Ten years of careful self-observation by Frederick Matthias Alexander (1869 - 1955) led to the discoveries that became the cornerstone of the Alexander Technique. While attempting to solve the vocal problems that were ruining his career as a Shakespearean recitalist, Alexander discovered that he was creating a pattern of tension that was interfering with the correct relationship between his head, neck and back.
When medical help failed him, Alexander set out to solve his own problem. Finding the source of this unconscious habit and preventing its harmful effects presented Alexander with a puzzle that proved to be his life's work.
Alexander was born and raised in Tasmania. He loved the bush and all its wildlife. He was also passionate about the theatre and becoming an actor, and it was his desire to overcome the problems interfering with this career, which led to the evolution of his work.
He began teaching his approach in Melbourne in the 1890s and became known for his ability to help those with vocal and breathing problems. Physicians witnessed a wide array of improvements in Alexander's students, and he was encouraged to move to London where his work could be more widely known. He sailed there in 1904, and taught there, and annually in New York, USA, until his death in 1955.
Alexander's pupils included many famous people, for example, Sir Henry Irving, considered the greatest Shakespearean actor of his time. Many doctors, including Peter MacDonald, later to become chairman of the British Medical Association, endorsed his work and sent patients to him. In 1939, a group of physicians wrote to the British Medical Journal urging that Alexander’s principles be included in medical training. Eminent thinkers who went to Alexander included George Bernard Shaw and Aldous Huxley. A number of scientists also endorsed his method, recognising that Alexander’s practical observations were consistent with scientific discoveries in neurology and physiology. The most eminent of these was Sir Charles Sherrington, today considered the father of modern neurology. With its wide application, Alexander’s technique drew people from all walks of life, including politics (Sir Stafford Cripps and Lord Lytton), religion (William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury), education (Esther Lawrence, principal of the Froebel Institute) and business (Joseph Rowntree).