named after its creator Frederick Matthias Alexander, is an educational process that was created to retrain habitual patterns of movement and posture. ’
‘Alexander Technique; n. a method of improving the posture that involves developing awareness of it [Mid-20thC. Named after Australian physiotherapist Frederick Alexander (1869-1955) who developed the technique.] ’
Microsoft Encarta World English Dictionary.
‘Alexander Technique: a technique for positioning and moving the body that is believed to reduce tension. ’
- ‘What is the Alexander Technique?’ by Malcolm Williamson.
- ‘Towards classifying the Alexander Technique’ by Kathleen J. Ballard.
- ‘On defining the Alexander Technique’ by Joe Armstrong. lists ten ‘Alexander hypotheses’ (or claims) which Armstrong considers fundamental to the Technique.
- This was followed up by ‘Language development in Alexander’s writing and its relevance to the theory, research and practice of the Alexander Technique’ by Joe Armstrong. (It argues for finding and agreeing upon fundamental concepts in the Technique for the purpose of defining the Technique).
- ‘Defining the Technique and our profession’ by Saura Bartner, Cynthia Knapp and Missy Vineyard.
- ‘Defining the Alexander Technique’ by Ron Dennis.
- ‘Categorising the Technique’ letter by Miriam Wohl on ‘category confusion’, in particular the difference between describing the lessons or the effects or the method.
- ‘Towards classifying the Alexander Technique’ by Kathleen J. Ballard; on distinguishing between the teaching aspect and the therapeutic (benefit) aspect of teaching the Technique.
- ‘Science and Alexander’ by Tim Cacciatore argues that science could not only help demonstrate the benefits of and define the Technique, but could help identify the Alexander Technique by the phenomenon of use itself, not by the set of procedures that are used for studying and teaching it.
- ‘Is there a subject?’ by Jamie McDowell is asking ‘What is the subject of the Alexander Technique?’, and considering possible answers by looking at styles of teaching: cognitive, functional, and phenomenological.
- ‘Is there one Alexander Technique?’ by Jean M. O. Fischer is asking whether all Alexander Technique teachers believe in the fundamentals of the Technique, using the examples of criticisms of inhibition, direction and primary control.
Alexandrian, Alexandrianism, Alexandering
F. P. Jones refers to ‘Alexandrian inhibition’ in his Freedom to Change. Robert Best uses the terms ‘Alexandrian’, ‘Alexandrianism’ in a 1964 article. From the context it would appear that the terms refer to the Alexander Technique, e.g. he writes ‘I have always understood this to be the essence of Alexandrianism’. Maisel used the term ‘Alexandrians’ to refer to teachers of the Alexander Technique. ‘The Alexandrian’ was the title of an Alexander Technique newsletter issued by Ron Dennis 1981–85. Nikolaas Tinbergen uses the phrase ‘Alexandering’ in his 1976 F. M. Alexander Technique memorial lecture.
There is no all-encompassing definition of the Alexander Technique; all attempts at definitions leave out some aspect.
It could be argued that when defining the Alexander Technique a differentiation needs to be made between the practice or skill (i.e. putting it into practice for oneself) and the teaching. Descriptions sometimes refer to the method of teaching, sometimes the learning process, sometimes the practice of the Technique, and sometimes the effects (and sometimes a mixture of these). This aggregation makes a definition more challenging, as it may be more than the sum of its parts.
See also Origin of the name Alexander Technique.