Category Archives: Alexander Technique

How Aware Are You When Driving and Cycling?

Safety First – Maintain Awareness
 
There have been so many accidents, injuries and deaths of cyclists in London recently and I believe that a lack of awareness, in both drivers and in cyclists, is part of the problem – and we can all do something about this. There are too many stories that cite drivers using their mobile phones and not paying attention to the road, for instance, so they drive into cyclists and often kill them – we all know that this behaviour and lack of awareness is dangerous. One pupil was referred to me by her Doctor for Alexander Technique lessons, because she had painful shoulder and rib injuries, plus a high level of anxiety, after being knocked off her bike by a thoughtless driver. In one sense she was lucky though, as the driver’s insurance paid for her AT lessons. 
 
Many cyclists appear to be unaware of their surroundings too! 
 
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Look Where you are Going
I have seen people texting on their mobiles and wearing earphones whilst cycling, so they cannot see or hear any signals from the traffic around them! This cyclist above is riding fast but ‘sensibly’, leading with her head into movement and her back is lengthening – so far so good. But where is she looking? She appears to be looking at the road below her, so I wonder, just how much of the traffic around her can she see and be aware of? Surely this way of cycling has to be dangerous! The only way she could see in front and around her from this position, is to lift her face and pull her head right back, thereby crunching her neck and cervical vertebrae and probably giving herself neck problems. If her handlebars were a little higher and her body more upright, she could see ahead quite easily.
This cyclist is not alone unfortunately and many people cycle with their bodies much lower and pulled down, particularly the more end-gaining cyclists who are focussed on going as fast as possible to their destination. This may be good for their hearts but it’s dangerous in other ways.
London Cyclists
 
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The group norm here seems to be to look down onto the road in front!
If you look at the photo above carefully, you can see that only a couple of cyclists in this London group appear to be looking out and about! The rest look down rather tensely, with eyes glazed-over, which is risky to say the least. It is so easy to get caught up in riding as quickly as possible from A to B, that it is easy to lose awareness of the actual process of riding and what’s going on around you. This photo is in stark contrast to the photo of some Danish cyclists below, who are alert and poised as they ride in the city. They are able to look where they are going because they are using a much more upright position with higher handlebars, so they are comfortably looking ahead as they ride. They also look less stressed which must have a lot to do with the fact they have proper cycle lanes to use but I believe that the way they are riding helps them too.
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Photo: The Times
 
The Way We Ride Matters
 
I have worked with many AT pupils on what to think about when riding a bike or driving a car. I sometimes sit people on the exercise bike for part of their AT lesson, not to see how fast they can cycle but to explore how they sit and what happens in their body when they start cycling. All sorts of unhelpful habits are revealed and then I can help people to let go of them so they cycle with improved use. A pupil’s comments a couple of days ago made me think about these issues again:
 “When I think about Alexander Technique whilst driving and cycling, I am more alert and more able to respond to traffic – and I don’t get back pain any more”
 
The Alexander Technique Can Enable Us to Cycle More Safely.
 

 

It’s not just about the position we sit in that matters but that is a good starting point. Being conscious of whether we hold the handlebars (or steering wheel) with awareness, or grab it with a strong grip, is one point. When cycling, do we just think of pushing ourselves forwards with our legs, or do we think of leading with our head to aid the forward momentum?  Do we have so much weight going through our arms that our shoulders are hunched and ache with tension and our wrists are getting painful? 
 
As drivers and cyclists, are we so caught up with end-gaining and ‘getting there in time’ that we lose awareness of how we are riding or driving right now and what is happening around us? This is the route through to trouble – but we can choose
to change ourselves and our behaviour, so that we can remain mindful not only of our body-use but also of our surroundings during these activities.
In Alexander lessons we can learn to minimise tension and help ourselves keep calm. We can sit in a manner that lets us see where we are going without hurting our necks, protects our backs and allows us to see around and make use of our peripheral vision, which will help keep ourselves and other people safe. Surely this is a much more enjoyable way to cycle and to drive, as well?

 

Use the Alexander Technique to Help You Get Stronger

TV’s Trust Me I’m a Doctor  – ‘How to get stronger in just a few weeks without going to the gym!’

 
In the first programme of a new TV series, Dr Michael Mosley demonstrated novel ways to increase muscle strength in a few weeks, purely through performing everyday tasks such as washing up and hoovering differently – and he could almost have been showing us how to use Alexander Technique procedures during daily activities in order to become stronger and healthier! I really like this approach to exercise and it is one that I have worked on with some of my pupils. This is in addition to their standard Alexander lessons and we do not use a ‘set of exercises’. One big thing missing in the TV programme, as is so often the case, is that there was little mention as to how to perform these tasks, apart from a warning to ‘look after your back’. In the info available on the programme’s website, there are a few more instructions available but they could be refined and extended, to great advantage.
 
 
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Deep Monkey for Picking Things Up and Cleaning Teeth
 
A partial squatting movement, or monkey position, was suggested by Mosley to use for both picking up shopping bags and for cleaning the teeth – both of which are standard applications of AT procedures. One difference was that Mosley used some deep squats repeatedly, in order to strengthen the leg and buttocks muscles. Unfortunately he twisted round towards the camera as he cleaned his teeth, which would not have helped his back – of course he wouldn’t usually have cameras in his bathroom, so perhaps he wouldn’t twist as he bent forwards. This twisting is the type of problem to look out for and the sort of thing that so easily creeps in when we perform tasks repeatedly, particularly if we are endgaining and just doing ‘x’ amount of repeats in order to ‘get stronger’. However, they are difficult to notice on our own ans our habits are so familiar to us. If an AT teacher can help us be mindful of how we perform such movements, this is a simple exercise to add in our our daily routine in order to maintain leg strength whilst incorporating the AT. How wonderful our language is! I’ve just realised that ‘incorporate‘ means to ‘take in’ and ‘embody‘ so yes, we want the AT to be embodied within us, so that we use it for everything we do.
 
Lunges Whilst Hoovering
 
I also teach people to use a lunge whilst doing tasks such as sweeping and hoovering but Mosley uses a much deeper lunge than usual, in order to increase leg strength. An important aspect of this movement to be aware of, is to keep the hips knees and ankles in line with each other, so that you avoid twisting them The programme website repeatedly states ‘do not let your knees go out in front of your toes’ and if you are unused to exercise this can be a good maxim to follow but make sure you do not lock in your hip and ankle joints plus over-use your thigh muscles in order to block the forward movement of your knees. However, if you are aware of your body-use, allowing your knees to ease out over your toes is no problem and this can help you to move more freely and to maintain a central balance over your feet.
 
Cleaning, Using Calf Raises
 
Rising up onto our toes to ‘demi-pointe‘ as ballet dancers call it, is another movement sometimes used in AT lessons, in order to explore our balance and the use of our feet and ankles. Many people have rather rigid ankles and rising up onto he toes can help free them up. As the TV programme suggests, this movement can be fed into daily activities when you want to reach up high or when drawing curtains for instance – Mosley demonstrated this whilst at a kitchen sink. It is easy to habitually lead with the hips when rising to the toes, which causes the back to arch, creating an imbalance throughout the whole body. This habit can be avoided which allows us to direct the movement so that the head leads and the whole body follows, rising up onto the toes whilst continuing to be in alignment. Balance will improve too.
 
Interestingly, a pupil brought an air-filled cushion to her AT lesson and told me that she has been using it like a wobble board and has been standing on it whilst washing up. That adds some fun and interest to a daily chore! What she noticed was that she has a habit of thrusting her pelvis forwards (like Mosley) in order to rest on the sink, which actually threw her off balance. When she thought through how she was moving, she allowed her head to lead her into the standing movement and was then able to stand on the wobble board using a small monkey position over the sink. This protected her back and allowed her to balance more easily.  
 
Bicep Curls, Tricep Extensions, Deadlift and Oblique Twists
 
I haven’t used these in AT lessons unless someone has specifically
asked to explore such movements and sometimes this can be a useful thing to do, in order to learn how to avoid habits which could contribute to strains and other problems. I do often work with people to find a way for them to rotate their bodies with greater freedom and flexibility – this is a useful movement to make occasionally if you are desk-bound for several hours – and I have found it helps free me up as I am sitting writing this. Take extra care if you want to include weights whilst rotating, as Mosley suggests!  Strenuous twists holding weights could be a quick route through to hurting your back…
 
Wall Press-ups
 
This is another movement which has been explored by my students quite frequently in
Alexander lessons and it can be performed quite easily. The most important thing to think about from an Alexander Technique perspective, is to keep noticing your body-use and not get caught up in endgaining in order to just do lots of press-ups. As soon as our attention wavers from thinking about the means whereby we are performing such a movement all sorts of mis-use can start coming into play – the neck can become contracted, the lower back can start arching, the jaw can tighten and a load of unhelpful tension can build up – which is not strength, just tension.
 
I love working with people in order to explore how to use the Alexander Technique to underpin and enhance their movements. Yes the AT can help us be calm and quietly balanced as we sit, stand and lie down and it can also help us free up so we are more dynamic, moveable and even stronger without having to pump iron!

Bend Your Knees When You Cough and Sneeze!

It’s the Time for Coughs and Sneezes!
 
An osteopath told me that some patients come to her because they have hurt their backs when sneezing and coughing. So, as winter arrives, yet more people may find their way to her door, unless they find a way of avoiding this problem to begin with. One way to help ourselves is through looking after our backs by having Alexander Technique lessons and being more mindful of how we use our bodies during everyday activities – even when coughing and sneezing!
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One of the main reasons that we can hurt our backs when coughing, is that if we habitually hold ourselves in a fixed manner with contracted, tense back muscles, this tightness will be increased by the strong spasms of coughing and sneezing, which will obviously be more exaggerated if you have a long bout of coughing. The lower back in the lumbar region can be particularly vulnerable and the jolting can jar the spine or strain the muscles, sometimes even damaging an intervertebral disc, causing great pain. There can also be a problem for people with hypermobility, as they can sometimes dislocate their joints if their body gets jolted strongly.

Protect Your Back 
If we anticipate these sorts of problem, we can cough and sneeze with some awareness and protect our backs. If we are standing we can unlock our hips, knees and ankles so that they can bend a little and, ideally, allow the back to continue lengthening even whilst we cough. Take care to align your hips, knees and ankles so that your knees move forwards and outwards over your toes without twisting.

If you have had some AT lessons, you can remind yourself to use a small (and moveable) monkey position when coughing. If we are sitting, we can free the hip joints and let our bodies angle slightly forwards from the hips, so that the torso is freer to move around as it needs to.

This allows our muscles to respond more with more elasticity but with direction so that there is a centredness within the coughing and this allows our ribs to expand and contract more easily with the spasms. In this way, the jolts can be softened and ripple through us, rather than straining us. As I have personally found, this way of sneezing and coughing can also be helpful for people after having abdominal surgery, possibly with the addition of holding the abdomen during the sneeze, to give the muscles more support.
Let the Tension Go Again

Importantly, let the tension go again after coughing and allow your chest to uncurl and open up again. If you forget to do this, the tension and inevitable pulling down that takes place when coughing will just go on building up. If you can lie down in semi-supine afterwards that can help enormously but sometimes it is hard to lie down horizontally if you have a bad cough. In which case, make sure your back (and head?) has good support and spend a few minutes encouraging your chest and back to free up again, just as you would if you were practising the lying down procedure.

The more able you are to have a free neck and back, the more resilient your muscles will be and the more efficient the coughs can be too. Even if you have not had Alexander Lessons, you can help protect your back as you allow your legs, with their moveable hips, knees and ankles, to act as shock absorbers when you cough and work your way back to health.

Remember: Bend your knees when you cough and sneeze!

Alexander Technique and Movement

The Alexander Technique is Not Just About Sitting and Standing!

Although the Alexander Technique is well known for helping people with their poise and their backs, and in particular for using the Lying Down Procedure, the Technique can also help us move more mindfully in a wide range of activities. Many professional dancers, musicians and sports people use the AT whilst performing, for instance. I wish I had learned the Technique when I was working as a ballet dancer – I know it would have helped me in many ways!
 
 

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Clissold Park Skatepark
 
This young man has kindly allowed me to use this great photo of him. He has not had AT lessons but using a skateboard demands that he has good balance, poise, co-ordination and a flexible body-use – all aspects of movement which can be enhanced and refined through learning the AT. 
 
Interestingly, as he swoops around the skatepark, he is using a very active version of what we call monkey position (although I like to use the term ‘monkey movement’ to avoid people holding a position with rigidity). The young man has his legs bent and flexed at the hip joints with the torso angled forwards and this gives him an excellent base from which to balance, as he constantly re-adjusts himself over the fast-moving skateboard. You can also see how he is leading into his movements with his eyes and head, whilst maintaining a lengthened spine.
 
This way of using the body in order to bend forwards, is an important procedure which we learn to use in AT lessons, although we mainly align the head and neck forwards and away from the spine for most activities, rather than having it turned around, as the skateboarder has to do in order to see where he is going.
 
As an Alexander Technique teacher, I use variations of this movement constantly whilst I am teaching, so that I can bend forwards towards my pupils whilst protecting my own back, particularly when I need to reach over someone who is lying on the AT table in semi-supine. F M Alexander used to call this ‘the position of mechanical advantage’ which it definitely is – but his student teacher trainees were very quick to rename it as ‘monkey position’.
 
This way of using our bodies can also be used in more mundane ways, with small versions of this monkey-like movement being very useful when chopping vegetables or bending forwards to clean our teeth!
Want to try out the AT? Individual lessons are available on a regular basis.

Evidence of Text Neck in 7 Year Old Children!

Text Neck

 

Following on from my previous Blog entry on the condition called ‘text neck’ , it is interesting to see that the Daily Mail has published an article about an Australian chiropractor, Dr James Carter, who has reported seeing ‘an alarming increase’ in the number of patients coming to him with text neck within the last 2 years – and that about 50 percent of those patients have been school-aged children.

 

Dr Carter, and many other practitioners, have been finding very obvious postural changes associated with text neck, which lead to spinal damage and pain in people – including children as young as seven – which Carter puts down to their addictive over-use of smart phones and tablets for many hours at a time. 

 

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X-Ray of Seven Year Old Child’s Neck

These X-ray photos illustrate the damage to the neck that can result from this type of prolonged misuse. The first one is, sadly, of a seven year old boy and it shows just how compressed the cervical vertebrae are and how over-curved the neck has become, so that the head is pulled back and down. What cannot be seen in these particular X-ray photos is the way this compression continues downwards, into the rest of the spine.

 

Of course children are very mobile physically and it’s possible for them to assume this sort of position temporarily and then to come out of it into a more aligned poise with a more suitably lengthened-out neck. However, the more frequently such contracted positions are assumed, the more habitual this way of being becomes for the child – so the less mobile and adaptable the child’s body-use becomes and the more damage ensues .

 

The second of Dr Carter’s photos shows a more normal curve in the neck. This is particularly obvious at the top of the neck, which shows a space between the top vertebra and the skull – a crucial area which we need to keep freely moving, in order to enable good poise, balance and general body-use. Freeing up this area is a central part of Alexander Technique lessons.

 

F M Alexander’s ‘Directions’ that he formulated for us to use on an everyday basis, is one of the AT tools we can use to help us avoid this back-and-down compression. If the 7 year old child was able to give himself these directions regularly, this would allow his spine to freely lengthen out again, in a similar manner to that shown in the second photo. FM’s directions are regularly taught in AT lessons and give people a wonderful tool with which to help themselves:

 

Allow my neck to be free

To allow my head to go forward and up

To allow my back to lengthen and widen

 

 

 

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X-Ray of ‘Normal’ Curvature of the Neck

Avoid Developing Text Neck

Text Neck is Painful – Avoid it!
 
