The Alexander Technique

Frederick Matthius Alexander 1869-1955

A common definition of The Alexander Technique: The re-education of the use of self.

“The Alexander Technique is primarily concerned with how we use ourselves. How we use ourselves is about the whole living organism which includes: Movement, emotion, posture, thought, spirit, expression, energy, psyche, sensation, voice, gesture, and how these aspects are consciously embodied, connected and choreographed in the moment.” Constance Clare Newman

Directions, Inhibition, End-Gaining, Constructive Rest, and the Whispered Ah (voice and breath) are all components of the Technique. Terms you’ll hear in a lesson are: Recognition of the Force of Habit, Inhibition and Non-Doing, Recognition of Faulty Sensory Awareness, Sending Directions, The Primary Control, the Means Whereby.


Recognition of Faulty Sensory Awareness

The Technique can help us become aware of unnecessary tension and effort but asks that we be careful not to rely only on our sensory awareness. Our brain thinks that our “current posture” is normal so to rely on just the feeling of something doesn’t always give us accurate information. Instead, it is more important to begin to change the habit with the thought of the change we want vs. just “doing” the change even though “doing” seems more direct.


The Means Whereby: End-Gaining

In the Technique, we try to be aware of, and careful about, “end-gaining” meaning that we are not focused on the goal but on “the means whereby”. What does this mean? End-gaining is “doing” to get a result which tends to layer on new tensions over old patterns. This makes it harder to identify where the mis-use really is, or what it is. We end-gain because we are impatient. End- gaining is a goal oriented process and with the Technique, we want to stay in the process of what’s happening. Hoe does freeing the neck free up our movement and improve our coordination?



Inhibition is a big part of the Alexander Technique. Inhibition is a moment of “conscious awareness” that interrupts or stops a habitual mis-use so that better and freer range of motion can happen. Inhibition is a non-doing that helps us recognize and prevent patterns of mis-use and tension in order to improve our daily life. It is not about conciously releasing muscles per se; it’s merely stopping yourself from doing the habit.


Primary Control

Primary Control refers to the innate coordination of the body that comes from the head-neck and spine relationship. The body’s responses are determined by the quality of the eye and head movements at inception of the head’s motion. So, the Alexander Technique focuses a lot on freeing the neck to not only lengthen the neck and spine but to begin a whole cascade of bio-intelligent events that the body already knows. This thought, to free the neck, goes before every movement and is as much a thought than anything else.



Directions help re-enforce good use. You project and think the directions without actually “doing” them. They represent a map of how one’s body is designed to move ““ effortlessly or without excess tension. Directions are suggested and not willfully imposed on the body but rather are thoughts that the nervous system follows as excitatory impulses get sent. Some tone relaxes, some tone increases or contracts more. It’s not that you fall into a puddle from relaxing everything; it is a different tone we are finding that relates back to head, neck, and spine balance as this Primary Control relates to gravity. Directions include: Allow the neck to be free so that the head can move forward and up, so that the back can lengthen and widen, and the knees can move forward and away; and I always include freeing the ankles as part of freeing the neck.


In Summary:

Excessive tension in the head, neck, spine causes problems in coordination which then effect how we move in the world. We often lose ease and freedom. When we take time to respond to the world around us in a way that does not elicit tension in the head, neck, and spine (like rushing vs. a difference in attitude whereby you may be moving quickly in the world but it doesn’t have the anxious quality that comes with rushing), it makes a huge difference in how we generally use ourselves.

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