May 2024 be Healthy & Happy. Alexander Term 8 Jan

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy and peaceful New Year!

Alexander Technique Term Starts Monday 8 January

I am looking forward to teaching Alexander lessons again and to helping people feel more comfortable in their own bodies. Our next AT term starts on Monday 8th January. Some days each week I will be teaching at LCATT, the Alexander Teacher Training Course in Highbury. I will of course also be seeing clients at my AT studio on the Harringay Ladder, near Finsbury Park.

My Alexander Technique Studio is close to Finsbury Park 

My Teaching Studio

Many thanks to my pupils for their patience over recent weeks while I had the builders in and then was away visiting my family in Brazil. With the completion of the building works, I now have a cloakroom on the ground floor next to my teaching room, so it is more accessible for people. Also, the floor in my studio has been replaced, which will make working in that room more pleasant for everyone.

Room Hire

In the near future, the studio will become available for other practitioners such as teachers and therapists to use. If you are interested in hiring the room on a part time basis once it is available, do contact me.

Pulling Your Stomach in Can Harm You

Don’t Pull Your Stomach in!

There is an interesting article in The Conversation explaining in detail why the habit of pulling your stomach in can harm you. Alexander teachers are always encouraging people not to do this, as it creates an imbalance in your musculature. The image from Cleveland Clinic below shows a visible fold in the abdominal muscles which can develop as a result of continually ‘Stomach gripping’ and this is called ‘Hourglass syndrome’ .


Habitually pulling your stomach in results in ‘Hourglass syndrome’. 

Pulling Your Stomach in Can Harm You

Why do people pull in their stomach in the first place? Some people will contract their bellies involuntarily because they are in pain, for instance with period pain or after surgery. Anxious people often react to stress by unconsciously gripping their belly muscles, which makes them breathe very shallowly. Many other people pull their stomachs in consciously, and eventually habitually, in order to look slimmer. However, this imbalances your musculature and interferes with the way your body functions – and it damages you.

We all, particularly women and girls, receive strong messages to ‘pull your stomach in’ from friends and family plus we are bombarded by social media, because it is fashionable to have a flat belly. Perhaps it would help us if curvy Rubenesque figures came back into fashion again!  It is healthier not to build fat up on your belly, but that is another discussion.

‘Pull your stomach in’ was certainly a message I was given even when I was small and I heard it constantly whilst training to be a ballet dancer. That was before all the social media pressures of today that bombard and influence people. Without careful explanations as to how to look after our musculature, this habitual ‘Stomach gripping’ just distorts muscle use, rather than creating a flat belly. The muscles of the upper abdomen gradually become gripped, tense and hypertonic, whilst the muscles in the lower region of your abdomen become more flaccid. The opposite to the outcome you hoped for!

What happens when you pull your stomach in tight?

Each time you force your stomach in, you increase the intraabdominal pressure and this pushes your stomach and your lungs up into your ribcage. So you can see how this habitual stomach gripping impacts on your internal organs. Habitually pulling your stomach in can harm you and creates the Hourglass Syndrome.  This interferes with the function of your diaphragm and makes it pull up and inwards, lifting the ribs too high. Dr. Browning at Cleveland Clinic states that this distorted pattern restricts breathing by as much as 30%.  Instead, we want to allow the diaphragm to expand downwards with the ribs free to ease outwards, including around our back and sides.

Habitually pulling your stomach in tightly can also result in lower back pain and pelvic floor problems. As the ribs are forced to move in a distorted and restricted way, this impacts on the muscles in the rest of you torso and your overall body use. Your back, shoulders and neck can become painful as they are made to work too hard, trying to correct the imbalance in muscle use. The lower back can often become overarched and painful.  Also, your pelvic floor can become weaker with sometimes embarrassing consequences.  Do you really want to do that to yourself?

How often do you tell yourself to Pull Your Stomach In?

How do you feel about your belly? Do you actually notice how many times a day you grip your stomach muscles? Are you aware of the triggers that get you feeling the need to suck your stomach in and when, why did they start?  Answering these questions will help you to understand your habits. See if you can do this without blaming yourself – our habits started for what seemed like a good reason at the time. When you are aware of your habits, then you have a chance to let go of them.

