Hilary King's Blog

Read more about the Alexander Technique including observations on more general topics that interest me, and notifications about my teaching timetable.

Over-use of Mobile Phones

| | Comments (0)
Kids Ask Parents to Turn Off Their Phones!

The BBC reports a survey of secondary school children that shows the social impact of mobile phones, with many families having a home life that is being harmed by their overuse. Parents frequently use their phones during mealtimes, for instance, so that children have asked them to turn their phones off. Not surprisingly, the research also stated that many children were frequently sleep deprived because of using their phones late into the night. Some teens even managed to be on their phones for 20 hours a day during weekends and holidays! Add into the mix the epidemic in both adults and children having painful 'text neck' and RSI problems, it is easy to see how damaging phone use can be. 

Child sitting at breakfast A.jpg

This five year old is poised and alert as she has breakfast and, hopefully, she will be able to maintain this easy body-use as she gets older. She does not use any phones, tablets or other screens and her parents aim not to use their phones in front of her. No doubt she will begin to use some technology at school soon but as yet she is being encouraged to find entertainment elsewhere so that she can develop her creativity, reading and active play in many other ways. This little girl does not know about the AT but her mother does some yoga, which she sometimes copies and this helps her to be more aware of her body-use. 

It's Not Good to Frequently Feel Ignored 

The above photo is in stark contrast to the one used in the BBC article, with father and daughter both slumped on a sofa, both heading towards having neck problems from the ways they are using their bodies. The father's head is dragging forwards and down over his phone - a typical iPosture, with a text neck scenario developing in him as he ignores his daughter. She is twisting her neck and her whole body expresses how fed up she feels, in true psychophysical unity, as she stares out in front of her.


BBC _mobilephonedadignoresgirl.jpg


Whilst mobiles are very useful bits of equipment, it is worrying that they seem to become so addictive and dominate people's lives. I find it sad to see so many young Mums (and some Dads) pushing a toddler in a buggy but with no interaction between them because Mum ignores the child  - the mobile phone gets all the attention. What sort of habits of relating to other people and of phone-use will those children develop? Copying parents is a big part of the way we learn as they are important role models for us, so the pattern is likely to be copied and repeated as the child grows older. Many tiny children already use screens for hours on end, which is leading to some developing problems when really young. In a previous blog 'Evidence of Text Neck in Seven-year old Children' I discussed this alarming situation which has been created through the over-use and mis-use of mobiles and tablets. 

There Can Be Another Way

Fortunately, Alexander lessons can help people unlearn habits that have been causing problems and, ideally, help them to learn how to avoid developing habit patterns of mis-use to start with. This was very important to F M Alexander, who ran a school for children which incorporated his theories and teaching into the daily life of the school. One school, Educare Small School is run along the same lines and the AT underpins every activity there.

Today, both adults and children are able to access individual lessons in many parts of the world and a group called Alexander in Education is promoting the Technique in UK schools and colleges. The educational institutions that include the Alexander Technique in their curriculum range from specialist music schools and colleges, to a children's nursery. 

All of that is great and quite exciting but it's important for parents to realise just what sort of body-use and way of life they are modelling for their children and the impact it can have on their future lives, even before they are old enough to go to school. I'm sure many parents believe they are doing just that already but perhaps they can refine their awareness to include the little things in life too, such as how they use a mobile or tablet, how long they use it, how much they exclude others when using a screen and how they look after their own body-use as they text, chat and game away on their phones. Children are watching - and waiting for you.

There's an interesting podcast from Body Learning you might like to listen to: 

Holiday Dates

| | Comments (0)
Dates for your Diary

Please note I will not be teaching in Stoke Newington for a week in May:

Saturday 13th - Monday 22nd May


Here's to everyone enjoying this beautiful and up-lifting Spring!

Spring flowers 2017.jpg

Could Using a Scooter Make Children Lopsided?

| | Comments (0)
Children's scooters have just been included in the UK Consumer Prices Index, CPI, as they are so popular they are having a financial impact in the UK. There must be a lot of people 
using them!

Kids' scooters-001.JPG


This photo show that many children love them - here in Stoke Newington, scooters are a favourite mode of transport for going to school and numbers of scooters get parked in playgrounds. They are brilliant for helping to keep children active and fit in a fun way and it is lovely to see kids zooming along the road, poised and lively, with their heads leading them into movement.

Pushing With One Dominant Leg?

But how could scooters possibly make children lopsided? Well, I wonder how many parents and teachers notice if children always use the same foot to propel themselves forwards? I imagine quite a number of people have never given it a thought. 

But do please think about it - what impact might that have? Even tiny children use scooters and may do so for several years. If one leg is always pushing, then one set of leg muscles in that leg is being developed, whilst the other leg is always supporting, so a different set of muscles will be developed in that leg - so the muscles could grow visibly bigger in the stronger leg. 

What would the implications be for the body's general balance and poise, if legs develop differently from each other in this way? Unhelpful at the least and possibly harmful, if the imbalance became exaggerated through frequent over-use of one leg in preference to the other. This problem can affect adult scooter users too but would have a greater impact on children's bodies whilst growing and developing and could be one way that children's bodies could gradually become a bit lopsided. If it's just habits causing the distortion, that can be avoided!

Twisting and Torsion

Another problem that could arise, is a habitual twist in the torso (and probably the knees) if the child scoots in an uneven way. Muscular torsion in the neck and back is also a potential problem with using skateboards, if the same foot leads all the time. Muscles in the neck and torso could work unevenly, the back and pelvis could become lopsided, which could eventually cause pain and discomfort. Given how many children and adults are using scooters and skateboards these days, we could end up with a large number of people seeking help for problems such as neck and back pain at a later date. 

Thumbnail image for Skateboarding Clissold Park A 08-11-2015.jpg
This skateboarder has pretty good body use, leading with the head and using his hip joints freely. However, if he always leads with the same foot and he has to look in the same direction all the time, torsion problems in his neck and back could develop.

Mindfulness and Body Use

However, with awareness and by establishing habits of good body-use right from the start, including alternating their feet regularly, these problems could be avoided, so children and adults can have fun without interfering with their natural poise and balance.

If problems have started developing, Alexander lessons can help people to let go of their habits of imbalance and twisting, so that their head neck back relationship can be regained and a more evenly balanced way of using equipment such as scooters and skateboards can be learned. 

Big Garden Birdwatch - take care of your neck and back

| | Comments (0)
Are you joining in RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend?

The Big Garden Birdwatch is useful, as well as being fun! Encourage your children to join you in monitoring the birds for one hour in local parks such as Newington Green or Clissold Park, or even the birds you can see from your window at home.

This annual survey is the largest example of citizen science in the world! Your findings will add to the information that has been built up over three decades about the state of the UK's native birdlife. This information not only shows which birds are thriving and which are in decline, but it also gives an indication about the health of our environment as a whole.

Sir John Betjeman sculpture St Pancras station.jpg
Be careful ~ birdwatching can cause problems for our necks and backs! 

This delightful sculpture of Sir John Betjeman by Martin Jennings in St Pancras Station shows some of the problems well. As he looks up, Sir John's neck is contracted and compressed, whilst his lower back is arched into an exaggerated lordosis, which thrusts lots of weight down into his lumbar spine. His arm is lifted, much as it would be to use binoculars - but I wonder, is he holding his hat on as he looks upwards towards the splendid roof, or is he protecting his neck by taking some of the weight of his head in his hand - or both?


How do you look up for ages, without hurting your neck and back?

If you are using binoculars, or looking up to see what bird is sitting in the treetops, your neck and shoulders can get very contracted, tense and jammed up.   A good challenge is to look right up to the top of the Tate Modern tower, to where peregrine falcons often sit and sometimes nest - without scrunching up your neck - How do you do that? 

The Alexander Technique can help you

You really need to apply what you have learnt in Alexander lessons - remember to keep freeing your neck and maintaining as much length as possible in both your neck and your spine as you look around. Allow your neck to lengthen out again at frequent intervals. Keep your arms and shoulders free and loose, allowing them to drop down regularly, so they can lengthen out again.  If you are using heavy binoculars use a wide strap to spread the weight, rather than pressing it into your neck.
 
Also, it is all too easy to arch your back if you are looking upwards like Sir John, so that you can end up with back ache. However, if you are aware of your use and keep giving yourself directions so that you maintain the length in your spine, you will hopefully avoid any discomfort and just enjoy yourself. You might be wise to lie down in semi-supine afterwards, to let go of any scrunching and mis-use that's taken place.....

Walk With Awareness on Slippery Paths

| | Comments (0)
Use the Alexander Technique While You Walk

Winter brings rain, fallen leaves, ice and sometimes snow on the ground, which can make our footpaths very slippery and treacherous. 


