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 have continued to wear a mask in crowded places. However, many people have stopped doing so for a while, so things will be different for them.

Mask wearing is likely to be with us for some time to come, so it will be useful for us to notice which of our mask-related habits are unhelpful – then we can avoid them.

The Mask!

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?

Experiment

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 recently, 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 experiment with portraying movement and form.

‘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.

Psycho?

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’ 

The Jigsaw Challenge

The Jigsaw’s Out of it’s Box

It’s that time of year. Out comes my new jigsaw and now I have several challenges. The first was to decide if the table should be covered with jigsaw pieces. With Covid around, there will be no guests at Christmas, so yes, the table can hold the jigsaw.

The second challenge is to find all the edges and line them up where they might fit. I’ve started hunting and I gently rummage around in the box. I explore carefully, so I don’t break any of the jigsaw pieces.  I’m already confused because the corner pieces are different colours from the image on the box!

 

So many jigsaw pieces to hunt through!

I’ve not done a jigsaw for a long time and I need to get my eye in. It’s hard to find what I’m looking for. I notice my shoulders and upper back are beginning to ache a little – that didn’t take long to happen! So what was I doing to cause that?

I had got lost in the activity and I had begun curl down over the table to see the jigsaw. So I’d started getting a bit tense and then achy. How easy it is to lose awareness of our body use when we get engrossed! It’s not surprising I was a bit achy, when you remember that our heads weigh approx 5 kg or 11 pounds. Our heads are so heavy, if we don’t support them with an easy poise and balance, the weight will drag us down.

My grandson is a good teacher! See how freely and easily he looks down

My grandson is a good teacher for me and when I see how he moves, it reminds me to come back myself and think of my own body use. He has such a lovely easy way of moving. Here he is looking down, yet he is not dropping his head and neck forwards as I had just done. He is folding forwards from his hip joints and his muscles are working together in a quiet and balanced way – just as I teach people to do in Alexander lessons.  (Teacher teach thyself!) You can sense the connection from the top of his head, along his spine and down to his coccyx and sitting bones.

So my third and most important challenge is that when I do my jigsaw, I will to do so with more awareness. I’ll hinge forwards from my hip joints so that I can see what I’m doing and take frequent breaks – as I do when I’m working at my computer. Maybe I don’t need to play so intensely (in-tensely – got it?).  Just because I’m having fun and supposedly relaxing, it doesn’t mean that I don’t need to look after myself.

Teaching the Alexander Technique Online

Adapting to the Challenges of Covid-19.

I’ve been teaching face to face Alexander Technique classes for 33 years and I’m now including online work.  Adapting to the new Covid-19 way of life, I’m on a course that aims to improve my online teaching.  Primal Alexander, the brainchild of Mio Morales, makes the AT more accessible online, where we cannot use traditional hands-on procedures.

 

Hilary King experimenting with movements on Mio Morales’ Course

The 12 week CPD course also extends my range of teaching procedures which I can use in face to face lessons. Another benefit is that I am connecting with international AT teachers during this time of limited contact with others, which is great.

An Expanded Alexander Technique Vocabulary

Mio has developed a new vocabulary for online work, to explain the concepts of the Alexander Technique. For instance Mio talks of allowing ‘Ease’ in ourselves, as an alternative to the traditional wording of allowing movements to be ‘Free‘.  This extended vocabulary expands our ability to communicate the Alexander Technique to students, particularly online.

Mio’s also created a series of ‘etudes’ in which movements can be explored whilst thinking about how we perform them.  I look forward to creating some etudes for pupils – and for myself, with which to explore my own body Use.

Free Alexander Technique for NHS Staff

Six Free Alexander Technique online lessons for NHS staff

I am offering NHS staff six AT lessons as a thank you for all their dedication and hard work, particularly during this COVID-19 pandemic. These can be followed up with some further lessons at a discounted rate.  Just contact me using an NHS email address.

Other people are of course welcome to have some AT lessons but will be charged for these, at 20% the cost of traditional lessons.

These are internet lessons on Zoom, so will not include the hands-on element of Alexander work. I am registered with both STAT and CNHC  and have an enhanced DBS certificate

The Constructive Rest Lying Down Procedure

Learning the 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 getting into burnout through overwork, whilst reducing problems such as back pain.

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
NHS offer is once again available until April 2021

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

Interview for Hackney Magazine

Hackney Magazine Article

I’ve had an article published in Hackney Magazine, about how the Alexander Technique can help people during the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m not alone in finding the AT a great self-help tool that we can utilize in many ways. It helps me keep calmer and more positive;  I use it to reduce discomfort and tension; it recharges my batteries and helps me manage stress.

Active Rest Procedure in Semi-supine

The lying down procedure is the easiest way to start using the AT, even if you haven’t had lessons. It’s more effective than relaxation exercises – the AT reaches the parts other disciplines just don’t reach! You can find more info about how to practice the Active Rest procedure here. The Alexander Technique has many more applications than I was able to mention in the article, that can aid us during this stressful period.

There is a positive gift to be found within lockdown: STOP  

Many of us have to stay home, to stop our usual activities and very often our work. So we have to stop living in our habitual way. Despite the hardship and trauma, this stopping can be a gift, as it allows us to experience living differently and see the world afresh. For instance, many people appreciate the fact that there’s less pollution now, plus enjoy having more time with their children – and they are spending less.

I’ve just moved house and immediately had to self-isolate with lockdown. Fortunately I’m used to living on my own and looking after myself. It’s hard not seeing my family and new grandson and it’s hard asking for help from people I don’t know – but I am very grateful to my new neighbours in Umfreville Road. They are so welcoming, offering help and shopping for me. I’ve had to adapt to new ways of doing things – very abruptly – and the Alexander Technique has helped with this too.

Letting go of old habits allows us to adapt

These are challenging times and we all need to adapt. Change in itself is known to be a major stress factor for most people.  Incorporating Alexander principles can help us gain some choice over how we respond to these changes and stresses. Having the AT, a tool we can use, also helps us avoid feeling powerless.

Choosing not to be ruled by old habits is a skill worth developing. Learning the Alexander Technique helps us to stop and let go of unhelpful habits, so we can choose new ways of acting and being. This allows us to be adaptable, which is invaluable, particularly when we’re facing such huge changes in our way of life.

For those of us fortunate enough to avoid the virus, remember what Charles Darwin said:

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change”.

Coronavirus and Alexander Technique lessons

Well the short explanation is that they don’t go together! Alexander Technique lessons are a hands-on teaching procedure, so we can’t comply with the rule to keep 2 metres apart.

Alexander teachers have to cease teaching until the coronavirus epidemic has passed. Sadly, I am unable to set up my new teaching practice in Harringay at the moment but look forward to doing so in the future. Online teaching is something I aim to set up soon.

Use the Alexander Technique to help you through this difficult time

Use the Lying Down Active Rest procedure to help calm and centre yourself, for instance.  Think about your body use when doing your daily exercises.  Not only will you  help yourself keep healthy but you’ll look after your back and muscles at the same time.  There are many good books and videos on the internet about the AT.  If you have had lessons already, this is a good time for you to enjoy using all your AT skills to help you through this challenging time.

Hilary King is teaching Alexander Technique in Harringay

I have not posted here for a while as I have been busy organising to move house.  I will soon be relocating my teaching practice to the North side of Finsbury Park, in the Harringay Ladder, N4. Providing all goes well I will start teaching the Alexander Technique in Harringay in late March.

So it is with mixed feelings that I say goodbye to my Stoke Newington home for over 42 years and where I have been teaching the Alexander Technique for 33 years. I shall miss my lovely teaching room but look forward to creating another one in my new house.

Goodbye to my Alexander Technique studio in Stokey.

The Harringay Ladder is just a couple of miles further up Green Lanes and transport links are very good. It is only a couple of minutes walk to the Harringay Green Lanes Overground station and about 12 minutes walk to Manor House Tube station (or a little longer if you take the green route through Finsbury Park). The buses serving the area are – 29, 141, 341 and W5.

Watch this space for updates about my new Alexander Technique teaching practice in Harringay and do contact me for full details of my address and details of my fees.

Alexander Technique for Young Musicians

Book Launch 

Last Sunday I went to the launch party at LCATT for this great little reference booklet, ‘The Alexander Technique for Young Musicians’.  I think  AT teachers and musicians will find it a very useful resource. The authors are colleagues of mine and are an impressive trio, Judith Kleinman, Peter Buckoke and Fuensanta Zambrana Ruiz – All are Alexander teachers, performers and lecturers at major music colleges.

The Alexander Technique for Young Musicians – great little booklet!

We had wine, nibbles, chamber music and then a workshop with input from each of the authors. We explored topics found in the book – Music Practice, Body Mapping and Sensory Awareness.  Like the booklet, the workshop was clear, to the point and very useful.

Fuensanta Zambrana Ruiz, James Sholto and Peter Buckoke

The booklet uses clear language and illustrations to explore the basic concepts of the AT. For instance, I love the use of ‘Fake News’ as a way of explaining Alexander’s term ‘Faulty Sensory Appreciation‘ – Simple, right up to date and good value – so I hope many people make use of it!

Fake News

Misha Magidov

Another sad notification, this time for Misha Magidov who died on 28 May ’19 aged 90.

Misha ran the North London Teacher Training Course where I qualified as an Alexander teacher back in 1987. Misha had trained with Patrick Macdonald, who in turn trained with FM Alexander himself.  Misha was always so caring towards his students and his valuable teaching gave me a wonderful basis from which to work on myself and to teach the AT to others. Misha ran his course for many years with his lovely wife, Judith, until she went to Israel for cancer treatment but sadly died in 2005.  Misha continued to teach in Israel but he visited the UK occasionally to run some workshops for AT teachers.  We were always so pleased to experience his work again and he will be missed by many people. 

I took this photo of Misha in 2008 when I participated in a Workshop that he ran in London.