Category Archives: General

The Alexander Technique and Gardening

Apply the Alexander Technique Whilst Gardening
Gardens keep on growing and there are lots of plants needing to be tidied up, cut back and pruned. And the grass needs mowing too….
Gardening involves using our bodies in ways that many of us just don’t do in our daily lives. People often spend days sat at a desk, then do a sudden heavy bout of gardening, which can involve movements such as:
Stretch, reach, twist, bend, kneel, climb, balance, cut, saw, chop, dig, push, pull, carry, and finally sweep…

Quite a work-out – and it can be easy to strain muscles or hurt your back doing all this work. So when you are involved in activities such as gardening, be aware and remember what you have learnt in Alexander lessons. Don’t rush into things but pause, take a moment to think about how you are going to use your body when doing the next job. Give yourself directions, remind yourself not to tighten everything up ( tension is not the same thing as strength). Avoid pulling your head back but to allow your spine to lengthen into all your movements, so that you protect your neck and back.

When you need to bend, be aware of your movements and hinge forwards freely from your hip joints, adapting the monkey position as the woman in this (un-posed) photo is doing (although ideally the movement is made without a hand on the knee) and you will be more likely to avoid the back pain that so often happens after spending hours bending, mowing and digging.

Monkey whilst gardening 23-07-2012 .jpg

Equally, take care when you have to reach and to look up, in order to prune trees and bushes. Allow your neck to freely maintain as much length as you can, regularly undoing any contracted muscles whilst working. It’s great to use the active rest procedure afterwards, to allow your body to let go of any tensions that have built up whilst working.
Look after yourself and you will enjoy your gardening – and your garden – even more!

Tain’t what you do but the way that you do it….

Ella Fitzgerald’s ‘Tain’t what you do but the way that you do it’ 

Now that’s a great song and it has been suggested that it could be called ‘a hymn for the Alexander Technique’. Thanks to Margaret Almon ( US mosaic artist) for that great idea.

One of the main tenets of the Technique is precisely this, to be conscious of the way we perform our various activities, so that we can choose the most free and easy way of using our bodies for the task at hand. F M Alexander used to refer to the ‘means whereby’ we perform an activity as being crucial to the health of our bodies. He was adamant that when we get caught up in ‘end gaining‘, for instance when doing something like dancing or playing sports, we very often injure ourselves because we forget to pay attention to the way we do it and then self-medicate to cope with the pain we feel as a result..
This isn’t just something for high flyers to think about, it applies to everyday actions too. A pupil who came to me after a nasty bike accident, which had resulted in her experiencing lots of pain, said to me after she’d had a number of lessons and had taken herself off painkillers:
I now think painkillers are like evil tempters into end-gaining. It’s as if they say to you “go on, take me and do it all anyway” even when you know it would be best to stop that activity because it will hurt if you go on.’ 

Well put!
Think about how you work. When you sit at a desk, you can have the ‘perfect’ chair, desk and set-up at your disposal but if you sit in a distorted, collapsed or tense manner, giving yourself too few rests and keeping on working in order to to complete the latest deadline, you are likely to give yourself aches and pains – or may even develop more serious problems. However, when you learn to act with awareness and consciously use your body in a more balanced, poised and freely relaxed manner, pacing your work to a suitable level for your own needs, you can look after yourself and help prevent problems from developing.
If you would like help in finding out how to do this, you may like to try some Alexander lessons where such issues can be explored and worked on. 
You could also come to my next Taster Workshop on 21st April and find out more about how the Technique can help you if you learn it.
There’s a lovely version of Ella Fitzgerald singing ‘Tain’t what you do but the way that you do it’
on YouTube but for some reason I’m unable to link to it here, sorry.

Marilyn Monroe and the Alexander Technique

Marilyn Monroe may well have learned the Alexander Technique!

She certainly owned and read a good part of at least one of F M Alexander’s books,
Man’s Supreme Inheritance‘.   Marilyn must have been quite serious about reading it, as she made notes in the margins of many of the pages.
It is always good to hear of well-known people that have learned the Technique, particularly when it is one of the world’s most easily recognised, glamorous icons such as Marilyn Monroe. She was always so poised, even in her stilettos and learning the Technique may well have helped her cope with the problems wearing such shoes can cause.
This photo shows her relaxing, bright eyed, alert and happy.
Marilyn Monroe.jpg
Marilyn left a bookmark in page 157 of Man’s Supreme Inheritance, indicating that other aspects of the Technique were also of interest to her. One section that was marked is where F M Alexander discusses how our ability to be able to allow changes in our point of view is important if we want to bring about changes in ourselves :
“…in both instances all depends on the point of view, we cannot be surprised that the mere promise to reform is usually futile, and we must furthermore realize that a changed point of view is the royal road to reformation.”
Change involves deeper aspects of ourselves that we often wish not to acknowledge. It is interesting that Marilyn was exploring such issues.
Care to follow in her footsteps? Why not try the Technique out?