Noticing our habits is the first step towards being able to let go of them.

Once we can avoid the habit of continually creating abdominal tension, we can then allow ourselves to do something different. When we allow our abdominal muscles to be easy, our breathing will become freer and deeper, our body will become more poised, balanced and coordinated. For instance, if the lower back overarches, this pushes the belly further forwards, so there is amore temptation to pull the stomach in. However, allowing the pelvis and coccyx to drop down a little instead, so the back can ease and lengthen, will enable the belly to drop back in towards the bowl of the pelvis. This eases the back and reduces the apparent size of the stomach. Try it. Then you want to avoid clenching your stomach and arching your lower back again.

Once you have found an easier and more balanced way of being, it may then be helpful to explore  strengthening underused muscles – carefully, with guidance.

As F M Alexander realised, our body use affects our functioning. Habitual tension interferes with the way our body wants to work, so it is worth exploring how to let yourself change. Alexander lessons offer you a good way to understand this process and can help you let go of harmful habits, regain an easy poise and to feel more comfortable in your own body.

Sinead O’Connor

Sinead O’Connor 8 December 1966 – 26 July 2023

Sinead O’Connor was an incredible musician, protest singer and activist who came to me for some Alexander Technique lessons at the beginning of her career. I was saddened to hear of her death at the age of just 57. It had been a privilege to teach her, albeit for only a few weeks.


Sinead O’Connor Photo: Guardian Newspaper

This photo shows Sinead much as she was when she came to me for Alexander lessons around 1989, not long after I qualified as an AT teacher and lived in Stoke Newington. Sinead’s records were produced by Chrysalis / Ensign records, that were based in the famous Wessex Sound Studios in nearby Highbury New Park. (The studios were at the back of St Augustine’s Church, where Malcom King and I had married.)

Sinead was in her early twenties at the time and elfin-like in appearance, with her shaved head – but what a powerful singer!. Her hair was quite a shock for me to touch at first, as I guided her movements in her AT lesson. It was very unusual to see a woman with a shaved head in those days and It was interesting to see the shape of her skull and neck so clearly

Sinead O’Connor record card

Sinead signed this record card when she was referred to me for Alexander lessons by Chrysalis Records. I have kept the record card all these years as it was special for me to have taught her. However, I am amazed as to how few details I asked people to give me back then but it does mean that I can share this, as it doesn’t give any personal details about her.  I am more thorough these days and my record cards are far more informative!

Nothing Compares

I only taught Sinead for a few weeks, as she moved away to Ireland – or possibly the US to collect an award? Her song ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ was a favourite in our household and shot her to international fame and it was the world wide no 1 in 1990.

A very moving documentary about Sinead, called ‘Nothing Compares‘ is available on YouTube and has been shown on Sky Arts.  It was fascinating to see Sinead as she was when she came to me for lessons and showing me a far more formidable side to her than I realised at the time

I would have loved to have taught her for longer and I have no idea if she continued with Alexander lessons with other teachers. If anyone reading this also gave her some lessons, do please contact me as I would love to know about it.  I hope that the work we did together gave her some skills that she found useful during her international singing career and rather turbulent life.

R.I.P Sinead.

Malcolm King

Sad News

It was with sadness that I learned of the death of Malcolm King on 16 June in Brussels.  He was a singing teacher, Alexander Technique teacher, my ex-husband and father of our two children.


Malcolm King

Malcolm and I met when we were both working with Sadlers Wells Opera – now the ENO.  I was dancing in the Opera Ballet and Malcom was initially singing in the chorus but he soon began being offered solo parts there. We married and had two children. Malcolm’s work with Scottish Opera, Glyndebourne and the Royal Opera House further developed his career as a soloist.

Malcolm moved abroad when we got divorced and he built up his international singing career and remarried. He worked with major US and European companies and conductors, in both concert and operatic settings.  Malcolm also began to teach singing in the Italian Belcanto style, following on the tradition from his own teachers.

