The Alexander Technique came about through the efforts of a young up-and-coming actor, at the end of the 19th century in Australia, to surmount crippling problems of breathing and voice production
(see Chapter 1 of the Use of the Self in which F. M. Alexander explains in detail how he overcame chronic hoarseness and loss of voice on stage).
This demonstration of improving the use of the human vocal apparatus was thus the first application of the Technique, by F. M. Alexander himself. And though he was later dubbed ‘the breathing man’, F. M. Alexander’s own recovery was in fact due to an improvement of his general coordination, breathing being but one of the numerous functions of the body and good breathing a “symptom” of good general health.
It was this comprehensive aspect of the Alexander Technique which ensured that it became very rapidly of interest beyond the narrow field of the voice professions. It was becoming evident that F.M. Alexander’s methods could literally benefit everyone. His success took him to London in 1904, where he continued to develop and practice his technique until his death in 1955.
Prior to 1930, the year in which Alexander agreed to set up a training school for teachers of the Alexander Technique, only a handful of close associates had been trained by him in an informal way.
When F. M. Alexander died, Walter Carrington, director of his training school, took over the school in his own name. The only other school, operating since 1950, was run by Dr Wilfred Barlow and his wife Marjorie, niece of F. M. Alexander, both of whom were trained by F. M. Alexander.
Progressively, other schools opened and, so far, over 4000 diplomas have been awarded worldwide, following a course of at least three years’ specialized training based essentially on the model laid down by F. M. Alexander, and later by his direct pupils : Walter Carrington, Patrick Mc Donald and the Barlows.
A key event was the setting up in London in 1958 of the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique (STAT – www.stat.org.uk) by a group of teachers who had been trained by F.M. Alexander. STAT is the central organization in a network currently composing some eighteen associations worldwide which make up the network of the STAT Affiliated Societies (ATAS: Alexander Technique Affiliated Societies- www.alexandertechniqueworldwide.com).
The Belgian association, AEFMAT, Became an affiliated member in 1996. All of these associations reciprocally recognize diplomas awarded by the training schools falling within their sphere of responsibility.
Other independent Alexander Teachers associations, of which ATI is the most well-known, have been set up outside the STAT network, but the training provided by some of the schools they recognize can in some instances diverge substantially from the established model.
In 1986, Michael Frederick, an American Alexander Technique Teacher, organized the first International Alexander Technique Congress in Stony Brook (New York – USA), where Alexander Teachers from all ‘schools’ were welcomed. In 2015, the campus of Limerick University hosted the 10th Congress where, during a whole week, around 700 hundreds participants have been sharing and working together, followed by the 11th Congress in Chicago (USA). The next Congress will take place in 2021 in Berlin. (www.atcongress.com)
In London, F. M. Alexander’s pupils numbered some of the leading actors and actresses of the day. The acting profession has always found that the exacting mental and physical demands on stage require a form of discipline that the Alexander Technique has been able to fulfill particularly well.
The reputation of the Alexander Technique has spread progressively to all sections of the population and to all fields of activity. It is enjoying growing influence at the present time as people are becoming increasingly aware that, in the last resort, they alone must take charge of their lives and cannot depend entirely on what the teaching and medical establishment, however reputable, may prescribe.
Human evolution would seem such that the Alexander Technique, which seeks to enhance conscious control, is precisely suited to the present (and, indeed, future) needs of modern individuals for human beings, at least in the western world so far, cannot rely any more completely and solely on their instinctive reactions to adapt to their fast changing environment that they themselves are creating.
We need more than ever to learn to stop and think before any action in order to prevent our instinctive and habitual behavior to rule our lives.