Category Archives: Health

Successful ‘Stress? Take it Lying Down’ event

Stress? Take it Lying Down 

We recently ran a very successful event for Alexander Technique Week 2018, the theme of which was ‘Stress? Take it Lying Down’. I am very grateful to The Old Church N16 as they kindly allowed me to use the premises for free, as we were fundraising for the local charity Safaplace. I also want to thank my colleague Jessamy Harvey, for all her help in setting up and running the event.

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Over forty people enjoyed lying down in Semisupine!                 Photo: Nell Greenhill
The Church looked beautiful and very atmospheric with all the candles and low lighting! We were fortunate to have two speakers from Safaplace, Sarah Finke and Rose White who gave moving accounts about the formation of the charity and why it was set up in order to promote the positive mental health of schoolchildren.
I then described how the Alexander Technique can help us cope with stress as well as helping us be more poised and how the AT explores the mind-body relationship, helping us to unlearn habits we’ve developed that can interfere with the way our bodies need to work.
Caroline Sears followed with a talk about Alexander in Education and how the AT has been introduced into over 80 schools and colleges in the UK and in many institutions around the world, helping students handle exam and performance stresses, for instance.
Then it was lie-down time and The Old Church was full of quiet bodies as Natasha Broke talked people through the Active Rest procedure. Along with the teachers already mentioned, Daniela Sangiorgio and Thodoris Ziarkas joined us to give people a brief hands-on experience whilst lying down. All the teachers assisting on this event are registered with STAT and are alumni of LCATT, an AT teacher training course where I am a visiting teacher.
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Six AT teachers gave mini taster sessions                                    Photos: Nell Greenhill
Finally, we gave some mini taster hands-on turns to those that wished to explore the AT a little more and the bar was open for people to enjoy.
Many thanks to Janet Foster who looked after the door, the friends who ran the bar and helped out and Nell Greenhill for taking the photos – all of whom, like the AT teachers, offered their time and services for free.
Donations to Safaplace
I am pleased to say that we raised over £423 for Safaplace – thanks to the generosity of all the participants!
If you would like to read more about Safaplace and / or would like to donate to them, you can do so here: https://safaplace.org/

Stress? Take it Lying Down. Candlelit Event

 

Stress? Take it Lying Down

11 October 7.0pm ~ The Old Church Stokey N16
 
Candlelit event in London’s only surviving Elizabethan Church
 
I am running this event with four AT colleagues, as part of International Alexander Technique Week 2018. Jessamy Harvey, Caroline Sears, Natasha Broke and Daniela Sangiorgio all trained at LCATT where I am a visiting teacher. The event is also fundraising for local charity Safaplace, which was formed to promote the positive mental health of children in Stoke Newington School and in the local area. 
 
 
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  • Come and hear about Safaplace charity
  • Learn how the Alexander Technique can help you manage stress
  • Experience the wonderful Active Rest procedure
  • Try a mini hands-on turn with one of the 4 local AT teachers
  • Support Safaplace by your generous donations
 
Tickets
 
SOLD OUT! However, we have a waiting list, so do book a free place below and we will contact you if tickets become available.
 
This is a 14+ event. Get your free tickets from Eventbrite, with suggested donations on the day to Safaplace, at entry and at the bar (yes, there will be a bar, run by kind volunteers!):
 
Safaplace on the BBC
There is an interesting article about the sad reasons behind the formation of Safaplace on the BBC website. If you cannot attend this event, you might like to make a donation to Safaplace:  https://bbc.in/2NY8AkH
 

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Why I Trained as an Alexander Teacher

The Ballet Years

 
I had lessons in classical ballet from the age of 5 and serious training began from the age of 11 when I became a boarder at the Royal Ballet School. It was sometimes wildly exciting and it was great to visit the Royal Opera House, sometimes sitting in the Royal Box during rehearsals! But life was very pressurised and quite stressful – I was put on diets to slim down and I acquired strains to my achilles and lower back, as I tried (too) hard to increase my flexibility. My body was always under examination and deemed to be lacking and, looking back, I can understand that it didn’t seem to belong to me. However, in my late teens I was accepted into the Sadler’s Wells Opera Ballet (now ENO) where I happily performed for a number of years. I met my opera-singer husband and first heard about the Alexander Technique there but sadly did not have AT lessons then as they would have helped me.
 
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Hilary King performing with Sadlers Wells Opera, Welsh National Opera and BBC TV 
 
Build-up of Stress
 
Rolling on some years, I gave up dancing so that I could be where my husband worked 
(as women still tended to do back then). I had children, got divorced and then my ex moved abroad. I needed to re-train so I could earn some money. I studied for a degree majoring in Psychology and was in one of the last groups of people that were truly fortunate to be able to study for free. 
The degree was hard to do as a mature student and single parent with 2 small children – then my mother died suddenly of a heart attack. Life had become extremely stressful and I was concerned that if I went on my health would deteriorate and I would end up like my mother.
Then I discovered that one of my Psychology lecturers, Peter Ribeaux, also taught the Alexander Technique at college, so I dived in and took AT lessons. I began to gain tools that I could use to calm myself down and clear my head. I studied better, got better marks and was less cranky with my long-suffering children. Learning and using the lying down procedure in particular helped transform me, as it gave me an immediate tool to help myself with. The AT work also helped me with my old back strain and I learned to listen to my body, ‘regaining’ it and discovering what it needed, rather than my just trying to make it perform for me – as I had been trained to do all through those ballet years.
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Semi-Supine Emergency Kit!
 
I gained my degree – just missing a first – which was sad but also wonderful, as I’d not even had any A levels, because ballet dancers were not deemed to have brains in those days and we did not have that option at the RBS. I then explored the idea of training in dance therapy and did some psychotherapy training but finally decided to train as an Alexander teacher, because I was so impressed by the hugely beneficial changes that had come about in me through having AT lessons.
I commenced my training at the Ribeaux school and completed it at the North London Teacher Training Course run by Misha Magidov, qualifying in 1987. I have had many happy years of teaching and am very grateful that I’ve been able to work in such a wonderful discipline that helps me look after myself in both my my mind and body, as I teach others how to do the same.

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With the introduction of new laws re Privacy and Data Protection, I have introduced an improved Privacy Policy and a basic version of it is now accessible on my website. 

At the moment I am still refining this policy, along with information about Cookies and Terms and Conditions. This information will soon be completed and will also be available on my website. 

You may read my Privacy Policy here.

Reaching Up and Bending Down

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, bird watching, 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 ourselves. 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.

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.

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 Everyday 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

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

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!). Interestingly, a couple of days after completing the course, a women had a seizure in my street and I was grateful to be able to use my First Aid training.  First Aid courses 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, confident that I know what to do in an emergency and can better care for any vulnerable AT pupils. 

 

    

 

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 the need arise. Of course everything I’ve learned on the First Aid course 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 could 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 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 order to get the qualification – that was a surprise and it was the first I’ve done for many years!

 

 

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.

Teaching the Alexander Technique for Thirty Years

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

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

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: