F.M.Alexander – the orator with no voice

Frederick Matthias Alexander (1869-1955) was an Australian actor who had made a good living from poetry recitals in the 1890s until he encountered a career-threatening problem: he developed breathing problems and chronic laryngitis, and lost his voice! He went from doctor to doctor, but none could find any physical cause nor any cure.

Since no-one seemed able to help him, he resolved to help himself. He studied anatomy books and surrounded himself with mirrors, carefully observing himself. He discovered that the way he had been been trained to carry his body and project his voice was the very cause of the problem. He was tensing his body as he prepared to speak, dropping his head backwards and pressing his neck into the spine. This constricted the air passages and inhibited his voice box. He noticed that others with voice and breathing problems often did the same.

Alexander was a man with little regard for others’ opinions unless supported by scientific evidence and proven by results. So he experimented on himself. He discovered that eliminating muscle tension in the neck prevents the head from compressing the spine, so the spine is free to lengthen. This frees the windpipe and allows the voice to function properly. Within weeks of starting to apply this to himself, the problems were gone and he was able to resume his profession.

Others began to seek his help, so he applied what he learned and developed a hands-on healing method that allowed all the body’s natural processes to work, thus stimulating its capacity for self-healing.

As his research progressed, he made further discoveries. He noticed that he mind could play tricks on him so he developed methods to increase mindfulness. In essence, the Alexander Technique, as it became known, focuses on attention, thoughts, posture and movement. It centres on:

  • Self-awareness: identifying harmful habits that restrict breathing or result in poor posture.
  • Inhibition: pausing for a moment before acting to interrupt and prevent destructive patterns.
  • Choice: knowing that we have the freedom to choose new responses (i.e. not to follow habitual, conditioned reactions).
  • Primary control (neck, head, spine): positioning the head, neck and spine so that the head is up and slightly forward, allowing the spine to lengthen, releasing tension from the neck and throat.
  • Directions: Oral suggestions, self-administered, which send conscious instructions to parts of the body which he had struggled to control before.
  • Using gravity as a healer; positioning and balancing the body so that gravity can do its work. One example is the semi-supine position: lying on your back with your knees in the air, head resting on several books, arms relaxed at the side. This releases muscle tension and brings the body back into alignment.
  • The whispered ‘ah’: To remove unnecessary effort from using the voice.

Alexander practitioners are known as teachers (not therapists). They explain and demonstrate the technique, and use hands-on methods to bring about change in their clients.

Alexander is best known for his work on movement and posture but he also believed that the mind and body were as one. When we take good care of the body, we fell better mentally, emotionally – and spiritually – too. Many physical problems are caused by our behaviour; people behave according to their way of thinking, so to cure some physical problems means changing our thinking. This is a conscious process which takes effort and determination.

The benefits of the Alexander Technique have been well documented especially for chronic back pain, but in the eyes of the medical establishment he remains a quack. Surgery, they say, backed by drugs, is quicker, cheaper and more permanent, and more in tune with our modern lifestyles. But at what cost? Those of us who believe in natural healing methods must not remain silent!

©David Lawrence Preston, 1.11.2018

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An empty shell

Today’s doctors study anatomy in great detail, aided by constant improvements in microscope technology, electronic scanning and, in recent decades, computers. But what exactly are they studying?

If you want to see what a human body looks like with its mental and emotional energies taken away, look out for Professor Gunther von Hagens’ travelling Bodyworlds Exhibition. Here you will find real human bodies displayed in all their glory (or stripped of their dignity, depending on your point of view).

The Professor is a controversial figure. In the 1970s he developed a technique called ‘plastination’, which removes the moisture from human and animal bodies and enables him to preserve them more or less indefinitely.

I found the Bodyworlds Exhibition a powerful educational experience. Waiting to greet me were over two hundred exhibits. Some were simply displays of body parts, including both male and female brains sliced like ham, a smoker’s black lungs opened up and compared with a non-smoker’s, and the tubes inside a scrotum drawn out to their full length, about a metre or so.