He later trained as an Alexander Technique teacher and he incorporated ‘this inestimable tool’ into his singing-teaching practice and also ran master classes in Europe.  Malcolm was an active member of  AEFMAT, the Association of Teachers of the F.M. Alexander Technique in Belgium, which is affiliated to STAT.

Malcolm King will be missed by many whose lives he touched, including his wife Lorenza (Enci) and his children Adam and Sarah.

Love your hands! Love them

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Beloved is a Pulitzer Prize winning book and the latest we are reading in my book group.  I will not attempt to discuss this remarkable and brilliant book about enslavement but there is a section that I wish to quote.


Love yourself and your flesh

Baby Suggs has been praying, surrounded by a group of escaped slaves who had been dancing in a secluded woodland glade. She talks of the cruelty of the slave traders towards her people ‘Yonder they do not love your flesh’  ( I have not included those parts here) and she passionately tells her community the way in which they can begin to heal themselves.

‘In the silence that followed, Baby Suggs, holy, offered up to them her great big heart… She told them that the only grace they could have was the grace they could imagine….

In this place , we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard… Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face…. You got to love it, you.. This is flesh I’m talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved. Feet that need to rest and to dance. Backs that need support; shoulders that need arms, strong arms I’m telling you….  So love your neck; put a hand on it, grace it, stroke it and hold it up… and all your inside parts…. hear me now, love your heart. For this is the prize’ 

Self Care

The Alexander Technique is described as a form of self care but too often it is just seen as a way of ‘fixing a problem’.  For instance, research has shown that the AT helps back and neck pain. It’s also known for reducing tension and improving our posture. Lesser understood is that it is also a way to help us accept ourselves as we are, to love and care for ourselves in a way that allows us to blossom and grow. These qualities are harder to research scientifically, so it hasn’t been proved.  However, Morrison’s words resonate deeply with the essence of AT work.  This deep love and respect for ourselves is also incorporated into the Psychosynthesis Therapy training that I did.

Love your hands!

What a difference it makes to someone struggling with the pain of RSI for instance, if they include the idea of loving their hands. We can get annoyed with ourselves and our hands if we have RSI!  But annoyance merely increases the tension and then the pain. Loving our hands allows a different way of dealing with the problem and will enhance our Alexander lessons. Healing is likely to take place more quickly if we are kind to ourselves.

Toni Morrison said that in her book Beloved “The conceptual connection is the search for the beloved – the part of the self that is you, and loves you, and is always there for you.  Her words are well worth absorbing into our awareness so that we can begin to embody them. This will surely help us to heal and live our lives more richly.

The Alexander Technique is a Skill for Life

Teaching for 35 Years

In 2022 I reached a milestone, having been teaching the Alexander Technique for 35 years. I am grateful that I’ve been able to help hundreds of people over this time. Also, the Alexander Technique has been such an invaluable asset for me and it really is a skill for life. Not only is my work something that I love doing (and pays my bills) but it also helps me personally whilst I teach it. How does it do that? In order to convey the idea of Alexander work through my hands as I touch clients, I need to simultaneously think about my own body use. If you like, I also give myself an Alexander lesson.  The AT is a great example of self-care and lifelong learning.

Hilary teaching at the UEL Wellness Day on 18th Nov. 2014

Alexander teachers think about our own body use whilst teaching others

Self-Help Skills

Over the years, the Alexander Technique has been a wonderful tool I have used to help myself. When I started learning, as a mature student and single parent doing a degree, the AT helped me manage my stress levels and a back injury I had gained as a teen during ballet training.

Some years after I qualified as an Alexander teacher, I had a major operation followed by a long period of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, CFS. Being able to use the technique aided my recovery. It helped me pace myself and to avoid getting into lots of unhelpful habits of body Use whilst being so depleted.

Do You Experience Shoulder Tension?

Another example of how the AT can help me personally is during the act of teaching. Most people experience shoulder tension at some time and many pupils come to me hoping to reduce theirs’. I am far more likely to help them if I can let go of my own tension first, by working on myself. So I need to be aware of my own habits of misuse and constriction, then let these go, so that my hands do not communicate my tension to the pupil.

As I teach I think about my own body use. I remind myself to let my movements be free and easy, so I avoid creating tension as I work. Consequently, I look after myself at the same time as I help someone else. As a result, the quality of my teaching is improved and I protect myself from developing strains. It really is a win-win situation!

Learning the Alexander Technique Gives You a Skill for Life

Learning the Alexander Technique helps us become aware of our unhelpful habits and then we aim to avoid getting into them them during our activities. By using our thinking and applying the AT in our lives, we reduce strain and move more easily. Gradually this becomes a way of life.

I recently went to a concert and was pleased to meet a musician who had been my client about twenty years ago. He had come to me with shoulder problems associated with playing the violin and had found the AT very helpful. It was really affirming to hear him say ‘Alexander work has stayed with me all this time. I still think about it and use it on a regular basis’. When people like him take responsibility for their learning and apply what they learn, they can gain a skill they can use throughout their life. It is important to remember that the Alexander Technique is a form of learning, not a treatment.

Alexander Technique Introductory Books

There are an increasing number of excellent books on the Alexander Technique and its application to many aspects of our lives. A  good number may be found in my bookshop. One introductory book happens to be called ‘The Alexander Technique: A Skill For Life’. Author Pedro Alcantara obviously agrees with me!

A Skill for life

This testimonial shows that when people take AT on board, it really can give them a skill that can last for decades.

 “I learned AT from you for a year and a half around 1991. I have recently resumed Alexander lessons with a former student of yours… and it has been wonderful to rediscover all the things I learned from you… I have never entirely forgotten what you taught me and the muscle memory and other memories keep coming back…. after 30 years”  

Have You Noticed Your Reactions When Taking a Covid-19Test?

What is your reaction when you think of having to take a Covid-19 Test?

I was surprised to notice my reactions when taking a Covid-19 Test today. I have taken dozens of Lateral Flow Tests, yet still have a low level of anxiety at the thought of taking a test!

What is your reaction when you see a Covid -19 Test?

My anxiety reactions were more obvious recently, after I discovered I had been in contact with someone who’d tested positive. I had a sinking feeling deep in my belly and my back and neck muscles tightened up. Despite my being multiple vaccinated, still being very careful and wearing masks occasionally, I do still worry that I may catch Covid.

I thought I was relaxed about Lateral Flow Tests but noticed I tensed up merely at the thought of needing a test.  My reactions were stronger when I recently had to have a PCR test as well. Thankfully it was negative again.

I have taken regular tests for my teaching and I can get a bit blasé and fall into end gaining. When I do this, much of my awareness can vanish.  ‘Let’s get this out of the way’ sort of reaction kicks in. I often tighten my neck and jaw as I wipe the swab around my nostrils.  Do you notice doing that and if so, can you choose not to? At least with the newer test kits, we don’t have to wipe our tonsils as well. I had to be very thoughtful doing that, to avoid tightening my neck as I looked at my throat in the mirror.

Waiting for the Test Results

If I go into automatic or anxious mode, I tend to curl down to peer at the test cassette. Firstly, in order to drop the liquid into it, then to read the results. That is not looking after my neck or back!  Why do I contract down, rather than using an easy folding movement?  Also, why do I rush to set the timer, to tell me when to check the results? Rushing does not help in any way. Have you noticed how you react  when you perform Covid-19 tests?

It is interesting to be reminded of how old unhelpful habits tend to return under stress

Preparing for My Next Test

So next time, I will pause briefly before getting out a Lateral Flow Test and will aim to avoid that unnecessary tension and end gaining. Being more aware should help make the testing process easier, more comfortable and less stressful. After all, I’m going to have to take many more in the future, so let’s make it a more positive experience!

Alexander Technique Offer for Junior NHS Staff

Alexander Technique lessons offer for NHS nurses and junior doctors.

Alexander Technique lessons offer for nurses and junior doctors: 10% reduction.  Just contact me using an NHS email address. More senior Doctors and Consultants are of course welcome to have Alexander Technique lessons but are now charged the usual rates for these.

During lockdown, I offered all NHS staff six free online Alexander lessons as a thank you for their dedication and hard work during the COVID-19 pandemic. I am pleased to say that several doctors and midwives took up that offer.

