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.

Reaching Up and Bending Down

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Harvest Time!

Even in my London garden, there are fruits to be picked and enjoyed at this time of year and as I have been doing just that, I've been aware of how necessary it is to think of my body-use whilst harvesting. Just how do I climb my apple tree and look up to see where I need to reach for fruit, whilst looking after my neck? How do I bend down to look under the leaves of raspberry plants to search for the often hidden little balls of sweetness, or pick up windfalls from the grass whilst looking after my back?

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Looking Up and Reaching to Search for Apples

It is one thing to look at something above our heads for a quick moment and it is fairly easy to do this mindfully and freely, so that we can maintain as much length in the neck and spine as possible. However it is altogether harder to maintain our balance and some freedom in our neck muscles if we are spending a prolonged period of time looking up, as when picking apples, birdwatching, or painting a ceiling, for instance. 

There are always apples that are out of reach - and awkward corners of rooms that can be tricky to get into when you want to paint them! It can be tempting to end-gain and just get on with the job as fast as possible, forgetting to look after ouselves. These situations illustrate when using the Alexander Technique can be so valuable, as we can use it to be aware of our body-use and remind ourselves not to over-reach, or tighten and compress the neck. Continually over-using one set of muscles creates uncomfortable tension and leads to patterns of mis-use, so it helps if we frequently allow our heads to change position and come back to a more ordinary poised stance, for a while, in order to consciously allow the neck muscles to free up and lengthen out again.  

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Gardening Requires Lots of Bending Down! Monkey Position to the Rescue

Of course we bend down at all sorts of times in order to put shoes on, or pick up toys from the floor etc but in gardening we often have to spend a prolonged period of time bending over whilst working at tasks such as weeding. Being mindful about the way we bend is important, so that we can protect our necks, avoid getting back pain and maintain a good balance during our movements. 

For people who've had AT lessons, learning how to 'Inhibit' or stop, can sometimes be quite tricky and they may ask 'Why are we having to do this?'  Well, it is an invaluable concept and when we use it during our daily activities, we give ourselves a very brief pause before starting a task or making different type of movement, which allows us the chance to choose how to do something, so we can avoid getting into old habits that mess us up. 

To illustrate - rather than bending forwards with my old habit of curling over, which used to compress my spine and torso, I can pause briefly and remind myself to hinge from the hip joints, so that I fold forwards with a lengthened spine and a body that is able to move and breathe freely. In this way I am also utilising the AT procedure which F M Alexander called 'the position of mechanical advantage' but is now nick-named 'monkey position'. This is a movement that comes quite naturally to children and we use it in a variety of ways, using a deep version to reach the floor, or a very slight angling forwards over a wash basin with the knees slightly bent whilst cleaning our teeth, for instance - and it's so much more comfortable for our backs! The woman in the photo above is using an adaptation of the monkey position, in order to check out the lawnmower. 


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Semisupine Active Rest Lets Our Spine Decompress

It is also a really good idea to lie down in the semisupine position at the end of doing such activities, so that we can allow our spines - and whole body - to decompress and to free up.

Applying the Alexander Technique to Our Everday Activities

When I teach, I spend a lot of time helping students to learn how to sit, stand and walk freely, in the manner of traditional Alexander Technique lessons. Students can then transfer this learning into other activities and they learn some specific procedures like Monkey and Active Rest procedures. However, some people wonder how to use everything they learn out in the 'real world' and make the AT a tool they can use throughout life.

Therefore, as part of the lesson, I will sometimes explore different activities with pupils, so that they can think about how to apply and include the AT into their thinking whilst performing these. Recently, one student thought about how to do exercises the physio had given her, another couple explored how to use a mouse and keyboard, another fine tuned how to play a guitar, one tried moving a table differently and - a new one to me - one explored how to bend over in order to clean the bath! 

The important words here are 'how to'.  When we include the 'how' into our awareness and, if necessary, change the way in which we perform actions, we can begin to recover from conditions such as back pain or RSI. Such a relief!