Others displayed complete cadavers with their skin removed, their bones, muscles and internal organs arranged in a variety of poses, each designed to demonstrate different anatomical features. A variety of athletic poses illustrated the use of muscle systems; there were plastinates riding a plastinated horse, playing basketball, kneeling before a cross and so on.

Juan Valverde

One stood proud, holding his skin in one hand like a blanket and unashamedly revealing his internal organs, mimicking a similar pose on an anatomical plate dated 1559 by Juan Valverde de Amusco in which a man holds a knife in one hand and his own skin in the other.

Another opened his arms like a pope to reveal all the organs of his stomach and chest cavity and another the torso of a pregnant woman sliced vertically in half to show the womb and foetus in situ.

It is easy to see why von Hagens is accused of publicity seeking. Indeed, press reports in 2009 that he was planning a sex show featuring plastinates attracted hundreds of complaints. Politicians and churchmen lined up to label it revolting and unacceptable, and a short video about the exhibit was banned in several countries.

But despite the protests, the Professor insists that his work is educational. Visitors see the structure and inner workings of the human body and the long-term impact of diseases and are brought face to face with the effects of poor lifestyle choices such as smoking, drugs and excessive alcohol consumption.

I certainly learned a lot, and my occasional discomfort never turned into offence. But as I left the exhibition, one thought kept recurring. I had not been looking at whole human beings at all: whatever had kept them alive and made them human – their very humanness – was no longer there. 

Without our non-physical attributes – what some philosophers call the ghost in the maching – we are nothing but an empty shell.

©David Lawrence Preston, 28.7.2018

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A New Body Every Year?

Would you like a brand new body every year? It’s not that far-fetched you know!


Your body is constantly regenerating itself. The cells continually die and are replaced with new cells at the rate of more than one million every second.  The cells of the heart and digestive system are replaced every three to six months, and every single cell in the body is replaced at least every two years. Even the cells in your brain are constantly regenerating.

Cell 2

Biologists tell us that every cell of the body has intelligence and respond to your ‘instructions’. As they are replaced, they create the exact pattern you give them through your thoughts, mental images and emotions. If you’re happy, the new cells are more likely to be healthy. If anxious, the new cells are weakened. This way, every emotion is locked into your physical makeup.

Over time, your body becomes a walking autobiography. Your muscles, organs and flesh formations reflect your attitudes, experiences, feelings and beliefs. ‘I’ve hurt my arm’ could be translated to mean, ‘A hurt inside me is manifesting in my arm’. So be careful what you think and say about your body. If you hear yourself saying, ‘You’re a pain in the neck’ or ‘this is a real headache’, don’t be surprised if you get one! Talk like this you’re sending a direct message to the cells from the brain to the nervous system.

Does It Work In Reverse?

Do ‘positive’ emotions give you more energy and keep you well? The answer is a qualified ‘yes’. Enthusiastic, optimistic people do have more energy and appear to get ill less often. Many authoritative studies have concluded that people who are well adjusted emotionally and socially are healthier and live longer.

For example:

  • A research team at the University of Michigan studied 2,700 people for fourteen years, and found that regular social contact significantly increased life expectancy, particularly among men. The death rate among people who did not have close relationships was 250% higher during the study period.
  • A random sample of 7,000 adults in California revealed that adults with strong family bonds, good social relationships and a happy, outgoing attitude had half the mortality rate of those without such ties, irrespective of their smoking, drinking, exercise and eating habits.
  • In another experiment, records were kept of a hundred factory workers in the UK. Those with a supportive home, work and social life stayed healthier than who were dissatisfied with their domestic and working lives. The incidence of arthritis in the least contented group was ten- fold that in the most satisfied.

It’s clear, therefore, that our health and energy levels depend to a great extent on how well we handle our emotions.

Can we can use this insight to heal your body? Yes! Can it help soothe minor aches and pains and relieve temporary problems of one sort or another? Yes! Can it help with more serious conditions? Absolutely! There’s lots of evidence, but that’s for a future blog.

©David Lawrence Preston, 9.7.2016

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