F.M. Alexander with Deborah Caplan

Alexander working with Deborah Caplan, founder of the American Center for the Alexander Technique

F.M. Alexander (1869-1954) was a successful Shakespearian actor from Australia. Early in his career he developed chronic laryngitis and actually lost his voice during a performance. His doctor prescribed rest, which restored his voice. But when he resumed performing, the laryngitis returned. Since there was nothing physically wrong with his throat, Alexander determined that his problem derived from something he was doing when speaking loudly. His doctor agreed but could not tell him what it could be.

To solve the problem, Alexander set up three tailor’s mirrors and observed himself as he spoke. After lengthy observation, he discovered that every time he spoke, he subtly tightened his neck and pulled his head back and down, toward his back. When he spoke loudly, as if on stage, the tension and movement were more pronounced. Alexander concluded the tightening and shortening in his neck was interfering with his voice. But the habit was so ingrained that he could not feel the tightening and, at first, he could not stop himself from doing it. Over time he learned how to sense and prevent this habitual tension, and as he did, his vocal problems disappeared.

At the same time he was solving his own problem, Alexander became aware that many people suffered from similar unconscious habits of tension. He surmised that much chronic pain, poor posture and also breathing difficulties are caused by such habits. He began teaching his method of preventing excess tension and moved from Australia to England in 1904. Over the years he had many famous students including the writers Aldous Huxley, George Bernard Shaw and John Dewey. Dewey also wrote the introductions to Alexander’s four books. Alexander taught people and trained teachers in his technique until the last days of his life.

F.M. Alexander advertisement for breathing lessons.