The Alexander Technique (AT) is an approach to changing habits of postural support, muscle tension, movement, attention, and reactivity. AT describes a set of principles and techniques that are taught in private or group lessons and/or can be practiced alone. The approach was developed by Frederick Matthias Alexander during the first half of the 20th century, was passed on to other teachers starting in the 1930’s, and has evolved since Alexander’s death in 1955.
Alexander Technique private lessons generally combine hands on guidance and verbal instruction. Lessons address habits in positions such as standing, sitting, or lying down; simple activities such as getting into and out of a chair and walking; and more complex activities such as speaking, playing an instrument, working at the computer, or playing a sport. The goal is to encourage the student to a) refrain from engaging harmful habits of postural support and tension and b) activate healthier ones. Broadly speaking, these two parts of the learning process are referred to as “inhibition” and “direction” respectively, though the two words may have more specific meanings depending on the context.
Some teachers teach group lessons. Themes in group lessons are similar to one-on-one lessons with more verbal instruction and student-to-student interaction. Some teachers work without any use of hands on guidance in group and/or private lessons, but this is currently a minority.
Alexander Technique rarely involves repetitive exercises like those prescribed by physical therapists or memorization of complex movements like those taught in Tai Chi or Pilates. The goal instead is to consciously intervene in habitual neurological patterns. A number of everyday movements are typically used in lessons and at-home practice, such as walking, squatting, lunging, bending, reaching, moving between sitting and standing, and standing on toes.
According to most teachers of AT, good postural habits include freedom of movement, head poise, trunk mobility and alignment, stability with minimal co-contraction, with particular emphasis on trunk stability in movement.
These improved postural habits are considered to be directly connected to improved habits of attention, reactivity, and breathing, leading many teachers to describe their work as “psychophysical.” Together all of these positive effects are referred to as promoting “good use” of the “self.”