Remember

STOP
THINK
CHOOSE HOW TO RESPOND


This short video of  the lying down procedure was produced by the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique, STAT:    https://youtu.be/NhxMNou1Tfo

LieDownDay 9 October

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International Alexander Awareness Week 2017 9-15 October EVENTS

EVENT 1: Free Lying Down Day Workshop 9 Oct ~ Now Ended. 

EVENT 2: The first 6 people that contacted me have had a FREE 1/2 hour semisupine table-turn during IAAW week! 
Chill out and relax with the SemiSupine Lying Down Procedure, something that you can use throughout your life.

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EVENT 3: One Reduced Rate 3/4 hour private lesson at £30.
Available during October to participants of the workshop and to those having a table-turn session. Bring your diary....


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EVENT 4
Small Group Introductory Course:  30 October ~ 20 November ~ £60
Four Mondays: 1.30 - 3.00pm 
Limited Places so please enrol in advance 

Some Benefits of Learning First Aid

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First Aid as CPD


Over the 30 years I have been teaching, I have attended several short First Aid courses and recently took part in a full day Emergency First Aid at Work Course with Siren Training, which was organised by The Old Church where I act as a volunteer (thank you very much!). Fortunately I have never yet been in a situation where I have needed to use First Aid.  Usefully, First Aid can also be seen as part of my Continuing Professional Development as an Alexander Teacher. Not all Alexander teachers have done First Aid and I would like to encourage them to do so, as I came away feeling reassured and confident that I know more about what to do in an emergency and can better care for any vulnerable AT pupils. 


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So Why Might I Need First Aid?


Some students that come for Alexander lessons are at risk of having diabetic or epileptic seizures, some may be prone to fainting, whilst elderly pupils may be more vulnerable to having heart attacks for instance - and accidents can happen any time. Knowing what to do under such circumstances will help both me and my pupils, should needs arrise. Of course everything I've learned on the First Aid course can be transferred to helping anyone who needs such care, so it will also be valuable when I'm involved with local community activities. With our health service increasingly under pressure, I do feel reassured that I am more likely to be able to help someone until one of our brilliant NHS Paramedics arrive.


The range of topics covered during the First Aid at Work course can be seen on the certificate below and cover most of the situations that I could come across in my work. These courses have a big experiential and hands-on content, so I came out with some very practical skills but I did also have to take a very short written test, in oder to get the qualification - that was a surprise and it was the first I've done for many years!


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First Aid for All?


It would be great to have every Alexander Teacher doing some training in First Aid. These courses offer knowledge and skills I believe we should all have - but I hope we never need to use them! 


In fact I would like to see First Aid taught throughout the country in schools and colleges so that everyone, eventually, gains at least basic First Aid skills.  

Dates for your Diary

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Holiday Dates

I will not be teaching in Stoke Newington for a while in September so please add these dates to your diary:

Wed 30th August - Wed 20th September inclusive. 

My next Intro Alexander Technique Workshop will be taking place in October, during this year's International Alexander Awareness Week. The focus for this workshop will be on how the AT can help us cope with stress. Watch this space for further details. 

Do please contact me if you are interested in this session and I will send you further information.


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Alexander Technique Graduates

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Two More of My Ex-Pupils Graduate as Alexander Technique Teachers 

It has been thirty years since I qualified as an Alexander teacher and I am pleased to say that two more of my pupils have just graduated and I would like to congratulate them both! This makes at least six of my pupils that have qualified and a seventh is nearing the end of his training. Putting these seemingly small numbers into perspective, AT training courses are small, with a high teacher-student ratio. There are 6 STAT recognised 3 year teacher training courses in London, each with up to 20 students. Of these, approx 1-4 may qualify each term. 


