The Alexander technique is known as a useful adjunct to training in vocal circles, however, while many people have heard about it, there is a lot of misconception. Today I hope to introduce how it works and how powerful it is when effectively applied.
To begin: Tasmanian actor overcomes his ‘hoarse voice sore throat’ problem.
F.M Alexander was a Tasmanian and an actor at a time when there was no amplification available. After suffering a regular loss of voice while performing, he started a process of rigorous self-observation to find out what was going on. He knew that the hoarseness and pain got worse when he performed, so it must have been related to HOW he was performing… but what was he doing?
Alexander’s solution came after a long process of experimentation, and he was surprised to discover that not only had he overcome his voice problem, he had developed a process that led to profound improvement in health and well-being.
Now 100+ years after his birth there are Alexander Technique teachers around the world, teaching people from all walks of life to find their optimal coordination.
So what did he discover?
Alexander found that natural good posture, essential to the good use of the voice, is dynamic and responsive, constantly moving, providing support against the force of gravity and organising the timing, sequencing and rhythm of the parts. While that cannot be ‘made to happen’ through effort, it can be ‘directed to happen’ naturally via conscious direction of your spatial sense…
Unfortunately for many, this dynamically balanced poise, ease and power are easily disturbed by habits of tension or collapse. Especially after years of training, or in response to stress, habits of interference can lead to a frustrating and ongoing struggle with vocal performance, as it did for Alexander.
“You translate everything, whether physical, mental or spiritual, into muscular tension”
The Alexander Technique teaches people how to think about how they move, in the service of natural coordination, ease power and grace, especially while using the voice.
Try these activities:
The Spatial Sense
Make a vocal sound of some kind, perhaps you are a singer and make an open sound or a non-singer and you just make an ‘AH’ sound for a second or two. Notice how it feels to make that sound… and what you are drawn to notice in your body.
Now consciously shift your attention to your head… that’s right, above your jaw, above your ear-level… up to your skull. Did you want to move it? You don’t have to move it, but you do want your head to be able to move easily… We are talking about ‘knowing where your head is in relation to your body’, that is, accessing your spatial sense consciously. Note that this is different from any direct idea of effort or movement per se. Now, while thinking of your head above your jaw, make your sound again. How was it different from the first time? What happens if you try this experiment while walking?
So, with this as the beginning let’s do the next experiment.
The Direction of the Air
Alexander demonstrated that the sense we have of our own bodies and how we are moving is often inaccurate. We habituate to the way we normally feel, so changes are likely to feel strange, even wrong. With the voice, for example, it is not unusual to see people compressing down in their torso to make a sound, and it feels right to them to do so. In BodyMinded we teach people ‘conscious cooperation’ with their human design and with the physics of actions. You are probably familiar with how sound is made in the voice-box (larynx), by the movement of air up the windpipe (trachea). Have you ever consciously thought about this movement as you use your voice? Let’s combine the first exercise with the second… as you create your sound, think of the air going up to produce that sound. What happens to your voice as you do this? How does it feel?
The Action Plan
Now we are going to add something about your desired sound. Perhaps you just made a sound at a volume that seemed easy and natural to you. What happens if you decide to double the volume? In Alexander’s case, he would immediately notice an increase in tension, a stiffening of his head on his neck, perhaps you even lifted your chin a little?
The way we carry out our actions is largely pre-determined by habits gained over our lifetime so far. When you add to your action plan… “I want it to be louder”, the changes that occur will depend on the idea you have of what you want and feeling of how it happens. In the BodyMinded process, we help you identify clearly, what you want, which sounds simple but can be surprising to explore.
Now we will build a ‘BodyMinded Instruction’ from these three parts… “I know I have a head, it moves easily over my spine, so I can think of air going up as I decide to make a louder sound”. Did the way you made the louder sound change?
The BodyMinded process teaches you how to generate instructions for yourself and others that are built from the relation between general or overall coordination; cooperation with human design; and a constructive action plan. Each part of this triumvirate can be ‘unpacked’ and explored over time, leading to a wonderful and effective set of dynamic tools for your own performance and your teaching.
“Unless stated otherwise, this article represents only the views of the author and not the views of the AVA”
Greg Holdaway is Director of BodyMinded: Sydney Alexander Technique, where he trains Alexander Technique teachers. Greg has developed a unique professional training, BodyMinded which integrates up-to-date science and Alexander Technique principles for actionable practical skills for use with clients and students. www.alexandertechnique.com.au