I am registered with both STAT and the CNHC and have an enhanced DBS certificate

Online lessons usually take place on Zoom

The Constructive Rest Lying Down Procedure

Learning the constructive rest (or lying down) procedure, for instance, gives us a tool we can use to relax, reduce tension and pain, plus recharge our batteries.  Using this procedure daily can help us avoid burnout through stress and overwork, whilst reducing problems such as back pain.  Is is such a refuge!

In lessons, we also begin to recognise our habits of body use that cause us problems.  When we learn to let go of unhelpful habits and reactions, we can move and act more mindfully in the world, enhancing our wellbeing.

Testimonial from a GP

You may like to read a testimonial from a student of mine, a GP and amateur musician:

 “A very committed and experienced teacher

“As an amateur musician with problems of tension getting in the way of performance, I was delighted to discover that (Hilary) had experience with helping musicians, but I can thoroughly recommend her to musicians and non-musicians alike. She is a very committed and experienced teacher. I have found it fascinating to explore with Hilary the more general applications of the Alexander technique. This has led me to some important insights about the relationship between my mind and my body… An excellent listener, she is able to focus on whatever problem I bring with kindness, encouragement and gentle hands-on expertise. She always strives to find the root of issues of bad use of the body, with suggestions on how to work on them…  When it is time to leave, I always feel revitalised both in mind and body. Dec 2018. “

Martha ~ Doctor and Musician

Contact me   If you are an NHS staff member, please use your NHS email address

What Goes on Under the Mask?

So We’re Back to Compulsory Mask Wearing!

What is your reaction when you think of having to wear a mask again when you go into shops?  For myself, there is little change, as I often wear a mask in crowded places. However, many people have stopped doing so for a while, so things will be different for them.

Some form of mask wearing is likely to be with us for a while, so it will be useful for us to notice which of our mask-related habits are unhelpful – then we can avoid them.

The Mask!

What is your reaction when you think of having to wear a mask again? Do you accept masks, as a protection for yourself and others? Or do they trigger anxiety and maybe seem claustrophobic? Or perhaps you feel angry that you have to wear one? Whatever your thoughts, there will be a corresponding physical reaction, often expressed as some sort of tension. We are all, as individuals and as societies, developing new behaviour patterns and habits as a result of Covid-19. It’s an interesting social phenomenon that we are all adapting to.

Initially, in 2020, I was quite anxious every time I needed to wear a mask, as it highlighted the fact that Covid-19 was dominating our lives. I probably frowned and I definitely tightened my jaw. My breathing was restricted and I often breathed through my mouth. Some early masks sucked in over the nose each time I inhaled, which didn’t help. I felt I couldn’t get enough air. I often tensed my neck and shoulders because it felt risky going out to do shopping. It was all part of my reacting with a ‘Covid crunch’ as I call it.

Added to all the Covid problems, I’d moved house just before lockdown and this intensified the sense of isolation and strangeness. Old ways of doing things felt unsafe and needed to be done differently. Too many changes happened all at once and that can be very stressful!

How do You Smile in a Mask?

I realised that if I smiled at someone, it couldn’t really be seen, so new strategies of communication were required. Exaggerating my eye movements and expressions were one way but sometimes this felt awkward and tense. Nodding my head to say hello was another strategy.

Talking can be problematic too as I needed to project my quiet voice more strongly, so that I could be heard clearly. Voices become muffled through masks, so hearing people can also be difficult.

How often do you see people straining to talk, pushing their head and neck forwards in order to hear and be heard? This doesn’t help much , especially if you having to wear masks for long periods whilst working. Some people end up with sore throats, croaky voice and a blocked nose.

Some of these problems can be avoided if we let go of our unhelpful habits of tension. These days I am more aware and less reactive to masks.  But do you know what your reactions are?


Why don’t you try an experiment? This is the sort of this we explore in Alexander lessons.  Masks are always worn for face to face lessons but one of the nice things about online lessons is that we don’t need to wear masks! However we have to do so for many occasions, so let’s explore your relationship with masks.

