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Over the years many world-famous people from very different backgrounds have benefited greatly from the Alexander Technique. Notable individuals who have found the Technique invaluable include: Nobel prize winners for Medicine and Physiology, Sir Charles Sherrington and Professor Nikolaas Tinbergen; popular musicians such as Sting, Madonna and Paul McCartney; distinguished writers including George Bernard Shaw, Aldous Huxley and Roald Dahl; and great sports people like Linford Christie and Daley Thompson. A string of actors add their name to the list including Sir Henry Irving, John Cleese, Mary Steenburgen, Kevin Kline, Lynn Redgrave, Paul Newman, Robin Williams, William Hurt, Jeremy Irons, and Christopher Reeve to name but a few.
During the first part of the 20th Century there was been a great deal of support from doctors and scientists who had first hand experience of the Alexander Technique. (See also our Scientific Research page).
Even as far back as the 1920s a number of physicians and surgeons were urging the medical profession to take note of the valuable discoveries that had been made by Alexander and, in fact, 19 of them jointly wrote a letter to the British Medical Journal which included the following extract:
As the medical men concerned we have observed the beneficial changes in use and functioning which have been brought about by the employment of Alexander's technique in the patients we have sent to him for help - even in the case of so called "chronic disease" - whilst those of us that have been his pupils have personally experienced equally beneficial results. We are convinced that "an unsatisfactory manner of use, by interfering with general functioning, constitutes a predisposing cause of disorder and disease," and that diagnosis of a patient's troubles must remain incomplete unless the medical man when making his diagnosis takes into consideration the influence of use upon functioning.
Unfortunately, those responsible for the selection of subjects to be studied by medical students have not yet investigated the new field of knowledge and experience which has been opened up through Alexander's work, otherwise we believe that ere now the training necessary for acquiring this knowledge would have been included in the medical curriculum. To this end we beg to urge that as soon as possible steps should be taken for an investigation of Alexander's work and Technique...
One of these doctors was Peter Macdonald, who later became Chairman of the British Medical Association. In his Inaugural Address he had this to say:
Alexander is a teacher pure and simple. He does not profess to treat disease at all. If the manifestations of disease disappear in the process of education, well and good; if not the education of itself will have been worthwhile. Manifestations of disease, however, do disappear. Including myself, I know many of his pupils, some of them, like myself, medical men. I have investigated some of these cases, and I am talking about what I know.
He went on say:
...there seemed to be a distinct betterment in cases of angina, pectoris, of asthma, of epilepsy, of tremor, of spinal curvature, and of difficulty of walking from locomotor ataxy, and from infantile paralysis. In short, I have seen, during the application of an educative process not directed to cure of disease, the manifestations of disease disappear, so that I personally am convinced that Alexander is at least largely right when he says that disease is the result of wrong functioning. And further, I am beginning to wonder whether there are any manifestations of any forms of disease, which may not disappear under a process of re-education on these lines....
Alexander's work is of first class importance and investigation by the medical profession is imperative.
— British Medical Journal
(Article entitled Instinct and Functioning in Health and Disease, 25th Dec 1926)
Around the same time lived the Nobel Prize winner and one of the world's most prominent physiologists, Sir Charles Sherrington. He became one of Alexander's greatest supporters and remained so throughout his life. He had this to say about Alexander's work:
Mr Alexander has done a service to the study of man by insistently treating each act as involving the whole integrated individual, the whole psycho-physical man. To take a step is an affair, not of this or that limb solely, but of the total neuro-muscular activity of the movement - not least of the head and neck.
Professor George Coghill, an anatomist and physiologist who was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, spent 40 years studying the development and behavior of animals. He is regarded as one of the most outstanding scientists of the twentieth century, and was another strong supporter of the Alexander Technique, claiming that:
It is my opinion that habitual use of improper reflex mechanisms in sitting, standing and walking introduces conflict in the nervous system, and that this conflict is the cause of fatigue and nervous strain which bring ills in their train. Mr Alexander, by relieving this conflict between the total pattern which is hereditary and innate, and the reflex mechanisms which are individually cultivated, conserves the energies of the nervous system and by so doing corrects not only postural difficulties, but also many other pathological conditions that are not ordinarily recognized as postural. This is a corrective principle that the individual learns for himself and is the work of the self as a whole. It is not a system of physical culture which involves only one system of organs for better or worse of the economy of the whole organism. Mr Alexander's method lays hold of the individual as a whole, as a self-vitalizing agent. He reconditions and re-educates the reflex mechanisms and brings their habits into normal relation with the functions of organisms as a whole. I regard his method as thoroughly scientific and educationally sound.
