Instead you find a transcriptionist seated next to a dentist. Across the room is a massage therapist, a professional storyteller, a long distance runner, and an actor. All eyes are on the instructor, who is standing behind a piano bench with one hand placed lightly on the pianist's neck.
You've just entered an Alexander Technique seminar. The diverse professionals in attendance have one basic trait in common: they all depend upon their bodies as a primary means of achieving excellence in their fields.
Teachers of the Alexander Technique foster awareness of good posture -- not a rigid statuesque pose, but a fluid, easeful alignment of the body that allows for movement to occur with the least possible effort. Attention is focused on the relationship of the neck to the rest of the spine. "Allow your neck to be free," Alexander teachers tell their students, "so that your head may move forward and up, and your back may lengthen and widen."
As the seminar instructor encourages the pianist to notice her neck while playing, everyone in the room smiles and nods. Even to the untrained ear, the music has suddenly improved, becoming smoother, fuller, richer. The pianist shakes her head in amazement. "I'm using a lot less energy, yet it sounds so much better!" She has described the benefits of the Alexander Technique in a nutshell.
Frederick Matthias Alexander developed his Technique as a young actor in late 19th-century Australia. Alexander, who specialized in Shakespearean recitations, was plagued by voice problems. Medical advice and treatment had no effect on the extreme hoarseness that marred his performances; so Alexander began a careful self-examination of his speaking habits and techniques. Using mirrors, he soon noticed that he was pulling his head backward and downward as he spoke, not only in his performances but (more subtly) even in his everyday speech.
This observation led Alexander to experiment with changing his postural habits. He continued working with mirrors, discovering that many of his ideas about "good posture" only increased his body tension, limited his range of movement, and further strained his voice. It was only as he learned to stop those restrictive patterns that he was able to release his neck from his habitual downward pull. His hoarseness vanished, and he experienced a new sensation of lightness and ease in all of his movements.
Alexander not only preserved his acting career, but became known among fellow actors for his insight into the relationship between posture and performance. He was encouraged to teach his discoveries to others. Eventually he moved to England, where his work was championed by Aldous Huxley, and later by John Dewey in America, spreading his reputation far beyond the realm of the performing arts.
In the 1930's Alexander began a teacher training program to enable others to teach his Technique. Today there are many such training programs and several thousand practicing teachers of the Alexander Technique around the world. Most teachers offer private lessons; some teach group lessons in classroom settings or seminars. In either case, the Technique is applied both to common everyday movements (such as walking or rising from a chair) and to movements that are more directly related to the student's profession and/or lifestyle (such as serving a tennis ball or sitting at a computer keyboard).
From the very first lesson, changes begin to occur in awareness and movement patterns. It may, however, take several weeks or months before students are able to consistently apply the Technique in their lives.
As Alexander himself discovered, healthy alignment of the body can have profound consequences. Energy that was formerly devoted to counterproductive muscle tension is available for more useful purposes. Jane Kosminsky, in her introductory video to the Alexander Technique, The Balance of Well-Being, tells the story of a man whose high-pitched voice deepened into a resonant bass as the Technique enabled him to speak with full, relaxed breath support for the first time in his life. Freeing the neck encourages the entire spine to decompress, creating more space for the internal structures, for unrestricted circulation of blood and other fluids, and for more efficient functioning of all the body's systems.
The simplest way to find an Alexander teacher or a seminar is to access "The Complete Guide to the Alexander Technique" on the World Wide Web at https://alexandertechnique.com/. This comprehensive site is a systematic guide to just about all available Alexander Technique resources.
About the author: Sue Radosti is a licensed massage therapist in private practice in Sioux City, Iowa. Since studying the Alexander Technique at the 1999 Barstow-Alexander Institute at Doane College in Crete, Nebraska, she has promoted the benefits of the Technique among her colleagues and clients. She has a special interest in applying the Technique to the unique postural challenges of pregnancy and childbirth.