It was good to see some research published last year by Dr Kenneth Hansraj, in which he demonstrated how damaging it can be for us to spend time dropping the head forwards in order to use a smart phone – which many people do for several hours a day. This habit can result in people developing a condition called ‘Text neck’ and this is something that Alexander Teachers and other practitioners are seeing in increasing numbers, as people want help with reducing pain and discomfort. 
 
The problem of text neck comes about because of the weight of our heads and the manner in which we use our bodies to support it or, most likely, do not support it efficiently.
 
 
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I took this photo of some young men in London. They were all on their phones. All hunching over them in a variety of different ways. If you think about just how heavy those heads are, (see below) you can begin to sense how they drag on the neck muscles and compress the spine.
 
Symptoms of Text Neck: 
  • Headaches, 
  • Neck Pain, 
  • Upper Back Pain
  • Shoulder Pain
  • Increased Curvature of the Spine
Add to this an increase in the number of people developing RSI and you can see that using smart phones can be a risky business, unless you are careful.
 
Our heads are surprisingly heavy. 
 
An adult’s head weighs between 10 – 12 lbs, or 4.5 – 5.0 kg. Human heads are heavy!. When I give someone their first Alexander lesson, I often ask them to hold a couple of weights that, together, weigh 8.8 lbs / 4 kgs and I explain that the weights almost certainly weigh less than their heads. Most people are really shocked!  
 
When we have a neutral, upright poise, so that the head balances freely on the top vertebra, we do not notice the weight of the head much. However, when the head and neck are dropped forwards, as in the diagram below, we do begin to notice, and the impact of that big weight increases the more pulled down we are. When someone’s head is dropped forwards to an angle of 60 degrees, the weight seen by the spine is massively increased to 60 lbs. No wonder we begin to get neck, back and shoulder ache! If this misuse and position become a habit, then we begin to damage the cervical spine with an increased curvature, which can get fixed into a very hunched postural position. 
 
Of course this sort of habit can also develop from performing other activities whilst dropping the head forwards and down – for instance when reading books, sewing, performing craft-work or computing – I take care to think about my body use when writing this, so that I avoid contracting down over the keyboard.

 

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How Much Time do You Spend on Your Phone? How do You Use it?
 
If you take note of your habits, you may be surprised by the amount of time you hunch down over your cell phone – the average is between 2 – 4 hours per day. Are you reading this Blog on your phone right now? How much tension are you using whilst phoning and texting? 
 
Perhaps mobile phones are more of a problem than other activities, because they get taken around with people all the time and demand our attention incessantly – it is hard to escape them! Often they are work phones, so people can be stressed by being contacted by work when they want to relax, or by having work problems follow them around all day. When we are stressed, we tend to be more tense and contracted and this just exacerbates any problems we may have with the way we use ourselves whilst on the phone. This sort of thing also contributes to RSI. 
 
So How Do You Avoid Painful Text Neck Developing?
 
You can probably begin to see that it is worth paying attention to your phone use, because once you are aware of your habits, you can choose to do things differently and begin to avoid building up problems for yourself.
 
The young man in this photo below demonstrates how we can use the Alexander Technique to be mindful of our body use and be seated in an easy but poised manner. Note how he brings the phone up towards his eyes so that he can read the screen without disturbing the balance of the head on his neck, which is able to remain lengthening in alignment with the rest of his spine. He could also text or play games in this position and could maintain this sort of body use if he were standing.
 
Sometimes I will work with people whilst they demonstrate how they use their mobile phone, as part of their AT lesson. This can be really helpful, as people often begin to notice habits they were totally unaware of and they are then able to be more mindful about their body use when they are out and about, texting, phoning and playing games. 
 
As one pupil reported after starting AT lessons:
 
I’m more relaxed and don’t feel so dizzy as before and I have less neck pain”
 
Discover how to have fun on your phone, without feeling exhausted and achy afterwards!
 
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Photo: STAT

How Can We Maintain a Child’s Fluidity of Movement?

Leading With the Head
 
I have been looking again at the excellent book ‘Body Awareness in Action’ by Frank Pierce Jones and have been reminded of the similarity between aspects of F M Alexander’s work and the research findings of a famous physiologist.
 
F M Alexander began to develop his idea of there being a ‘Primary Control‘ mechanism of the head and neck in relation to the rest of the body, as early as 1912. He then began using the instructions, or ‘directions‘, for pupils to allow ‘the neck to relax and the head to go forward and up‘ both as they sat quietly or when began to move – for instance to stand up. These directions were a means to help his pupils regain, or even find, the natural type of movement and body use that most children have initially but often lose. Learning how to give ourselves these directions forms an essential part of Alexander Technique lessons today.
Some of Alexander’s medical friends who knew his teaching theories, pointed him to the work of the German physiologist Prof. Rudolph Magnus, who was researching the head and neck reflexes of mammals in the laboratory. Magnus’s best known book was Körperstellung 1924 (‘Posture’) and the Magnus & De Kleijn reflexes have been named after him and his colleague.
As Dr Peter Macdonald stated in his paper published in the BMJ (Dec 25 1926) Alexander’s rather similar concept appeared to anticipate Magnus’s research which postulated that:
The whole mechanism of the body acts in such a way that the head leads and the body follows”. 
 
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A pupil of mine kindly allowed me to use this photo of the little girl above. She so obviously leads her movement with her head and her body follows as she fluidly pulls her trolley behind her. She is alert and poised, yet she is also active and purposeful.
I doubt whether many adults, or even teenagers, would display such freedom of movement as they pull luggage around on their travels! Many would be tensely contracting down into themselves, twisting the whole body as they pulled the suitcase along.
It is possible to re-learn how to move more freely and I have found it helpful to spend some time with pupils, as part of an AT lesson, exploring how they move suitcases around, so they can think about this activity before they go off on holiday. When they give themselves the directions ‘I will allow my head to go forward and up’ so that it can lead them into their movement, their body plus suitcase, easily follow.
It is such a shame that so many people lose this easy balance and poise as they grow up and then have to re-learn it. FM Alexander always wanted to use his AT work to prevent problems of mis-use from developing in the first place. How much better if we can help children to feel happily confident in their bodies, so they are able to continue to move around easily, in a freely balanced and coordinated manner.
When the Alexander Technique becomes an everyday part of a child’s home life and school day, as in the lovely little school Educare, then it will be easier to avoid habits of distortion and tension creeping in, despite the various stresses the world throws at us and we can help children maintain their easy poise and fluidity of movement.

Alexander in Education

Alexander Technique in Schools 
 
There’s a great new video available on YouTube called ‘Alexander in Education’ and it is designed to promote the AT as a subject to be taught throughout general education
The AT is already being taught in a good number of primary and secondary schools, plus colleges and universities and it is really proving to be a wonderful tool for those who learn it. Not only does it help with problems such as back pain but is also reported as giving children, as well as adults, greater confidence and learning it helps to increase their attention span. But there are many many schools that do not use the AT yet and they could very much benefit from doing so.
Studying and Homework can be Stressful
Teaching children to sit, write, draw, play music and sports with awareness and ease reduces stress and discomfort, whilst helping prevent problems such as back pain from developing. This work also gives children a tool they can use throughout the rest of their lives.
The child in the photo is doing some drawing for her homework with an easy poise as she holds her pen in a comfortable manner. Unfortunately many of us lose this natural balance and way of using our bodies as we grow up, through stress, overwork, illness and accidents. Sadly, I have had several teenagers come to me for AT lessons who have already developed back pain and RSI. If the Alexander Technique was part of the school curriculum as F M Alexander wished, many children would be spared the pain of developing such problems.
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F M Alexander’s Little School 
Alexander opened a school in London in 1924, with the help of Ethel Webb and Irene Tasker who was a Montessori trained teacher. The children had ordinary lessons at the Little School and the Alexander Technique was embedded into the teaching, so the way the children performed their work and lived their day was a very important part of their learning experience. Unfortunately the second world war started and the children were evacuated to America and the school was never re-established after the war ended.
Today, there is just one primary school in the UK called Educare that runs along very similar lines to FM’s Little School, with the AT embedded into the way the school works and how the children learn. At the other end of learning, the AT is also embedded into the degree course at the Royal College of Music and many other institutions offer the AT alongside other lessons. It would be so good if all schools used the Alexander Technique to form the foundations, upon which all other subjects could build.
Take a look at the video Alexander in Education and do let other people know about it. Let’s get the Alexander Technique into more schools:

Caring for the Carers

Caring for the Carers with the Alexander Technique 

This is Carers Week in the UK and it is great to draw people’s attention to the fact that carers very often get little support for what is often a lonely, stressful, challenging and exhausting activity. The Carers Week Website cites some research that shows that, as a result of their caring responsibilities, 84% of carers felt more stressed, 78% more anxious and 55% experienced depression (State of Caring 2015). It can be tough being a carer!
 
Some years ago I ran ‘Stress and Relaxation‘ and  ‘Caring for the Carers‘ courses in Adult Education Colleges and I was made very aware of just how difficult a life it can be for carers and how isolated they can feel. Unfortunately, carers often spend so much time caring for others that they forget to look after themselves – or even feel that they have no right to look after themselves or have time off – and this can result in their getting exhausted, unable to cope, angry, resentful, anxious, depressed or ill. Back problems are also a frequent outcome from lifting inappropriately, or from experiencing high levels of stress and tension. None of which is good for the carer, or good for the person being cared for. 
 
There are also many people who work in caring professions and locally, there are lots of charity workers who also tend to put other people and their needs first. 
 
“It’s Selfish to Put Myself First” – NOT NECESSARILY!
 
Have you ever travelled by plane and listened to the Pre-flight Safety Instructions? If so, you will have heard that it is important to put your own oxygen mask on first, before putting one on anyone else who needs assistance. People accept that idea on a plane but are often less happy to think that way at home, even though the same dynamics are true in the rest of life – you will help others far better when you look after yourself and avoid putting yourself at risk or making yourself ill from overwork
 
Sometimes that means putting yourself first, for a change. 
 
So how can the Alexander Technique help?
 
The AT is a wonderful tool that you can use throughout your life. Once you have learned how to use the AT during your daily activities it can, for instance, help you to cope with stressful situations, calm yourself, reduce tension and avoid injuries.  
 
The most obvious tool you can use is the Lying Down or Constructive Rest Procedure and this can quickly help you to unwind and rejuvenate yourself, so that you can proceed with the next part of the day’s activities from a calmer and more centred place in yourself. It is also great at helping you to reduce tension and back pain.
 
These women were learning how to use the active rest procedure in an Intro Workshop on International Women’s Day 2015. 
 
Calm ~ Mindful ~ Unwinding ~ Centred ~ Freeing-up ~ Alert ~ Calm 
 
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STOP and Count to Ten
 
There are many other less obvious ways in which the AT can help us cope with difficult situations. For instance, the old technique of ‘stop and count to 10‘ is familiar to many as a useful anger management technique. More subtle but similar, is the Alexander Technique use of inhibition. With this we learn to stop briefly in order to avoid rushing into a habitual reaction to something, so that we can more thoughtfully choose how we want to respond. (This process is a lot quicker than counting to 10!)
 
Inhibition can be applied to avoiding all sorts of habits, from tightening our neck muscles as we rise out of a chair, saying ‘no’ to shouting at someone, to reacting with tension as we begin to use a computer – or even in reaction to just thinking of using one. When we are aware, we can notice all sorts of habitual reactions to both the outside world and also to our own internal thoughts. Once we have noticed them, we can learn to have more choice about whether or not we react habitually, or choose to respond differently. 
 
