Elisabeth Walker ~ December 1914 – 17 September 2013
It is with great sadness that I heard of the death of Elisabeth Walker, an inspiring teacher and the last of the first generation of AT teachers who trained with F M Alexander himself.
Elisabeth ran an AT Teacher Training course in Oxford for many years with her husband Dick Walker and she was a guest teacher and speaker at many international Alexander Conferences and events. Her fascinating memoir ‘Forward and Away’ shows us just how important her family and her life as an Alexander Teacher were to her. Thankfully we can still watch a valuable record of her teaching on various videos on YouTube.
In 2004 an extremely youthful Elisabeth Walker attended the 7th Alexander Technique Conference in Oxford and was seen cycling to and from the Conference each day – at the age of 90!
Elisabeth will be missed by many people and I would like to offer my condolences to her family, particularly to Lucia Walker and Julia Cowper, who are both Alexander teachers. There will be a memorial and celebration of her life, some time next year.
will be buried at Westmill Woodland Burial Ground on Friday 5th October.
Poised for Life
We can learn a lot from small children if we take notice of how they use their bodies as they unselfconsciously move around. Unless they have some physical problems, most small children move about very freely, are alert, poised and ready for life.
This one year old found a tortoise on the grass (an ornamental one, fortunately) and decided it would make a good seat, so she squatted down and started to look at it. This involved rocking forwards from her hip joints, with her hips, knees and ankles quite free and moveable, so that she could see and touch the tortoise’s head – she sat there for some time investigating the tortoise, with lovely poise and alignment.
In Western societies we use chairs more and more as we grow up, so we often loose that lovely freedom in our hip joints that this child demonstrates. It has been interesting recently in London to see people from other cultures, who often sit in a squat whilst waiting at bus stops. Quite elderly people have maintained freedom in their hips and joints and are able to squat with ease and poise.
Many children in the UK begin to loose their natural poise as they get older. They slump as they watch television for hours, imitate the people around them and go to school where they sit at desks for long periods of time – often with unhelpful chairs to sit on
. All too frequently this results in children crumpling themselves over their work, which can contribute to back pain, headaches
and other disorders, even at a young age.
F M Alexander
was very keen to help children avoid developing unhelpful habits
and he ran a school in which his Technique was taught as part of the curriculum. These days music and drama colleges often teach the Alexander Technique to their students but sadly there are too few ordinary schools that include the AT on the syllabus.
It is easier to prevent problems of mis-use
arising, than to change our habits as an adult and many children have benefited from having Alexander lessons
, so they learn to let go of habits that cause them problems and begin to maintain their naturally free movements, so that they remain poised for life.
One Cause of Back Pain
Richard Brennan, an Irish Alexander Technique teacher has created a petition which I fully support, that asks for backward-sloping school chairs to be made illegal in Ireland. However, I would also like this to happen in the UK – and elsewhere.
Why? Well the backward slope of the chair offers poor support to children’s backs and the backward angle of the seat encourages the child to curve their spines over their work, rather than to hinge forwards from the hip joints – a movement that allows the spine to remain lengthening. A long spine is a strong spine.
Backward Sloping School Chairs Cause Back Pain
BackCare UK and STAT argue that these chairs are a major cause of back problems in adults, as a result children using them for hours on end at school – because curling forwards in this way for hours on end encourages the mis-use of their bodies which causes damage such as kyphosis, resulting in back pain for many people later in life. (If you would like to see what kyphosis looks like, see my previous Blog entry here.)
Photos Copyright: Richard Brennan
Children who end up curving down over their desks may be learning with their heads but their bodies are being badly educated! Our language encourages a downward contraction as we work – for instance ‘Nose to the grindstone…. Getting down to work… She had her nose in a book… I must say that adults have similar problems when using backward sloping chairs, whilst many pushchairs that crumple up a baby’s spine are problematic as well.
Using a seat wedge can help a child remain poised even in a backward sloping chair but how much better if the chairs were designed for people, not just for stacking.
Of course, children can still slouch and end up with back pain, even if they have the ‘perfect’ chair and desk to sit at and ultimately it is the way they sit and use their bodies that is crucial. Children can learn the Alexander Technique, which will help them to minimise the problems associated with poor body-use and this will help them avoid pain in the future. This process will be so much easier if children are also given decent seats to sit on whilst they are growing up, developing their own posture and learning how to use their bodies.
Sign the Petition
So please support Richard Brennan’s petition. Visit the URL below, Sign up and draw this issue to the attention of policy makers:
Research to Help Chronic Neck Pain
Another major research trial into the Alexander Technique has just started at York University, funded by Arthritis Research UK.
The 3 year randomised controlled trial will compare the Alexander Technique, Acupuncture and regular GP care in the treatment of 450 people with chronic neck pain. Once the results of the trial are available, it is hoped that this will enable recommendations to be made about the most suitable treatment/s for neck pain to be used within the NHS.
It is already known that both lessons in the Alexander Technique, or having some Acupuncture treatments can be effective in reducing problems such as neck pain but this has not been backed up by clinical research, so this is a very welcome study.
Tim Giles, award-winning Composer and Jazz Drummer – and now Alexander Teacher.
Tim Giles has just graduated (July 2011) from LCATT, the local Alexander Technique Teacher Training School where I am a visiting teacher. He is seen here playing at LCATT’s end of term party.Tim was one of my Alexander pupils before he joined the STAT recognised Training Course and it is great to see him qualify as an AT teacher.
I am pleased to say that Tim will be assisting me with the upcoming Short Intro Course in September – which means that participants will be able to have hands-on work both from myself and from Tim.
This introductory course is for a small group, so if you are interested in attending, please note that it is essential to enrol in advance.
Earlybird Reduced Fee is available if you pay before 30th August
Further info about AT Teacher Training can be found here.
Slouching and poor posture is the topic of an article in today’s Mail Online (24 Jan 2011) in which Bella Blissett urges women not to copy the stars on the catwalk, who can be seen in various distorted postures wearing a series of excruciatingly high heels (which in themselves can cause back problems – see my article on wearing high heels).
Research linking poor posture to depression and the fact that 1 in 5 people in the UK see their GPs for back pain is sited in the article. Various cures are suggested – but unfortunately the Alexander Technique is not mentioned, despite the fact that Blissett states that ‘many of them could be cured if they learned to improve their dynamic posture
so that they ‘ stand and sit properly’, which is a big part of what people learn when they come for AT lessons.
As the ATEAM Research Trial showed, the Alexander Technique really can help people to reduce chronic back pain and to improve the quality of their life.
Introductory Lessons and a Workshop just for Women
Of course, back pain and slouching are not only found in women, for many men have similar problems. If you would like to try out the Technique, introductory lessons
of one hour are available at the same price as regular 3/4 hour lessons -at the moment.
You might prefer to try out the Technique in a workshop just for women. If so, ask for an Application Form online for the upcoming Introductory Workshop for Women
on 6 March at 2.30pm. This is linked to International Women’s Day.
Please book in advance, as the workshop is for a small group.
You may also phone Hilary for more information: 020 7254 9206
The Department of Health has requested all GPs and Chief Nursing Officers to refer patients who are seeking to use a complementary therapy such as the Alexander Technique, to practitioners who are Registered with the CNHC, The Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council.
The Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique, STAT, has worked hard with the CNHC in order to bring about the voluntary regulation of AT teachers. The CNHC Register has been set up so that GPs and the public can see which practitioners, including myself, ‘have been assessed as meeting national standards of competence and practice’.
Hopefully, this will benefit everyone and prospective pupils can be reassured, if they need to be, that an external professional body, plus STAT, are monitoring our standards as AT teachers.
Hilary King is on the CNHC Register.
The Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council, CNHC has been set up with the help of the Prince’s Foundation, to develop a structure of self-regulation for professional disciplines such as the Alexander Technique.
CNHC will work with the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique, STAT, to maintain and monitor high standards of Alexander Technique teaching and of professional Codes of Conduct. The CNHC is developing and expanding the number of disciplines that are eligible to join the register.
If you are already having Alexander Technique lessons, you might like to join AT Friends and go to some of their talks and Workshops, which take place at various venues around the country. These talks are an excellent way for you to extend your understanding of AT work and to meet other people who have some experience of the Alexander Technique.
Joining costs very little and the talks cost even less.
The next talk for London AT Friends is:
Thinking in Activity – How Space Shapes Attention ~ by Glenna Batson
Date: Tuesday 20 April
Time: 6.30 – 8.30
Fee: £5 (£3 Concession)
For further info visit:
Switch Off to show you care about Climate Change
27 March 8.30pm
your habits and turn off all electrics that are not essential for one
hour. No lights, no TV, no music, no computer…. Have fun and create a different sort of evening for yourself, along with hundreds of people around the world that are joining this WWF campaign. Draw attention to the issues involved with adapting to climate
change and think about what life may be like without our familiar appliances available to us if there are power shortages in the future.
So why am I mentioning this here on my Alexander Technique Blog?
I aim to run my Alexander Technique teaching practise in an environmentally aware way and work towards being as energy efficient as I can, so this falls naturally into my field of awareness.
Also, in Alexander lessons, we are always learning how to let go of habits that don’t serve us and in many ways we all need to do exactly this – let go of many of our habits – in order to reduce our carbon footprints and energy consumption. How often do we leave the tap running, the lights on, or the the TV constantly on, just by habit, even though we are not even using them? What a waste of these valuable resources!
We can inhibit, stop these habits and make simple but important changes in our lives that will help conserve our fragile environment.
As the WWF says – Be Bright, Turn Off the Light!
Further info about WWF Earth Hour: