I Interview My Alexander Technique Teacher Michael Frederick

In 2006, Los Angeles magazine named Michael Frederick the top Alexander Technique teacher in town.

Michael organizes Alexander Technique workshops around the world.

I sit down with him on Sunday, May 24.

He says that as a child he wanted to become a cowboy. "Then in my late teens, I wanted to be a villain in a Clint Eastwood movie."

"One of the reasons that I got into acting was that you could be anything…. Then I outgrew acting. It’s a very childish profession."

Luke: "Let the record show that Michael is sitting here with his hands crossed against his chest. He’s a skeptical young man."

The eldest child, Michael grew up in northern Illinois. "My father was the principal of three elementary schools simultaneously. My mother taught third grade."

Luke: "Was he a big deal?"

Michael: "He was a big deal in a small town. He was a strong individual. Good at what he did."

Luke: "What did your parents most want from you?"

Michael: "To be happy?"

Luke: "What was your place in the social pecking order in high school?"

Michael: "I was a principal’s son. I was very rebellious. Would get in fights. People would tease me about my father. It never affected my brother or sister. I didn’t know how to deal with it. I got into my power and knocked a guy out cold in eleventh grade and people stopped picking on me."

Luke: "Were you good with girls in high school?"

Michael: "Not in high school. When I got out of high school, it all changed."

At age 17, Michael entered Northern Illinois University at DeKalb, where he was kicked out for poor grades after a year.

Michael: "It was the Spring of 1963. I had a choice — either study for my finals and take my final exams or I had a friend who had a beautiful convertible. There were about four lovely ladies in the convertible. He asked me if I wanted to go to Chicago for the weekend. Then I looked at the women in the car and I looked at the finals I was studying for and I went to Chicago."

"My father was quite bright. He knew it was a big shock for me. You never think you’re going to fail. He made me get a job in a factory right away.

"I got a job at an Admiral television assembly plant in my hometown. That was a real wake-up call. You see how a huge segment of society lived. It wasn’t very healthy. They had no options.

"I quickly put my act together and got back into school — Parsons College in Fairfield, Iowa… They called it Flunk-Out U. He realized there were a lot of young men who wanted to go back to school. Vietnam was kicking in. If you weren’t in college, you got drafted.

"He charged a lot of money. He was therefore able to hire some of the best faculty away from the A-list schools. It went year-round. The quality of education was extraordinary.

"I went there and it was great. It was a place to get your act back together.

"Then I transferred out to the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater."

Michael eventually got his degree in Theater.

He worked in theatre for three years in Minneapolis and then moved to England to pursue his acting. There he fell in love with the Alexander Technique and went to school for three years under Walter Carrington to become a teacher.

There were three main Alexander Technique teacher schools in London at the time. One was run by F.M. Alexander‘s niece Marjorie Barlow, who was married to Dr. Wilfred Barlow. The other two schools were run by men who had once dated Marjorie — Patrick McDonald (who was engaged to her) and Walter Carrington.

Michael: "She was a very attractive young lady in the 1930s. It was very natural."

Luke: "Did this create any tension between these three different schools of Alexander Technique?"

Michael: "They never told me it did, but the truth is, three young men in competition for the most attractive woman around, probably did."

Luke: "How did the three schools relate?"

Michael: "They agreed to disagree. They were very respectful to each other if they happened to meet socially… The teachers of the schools rarely got together. You had parties organized by trainees where you’d have Carrington people in one corner, McDonald people in another corner, Barlow people in another corner."

Luke: "Do you think if someone is physically poised, they are more likely to be mentally poised?"

Michael: "Sure."

Luke: "If they are physically free, they are more likely to be mentally free?"

Michael: "I would say so."

Luke: "If someone is more physically flexible, they are more likely to be mentally flexible?"

Michael: "Absolutely, however, I’ve met people who’ve never heard of the Alexander Technique who are remarkable human being. Maybe the use of themselves could be improved, but they have inner freedom that is light years ahead of any Alexander teacher I’ve met.

"Good use allows the instrument to have more flexibility and openness. On a certain level, the mind is more open to learning and the feelings are more available and the body is functioning better."