Raymond Dart, professor of anatomy at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa and world-famous anthropologist who discovered the first 'missing link' between man and his ape-like ancestors, also became fascinated with the Alexander Technique, and had this to say:
The electronic facilities (of electromyography and electroencephalography) have confirmed Alexander's insights and authenticated the technique he discovered in the 1890s of teaching both average and skilled adult individuals to become aware of their wrong body use, how to eliminate handicaps and thus achieve better (ie increasingly skilled) use of themselves, both physically and mentally.
In more recent times Dr Wilfred Barlow, an Alexander teacher as well as a consultant rheumatologist working in the NHS in the UK had this to say about Alexander and his work:
In common with most doctors, my life has brought me into contact with many very intelligent people - many of them people of the highest talent. For what it is worth I must place on record that I found in Alexander an imaginative genius and an adherence to scientific method which I have not seen out-matched by anyone. I think he transformed the human condition although as yet on a tiny scale.
Professor Frank Pierce Jones, originally setting out to deal with symptoms of fatigue and muscular aches, took up lessons with Alexander's brother Albert Redden Alexander, commonly known as A.R. So impressed was he with the effects of the Technique, that he not only took leave of absence from his post at Brown's University, USA, for three years while he trained as an Alexander teacher, but he researched the technique scientifically at the Institute for Applied Experimental Psychology at Tufts University, USA. He was determined to discover what physical changes took place during Alexander lessons. During his research he used many techniques and instrumentation which included comparative psycho-physical reports, electromyography, multi-image photography, X-ray photography and strain-gauge force-platform (a device to measure the force applied to a particular movement). An account of his experiments and their subsequent results may be found in his book Body Awareness in Action. Here he describes his first experience of the technique in his own words:
I had expected something quite different - to have my faults of breathing and voice production diagnosed and to be given a set of exercises to correct them. Instead, Alexander chose the movement from sitting to standing for his demonstration. He made a few slight changes in the way I was sitting (they seemed quite arbitrary to me and I could not remember afterwards what they were), then, asking me to leave my head as it was, he initiated the upward movement without further instruction. Before I had a chance to organise my habitual response, the movement was completed and I found myself standing in a position that felt strangely comfortable. I was fully conscious throughout the movement and it was a consciousness, not of being moved by someone else... but by a set of reflexes whose operation I knew nothing about.
In addition to the reflex effect, the movement was notable for the way time and space were perceived. Though it took less time than usual to complete the movement, the rate at which I moved seemed paradoxically slower and more controlled and the trajectories that my head and trunk followed were unfamiliar. The impression was that of a sudden expansion in both dimensions, so that more time and space were available for the movement.
The most striking aspect of the movement, however, was the sensory effect of lightness that it induced. The feeling had not been present at the start, nor had it been suggested to me; it was clearly a direct effect of the movement. After a short time the effect faded away, leaving me, however, with the certainty that I had glimpsed a new world of experience which had more to offer than the limited set of movement patterns, attitudes and responses to which I was accustomed.
Edward Maisel, Director of the American Fitness Research and consultant to the President's Council on Physical Fitness, also found lessons in the Alexander Technique extremely effective. In his book, The Resurrection of the Body, he described the benefits of these lessons:
There are an overall flexibility and tonic ease of movement, greater freedom in the action of the eyes, less tension in the jaws, more relaxation in the tongue and throat, and deeper breathing because of the effect of the new alignment on the diaphragm. There are also a sense of weightlessness and a diminution of the effort previously thought necessary to move one's limbs. Activity is now more free and flowing - no longer jerky and heavy with strain.
Professor Nikolaas Tinbergen, Nobel Prize winner for Medicine and Physiology in 1973, was so impressed with the Alexander Technique that he dedicated a large proportion of his acceptance speech to it. The following is an extract from that speech:
This story of perceptiveness, of intelligence, and of persistence shown by a man without medical training, is one of the true epics of medical research and practice...
