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.

Alexander Technique Graduates

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

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:

Could Using a Scooter Make Children Lopsided?

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.

Big Garden Birdwatch – take care of your neck and back

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.

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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…..

Alexander Teacher Training

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.

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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.

 

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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!

Texting Gaming Posting and Text Neck

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.
 
 
 
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‘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!
 
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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

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.” 
 
 
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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.