What is the Alexander Technique?
Updated: Apr 3, 2021
The Alexander Technique is a skill. You take lessons in it. What you’re learning to do is stop moving and doing things with strain, grind, and friction.
When you do that, your posture improves, so some people think of it as postural reeducation. That’s not wrong, but it’s misleading. When people think of it that way, they try to “just stand up straight”, which they do by tightening. That’s not what we’re going for. If you let go of the tension that’s pulling you out of natural, easy uprightness, your posture gets better by itself. If you try to duplicate that by bracing, you're not doing another version of the same thing, you're doing something completely different.
Other people think of it as relaxation training. Again, not wrong, just misleading. People tend to collapse and flop when they relax, and that’s not what you’re learning here. You’re learning to let go of the unnecessary tension, so that you have enough, instead of excess.
Tension isn’t like money; you don’t want extra lying around, just in case.
It’s straightforward to talk about doing things with less strain, but actually doing it is a subtle and profound shift physically, mentally, and emotionally. Think of the massive--yet nearly invisible--shift it would require to “change your tone” in a conversation with somebody. Instead of imagining it in the context of a fight, imagine you actually wanted to. Just for the heck of it, to see if you could.
That kind of change goes deep. It affects all of you. And you can make a lot of other dramatic changes without actually doing it.
That’s the type of change you get in the Alexander Technique: person-wide, tiny, powerful.
I do my best to keep new agey-ness out of this. Alexander was just a guy who needed a problem solved. He was an actor, and he developed all this because nothing else fixed his problem of losing his voice on stage. The Alexander Technique was not developed with eyes closed, lost in thought. It was developed with eyes open, looking in the mirror.
If we tighten in the same habitual ways long enough, we stop noticing that we’re doing it, but the negative effects don’t stop. Lessons in the Alexander Technique teach you how to notice and let go of ongoing, habitual tension. Whatever problems that tension was causing go away over time. Whatever problems it was worsening get better, but don’t go away. And whatever problems it wasn’t causing will still be there, if against a more peaceful backdrop.
If tension makes it worse, the Alexander Technique makes it better.