Book Review: The Life of Frederick Matthias Alexander Founder of the Alexander Technique

F.M.: The Life of Frederick Matthias Alexander Founder of the Alexander Technique, Michael Bloch (Little, Brown, £9.09)

Michael Bloch has done the world a great service by writing this life of a man who deserves to be more widely acknowledged and celebrated. To many people, the Alexander Technique has been seen as a slightly cranky, alternative way of dealing with back problems, muscular pain and voice projection. It is on the fringes of conventional medical practice, I suspect, because it is something of mystery?but I can vouch for it as a practical postural method that really works.

Born in 1869 in Tasmania, Frederick Matthias Alexander became an actor. He found that he could improve his voice production by observing himself in mirrors, which revealed what he describes as a ‘misuse’ of the head, neck and back relationship.

By correcting this poor alignment, he found his speaking improved and his posture was transformed. This is the Alexander Technique. Forget the gym, forget inadequate physiotherapy: the cure is in your own body?specifically in the spine. The technique is also training for the mind, teaching you to focus on the immediate objective.

Mr Alexander worked in London and New York; his pupils included Aldous Huxley, Henry Irving, Leonard Woolf, Stafford Cripps and Lord Lytton. He was a success, but, as this biography points out, he could be misunderstood. He produced four books, but they are strangely written, poorly argued and often unreadable. The point Michael Bloch makes throughout his account is that, underlying all the verbiage and slight cultishness, is a practical method of conscious control and postural re-education which can be learned and applied.

Mr Bloch is a lawyer and a writer, now probably best known to country life readers as the editor of James Lees-Milne’s diaries. He chose to write this book because his life has been transformed by applying the Alexander Technique to himself. He then wanted to know more about the inventor of the technique. Mr Alexander died in 1955. It is true to say that his methods are now much more widely appreciated and that this book has exposed the source of it all. It is a fascinating, valuable and well-told story.