Fredrick Mathias Alexander (1869-1955) was born in Tasmania, Australia. From a young age he expressed interest in theatre, especially in the works of Shakespeare. Early on in his career as an actor and reciter he began to experience vocal problems which resulted in hoarseness and at times a complete loss of his voice. Alexander rested and sought medical treatment, but his voice continued to deteriorate.
Unable to find a solution to his problems through conventional means, Alexander set out to discover for himself what he was doing that was causing his hoarseness. He started by observing himself with the aid of mirrors and noticed that when reciting he had a tendency to throw his head back, depress the larynx and to shorten and narrow his stature. Upon closer examination he found these tendencies were also present in ordinary speaking, but to a lesser degree. In the course of his experiments he discovered facts about the way in which man uses himself as a psycho-physical whole. This led him to the discovery there exists a dynamic relationship between the head, neck, torso and limbs that determines the degree of our psycho-physical co-ordination. This he called the Primary Control. When this relationship is working well, the person is well coordinated.
Alexander began teaching in Melbourne, Australia in 1894. His first students were people with breathing and vocal difficulties. However, he soon realized that working with the neck, head and back relationship tended not only to alleviate vocal and respiratory problems but also to dramatically improve the over-all health of his pupils. Physicians began to take an interest in Alexander's discoveries and encouraged him to continue his work in London, England. As a result he moved there in 1904 and taught his technique until a few days before his death in 1955.
Some of Alexander's notable pupils were Aldous Huxley, George Bernard Shaw and the American philosopher John Dewey.
For a more detailed account of Alexander's discovery, refer to Chapter 1 in “The Use of the Self” (Gollanz Publishing 1987).