Today the international Alexander community celebrates the 150th birthday of our founding father, F M Alexander. 'F M' - as he is affectionately known - was born in Wynyard, Tasmania in 1869. His career as an actor, reciting Shakespeare to Australian audiences, was threatened by vocal problems. Repeatedly, he found his voice would grow hoarse mid-performance. The leading doctors of the day were unable to help him, other than by telling him to rest his voice. Alexander deduced that it must be something he was doing that was causing the problem. But what? He resolved to find out for himself. The rest, as they say, is history. To find out what happened next, click here.
Further to my previous post (14/1/2019), which pointed to the relationship between body, brain and behaviour, don't you just love this Charlie Brown cartoon, by the wonderful Charles M Schulz?
Did you see Benedict Cumberbatch play Dominic Cummings (director of the Leave campaign) in 'Brexit: The Uncivil War' last week (Channel 4)? Cummings' wife, Mary Ward, has written (in The Spectator/The Week) about watching the actor prepare for the role. When he came to dinner he tried to understand Cummings' view of Brexit, and also absorbed the details of his body language. Afterwards Ward talked to Cumberbatch about the process of inhabiting a person intellectually and physically: does adopting someone's posture help you think like them? Cumberbatch replied, "That's it, yes. I think posture affects everything from heartbeat to intake of breath to the way you think."
A highlight of my Christmas viewing was '100 Years of King's Carols' (broadcast 21 December on BBC2). The documentary follows the world's most famous choir in the centenary year of the 'Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols' from King's College. Forty-four minutes into the programme, we peek into the vestry and see Cambridge-based Alexander Teacher Polly Waterfield as she works with three of the singers, helping them "find that doorway into being easier with yourself". The voice-over explains that the choir members use the Alexander Technique to maintain comfortable posture, stamina and vocal strength, and that it even helps with performance nerves.
Here's a timely pre-Christmas reminder from Lily Tomlin, one of my favourite actresses:
"For fast-acting relief, try slowing down."
Looking to find out more about the Alexander Technique? Come to my 2-hour 'taster' workshop on Friday 9 November (10.30-12.30)! Enlightenment and enjoyment guaranteed, not to mention coffee and cake.
Maximum of 5 participants.
Further information and booking form:
Take a look at this marvelous portrait, from the National Portrait Gallery's collection. It's of Sir Desmond MacCarthy (1877-1952), literary critic and member of the Bloomsbury Group, painted by the Bloomsbury artist Duncan Grant in 1944.
I love the sitter's easy upright pose - an example to us all, and so different from the 'slump and peer' posture most of us adopt when reading or writing (or texting) these days. Notice how Desmond MacCarthy uses another book to create a makeshift reading slope.
This is what Gary Neville said on ITV last night, after our valiant '3 Lions' team lost to Croatia in the World Cup semi-final: "I think back to my career and watching players: the best players, in the final third, they always looked like ice cold and they always slowed themselves down and looked like they had that extra moment to find the pass. [Whereas tonight] we looked really rushed...so we never quite see the pass or the run of Harry Kane...we're always too rushed in our minds...the young players, they just don't slow themselves down in their minds enough...But that's youth. And that's maturity."
When we rush, the mind is ahead of the body, which can only ever be in real time. The body doesn't like this split, and reacts by tensing up. A benefit of the Alexander Technique - and one badly needed in our pressurized modern world - is that it teaches us to be less 'rushed in our minds'.
I have just read a remarkable autobiography by a remarkable woman: 'LET IT GO' by Dame Stephanie Shirley CH. There's a pun in the title, as Steve Shirley made her fortune by founding and building a computer software company in the days when IT (as in 'Information Technology') was in its infancy. During her phenomenally successful career, she learned to let go in several senses - through empowering others, through relinquishing control when it was time to move on, and through giving away millions of pounds through 'intelligent philanthropy'.
Letting go is also a recurring theme in the Alexander Technique, be it letting go of unnecessary muscle tension, of habitual over-reaction to a stimulus, of patterns of moving that cause undue wear and tear, or of fixed ideas. A little like Dame Stephanie Shirley, the Alexander Technique student who learns to let go finds that they expand into their best selves as a result. Less is more!
There is much emphasis in the Alexander Technique on undoing the collapsing and narrowing tendencies that accompany life in our sedentary, indoor and hi-tech modern world. As I jogged through my local wood early this morning, it occurred to me that a walk (or run) in nature can be our friend in this regard. There is nothing like ancient woodland, with birds singing from undergrowth to highest canopy, to invite one’s awareness up and out. And as we are what Alexander termed ‘psychophysical unities’ (i.e. mind and body are inseparably linked), the body expands into greater length, openness and – dare I say – ‘springiness’ in response.