Icy Path A.jpg

Photo: Adam King

Observe Your Reactions

How do you cope with slippery paths? See if you can notice your reactions as you think of going out into the cold - do you start becoming tense at the mere thought of icy conditions? Perhaps you can say 'no' to bracing and choose not to do that, so that you can avoid building up unnecessary tension. Observe how you walk on slippery surfaces and experiment by relaxing and being thoughtful about how you move - and you may well experience a different, easier way of walking on slippery surfaces so you feel more secure and confident.

I know from my own experience that it is very tempting to tighten up our legs, feet and ankles, the muscles around our hip joints and even our neck and shoulder muscles when walking on slippery surfaces. Most of the tightening is the result of anticipating a possible fall and this can be tiring plus restricts our movements and circulation - and it's a waste of energy! 

Say 'No' to Bracing!

We really don't need to brace 'just in case' we might slip and fall. This doesn't serve us. In fact, tightening our neck muscles reduces the information we can obtain about our balance, and locking our ankles and hips also interferes with our ability to fine tune our balance. I remember an occasion when I was walking tentatively on an icy pavement and I was gradually getting very tight muscles around the tops of my legs - then a teenage girl sprinted down the icy road in front of me with beautiful grace and freedom of movement. Seeing her easy running skills reminded me to keep freeing up my neck muscles and my whole body as I moved and I felt a lot more comfortable as a result! When we do this, we are able to obtain more information about our balance, not only from the structures in our ears but also from the tiny movements our heads make as we walk and the AT can help us to do this. It is always helpful to walk mindfully but it is particularly important when paths are slippery.  

If you would like to try out the AT, individual Alexander Technique lessons are available on a regular basis. 

Alexander Teacher Training

| | Comments (0)
The Clinic at LCATT

It is always good to see some new Alexander Technique teachers qualifying from the London Centre of Alexander Teaching and Training, LCATT, teacher training course and to know that I have contributed to their experience of learning how to teach the AT. 

Sarah Oliver teaching in LCATT Clinic 18-10-2016.jpg
Sarah Oliver, teaching at the LCATT Clinic just a couple of days before she graduated.

It has also been pleasurable for me, at the times when I have supervised at the LCATT Clinic sessions, to see senior students teaching members of the public with great poise and confidence. These sessions give them a lot of experience and act as a bridge between being a student and setting up their own teaching practice. So far, five of my own individual AT pupils have gone on to train as teachers at LCATT and another pupil has trained elsewhere. 

The LCATT Clinic is an excellent set-up. Reduced cost individual AT lessons are available to the public and are given by final year students, under the supervision of qualified Alexander teachers. Many of these pupils really appreciate this introduction to the Technique and often continue with the AT after their batch of Clinic lessons have finished.



LCATT Teachers.jpg
Some of the LCATT Teachers

For my part, I have spent some enjoyable and stimulating years teaching at LCATT since 2009 and this has greatly enriched my own teaching work. Refia Sacks is the Head of School, with Judith Kleinman and Roger Kidd assisting her (front row). The photo also shows some of the regular teachers at the school (I'm in the middle of the back row) but there is also a large number of visiting teachers and alumni that come to teach at the school, often from abroad, who are not shown here. All in all, LCATT has been a creative and enriching place to teach - and for the students to learn how to teach! 

International Alexander Awareness Week Taster

| | Comments (0)
Want a smart posture to go with your smart phone?

This intro workshop has taken place but this image was so popular I will leave it here for now

My next introductory taster session gives people chance to find out about how the Alexander Technique can help you avoid problems such as Text Neck pain whilst improving your posture and beginning to develop a tool you can use throughout your life.  

You don't have to look like this when you use your Smart Phone!

It's Called Text Neck Syndrome cartoon.jpg

Texting Gaming Posting and Text Neck

| | Comments (0)
Do you spend hours at a time using your smart phone and tablet?

Do you also experience tension headaches and pain such as Text Neck? Maybe back pain and RSIIf so you need to become aware of just how you are using your body whilst using these technological gizmos. Some people become addicted to using them so it would be good to acknowledge just how much time you spend on them, all the time developing habits that will impact on your body and possibly damage your health in the process.