.. (during the Alexander lessons) very striking improvements in such diverse things as high blood pressure, breathing, depth of sleep, overall cheerfulness, resilience against outside pressures, and in such a refined skill as playing a stringed instrument. So from personal experience we can already confirm some of the amazingly fantastic claims made by Alexander and his followers, namely, that many types of under-performance and even ailments, both mental and physical, can be alleviated, sometimes to a surprising extent, by teaching the body musculature to function differently.
Ongoing research at the Biomedical Engineering Group, University of Surrey, is looking at the systems influenced by The Alexander Technique such as the postural reflexes, their interaction with the mechanics of the body and consciousness. Using a combination of force platforms, electromyography and three-dimensional movement analysis, muscle activity was measured during movement. From the work completed to date the study Dr Chris Stevens concludes:
The Alexander Technique has as its first action a reorientation of attention to recognise inappropriate postural preparations and then to inhibit them. By then selecting and activating a more appropriate pattern of postural preparations, it appears to progressively release the body from habitual attitudes, perhaps by facilitating righting reflexes. This in turn starts the process of bringing the body into a natural upright posture characterised by greater height, greater shoulder and chest width, and better balance. Also noted are faster and less effortful movement patterns, improved responses to stress, greater respiratory, circulatory and digestive efficiency, and improvements in performance. It appears to improve proprioceptive acuity thus aiding the learning of skills
Even senior surgeons have recommended the Alexander Technique:
Mr Alexander is an educationist, and not a 'healer' or physical culturist. His teaching embodies with complete precision those principles of psycho-biological behaviour, which are among the most recent deductions of experimental physiology, and applies them in man to a constructive art of living.
— A. Rugg-Gunn, M.C., F.R.C.S., Senior Surgeon, Western Opthalmic Hospital, UK
Neck problems are virtually an occupational hazard for Ear, Nose and Throat surgeons. I had serious problems during my working years, but hoped for relief on early retirement. This was not the case and limitation of cervical (and thoracic) movement became quite an intrusion on my life. Physiotherapy and medication gave only short-term improvement. On being introduced to the Alexander Technique I was somewhat sceptical that anything was going to work, but can only describe the relief gained, and maintained, as quite incredible. General posture has improved and neck mobility has returned to that last experienced more than twenty years ago. What more could one ask for?
— Kieran Tobin, M.B, B. Ch, BAO, FRCS(Eng), FRCS(Irl), D.L.O., Senior Surgeon, University College Hospital Galway Ireland. Past President of the Irish Otolaryngological, Head and Neck Society and Past-President of the E.N.T. Section of the Royal Society of Medicine of Ireland.
97% of people with back pain could benefit by learning the Alexander Technique – it is only a very small minority of back pain sufferers that require medical intervention such as surgery.
— Dr Jack Stern, spinal neurosurgeon and founding partner of Brain and Spine Surgeons of New York, USA
Other doctors who have recently praised the Technique:
Lessons in the Alexander Technique taught me how to sit in a state of lumbrosacral poise, and my chronic low back pain gradually became cured. The Technique is true education. Compared to surgery (e.g. for low back pain or for chronic obstructive lung disease) a course of instruction is inexpensive.
— John H. M. Austin, MD, Professor of Radiology, Chief Division of Radiology Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, New York, USA
The Alexander Technique can help relieve pain and prevent recurrences by correcting poor posture and teaching proper patterns of movement.
— Andrew Weil, MD, pioneer in the field of integrative medicine
Professor John Dewey was one of Alexander's first American pupils and is seen by many as the founding father of scientific philosophy and modern education, but few people realise that the Alexander Technique influenced much of his writing. He wrote:
Alexander's discovery contains in my judgement the promise and potentiality of the new direction that is needed in all education.
