The famous Athenian comic playwright Menander (342-291 B. C. ) once said “health and intellect are the two blessings of life. ” This was the standpoint of his almost realistic depiction of a situational character as a stand-up comedian wherein mind and body were overjoyed upon Menander’s satires. Probably the best aspect of Menander’s hilarity was his insightful mental and physical gestures that captivated the spontaneity which he conveyed to the audience.
The conveyance of mental and physical gestures have indeed become the therapeutic norm of the Australian actor and Shakespearean orator Frederick Matthias Alexander (1869-1955) who then discovered a technique of effective vocalization through mental and physical easement and control known as the ‘Alexander Technique’. In this regard, this paper will discuss several studies on the Alexander Technique which has been known and adopted by most stage and movie performers and has been publicly recommended to be used as therapy. What is Alexander Technique?
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According to the electronic journal, ‘The Complete Guide to Alexander Technique’, the Alexander Technique (AT) was developed in the early 1900’s by Frederick Matthias Alexander (1869-1955) to release his chronic laryngitis tension for best vocal performance which he later developed as a complete mental and physical therapy. Based on the personal experience of renowned health columnist of the New York Times Jane Brody, the Alexander technique is a method of adjusting body postures to relieve her damaging stresses, like relieving her neck tension, occasional pain, and even crippling spasms (Brody, 1990).
Moreover, according to Anne Rickover’s Life Bridge Coaching, the Alexander Technique can be helpful to everyone, especially those who are engaged in the delicate harmonization of the mind and body [like actors, dancers and musicians], as well as to injured musicians. Today, the mastery of this technique is required in various arts and music schools across Europe, America and Australasia. (Rickover, R. , 2007). Rationale of method According to Nicholas Brockbank, a teacher of the Alexander Technique, the functions of mind (mental) and body (physical) are the primary coordinates in using the Alexander Technique.
Thus, the coordinative functions are the basic method of application or usage. The discovery of functional coordinates [as a method] was regarded by Frederick Matthias Alexander when he felt his voice or vocalization was “vacillating” (Brockbank, 2007). In front of a mirror, Alexander observed the inconsistency of his voice to his mind setting. Moreover, the mind and the body were “indivisible” human faculties from which the way people think the way they acted was the primary cause of their physical ills (Brockbank, 2007).
Brockbank concluded that the method of coordinating mind and body are elements of “physical habits” that Alexander Technique adopts the method of functional coordinates (Brockbank, 2007). Application of method Upon Frederick Matthias Alexander’s discovery and adoption of the method, he was inspired and encouraged to share it with performing artist, most especially with the musicians and the vocalists, which he thought were stressed during the rehearsals with the added anxiety (stage fright) in front of the audience.
To cite, the mental and physical movement must be applied with proper coordination and function [as the presence of mind and body] that eventually meets and sets aside the complex of stress that may result to Repetitive Strain Injury (which becomes a medical term known as RSI), which is a common injury of singers, musician, and dancers (Brockbank, 2007).
The Alexander Technique has developed as an effective and applicable method in coordinating the mental and physical functions and are used by most of the performing artists like Paul McCartney, Yehudi Menuhin, Sting, Julian Bream, James Galway, and the conductor, Sir Adrian Boul (Brockbank, 2007). It has also been integrated into the curriculums of various schools such as the Juilliard School of Performing Arts in New York, The Royal College of Music in London, the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, and other schools of music, universities and colleges around the world (Brockbank, 2007).
Findings, descriptive procedures, and relevance The descriptive procedures in applying the method of Alexander Technique are found to be similar to the method of “Ergonomics”. Several “naturalists” [or those using the natural cure and therapy] believe that what Frederick Matthias Alexander discovered was a “self-taught” procedure which he incidentally applied and thought as his own method. In which case, the naturalists acknowledges Alexander’s discovery as an applied natural science.
