Frederick Matthias Alexander was born in Tasmania in 1869. He was a premature baby who suffered from ill health, but grew up to enjoy being home-educated, not following in his father’s footsteps of working as a blacksmith, enjoying horse riding in the great expanse of nature which surrounded him in addition to Shakespeare.
He took a number of jobs to support himself in Melbourne and elsewhere, whilst he developed his love of reciting Shakespeare in front of an audience, however he became increasingly aware that when he came to speak he experienced loss of his voice. He sought the advice of doctors about this and followed their advice, however when he did come to speak thereafter, he still encountered the same pervading problem. Realising this, he decided to discover the answer for himself.
He set up a room in which he observed himself in mirrors and painstakingly looked at what actually happened when he came to speak, ie employ his vocal mechanism; he noticed that he pulled his head back and down, sucked in air and depressed his larynx. At first he looked at ways that this could be rectified, but without much success. He then looked at how the way he was using himself ahead of wanting to speak, most importantly considering the freedom of his neck, the balance of his head on the spine, his back, and his breathing. .
This formed the basis of his teaching people to breathe in a more beneficial way whilst he was still based in Australia, where he advertised himself as the ‘breathing man’. He moved to London in April 1904 where he set up a teaching room. People with all sorts of ‘problems’, which doctors were unable to explain and resolve, were often referred to him and returned for lessons. Gradually they found that whatever ‘symptoms’ they had previously had began to lessen or even disappear.
Applying what he had learned about himself, he successfully taught what we now know of as the ‘Alexander Technique’ and set up the first training courses to teach students who were interested to learn more about how they used themselves whilst thinking in activity.