Never before, I think, has there been such an acute consciousness of the failure of all external remedies as exist today, of the failure of all remedies and forces external to the individual man. It is, however, one thing to teach the need of a return to the individual man as the ultimate urgency in whatever mankind and society collectively can accomplish, to point out the necessity of straightening out this ultimate condition of whatever humanity in mass can obtain. It is another to discover the concrete procedure by which this greatest of all tasks can be executed. And this indispensable thing is exactly what Mr Alexander has accomplished. The discovery could not have been made and the method of procedure perfected except by dealing with adults who were badly co-ordinated. But the method is not one of remedy; it is one of constructive education. Its proper field of application is with the young, with the growing generation, in order that they may come to possess as early as possible in life a correct standard of sensory appreciation and self-judgement. When once a reasonably adequate part of a new generation has become properly co-ordinated, we shall have assurance for the first time that men and women in the future will be able to stand on their own feet, equipped with satisfactory psycho-physical equilibrium, to meet with readiness, confidence, and happiness instead of with fear, confusion, and discontent, the bufferings and contingencies of their surroundings.
It is one thing to teach the need of a return to the individual man as the ultimate agency in whatever mankind and society collectively can accomplish. It is another thing to discover the concrete procedure by which this greatest of all tasks can be executed. And this indispensable thing is exactly what Mr. Alexander has accomplished.
If there can be developed a technique which will enable individual to secure the right use of themselves, then the factor of which depends the final use of all other forms of energy will be brought under control. Mr. Alexander has evolved this technique.
The writer Aldous Huxley, another of Alexander's pupils and loyal supporter of the Technique, felt strongly that
The student of the Alexander Technique can often change his entire attitude to life and cure his neurotic tendencies.
He was so impressed with the Technique that in his novel Eyeless in Gaza he based the character of Miller on Alexander. Huxley sought help from Alexander personally, because he was suffering from acute exhaustion and depression and, at the time he started lessons, was only able to write while lying on his back with a typewriter on his chest. After having daily lessons from Alexander, Huxley's general health soon improved and it was not long before he was making public appearances again. He saw great potential in the Technique:
The Alexander Technique gives us all the things we have been looking for in a system of physical education; relief from strain due to maladjustment and consequent improvement in physical and mental health; and along with this a heightening of consciousness on all levels. We cannot ask more from any system; nor, if we seriously desire to alter human beings in a desirable direction, can we ask any less.
It is now possible to conceive of a totally new type of education affecting the entire range of human activity, from the physiological, through the intellectual, moral, and practical, to the spiritual - an education which by teaching them the proper use of the self, would preserve children and adults from most of the diseases and evil habits that now afflict them; an education whose training in inhibition and conscious control would provide men and women with the psycho-physical means for behaving rationally and morally.
In his book, Ends and Means, Huxley says:
I have given a good deal of attention to some of the various methods [of physical education], and have formed a definite opinion as to which is the best of those that came under my observation. I should, without hesitation, give First Place to the system associated with the name of Mr. F. Matthias Alexander. He has secured remarkable results.
The playwright George Bernard Shaw was another of Alexander's loyal supporters. Shaw approached Alexander at the age of 80, seeking relief from angina. He not only benefited immediately from lessons, but they may have had some bearing on the fact that he lived to the age of 94. This is how he described the Technique:
Alexander established not only the beginnings of a far reaching science of the apparently involuntary movements we call reflexes, but a technique of correction and self-control which forms a substantial addition to our very slender resources in personal education.
Sir George Trevelyan, the 'grandfather' of the movement for spiritual regeneration in Britain, and himself an Alexander teacher, declared:
I submit that Alexander demonstrated a principle of supreme importance for a holistic world-view. He made a breakthrough which is nothing less than an evolutionary step forward, when a single human being learned to take constructive, conscious control of the direction of his own use of himself. He discovered man's supreme inheritance and the universal constant in living. He overcame the reliance on faulty sensory register and taught himself a central general habit of use of his entire body working as an indivisible psycho-physical unity.
Roald Dahl, author of so many much-loved childrens' books, advocated the Technique thus:
The Alexander Technique really works. I recommend it enthusiastically to anyone who has neck pains or back pain. I speak from experience.
Tony Buzan, author of Use Your Head and creator of Mind Mapping, declared:
The Alexander Technique transformed my life. it is the result of an acknowledged genius. I would recommend it to anyone.
Edna O'Brien, celebrated Irish novelist and short story writer, wrote:
The Alexander Technique gave me a glimpse of the possibility of freedom.