Meaning, Alexander theorized and practiced the application of Ergonomics method in which several methods of natural cure were only limited to countries like Asia, Africa, the Middle East and other parts of European countries. Moreover, according to Mark Hyman’s journal, Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, the natural cure through therapy has long been practiced by the Egyptians, Africans, Chinese, and the Malays. Among of the indigenous and famous natural cures are Acupuncture, Acupressure or the Thai massage, aromatherapy, Reiki, and what is commonly known today as methods of “Reflexology” or Physical therapy (Hyman, 2008).
According to Holly A. Sweeney, a certified Ergonomist, the only method that is being recognized in Alexander Technique is that the functional use of mind and body coordinates without external physical manipulation. In addition, the power of thinking (mind) has some degrees or level of dictation to what the physical (body) self shall do or to do (Sweeney, 2007). Based on Sweeney’s findings, the term “ergonomics” is derived from the two Greek words “ERG” (meaning to work) and “NOMOI” (meaning natural laws).
The study of Ergonomics focuses on human capability towards work, in which the connection or link to work shall meet the “demand” or performance of human capability that has the following fundamentals: (1) All work activities should allow the worker take on equally healthy and safe postures, (2) Muscular force has to be exerted it should be done by the largest appropriate muscle groups available, and (3) Work activities should be carried out with the joints at about mid-point of their range of movement which applies specifically to the head, trunk, and upper limbs. (Cortlett, 1983; in Sweeney, 2007).
It may be deduced from the findings of Sweeney that Ergonomics is very much interrelated technique to Alexander’s, considering the fact that Ergonomics also covers all “stress-out” methods, which is also known as stretching at the sudden spasm of body joints and muscles while at work. However, the recognition of Alexander Technique [although parallel to Ergonomics] has been carried out by the unique method of “exercising out” the stress from the vocal chords of the singer and larynx of musicians [using pipe instruments] through coordination of “psycho-physical” functions (Sweeney, 2007). In addition, the functional “psycho-physical” coordination invokes the prowess of the performer with a sudden “gush” of esteem and self-confidence that conveys the good physical posture and perfect vocalization (Sweeney, 2007).
Natural cure is indigenous and partly an evolutionary medicine that complements the continuous development of medical sciences. Indeed, what has been quoted by Menander (342-291 B. C.), that “health and intellect are the two blessings of life”, has been proven by the theory and practice of Frederick Matthias Alexander. The Alexander Technique is a natural therapy that must impart furtherance of developmental studies as a restorative healing method that adheres to preventive medicine. The medicinal value indicates the benefits, usefulness, and cost efficiency. However, the practice of the Alexander Technique may only be limited and relevant to occupational work of renowned expertise.
The practice of Alexander Technique could be more beneficial, appropriate, and therapeutic when valued at the large-scale advocacy of treatment. Over the years, the accompanying development of medical science has brought in trial and error of scientific exploits. The medical malpractice in diagnostic and hospitalized treatment still occurs around the world, although the incidents are few and not alarming. The paranoia may not only be a post-surgical trauma but a social stigma. Practically, no one wants to be hospitalized.
This mainly due to the large costs of hospitalization, scarcity to healthcare benefits or medical welfare (specifically in poor countries), the surging prices of medicines, and the anxiety to medical treatment or “medical phobia”. It can be then deduced that various forms of natural healing, like Alexander Technique, could be rationalized into a broader social perspective as a preventive alternative medicine rather than always resorting to hospital cure.
- Brody, J. (1990). ‘Personal Health’.
- Hyman, M. A. (2008). ‘Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine’.
- InnoVision Issue Vol. 14, No. 3. Retrieved 10 May 2008
‘Life Bridge Coaching’. Retrieved 10 May 2008
Sweeney, H. A. (2007). ‘Applying Ergonomic principles in the Workplace: How the Alexander Technique can help’.
The Complete Guide to Alexander Technique (2008).
Electronic Journal of the Institute of Alexander Technique in Nebraska and Toronto.
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