The Alexander technique and performance

FM Alexander developed his technique while looking to improve his vocal performance as an actor and reciter so a concern with performance has always been central to the Alexander technique.

The pressure to perform well

High-pressure situations that are important to us and/or the need to perform in public cause us additional stress and nervous anxiety beyond our normal day-to-day stresses. The pressure we tend to place on ourselves to perform well only adds to our background stress levels and we may worry about fluffing a job interview, audition, presentation or performance due to nerves, complicating what are already difficult and challenging situations.

Often, we may also strain or try too hard to meet an important goal and not look after ourselves while doing so, leading to unfortunate outcomes, and possibly injuring or otherwise harming ourselves in the process (what we would call ‘endgaining’ in Alexander terms). These unfortunate situations can undermine our confidence.

The mental and creative aspects of performance

Sometimes too, our ideas and performance can get a bit stale and we can find ourselves often just repeating what we have done before. We can get trapped in repetitive thinking and find it hard to break free from that to produce something new. (If we keep on doing what we know, we will keep on repeating what we have always done.)

We can also find ourselves spiralling downward into depression, negative thinking, and self-doubt. These emotions rob us of our enthusiasm and can decrease our chances of creating positive outcomes. Obviously, this is not ideal.

The difficulties of being in demanding and competitive fields

Some situations and industries, including the creative fields, are also very demanding in terms of the sustained pressure they may place on us over long ongoing periods of time. Being ill, injured or at just less than our best can mean that we miss opportunities. In order to have career longevity in challenging fields, we need to endeavour to optimise our responses to stress by minimising unthinking and destructive reactions, and developing sustainable responses to dealing with the demands placed upon us and the pressures of performing.

Where the Alexander technique can help

The Alexander technique can provide you with a practical means whereby for achieving a desired goal (or ‘end’) and tools to enable you to stop (or ‘inhibit’) your unthinking habitual reactions and misuse when placed in high-pressure situations, such as performing in public, and enable you to more consciously direct the use of your whole self in more positive and constructive ways. Working with the Alexander technique allows increasing freedom from habitual thoughts, ideas and responses, allowing more free and inspired creative choices, and enabling you to think more clearly and creatively and to respond more appropriately in the moment. In so doing, it enhances your chances of producing genuinely fresh ideas and achieving longevity in difficult and demanding fields.

In addition to helping individuals deal with their performance anxiety, the difficulties of being challenging fields, and the more mental and creative aspects of performance, the Alexander technique can help with the following aspects of performing:

  • Breathing

  • Voice production

  • Bodily alignment and use, bodily presence (‘stage presence’) and a neutral base to perform from and for actors to create characterisation from; improvements in use can affect the sound produced by speakers, singers, actors and musicians

  • Movement and athletic demands, including minimising unnecessary tension and improving coordination, fine motor skills and the likelihood of attaining peak performance or ‘flow’

  • Occupational overuse syndrome and performance-related injuries

  • Injury prevention

  • Rehabilitation after injury and surgery.

With performance, it is helpful to remember that you are your primary instrument and any external instrument or tools you may use are secondary. It is important for you to expend your time, effort and energy wisely, and in this the Alexander technique can likely give you an edge.

I enjoy working with a wide range of people to improve their performance from an Alexander technique perspective – from performing artists (musicians, singers, actors, and dancers) and athletes through to business people, creatives and others interested in self-development who may want help to improve their performance in their lives and careers in particular ways.

With the best intentions, the job of acting can become a display of accumulated bad habits, trapped instincts and blocked energies. Working with the Alexander technique has given me sightings of another way... Mind and body, work and life together. Real imaginative freedom...
— Alan Rickman, Actor