Yoga Aids Back Pain – but not as much as 24 Alexander Lessons

University of York Research Finds Yoga Aids Chronic Back Pain

More good news for back pain sufferers and for complementary therapists!  Another interesting research trial at the University of York, funded by Arthritis Research UK, has found that yoga helped people with back pain more than conventional GP treatment.

These results were then compared with the findings of the ATEAM Trial into treatments for chronic back pain (in which the Alexander Technique was found to be more effective than either massage and GP treatment) and it was found that:

‘The results suggested that the 12-week yoga group programme may improve back function more than exercise and manipulation, cognitive-behaviour treatment and six sessions of 1-to-1 Alexander technique, but not as much as 24 sessions of 1-to-1 Alexander technique’.

Interestingly, the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique Scientific Research Committee have pointed out that the ATEAM Trial also found significant reductions in pain experienced by the subjects having Alexander lessons, whereas the Yoga Trial did not report a significant level of pain reduction.

It is good that a body of research into the Alexander Technique and other disciplines is growing and that the findings are very encouraging and support our work as Alexander teachers.

As the comment below describes, people who just rely on drugs become habituated to them and then the drug don’t work. Learning techniques such as yoga and the Alexander Technique  gives people tools that they can use throughout their lives to improve their body use and to lesson problems such as back pain.

High Heels are Damaging Women

‘A Modern Torture’ is how Polly Vernon describes the wearing and ‘Invasion of the Killer Heels’ in The Times Magazine on 22.10.11. It’s a excellent article to read, with graphic illustrations of famous women falling off their high heels in public.

You can see an X Ray photo of a foot coping with being in a stiletto here.

As an Alexander Teacher, I have worked with several women who have back pain and problematic feet because of distortions in their posture which have mainly been created by wearing high heels continually.
The good news is, it is possible to undo a great deal of the damage, if women are willing to give up wearing high heels all the time and learn to use their bodies differently, by having Alexander Technique lessons.
You can read more in my article on Back Pain and High Heels

Degas and Movement

Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement

For anyone who is interested in movement, the use of the body and in dance, there is a fascinating Degas exhibition on at the Royal Academy of Arts. 
This exploration of Degas’ work looks deeper than the merely chocolate box images of ballet dancers with which he has tended to be associated in recent years. Early film and photographs such as the movement studies by Edweard Muybridge, which Degas may well have known, are also included in the exhibition.  

On until 11 December

Wendy Savage – Patients’ Choice and Doctors’ Responsibilities

Richard Price Memorial Lecture 2011 ~ 28 September

Wendy Savage – Patients’ Choice and Doctors’ Responsibilities
This lecture is for everyone, particularly women, who wishes to be able to make choices about their own health. People who use the Alexander Technique are already learning how to help themselves make choices, everyday, about the way they use their bodies and so influence their health and wellbeing, so this lecture may well be of interest to them
Wendy Savage is an internationally renowned gynaecologist who has always campaigned for women to be able to make choices about fertilty, childbirth and abortion.
These lectures are always popular, so book in advance.
Venue: Unitarian Church  Newington Green N16

Challenge Your Habits and Switch Off for Earth Hour

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:

Dilys Carrington 1915 – 2009

Dilys Carrington, one of the senior teachers of the Alexander Technique who had lessons and had trained with F M Alexander himself, died peacefully at her home on the 22nd September 2009.

Dilys Jones was born in Stourbridge, Worcestershire and later read Mathematics and Psychology at the University of London. For a short period, she was F M Alexander’s secretary at Ashley Place, where Alexander ran his teacher training course and his private teaching practice. Later, Dilys worked as secretary at the Physical Society.

Dilys began taking lessons with FM Alexander in 1938. In 1940 she married Walter Carrington who had graduated from Alexander’s Teacher Training Course in 1939. They had three children.

Dilys also started to train as a teacher with F M Alexander, shortly before his death in 1955. She then completed her training with Walter Carrington. Together, they developed and ran the Constructive Teaching Centre, which is still running today and is the oldest Alexander Technique Teacher Training Course.

Throughout her teaching career, Dilys was an active and influential member of STAT, the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique and was a member of the STAT Council for a number of years.

Dilys Carrington will be missed by many people.

‘Skeletons’ Exhibition at the Wellcome Collection July ’08

Skeletons – London’s Buried Bones’

If you are interested in how your body works plus how your posture, the way you use yourself and live your life, can leave it’s mark on the structure of your bones, you may want to visit the              ‘Skeletons: London’s Buried Bones’ Exhibition that has just opened at the Wellcome Collection.

The skeletons on display are from the Museum of London’s collection of 17,000 skeletons that have come from people who lived and worked in the London area over the last 16 centuries.

This exhibition looks at the events and health hazards of the day, that affected people’s lives and their skeletons. There will also be a day of activities for all ages and a public debate about why the dead are useful to study.

Perhaps seeing the wear and tear on all those bones, may encourage us to be more aware of our own body use, right now, so that we change some of our unhelpful and even damaging habits and learn to do as much as possible to look after our own skeletons!
Venue: Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road

Date:   23 July – 28 September