The Alexander Technique is a discipline with a focus on the self-perception of movement and is aimed at alleviating pain, promoting rehabilitation, improving breathing, and decreasing stage fright, as well as improving other conditions related to previous physical habits.
It is commonly taught by hands-on coaching and by demonstrating to participants of the value of physical poise. What makes it unique is its lack of preset exercises; any movement can be used to demonstrate its principles.
Historically taught in private lessons, its principles have also been adapted to be taught in groups, often using short individual lessons which, in turn, act as examples to the rest of the class.
The technique takes its name from F. Matthias Alexander, who first formulated its principles between 1890 and 1900.
Later, Alexander came to believe that what he termed the empirical scientific method or self-observation and reasoning applied to one's own manner of moving, could be used to ease physical performance in general: sitting, standing, walking, using the hands and speaking. He recorded his methods by developing his "work" (termed Alexander Technique after his death,) so as to make experimentation and training repeatable, and also by recording his experiences in four books. He also trained educators of his Technique mainly while living in London from 1931 until his death in 1955, except for the wartime period between 1941 to 1943 which was spent teaching with his brother Albert Redden Alexander (1874–1947) in Massachusetts, USA.
The Alexander Technique teacher provides verbal instructions while monitoring and guiding with hands-on assistance in order to help the student to change their previous physical habits. This specialized assistance requires Alexander teachers to demonstrate what they are attempting to communicate to the student. The Alexander Technique is considered to be an educational technique to be practiced by the student on their own, rather than a curative treatment. It is designed to be used while doing any other activity, so there are no prescriptive forms or exercises recommended as a proscriptive separate practice time - with the exception of lying semi-supine as a recommended means of effective rest.
Alexander developed some of his own terminology to talk about his methods. An example is the term of "End-gaining," which means to focus on a goal so as to lose sight of the means by which this goal is achieved. This "end-gaining" is argued to increase the likelihood of selecting older, poor physical habits with the potential for injury. In the Alexander Technique, the term "inhibition" describes a moment of conscious awareness that interrupts a habitual pattern of muscular misuse. "Directing" selects and reinforces the proscribed Head-Neck-Back relationship that emerges when habitual misuse is stopped.
Obviously, practicing Alexander Technique cannot directly affect structural deformities (such as arthritis or other bone problems), or other diseases, (such as Parkinson's, etc.) In these cases, Alexander Technique can only mitigate how the person compensates for these difficulties (which can be significant for them).
The English novelist Aldous Huxley was strongly influenced by F. M. Alexander and the Technique so much so that he included him as a character in the pacifist theme novel Eyeless in Gaza published in 1936.
The American philosopher and educator John Dewey was very favorably impressed by F. M. Alexander and the Technique. In 1923, Dewey wrote the introduction to Alexander's magnum opus Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual.
The Feldenkrais method and the Mitzvah Technique were also influenced by the Alexander Technique.
Prior to this there was a lack of peer-reviewed studies in scientific journals regarding the effectiveness of the technique. In 1999, Dennis ran a controlled study of the effect of AT on the "Functional Reach" (associated with balance) of women older than 65 and found a significant improvement in performance after 8 sessions but this improvement was not maintained in a one-month follow up. Further, in 2004 Maher concluded that "Physical treatments, such as ... Alexander technique ... are either of unknown value or ineffective and so should not be considered" when treating lower back pain with an evidence-based approach. Finally, in 2002, Stalibrass et al. published the results of a significant controlled study into the effectiveness of the technique in treating Parkinson's disease. Four different measures were used to assess the change in severity of the disease. By all four measures, Alexander Technique was better than no treatment, to a statistically significant degree (both P-values < 0.04). However, when compared to a control group given massage sessions, Alexander technique was only significantly better by two of the measures. The other two measures gave statistically insignificant improvements (P-values of approximately 0.1 and 0.6). This appears to lend some weight to the effectiveness of the Technique, but more studies and data are required.
While there is an abundance of anecdote which suggests that AT instruction contributes to improved vocal quality and vocal health (including its apparent success in treating the vocal health issues of its creator, Alexander), only two studies of AT use with voice were found, neither of which were published in peer-reviewed journals. In both, there was an apparent attempt to measure the effects of AT on voice and to analyze some data; however, neither methodology nor statistics were provided to lend scientific credence to the interpreted results (e.g., representative sampling, control groups or blind testing) or acoustic measurements (i.e., microphone type, microphone placement, microphone directionality, recording environment, recording media – all of which could affect the spectral characteristics of the recording). Thus, while both studies may report actual effects, one cannot have confidence that they demonstrate anything more than possibly placebo improvements without the inclusion of carefully designed methodologies, legitimate metrics or statistical analysis. With regard to the claims made for reducing the need for medication in patients with asthma, Dennis concluded that "robust, well-designed randomised controlled trials are needed.