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;...
Chair work was Alexander’s favourite device for teaching his technique, and is used by many teachers of the Alexander Technique.
It allows the teacher, in a confined space, to put hands on a pupil and monitor the pupil during an activity. It traditionally includes the pupil sitting down and standing up, bending forwards and backwards from the hips while sitting, and leaning backwards onto a support such as the back of the chair (sometimes using book for the shoulders), all under the guidance of a teacher.
It is not known when Alexander started using the chair as a...
Classical Procedures are the activities used by F. M. Alexander to teach his technique. Generally accepted as classical procedures are:
Going up on toes
Hands on the back of the chair
Inclining forwards and backwards while sitting
‘Monkey’ (a position of mechanical advantage)
The term classical procedures is used to distinguish what Alexander is known to have used in his teaching from later developments. A number of other procedures developed after Alexander...
The Dart Procedures refer to a series of movements which parallel the evolution of human infant movement and, to a lesser extent, the evolution of vertebrate movement. (This section also contains material on developmental movement patterns not attributed to Raymond Dart.)
The initial series of movements rose out of experiments by Raymond Dart after a series of lessons in the Technique with Irene Tasker in 1943. Alex Murray, upon reading Dart’s papers in 1967, met Dart and formalised what is now known as the Dart Procedures. The procedures are not widespread in the...
A directed activity is the application of the Technique to a simple, everyday movement, frequently broken down into a progressive series. It may include the classical procedures.
Directed activities were developed by Walter Carrington after Alexander’s death as a teacher training course aid. He called them ‘games’, a name since used on some teachers training courses. They are also used by some teachers in their private teaching.
In this Companion the difference between classical procedure, directed activity, and application approach are defined as:
A procedure used by Alexander in his teaching, consisting of going from standing up to the toes. Its purpose is to generate more extensor muscle activity of the back musculature.
It is not described in Alexander’s writings, but he demonstrated it in the Bedford Physical Training College lecture in 1934. The write up (probably from stenographic notes) reports Alexander working on a member from the audience:
[To the student:] Now you are going up on your toes. Let that head just go up and up with my hand, and rise on your toes. [Alexander guides the student up on...
Hands on the back of the chair (HOBC) consists of standing or sitting and with both hands taking hold of the top rail of the back of a chair, frequently involving a ‘pulling’ of the top of the back of the chair.
HOBC is the only procedure Alexander described in detail in his writings. Alexander is quoted for saying HOBC provides all the experience necessary for teaching.
The origin is not known but is said to be Alexander witnessing a physical exercise in Australia. It was first described as a chair exercise in 1910 by Alexander in which the pupil is...
This procedure consists of the teacher bending the pupil forwards and/or backwards at the hip joints while sitting. The forward flexing may also be used for getting from sitting to standing. This entry only considers bending forwards and/or backwards while continuing sitting with or without back support.
This procedure has no official or established name. It was used by F. M. Alexander in his teaching, but few descriptions of it exist.
Inclining forwards and backwards from the hip joints when coming from sitting to standing and back to sitting is described by Alexander. For example, in...
Lunge is a position of mechanical advantage, and can be seen as a variation on monkey. Whereas monkey frequently consists of the feet being placed fairly symmetrically, in the lunge one foot is in front of the other, and sometimes turned more out. It is often performed for the purpose of moving forwards and backwards, hence one leg may be bent and the other straight.
According to Marjory Barlow the name ‘lunge’ was given by Patrick Macdonald as Alexander did not name it.
F. M. Alexander did not write on the lunge, but he did use it in his teaching.
Lying-down work is also called ‘semi-supine’, ‘table work’, ‘active rest’ or ‘constructive rest’; an earlier name, ‘inhibition work’, is rarely used today. It consists of a lying down and working on yourself, or having a teacher working with you while lying down. It is used by many teachers and frequently featured in books and articles as a practice people can carry out themselves without a teacher. The most frequent position is lying on the back, with the head supported by enough books to avoid it from being pulled backwards, the...