Jessamy Harvey's Graduation Party

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Photo shows Refia Sacks, Jessamy Harvey, Judith Kleinman and Roger Kidd

Dr Jessamy Harvey is a London-based University Lecturer whose research has been focused on Modern and Contemporary Spain. Jessamy originally had a few Alexander lessons with another teacher about 25 years ago, then came back to the AT and had Alexander lessons with me for about a year, at which point she decided to change careers. Jessamy developed her skills as a jewellery maker and immediately began training as an Alexander Technique teacher at LCATT, so I was able to continue teaching her there during her three years training and she has assisted me on one of my intro Alexander Workshops. 

I was pleased to attend her graduation party at LCATT and it is so rewarding for me to be able to contribute to someone's development, particularly when I can also see them growing into their new role as an Alexander teacher.



Karin Heisecke 

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Photo: Elfi Greb

Karin Heisecke came to me for Alexander lessons some twenty years ago for about a year, whilst taking her first degree in the UK. Then Karin moved abroad and worked in several EU countries, gaining an MSc and eventually going back to her native Germany, having by then become an internationally respected consultant on political issues to do with gender-based violence. 

Then last year Karin contacted me to tell me that she had stayed in touch with the Alexander Technique over the years and indeed felt it had supported her so well that she was training as an Alexander teacher whilst continuing to work as a consultant - as I write this, she is on an assignment in Kiev. I am happy to say that Karin qualified as an Alexander teacher this June.


A Skill For Life

Interestingly, Karin is another pupil of mine that has decided to train as an Alexander teacher many years after having her initial experience of AT lessons - Karin started her teacher training fifteen years after her first AT lesson with me. She took five years over her training as she had some time off from the course, in order to take on a full time job, before returning to complete her course and qualifying as an Alexander teacher. That is dedication.

Another pupil also started her teacher training at LCATT, a full twenty years after her first AT lesson with me. So these pupils have gone on to train as Alexander Technique teachers because they have really taken the AT on board and it has become central to their being. They have appreciated the Alexander Technique as a skill they can use to help them over many years and in many aspects of their lives - so much so that they want to share this amazing work with others. Many AT teachers also work in other fields and find that the Alexander Technique supports them in their work and enhances their experience. 

I wonder if I may hear that other pupils of mine have also found the Technique so invaluable to them over the years, that they eventually decide to train as a teacher. I would enjoy that!

Teaching the Alexander Technique for Thirty Years

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And I Still Love my Work!

However I am rather shocked to realise just how long I've been teaching and to see the signature on my certificate has nearly faded away!

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So How Has the Alexander Technique Helped Me?

Over the years, the AT has really helped me in many ways. Firstly, every Alexander teacher has to be aware of their own mind-body-use whilst teaching (and living) so there is a built-in element of self-care, which is invaluable. Of course life throws situations at us to which we react and I thought I would share some of the ways the Alexander Technique has helped me choose better options of response than would have been available to me without the AT.

Coping With Stress 

When I first started having AT lessons, I was taking a BA in Psychology. My marriage had just ended so I'd become a single parent with 2 small children to look after and needed to retrain, as I could no longer be a classical ballet dancer. I was stressed! Then my mother died suddenly of a heart attack so I was even more stressed and I thought that I could do end up like her if I continued as I was, so I signed up to some AT lessons at college. 

Suddenly I had a tool I could help myself with to calm myself down and clear my mind, so I could work better and I gradually became less reactive when faced with difficult situations.The lessons helped sort out a lingering back injury I had sustained whilst doing ballet and, with all the note-taking I was doing, my arms and hands were tense and getting sore but applying the AT helped me avoid developing RSI.  I enjoyed and appreciated the Alexander Technique so much that I decided to train as an AT teacher, once I had finished my degree.

There followed a period of several years where I was teaching the AT and Stress Management in several further education colleges, developing my own AT teaching practice, continuing to develop professionally by training in Psychotherapy and still looking after two youngsters. Much of this had to be done in order to survive financially - but I also had a habit of over-doing things! 