1 Go and collect a face mask and as you pick it up, notice any reactions you have as you see it. Put it on, walk around and notice your reactions, both physical and emotional.  After a while take the mask off and think about what you noticed.

2  Later,  do the same thing with awareness. Prepare yourself in advance of putting on a mask and see if you can accept it as something to protect you. Pick it up, avoid any tension and put it on gently. Experience it as a way of caring for yourself. Walk around, then after a while take it off again, gently.  Notice your reactions – are they the same, or have they changed?

Changing our thoughts and letting go of our habitual reactions of tension alters things.  Many people find they reduce jaw and facial tension plus feel less claustrophobic, if they welcome mask-wearing rather than rebel against it. In this cold weather, they can also add a welcome bit of extra warmth!

What did you notice?  Such a simple change as altering our attitude and body-use can make a big difference to our everyday experience of using masks!

Thinking with every muscle

The Thinker

I went to Tate Modern to see ‘The Making of Rodin’ exhibition. This was the first time I had been to a Gallery for some time, because of Covid restrictions.  It was so good to see art again!  Rodin’s plaster models in the exhibition show him experimenting with how to portray movement and form.  He even explores how a man can be thinking with every muscle in his body.

‘The Thinker’ by Rodin illustrates the concept that bodies express our thoughts and feelings, that our mind and body work together as one unit. This concept underpins F M Alexander’s technique that we still teach today. Many people just associate the Alexander Technique with issues such as reducing back pain, which it has been proven to do. But AT work goes far deeper than people realise. For instance, when we react to stress, we often tighten our necks and backs, thereby contributing to painful problems there.  We can learn how to avoid doing that….

Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’ at Tate Modern 2021

I was interested to see a great quote from Rodin on the wall. This reveals how Rodin made the Thinker think with his whole body:

‘What makes my Thinker think is that he thinks not only with his brain, with his knitted brow, his distended nostrils and compressed lips, but with every muscle of his arms, back and legs, with his clenched fist, and gripping toes‘. Rodin.

Alexander would have appreciated this statement as he believed we tend to ‘translate everything, whether physical, mental or spiritual, into muscular tension’ (Aphorisms). However Alexander realised this tendency can be modified by our conscious control. We can re-educate ourselves to respond differently.

Psychophysical Re-education

Alexander used the term ‘Psycho-physical‘ to express this mind-body unity:

The term is used…. to indicate the impossibility of separating “physical” and “mental” operations in … the working of the human organism’ .  Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual 1923.  

Alexander said he was forced to use the words ‘psycho’ and ‘physical’ because there is no other word that expresses the amalgamation of both concepts.

If Rodin’s Thinker was having Alexander lessons  his teacher could explore how much pain he experiences in those scrunched up feet, neck, shoulders, wrist and back. How often does he assume that position? Is it a habit, or a one-off expression of internal turmoil? Can he re-educate himself, let go of his habit and learn to change the way he reacts to situations? If so, he can learn how to continue his thinking but without reacting in that way and creating more pain.


Unfortunately Alfred Hitchcock’s film ‘Psycho’ has greatly contributed to ‘psycho’ being associated with mental instability and psychosis. This can create a misunderstanding when AT teachers use the word psychophysical! But the AT is not to do with mental illness.

Alexander described his work in a rather heavy-handed Victorian style. Unfortunately, this also includes some passages that are considered offensive and racist today. Thankfully, at the end of his most popular book, ‘The Use of the Self‘, Alexander states he deplores prejudice, ‘racial or otherwise’. Teachers are searching for a new vocabulary to express Alexander’s ideas and his books are gradually being edited to make them easier to read and more acceptable for all audiences. The essence of Alexander’s discoveries is still valuable today, so it is well worth reading his books, with an understanding that present day teachers do not hold his Victorian views of the world.

All Aspects of our Being

An important part of Alexander lessons is when pupils begin to understand this concept of psychophysical unity, of how our minds and bodies work together.  When we accept and embrace this fact, changes can take place.  This can be very healing, as can be seen in this testimonial:

‘Having someone remind me how to connect with myself again and to be aware of how I use all aspects of my being was exactly what I needed’