The Alexander Technique – Principles

The principles and practical procedures of the Alexander Technique were born out of the successful attempt of Frederick Matthias Alexander to triumph over his vocal problems and the understanding that the way he used his body as a whole was responsible for his vocal difficulties.

This empirical origin explains the essentially practical approach of the Alexander Technique whereby each of us is invited to test these principles through personal experience. It took Alexander many years of experiments to work out his procedures but you will only need a series of lessons with a teacher to begin to put the Technique into practice. The depth of understanding of what you are doing in your various activities will depend afterwards on your motivation to consider the principles in your daily life, your willingness to apply them, and allowing the necessary time for the self-regulative mechanisms to help reeducation and recovery

Global approach of psycho-physical unity

In the application of the Alexander Technique we do not make any difference between the different parts of our organism such as the body, the mind, the emotions, the instincts, the feelings, the thoughts, the spiritual, the concious, the unconscious, etc., which we are obliged to distinguish for the facility of analysis and communication through speech. Alexander himself talks in the most general way of the Self, not in order to simplify, but in order to be sure that no part will be forgotten in the practical reeducation. He maintains that no act can be qualified as entirely mental or entirely physical, moreover, during the Alexander lessons, the pupil learns to have in mind the whole of himself when dealing with specific considerations. The integration of a new specific change asks for a different neuro-muscular organisation than the one associated with the usual habitual behaviour.

The use of the self

When we talk of the way our organism functions we mean what functions automatically, without our interference, automatically and on which we could only have an indirect influence, as for example running affects heart beat. When we talk of the use of ourselves we mean that upon which we have a possibility of conscious control and choice.

Alexander discovered that it was possible to affect the way our organism functions, to improve that which functions automatically outside our control by improving the use of ourselves through a practiced control and understanding of what he termed the Primary Control. The aim of the Technique he discovered is to act on the Primary Control which influences the whole organism through a proper working of the dynamic relation between the head and the neck and the rest of the body.

Alexander noticed that a person who came to see him with whatever difficulty also had similar deficiency to a greater or lesser extent in the Primary Control which he had observed in himself, and upon which he had discovered, depends a good use of ourselves.

Provided there is no neurological deficiency our postural mechanisms function automatically and quite normally, however through the imitation of others who misuse themselves, the adoption of certain attitudes and prejudices, or repetative and stressful conditions at home or in the workplace the normal functioning of our postural mechanisms can become disturbed. These conditions can affect us by facilitating all sorts of deteriorations and forcing us to compensate for them. It is this compensation which causes us to create all sorts of muscular tensions which lead to pain, it is also the compensations which prevents us from having a proper perception of oneselves, and also prevents us from taking the right decisions in order to improve.

Faulty sensory appreciation of oneself

We accept easily the idea to be victim of optical illusion, or that another of our senses deceives us, however it is much more difficult to accept that the feeling that we have of ourselves is not reliable.

The reason is that our habitual way of moving, thinking and feeling creates our sense of Self and cannot be put into question easily. Even when we are not satisfied with the way we move, think or feel, we still depend on it and cannot feel exactly what make our reactions or our movements inappropriate or inefficient.

An improvement of the perception of ourselves and of the reliability of our sensations is one of the aims of the Alexander Technique. As a person will discover during lessons our feelings and sensations are not as reliable as we think therefore the Alexander Technique proposes to use mental orders to direct ourselves in order to learn and experience something new which is independent of our old habits and perceptions.

The means we need to use

In order to achieve a good use of oneself the Alexander Technique proposes to the pupil to pay attention to the way in which this is to be achieved and the means implied. To go for a result without any consideration for the damage caused is a habitual attitude. When we hurt in our back for example we prefer to finish our work and get someone else or something else in form of pill potion or ointment to deal with it later, or if we can we may slightly change our position in order to get a temporary relief.

When we see the whole instead of focusing on the result which is only a part, we learn not to make any distinction between what we do and ourselves. We learn to include ourselves in what we do. My activity and myself are one and the same thing, and it is by creating the best conditions within myself that I will be able to do properly my task or that I will be able to react in a new way to a habitual or new situation.

These means imply to know clearly our aim and to proceed step by step, the first step being to create calm in ourselves which will make it possible for us to direct ourselves.

Conscious directions of oneself

The first step towards a proper re-education of oneself is inhibition, a voluntary decision to prevent tensions by releasing and beginning this process by the neck, WHILE at the same time allowing the body through precise mental orders to open towards more expansion and mobility. Then we try to do what we were intending WHILST holding during the movement this new neuro-muscular state that we have created in order to allow for the assimilation of the new way of doing or reacting that is more in accordance with our wishes.


In the same way consequences of bad habits take time to manifest, the consequences of an improved use of oneself might not manifest itself straight away. Change is not a linear process, it goes up and down, and forward and back.

The general effects of a better use will be felt in the long term, although the speficic pains can often disappear quite quickly. In order to prevent further bad habits which lead to pain from developping, the organism will need time to integrate the profound changes that a better use of oneself can bring.

We have come to know and trust our habits which act as our reference, however a new way of moving is unknown to us, therefore in order to move from our familiar habits to something new and unknown we need to repete experiences of good use in movement. This is what the Alexander Technique lessons provide in order to make us able to cultivate a trust in the procedures we are learning so as to prevent ourselves from reverting back to old patterns in any activity we happen to be involved in.