Stress
 
Some situations are extremely stressful and we may have little chance to change things. However, we do have some choice as to how we react to stress and this can be invaluable in helping all of us, not just carers, to cope with the difficulties and challenges that are in our lives. We can use the AT as we travel on crowded transport, deal with a screaming child or try to unwind after a day’s work… you name the stress and using the AT will probably help you with it.
 
For instance, a pupil told me that using the Alexander Technique helped her to remain calm, still and relaxed, when cooped up in the machine to have an MRI scan, despite having thought she would feel claustrophobic in it.
 
Once we learn the Alexander Technique, we can use the AT during all our activities, every day. In so doing we can feel less helpless in the face of stress, because we know we have a tool we can use to help ourselves and to take care of ourselves in many, many different situations. 
 

Lower Back Pain linked to Chimpanzee Spine Shape?

Research Study 

 
A BBC article discusses a Research Study by scientists from Scotland, Canada and Iceland which has been published in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology, which suggests that some peoples’ lower back pain may be caused by the shape of their vertebrae.
 
When the scientists studied the skeletons of ancient humans, chimpanzees and orangutans they found that some human skeletons that showed evidence of intervertebral disc herniation, had vertebrae more similar in shape to chimps than to other humans without disc damage. Chimps do not walk with an upright stance as we do and the argument put forward by the researchers is that in some people, the evolutionary development of the spine contains “pathological vertebrae” which “may be less well adapted for walking upright”.
 
 
Chimpanzee_knuckle_walking.jpg
Photo: BBC
It may well be that some people are genetically more predisposed to having lower back pain than others but there seems to be little mention in the research paper of the impact of our body-use and habits of mis-use that contribute to back problems such as a ‘slipped disc’, other than saying that they appear to be caused by strain and stress on the pathological vertebrae which cannot support the downward compression, so cannot protect the discs. If some people do have spines that are more vulnerable to the sort of compression and distortion that contribute to having a ‘slipped disc’, then it is surely even more important that they learn to use their bodies in the most aligned and effective manner, in order to protect the discs and prevent their herniation.
Habitual Mis-use
 
When we curl over, the vertebrae and discs contract down on one side and can push the soft tissue of the discs so that they bulge out, or herniate. This is not just a problem for the lumbar region of the back but we can get slipped discs in the neck and other areas of the spine as well, if they are continually compressed with habitual mis-use, or as the result of an accident. This wooden dummy does not have vertebrae but the discs of wood representing the torso can be seen to be angled, narrowed and compressed on one side, just as the vertebrae and the discs between them would be. 
 
Bending curling 2.jpg
Monkey Position
 
This research paper gives a new slant on F M Alexander’s concept of using ‘monkey position’ or ‘the position of mechanical advantage’ as he called it, which allows us to bend forwards from the hip joints, thus allowing the spine to remain lengthening – which protects the vertebrae and the intervertebral discs from compression and distortion. You can see in this photo which is illustrating ‘monkey position’ the wooden discs forming the body are more evenly spaced and opened out – if these were our vertebrae, you can see that this allows more space between them, which would not compress the discs in the same way as above.
 
Monkey model 1.jpg
Nature or Nurture?
 
This debate about the impact of our genetic inheritance and the impact of our learning throughout our lives will continue. I suggest that for most conditions, it is an interplay between both that we have to live and work with. Fortunately, most of us do have choices available to us about the way we live, use, mis-use or even abuse our bodies. As the BBC puts it ‘Back pain is a very common issue in humans’ – but many hours lost at work through back pain could be avoided, if people learned how to move differently, so that they protect their backs as they sit, walk and work throughout the day. It can be done, as the ATEAM Research Trial showed, which found that Alexander Technique lessons significantly reduced chronic lower back pain and was more effective than either massage or a Doctor’s exercise prescription.