Luke: "When you get to know people well, if you see them in a certain posture, you know how they are going to react. I’m thinking about someone I’ve known my whole life who, when I saw her in a certain posture, I knew she was about to explode in anger. Another person in a certain posture was not open to any suggestions. Anyone I got to know well, I would see something in them and immediately [be able to sense how they were going to react]. They had developed habituated responses so that if I gave them a certain stimuli, I knew how they would react. And through the study and practice of the Alexander Technique, you can inhibit your habitual responses and you can come to a poised place, and then you can choose how you want to respond."

Michael: "That’s true, but the Alexander Technique is not the panacea, the be-all and end-all."

Luke: "In his book Body Learning, Michael Gelb says that certain emotions are only possible with certain alignments of your musculature. You can only feel joy with certain alignments of your musculature. You can only feel depressed with certain alignments of your musculature."

Michael: "I think that’s simplistic."

Luke: "If you are poised, it is hard to feel depressed. Being depressed means feeling hopeless."

Michael: "Sure."

Luke: "How useful do you think the study and practice of the Alexander Technique is for people suffering from depression?"

Michael: "It would depend completely on the individual. The Technique only works if the person is interested in learning and in making a change within themselves. It is not a therapy and you can not do it to someone. I get this question a lot, can you help so-and-so? Well, the only way you can help so-and-so is if that person knocks at the door."

"I’m working with a lady now whose son was killed in that [Chatsworth] train crash about [nine] months ago. She’s depressed, but she wants to get over it. She comes to me. I’m not a therapist. Her other son knows the Technique and says, ‘Hey mom, this will help you. This will help you move out of the locked-in mental emotional posture you’re in which is making you feel worse.’

"It’s working. The moment she comes back to length and breathes easier, she finds that she has more skill to deal with the tragedy in her life."

Luke: "You keep saying you don’t approach the Alexander Technique as therapy. What do you mean by therapy?"

Michael: "Therapy means that someone is there to fix you. Alexander Technique is a learning model. It has therapeutic side-effects because you and I are self-repairing organisms. If you cut your finger, it heals. If you learn to move out of the patterns of downward pressure and tension, whatever interfering patterns they were creating in your central nervous system will tend to right themselves. If my left hip hurts because I’m moving in a certain way or sitting in a chair in a certain way, and I learn how to come back into alignment, in most cases that pain eventually leaves because the body learns to right itself."

Luke: "What have you noticed about the use of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication and the people who practice and study the Alexander Technique?"

Michael: "I don’t have that much experience being around people who are on that. The times that I have been around that, I’ve noticed that that medication tends to deaden the nervous system, so they are not good material to work with because they are not firing on all cylinders. The medication represses the feeling. It’s not a good combination. I worked for a couple of years in the eighties at a pain management clinic. A huge percentage of the people who would come in for pain, anxiety and depression, I was useless to. One, they weren’t willing to take more responsibility. Two, they just wanted to take more medication to fix themselves. Once in a while, I’d come across that person who had that light in their eye who said, I don’t like this. It’s dummying me down. I want to figure out how to grasp the nettle and deal with this. Many people are not there to learn. They are there to be fixed."

Luke: "How prevalent have you found alcoholism and drug addiction among Alexander Technique teachers?"

Michael: "Minimal. I can’t even think of anyone."

Luke: "That’s significant. Every other profession is filled with alcoholics."

Michael: "I could work with people at AA because they’re admitting they have a problem. I’d tell them that every time they want a drink and can’t have one, it throws them into a startle pattern…and that you have to change your physical state to not want that [drink]."

Luke: "It seems to me that Alexander Technique is an excellent way to keep your self-destructive tendencies under control."

"A lot of people such as myself often feel tremendous social anxiety when we move into a room. If you work your directions, it gives you something to do."

Michael: "Social anxiety is just the fight-or-flight response on a subtle level… Shyness can be overcome by coming back to length and breadth and thinking for yourself laugh at oneself a little bit and the joy comes back and you can engage with people."

Luke: "On the other hand, there are those of us who are big attention seekers and compulsive jokesters and always want to be the center of attention for a room, and if you want to change, you can use the Alexander Technique to bring yourself under control."

Michael: "Everyone has behavior patterns, if taken to an extreme, don’t work. But if you are sensitive to that, the Technique gives you a tool to modulate that. You and I are aware of early warning signs before anyone else in the room and then I just stop and come back to length and re-engage from a different place."

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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