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Frederick Matthias Alexander 1869-1955.

Frederick Matthias Alexander 1869-1955. Jeroen Staring, Year of publication; 2005. Publisher; Integraal; Nijmegen, Holland, ISBBN-10; 9050920187, Hardcover; 671 pages. Price Approx NZ$1 10

To begin with, this is a remarkable book. A massively dense historical account of one of the allied health profession's founding fathers, it runs to nearly 700 pages and includes literally hundreds of images, citations and historical references. Its subject is a man who has received precious little attention by physiotherapists in the past.

Frederich Matthias Alexander, born in Wynyard, Tasmania in 1869 would become the founder of the 'Alexander Technique', and through his four books propound a philosophy of practice that resonates today through the work of musculoskeletal physiotherapists and, more recently, those involved in breathing retraining, postural awareness and motor relearning.

Jeroen Staring undertook to trace every existing record of Alexander and, in what must be truly considered his magnum opus, compiled, reorganised and collated these into a narrative of the man's theories and practice. Staring is a consummate historian however and doesn't spare Alexander criticism where it is called for. Throughout the text, Staring refers to Alexander's overtly racist belief that postural and breathing habits were inherited. Alexander was, like many others at the time a strong believer in eugenics and this alone, according to Staring, is one reason why detailed critique of his works is necessary today.

Alexander spent many of his formative years in New Zealand studying the breathing patterns of those he described as 'living in a state of nature'. He was particularly interested in the natural breathing patterns of indigenous populations and spent over 12 months studying Maori. His writings to this day bear remarkable similarities to the writings of contemporary authors on hyperventilation syndrome and postural weakness caused by modern lifestyles.

Staring traces Alexander's life from his years as a failed orator, through his promotional work in Australia and England and the development of his various theories, particularly his work on the dangers of incorrect breathing. As Alexander became better known in Europe and America he came into contact with kinaestheticists and psychologists who sought to criticise his work. Throughout the text Staring draws out these tensions brilliantly, and shows how these criticisms helped form Alexander's connection between the way we use our bodies and the illnesses we suffer. This connection demanded a solution and it was Alexander's 'psychico-postural-respiratory training' that has been the often misunderstood focus of the Alexander Technique ever since.

The book is incredibly dense, and certainly not one that can be read as a piece of elegant fiction. It is however intended as a scholarly thesis and so presents historical detail in an unaffected, objective fashion. Staring is a master historian and for those interested in the history of our profession, this is an essential text.

Note: The book is not easily available. Those interested in obtaining a copy may do so by contacting the author directly; Jeroen Staring, Schoolstraat 126, 6512 JJ, Nijmegen, The Netherlands,

David Nicholls, School of Physiotherapy, Auckland University of Technology
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Author:Nicholls, David
Publication:New Zealand Journal of Physiotherapy
Article Type:Book review
Date:Nov 1, 2006
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