Many musicians have found the Alexander Technique invaluable when dealing with tension and pain while playing in awkward positions, and for dealing with performance-related stresses. The Technique is taught at many schools of music, universities and colleges around the world, including the Royal College of Music in London, the Juilliard School of Performing Arts in New York, and the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto.
After an Alexander session it felt like someone had poured a full canister of three in one oil into my neck. After two sessions, I felt 20 years of neck tension fade away and I felt my chest naturally expand. I used to wrap myself round my instrument for years and when your head is inside the music, it's like an anaesthetic, you don't feel the discomfort but I gradually became aware of how I had been causing myself problems. I feel I have a greater sense of control when I'm playing if I consciously relax and it's easier overall, particularly if I'm playing something that is technically difficult.
— Máirtín O'Connor, leading traditional Irish accordion player
The Alexander Technique can be sustaining; it is something that if learned well, can be carried along with you for the rest of your life. It gives you confidence to be who you are when you are up in front of an audience.
— Patrick Maddams, managing director, Royal Academy of Music
I was cripplingly shy for a long time and I took up a thing called the Alexander Technique, which is the most extraordinary technique, and all of that disappeared and I can do performance and be funny and all of that without a problem now.
— Jimmy MacCarthy, singer/songwriter, RTE TV: Nationwide Friday 27th September 2013
Other musician who have advocated the Alexander Technique include Yehudi Menuhin, Julian Bream, James Galway, conductor Sir Adrian Boult, Paul McCartney, Madonna, Sting, and numerous orchestras worldwide.
Many drama schools include the Alexander Technique in their curricula. The actors' testimonials below represent a fraction of the many who have found the Technique beneficial, both in their acting and their personal lives.
The Alexander Technique helped a long-standing back problem and to get a good night's sleep after many years of tossing and turning.
— Paul Newman, actor
I find the Alexander Technique very helpful in my work. Things happen without you trying. They get to be light and relaxed. You must get an Alexander teacher to show it to you.
— John Cleese, comedian and actor
The many obvious benefits that the technique afforded us as actors included minimised tension, centredness, vocal relaxation and responsiveness, mind/body connection and about an inch and half of additional height. In addition, I have found in the ensuing years great benefits in my day to day living. By balancing and neutralising tensions, I've learned to relieve as well as to avoid the aches and pains caused by the thousands of natural shocks that flesh is heir to.
— Kevin Kline, actor
The Alexander Technique has helped me to undo knots, unblock energy and deal with almost paralysing stage fright.
— William Hurt, actor
I was born with no natural aptitude. I wasn't pretty. I moved with no grace at all. I auditioned for the London Academy of Musical and Dramatic Arts but was not accepted. When I was finally admitted to Central School of Speech and Drama and showed up at my first movement class with my hump back and wearing a leotard, the movement teacher said, 'Oh God'. He sent me to the head of the school who then sent me to study the Alexander Technique with Dr. Wilfred Barlow. That whole semester I took Alexander lessons instead of attending movement classes which helped me enormously in my training and in subsequent years in my acting work. Now I can play people who are graceful and beautiful.
— Lynn Redgrave, actress
I was dubious about the effects of the Alexander Technique when I first went in to experience it, but I found out almost immediately that the benefits were total - both physically and mentally - and, happily, have also been long-lasting.
— Joanne Woodward, actress
I love the Alexander Technique. It has corrected my posture, improved my health and changed my life.
— Alec McCowen CBE, actor
The Alexander Technique has played an important and beneficial part in my life.
— John Houseman, actor, producer and director
Alexander students rid themselves of bad postural habits and are helped to reach with their bodies and minds, an enviable degree of freedom of expression.
— Michael Langham, Director, The Juilliard School, New York USA
Of all the disciplines that form the actor training program, none is more vital, enriching and transformative than the Alexander Technique.
— Harold Stone, Associate Director, Theatre Department, The Juilliard School, New York USA
Other actors who have spoken about the benefits of the Alexander Technique include Keanu Reeves, Hillary Swank, Jeremy Irons, Mary Steenbergen, Julie Andrews, Christopher Reeve, Lenny Henny, Patrick Stewart, Robin Williams, James Earl Jones, Judy Dench, Ben Kingsley, John Houseman and Joanne Woodward.