‘Monkey’ is a position of mechanical advantage. It is normally described as a bending position, where the knees are forward and (often but not always) the torso is bending forward from the hips. A monkey can be everything in between standing and squatting. Alexander called this a position of mechanical advantage, but the students on the first training course nicknamed it ‘monkey’ and this is now the universally adopted term.
One early example of Alexander using a bending of the hips is found in his 1910 pamphlet ‘Supplement to Re-Education of the Kinæ...
There is no single position of mechanical advantage or a single definition. (A ‘monkey’ is an example of a position of mechanical advantage, see Monkey.) Generally, it can be described as a position of balance, which will aid lengthening and widening and the giving of directions.
The term originates from technology where the mechanical advantage is the advantage gained by the use of a tool or similar in transmitting force; e.g. the use of lever.
The ﬁrst appearance of the term ‘mechanical advantage’ (though not preﬁxed by ‘position of’)...
Saddle work refers to working with a pupil who is sitting on a wooden horse and saddle. It was developed shortly after Alexander’s death in 1955 by teachers at Ashley Place. It developed as a teaching-aid for a little girl of four-and-a-half with spina biﬁda, first using a toy donkey. Walter Carrington relates
. . . one day someone suggested that it might be a good idea to use a toy donkey: the little girl would ﬁnd it fun to sit on and it would be easier for us to work on her. We went out and got a toy donkey and it worked out very well, because we could get her sitting on her...
The description of a double-spiral arrangement of voluntary muscles in Raymond Dart’s 1950 paper, have led a number of teachers of the Alexander Technique to investigate the spiralic arrangements of musculature and its implication for movement. Such muscle arrangements are frequently referred to as ‘spirals’.
Spiralic movements are obvious in such activities such as walking (cross-pattern) or throwing a ball, but books on anatomy and kinesiology rarely mention how the line of force of various muscles together produce rotatory movement. Gracovetsky argues in The Spinal...
Standing is one of the most fundamental human activities, and one of the most basic activities the Alexander Technique is applied to. Alexander addressed the issue of standing principally in pre-1910 articles and in MSI, often criticizing the ‘stand-at-attention’ position adopted.
The application of the Technique to standing is first mentioned in a 1908 flyer, where Alexander says that a pupil cannot assume himself a certain standing position due to his defective perceptions and sensations. He emphasises that a standing position is not the same for each individual:
Alexander provides a description of some of the factors involved in walking in MSI:
The whole physiology of walking is, indeed, perfectly simple when once these fundamental principles are understood. It is really resolved into the primary movements of allowing the body to incline forward from the ankle on which the weight is supported and then preventing oneself from falling by allowing the weight to be taken in turn by the foot which has been advanced. This method, simple as it may appear, is not, however, the one usually adopted. The mechanical disadvantage displayed in what is known...
Wall work, or wall procedure, consists of using a wall (or other flat surface) behind you in standing, for observation, support or as a reference point.
F. M. Alexander
It is first described as ‘Door Exercise’ in Alexander’s 1910 pamphlet ‘Supplement to Re-Education of the Kinæsthetic Systems’:
The pupil should stand from 6 to 12 inches from the door in accordance with the requirements of the particular individual. The teacher should then inform him that he wishes his (the pupil’s) hips to move towards the door until the body is supported...
The whispered ‘ah’ in the Alexander Technique is producing the sound of an ‘ah’ in a whisper while thinking of something that may produce a smile.
The ‘a’, ‘ah’, has probably a long history in singing, in bel canto in particular. For example, Domenico Crivelli’s L’arte del canto (1841), English edition 1859:
To avoid these defects [guttural or nasal singing], the Student ought to practise the Solfeggios with the vowel A, shaping the mouth as if smiling . . .
The Italian A, (pronounced as a in...