The Alexander Technique was developed by an Australian, Frederick Alexander. In the late 19th century Alexander worked as an actor and elocution teacher in Melbourne. He began to suffer from breathing difficulties which threatened to end his career. Eventually he succeeded in breaking habits of tension, and these problems disappeared. In 1904 Alexander moved to London where the principles and practice known as the Alexander Technique attracted the attention of celebrities, including actor Henry Irving and writers George Bernard Shaw and Aldous Huxley.
Alexander in New Zealand
Before developing the Alexander Technique, Frederick Alexander delivered dramatic recitals, a popular form of entertainment at the time. In 1895 he performed in several New Zealand cities, receiving excellent reviews. In Wellington the audience was so large that he performed in the biggest suitable venue, the skating rink. He gave vocal lessons for several months in Auckland, and was impressed by Māori, whom he considered to have retained a natural breathing control.
The Alexander Technique teaches people how to stand, hold themselves and move in order to eliminate unnecessary physical tension. It is directed at changing the responses of the nervous system – the link between mind and body – through individual instruction. This involves developing a more natural relationship between the head, neck and back. ‘Primary control’ of the head on top of the spine is central to the technique. The technique is usually taught one-to-one.
Teachers of the Alexander Technique undertake a three-year training programe. In 2012 about 28 registered teachers were represented by the Alexander Technique Teachers' Society of New Zealand.
Joseph Pilates (pronounced Pee-LA-tes), a German national, worked as a fitness and self-defence instructor in England. He was interned during the First World War and taught fellow internees his personal system of physical exercises for health and fitness. In 1926 he set up a studio in New York which attracted boxers and dancers hoping to prevent or recover from injury. Many of them became his students and assistants, helping to spread his techniques internationally.
The Pilates exercise method seeks to develop controlled movement from a strong core (the muscles of the body’s centre). Specialised resistance training apparatus and other equipment is used to guide and train the body. Pilates has been taught in New Zealand since the mid-1990s.
In the 1970s Moshe Feldenkrais, an Israeli physicist and keen athlete, developed a series of exercises to rehabilitate patients after physical injury. This evolved into a philosophy of greater efficiency of movement and improved health, summarised as ‘awareness through movement’. The Feldenkrais Method uses slow and precise movement sequences of the whole body to engage the brain through the body and nervous system. Feldenkrais is taught in group sessions as well as individually.
Feldenkrais practitioners complete a four-year professional training programme. They also have annual accreditation and ongoing professional development requirements. The first overseas Feldenkrais trainers worked in New Zealand from the 1980s. The New Zealand Feldenkrais Guild was incorporated and affiliated to its international parent body in 1995. In 2012 it represented some 57 certificated teachers.