The Alexander Technique can help to enhance performance in a wide spectrum of sporting activities, as the following testimonials illustrate:
My times became faster as I looked at the readouts on my displays while training using the AT. It was a real boost to my mental training to have the Alexander Technique in my back pocket when I placed ninth in the 1999 Canadian women's Open Lightweight Erging Championships and when I rowed in the Masters Nationals (5 gold) and World Lightweight Championships (2 gold) and the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta (1 gold). I was thrilled with my placings in these events and I can definitely say without hesitation that I wouldn't have had the rowing success that I have had the luxury of experiencing in my short time on the water without finding the AT and the great teachers that I have had the privilege to work with.
— Valerie Thompson Williams, Rowing masters gold medalist
Through the Alexander Technique I was able to rehabilitate my running after 25 years of being unable to run through injuries, to the extent that I was able to set ten world records for veterans in 1982.
— Paul Collins, Canadian National Marathon Champion 1949-52 and veterans world record holder
Balance is a vital aspect of good hammer throwing and getting the head, neck, spine and pelvis in the correct relationship enables the balance of the throw to come so much more easily. Once the balance is settled there is an enormous improvement in turning speed.
— Howard Payne, Commonwealth record hammer thrower
The Alexander Technique will benefit anyone whether they are an elite athlete or whether they just wish to live life without the aches and pains that many people suffer and accept as part of life. It is a pity that these techniques are not shown to us all at an early age for I have no doubt that this would alleviate many of the causes of ill health in our communities.
— Greg Chappell, Australian test cricketer (1970–1984)
I had chronic back trouble for up to 20 years which was related to a football injury. Often my back would go into spasm, which would put me in serious pain. I tried everything from acupuncture to chiropractic. I even had surgery, which involved the removal of two discs but this was never completely satisfactory. Then I went to an Alexander technique teacher. He taught me how to walk correctly and how to sit down correctly. He explained to me about the weight of my head on my body and made me aware of the importance of good posture and how to have conscious control of it. At first, learning these things was hard work. Now it has become habit and I understand that the way I walk and sit are fundamental to how my back feels. I have had a long period of remission from my back problem but if I get chronic pain again, I will go back to the Alexander technique teacher. Of all the therapies I tried, none of them has been as good as the Alexander technique.
— Eamon Dunphy, International Footballer and sports journalist
The Alexander Technique has given me a greater awareness of the way my body moves and the way tensions move through my body. I have learned to release these tensions and to move more efficiently. It has helped me to play football with more confidence and has improved my coordination and balance.
— Andy Hunt, Striker for Charlton Athletic Football Club, London
I regard it as one of the fortunate experiences of my life that I should have met F. Matthias Alexander at a time when I had been suffering physically for many years. There can be no doubt as to the value of his technique judged by the practical results which I myself have experienced. Instead of feeling one's body an aggregation of ill-fitting parts, full of frictions and deadweights pulling this way and that so as to render mere existence in itself exhausting, the body becomes a coordinated and living whole, composed of well-fitting and truly articulated parts. It is the difference between chaos and order and so between illness and good health.
— Sir Stafford Cripps, British Labour politician, Chancellor of Exchequer (1947)
The Alexander Technique makes a real difference to my often tense and busy life. Its thoughtful approach has made me calmer, improved my concentration and given me a clearer sense of my own well being. I am grateful for it.
— Joan Bakewell, TV presenter and journalist
I recommend the Alexander treatment as an extremely sophisticated form of rehabilitation, or rather redeployment, of the entire muscular equipment, and through that of many other organs. Compared with this, many types of physiotherapy which are now in general use look surprisingly crude and restricted in their effect, and sometimes even harmful to the rest of the body.. His [Alexander's] procedure and conclusions meet all the requirements of the strictest scientific method. It [Alexander's technique] bears the same relation to education that education itself bears to all other human activities.
— Dr. Alexander Leeper, Irish Australian educationist, in a report to the Australian Federal Government's Schools and Registration Board.
The Alexander Technique changed my life. It enabled me to devote more time to creating beauty. This inner strength is essential for all.
— Andrew Logan, sculptor