My special guest on Voices from the North in February, 2007 was Jill Freeman. Jill is an Alexander and vision improvement teacher. And she provides ACC supported Tai Chi classes for seniors twice weekly in the Mangonui Hall. For those in the Far North, Jill Freeman can be contacted on 09 4060969.

In this illuminating interview, Jill explains the origins of the Alexander Technique and how the method can be of immense help to people experiencing a lack of ease in breathing, speech, song or movement. The founder of the technique which eventually took his name, F. M. Alexander, was an actor who lost his voice. After consulting with numerous medical specialists he decided to take matters into his own hands. He began to observe himself closely and eventually surmised the importance of posture: in particular, the relation of the head to the neck and the torso. The entire interview can be heard below. Jill is a good story teller so the interview is filled with interesting antecdotes.

Now, I’d like to share a little more on the Alexander Technique. F. Matthias Alexander (1859-1955) is the founder of what has become known as the Alexander Technique. He was weak and sickly as a child growing up in rural Tasmania. Later, as a young Shakespearean actor in Melbourne he suffered from voice loss while reciting, a disastrous state of affairs for an ambitious young actor. Numerous doctors and voice teachers were unable to help him. In despair, he turned to self-enquiry, using a three-way mirror to observe his movements while engaged in the act of reciting.

He noticed that he tightened his neck muscles and pulled his head back when reciting, consequently compressing his spine. He discovered that these movements, the tension in his throat muscles and the sharp intake of breath just prior to reciting, had become habituated. And, at first, he was unable to break these harmful habits.

Then, after much effort and self-observation he found that if he didn’t tense his neck and stopped trying to correct the other faults, they disappeared on their own. “By not doing he managed to do.”

By not doing he was making a conscious choice to do. This is the fundamental guiding principle behind his teachings. He also determined that the relationship between his head, neck and torso influenced the posture of his entire body. He called this relationship ‘primary control.’ When he allowed his neck to be free and his head to move forwards and up, his back lengthened and his voice and recital work dramatically improved.

Alexander began to give voice lessons while continuing with his acting work, and for over fifty years he investigated human movement. He was a pioneer in body/mind work, being one of the first to identify the link between thought, emotion and action. In fact, all his work and conjecture was based on the indivisible unity of the human organism.

He found that he needed to use his hands to gently move clients’ bodies into the right position (for that individual). Ultimately he took his work to London and New York and led his first teachers training while working in London in 1930. Many famous people used and endorsed his technique. Since Alexander’s death, his work has grown and expanded worldwide. Today interested people can read books, go to a teacher for personal lessons, listen to an Alexander audio recording and/or attend group introductory seminars.

The Alexander Technique enhances personal body awareness and can help prevent backache and repetitive strain injuries. It is a personal, gentle, non-intrusive approach involving a teacher/student rather than therapist/client relationship.

Alexander’s premise was that much of what we do in the modern world is unnatural, yet we become habituated to these unnatural activities. Humans no longer move with the grace of wild animals or even that of native peoples. The Hopis call Westerners ‘termite people’ because we do so much. For generations we’ve been taught by society that it is important to always be doing something.

In being so busy we concentrate on what we have to do, rather than on the way in which we do it. This is just another example of being focused on the destination to such a degree that enjoyment of the journey is missed. I see F. M. Alexander’s example as one more reason to take time to smell the roses, watch the insects at work and lie on the grass in the rain. Isn’t it time to notice and engage in the natural beauty around you? This simple act can have a profound and positive influence on your health and well-being. Alexander said that that awareness and observation comprised fully 80% of the desired change in posture and action.

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