Skellyphone 05-09-2017.JPG
'Skellyphone' is my name for this imaginative mural

I love this wall painting in Finsbury Park! It seems to suggest that the person doesn't even know they are alive, they are so engrossed by the smart phone. The whole energy of the image is down, down, down - in much the way that real phone users sit  - even the mouth is down. So that heavy head is off balance and compressing the cervical vertebrae and other parts of the spine so would be likely, in a real person, to result in neck and postural problems. Many, many people are seeking help for painful necks and shoulders that have developed because of the over-use and mis-use of smart phones and other gizmos..

Do you worry about kids ruining their posture through over-use of phones? 

If you read my previous posts about Text Neck and how it has been found in children as young as 7 years old, you can see just how heavy our heads are and how neck and tension problems can arise, particularly when the sort of posture Skellyphone is displaying becomes habitual. Don't let texting become a pain in the neck - we can learn how to do it differently!


WithoutTextNeck-001.jpg

We CAN have a Smart Posture to go with our Smart Phone!

The more aware we can be of our tendency to sink and contract down into ourselves when we use phones and other technology, the more likely we will be to be able to change our habits so that we look after our bodies. We can learn how to use them in ways that help us to maintain (or regain) our poise, avoiding tension and pain from developing. Phones are not heavy, yet we often let ourselves collapse down as we hold them as if they weigh a tonne! 

Short video about how to avoid Text Neck:   https://youtu.be/a2pOtg9qjQc

Habits Decide Our Futures

| | Comments (0)
F M Alexander's work centred on the role of habits in our lives.

Alexander is quoted in an article on Habits by Hank Wagner in Agri-View, a magazine for the agricultural community in Wisconsin. This is interesting, as farmers do not often advertise that they have AT lessons, so it is good that they are being introduced to Alexander's work. The Technique can help all sorts of people cope with stress and problems such as back pain, which are experienced in farming communities as well as by city dwellers. We all have habits that contribute to our various discomforts and, when we learn to recognise them, we can learn how to stop many of them them and to change them. As Alexander stated :

"People do not decide their futures. They decide their habits and their habits decide their futures." 


F M Alexander.jpg
F M Alexander 

This idea can be hard to believe and often we don't want to accept just how much we are responsible for our habits and how they influence our way of life. Habits can be formed, for instance, as our response to injury, to our environment and to our own thoughts and feelings. Some people want to claim that a problem 'is all someone / something else's fault', whilst others can get very self-blaming and think 'it's all my fault' when they realise how we form out habits. Neither attitude is very helpful - and both tend to be habits in themselves! Acceptance, without blame, allows us to make changes more easily.

Wagner acknowledges that habits can be 'particularly difficult to give up' and one of FM's well known quotes is 'Change involves carrying out an activity against the habit of life'. We need to be willing to allow ourselves to change. First we need to 'inhibit' or say 'no' to our unhelpful habits, then we can then allow ourselves to choose to do something different.

The article also cites some research undertaken by University College London into 'How long does it take to form a habit' (2009) which concluded that it takes 66 days to form a habit that can be performed automatically. Thinking about the process we go through in AT lessons, that is a lot of saying 'no' to old unhelpful habits and 'yes' to allowing new habits to take their place. This may help explain to students at least one reason why Alexander lessons are not a 'Quick 'Fix'! It takes time to change our habits and this process is helped when you are guided by the AT teacher's words and gentle hands. 

Teaching the Alexander Technique

| | Comments (0)
I've been teaching the Alexander Technique for 29 years!

That deserves a quiet celebration....

STAT Cert.jpg

What an enjoyable and satisfying job this is too. I have met so many wonderful people from all walks of life, who have come to me for AT lessons and at least six of those have themselves gone on to train as Alexander teachers.

Of course I have also met many excellent and inspiring AT teachers over the years, including several first generation teachers who trained with F M Alexander himself.  I am very grateful to them as they have helped me to develop my skills and my own teaching work and I would like to thank them all.

One of the best things about being an Alexander teacher, is that I have to keep using the AT work for myself, otherwise my teaching would be worthless and I would probably end up with creating problems for myself, such as back pain.  There are not many jobs where looking after yourself is formally built-in, as an essential part of the process of working. Of course STAT expects teachers to have to have ongoing CPD training  but we also have to we aware of our own body-use minute by minute as we teach - and whilst we live our lives.

One of FM Alexander's graduates was Margaret Goldie and I had the privilege of having some lessons with her and of working at the Bloomsbury Alexander Centre with her for some years. Miss Goldie had had been teaching for 60 years and had her 90th birthday whilst teaching there - now that's an inspiring role model!

 

Browse more within the blog archives »