“We can throw away the habit of a lifetime in a few minutes if we use our brains.” — FM Alexander
Alexander’s voice problem was the catalyst that led to his discoveries. He passionately wanted to act on the stage but his body let him down.
He went to doctors and voice trainers for help, but their help was not permanent. He was offered an important engagement but was afraid to accept it in case his voice would fail and ruin the performance. His doctor advised to continue medical treatment and rest his voice for two weeks before the performance, so he decided to accept it.
By following this advice, he gradually lost his hoarseness. During the performance his hoarseness returned and by the end of the program it was so acute he could hardly speak. He went back to his doctor and they talked the matter over. Alexander pointed out that he had followed his doctor’s instructions, but that the hoarseness returned during his performance.
Alexander then asked, “Is it not fair, then…to conclude that it was something I was doing that evening in using my voice that was the cause of the trouble?” (The Use of the Self, p.25). His doctor agreed, but could not explain this observation, so Alexander decided to experiment on his own to see if he could find out why he kept losing his voice.
He studied himself using mirrors, diligently, subtly. He discovered that pulling back his head, depressing the larynx and sucking in air were all contributing to his voice problem. But which came first, or were they all part of one movement? When he observed himself again in ordinary speaking he saw that the same three tendencies were present as were during performance, although in a lesser degree. This observation encouraged him to continue to experiment.
On discovering these causal factors he thought he could simply interrupt these actions to solve the problem. Not so. Habits are strong. He had to learn HOW to interrupt the action. How to stop doing what was interfering with his natural design. This critical moment allowed possibility to make a change. Once he paused he could direct himself in a new way.
Eventually his experiments led him to develop what we know as the Alexander Technique. He spent his lifetime teaching and refining his technique.
The Alexander Technique can be helpful in all walks of life. You may want to read more on how the Alexander Technique is applied to your field of interest or search for interesting writings or films.