Broken Toe

One day I dropped a heavy piece of wood onto the end of my big toe and broke it. Perhaps the first sign that I wasn't as strong as I had expected myself to be but I didn't think of that at the time. It was a tiny break but very painful! Of course I was limping for a while but soon realised that limping was quickly becoming a habit which threw my body out of balance, so that my knee was beginning to hurt.  I was very grateful to being able to use the AT to help me let go of the limping habit, so I could return to walking in an even and co-ordinated manner and my knee stopped hurting.


Major Operation Followed by Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Not long after, I faced the challenge of having a major operation, which again caused me to move unnaturally for a while and the AT work really helped me at this time. However my recovery seemed slow after the operation and it became apparent that I had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which took several years to recover from. 

It was so hard for me to avoid doing too much on the days when I felt OK - and when I over-did things, it would take many days for me to regain some energy so that I could function again! The Alexander Technique was such an invaluable tool to have, as it helped me to be aware of my habits, to notice my reactions to things and to be mindful of my body-use, so that I could learn to pace myself appropriately and gradually recover. I also made frequent good use of the lying down procedure

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And Now?

Since then I have been continuing to teach the Alexander Technique in my own practise and at the LCATT Teacher Training course for many years. I also use the AT throughout my daily activities (for example being aware of how I'm using myself using the computer as I write this) so that I can help myself maintain my poise and freedom of movement. 

Each of the life situations and problems I have had to face have taught me more about myself and more about how the Alexander Technique can help people in so many different situations. It is not a cure-all but it really can help us in a huge range of situations when we learn it - and importantly, remember to use it!

Want to try out the Alexander Technique?






Look After Your Back When You Cough and Sneeze

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Hay Fever!

An osteopath friend told me that some patients go to her because they hurt their backs when sneezing and coughing. I remembered this again now because the pollen count has been high so I have been suffering with hay fever over the last few weeks and have been sneezing a lot! My family and my pupils are used to me sneezing, often 8 times in a row, so I have had lots of time to think about how to look after myself when I do so. 

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During wintry weather, people with heavy coughs and colds may also seek the osteopath's help - unless they find a way of avoiding this problem to begin with by looking after their backs, for instance through having Alexander Technique lessons. You may well ask 'how can using the AT help you when you sneeze?' Read on.....

Sneezing and Coughing Create Strong Spasms

One of the main reasons that back problems can happen when sneezing and coughing, is that when we hold ourselves in a fixed or twisted manner, with locked knees, contracted muscles and habitual tension in the lower, lumbar region of the back, this tightness will be increased by the spasms of coughing and sneezing. The spasms will obviously be more exaggerated if you have long bouts of coughing so that the jolting can strain your muscles, sometimes even damaging an intervertebral disc, causing great pain. 

Bend Your Knees When You Cough and Sneeze! 
 
However, if we learn to unlock our hips, knees and ankles so that they can bend, this can help our back to be freely lengthening, so the muscles are able to respond more elastically as our ribs expand and contract with the sneezing and the jolt can be softened so that it ripples through us, rather than straining us. This way of sneezing and coughing can also be helpful for people after having abdominal surgery, possibly with the addition of holding the abdomen for extra support during the sneeze - something I found incredibly helpful after having major surgery.

So I will sometimes, as a small part of their AT lessons, work with my pupils to help them find a way of sneezing and coughing so they look after their backs - yet another activity to explore performing with optimal body-use!  

The more able you are to have free, balanced and elastic body-use, unlocked knees and a free neck and back, the more resilient your muscles will be during and after each spasm. Remember to let the tension go again that inevitably built up during coughing and sneezing, so that you do not take that with you into your next activity. 

Even if you have not had Alexander Lessons and learned how to do this in a AT way, you can help protect your back if you remember to bend your knees, so you let your legs act as the shock absorbers they are designed to be.

Over-use of Mobile Phones

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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. 

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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.


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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

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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!

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Could Using a Scooter Make Children Lopsided?

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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!

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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. 

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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. 

 

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