What is Our Supreme Inheritance?

Answer #1: It’s the title – almost! – of F. Matthias Alexander’s first book, Man’s Supreme Inheritance – originally published in 1910 and republished in an expanded version in 1918 with an added sub-title, Conscious Guidance and Control in Relation to Human Evolution in Civilization and an introduction by the American educator and philosopher John Dewey.

Answer #2: Our supreme inheritance is our ability to use our mind to make conscious choices about how we function as we go through life.

Alexander was the originator of the Alexander Technique and his book, the first of four*, lays out his theory that “the great phase in man’s advancement is that in which he passes from subconscious to conscious control of his own mind and body.”

I also particularly love this quote from Alexander:

OK, you may be thinking, this all sounds good, but lots of other systems, religions, philosophies etc make similar promises.  What’s special about Alexander and his Technique?

Let’s start with Alexander the man.  He was born on the island of Tasmania in 1869 where he grew up in very humble circumstances, and with almost no formal education, before moving to the mainland of Australia.

Back then Tasmania was a violent semi-penal colony. Both of Alexander’s parents were children of convicts deported from England. It’s inhabitants were generally looked down upon by other Australians, in somewhat the same way that Australians were looked down upon at the time by many people in England. Tasmania was at the far edge of the British empire, socially and geographically – not at all the popular bucolic vacation spot it has become today!

And yet…Alexander moved to London in 1904 with letters of recommendation from prominent physicians and within a few years became quite well known in theatrical, and even some upper class social, circles as a man with a remarkable talent in helping people improve their physical functioning.  He acquired the nickname “The Breathing Man” because of his ability to improve his students’ respiratory functioning.

It’s hard to conceive of a modern equivalent.  For England today, perhaps a sheep farmer living in the FaIkland Islands in the South Atlantic Ocean hopping on a boat to London to share a new philosophical insight which attracts immediate attention in academic circles.  For America, maybe an impoverished Aleut-Eskimo fisherman from one of tiny Islands spread out in the Bering Sea between Alaska and Siberia, flying to New York to display his exciting new paintings which captivate the art world and lead to a new artistic style.

Alexander obviously had charisma. And talent. And the kind of Australian pluck that later converted a penal colony into the Land of Oz. But equally important, I think, is the fact that his teaching was to a large extent focused on physical functioning, even though it had powerful effects far beyond that.

The kinds of improved physical functioning that Alexander was able to help his students achieve is relatively easy for both the student and his or her friends and family to notice.  Especially when, as was often the case, the improvements happened fairly quickly, often after just a few lessons.

That is still true today. The Alexander Technique has a huge advantage over many other self-improvement programs because it’s effects are often nearly immediate and highly visible and sensible. That, coupled with Alexander’s insight that there is no real separation between “body” and “mind” means that Alexander’s work can be appreciated on multiple levels.

The Technique’s effectiveness can be readily tested: a simple thought like “I am free,” properly self delivered, can fairly easily be shown to bring about an in-the-moment improvement in physical functioning. See, for example, Throw it Away! and The Shockingly Easy Way To Improve Your Posture – And The Way You Do Everything You Do.

For me, that’s one of the most distinctive and appealing features of the Alexander Technique.  You don’t have to wait weeks, months, years or a lifetime to verify it’s effectiveness.  Once you learn a few basics. your “leap of faith” need only take a few seconds.

And for you, the reader, if you haven’t already explored the Alexander Technique, perhaps this will encourage to you do so, and claim your own personal Supreme Inheritance.

* You can order Alexander’s books from the Alexander Technique Bookstore

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