Category Archives: Health

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.

Successful ‘Stress? Take it Lying Down’ event

Stress? Take it Lying Down 

We recently ran a very successful event for Alexander Technique Week 2018, the theme of which was ‘Stress? Take it Lying Down’. I am very grateful to The Old Church N16 as they kindly allowed me to use the premises for free, as we were fundraising for the local charity Safaplace. I also want to thank my colleague Jessamy Harvey, for all her help in setting up and running the event.

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Over forty people enjoyed lying down in Semisupine!                 Photo: Nell Greenhill
The Church looked beautiful and very atmospheric with all the candles and low lighting! We were fortunate to have two speakers from Safaplace, Sarah Finke and Rose White who gave moving accounts about the formation of the charity and why it was set up in order to promote the positive mental health of schoolchildren.
I then described how the Alexander Technique can help us cope with stress as well as helping us be more poised and how the AT explores the mind-body relationship, helping us to unlearn habits we’ve developed that can interfere with the way our bodies need to work.
Caroline Sears followed with a talk about Alexander in Education and how the AT has been introduced into over 80 schools and colleges in the UK and in many institutions around the world, helping students handle exam and performance stresses, for instance.
Then it was lie-down time and The Old Church was full of quiet bodies as Natasha Broke talked people through the Active Rest procedure. Along with the teachers already mentioned, Daniela Sangiorgio and Thodoris Ziarkas joined us to give people a brief hands-on experience whilst lying down. All the teachers assisting on this event are registered with STAT and are alumni of LCATT, an AT teacher training course where I am a visiting teacher.
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Six AT teachers gave mini taster sessions                                    Photos: Nell Greenhill
Finally, we gave some mini taster hands-on turns to those that wished to explore the AT a little more and the bar was open for people to enjoy.
Many thanks to Janet Foster who looked after the door, the friends who ran the bar and helped out and Nell Greenhill for taking the photos – all of whom, like the AT teachers, offered their time and services for free.
Donations to Safaplace
I am pleased to say that we raised over £423 for Safaplace – thanks to the generosity of all the participants!
If you would like to read more about Safaplace and / or would like to donate to them, you can do so here: https://safaplace.org/

Why I Trained as an Alexander Teacher

The Ballet Years

 
I had lessons in classical ballet from the age of 5 and serious training began from the age of 11 when I became a boarder at the Royal Ballet School. It was sometimes wildly exciting and it was great to visit the Royal Opera House, sometimes sitting in the Royal Box during rehearsals! But life was very pressurised and quite stressful – I was put on diets to slim down and I acquired strains to my achilles and lower back, as I tried (too) hard to increase my flexibility. My body was always under examination and deemed to be lacking and, looking back, I can understand that it didn’t seem to belong to me. However, in my late teens I was accepted into the Sadler’s Wells Opera Ballet (now ENO) where I happily performed for a number of years. I met my opera-singer husband and first heard about the Alexander Technique there but sadly did not have AT lessons then as they would have helped me.
 
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Hilary King performing with Sadlers Wells Opera, Welsh National Opera and BBC TV 
 
Build-up of Stress
 
Rolling on some years, I gave up dancing so that I could be where my husband worked 
(as women still tended to do back then). I had children, got divorced and then my ex moved abroad. I needed to re-train so I could earn some money. I studied for a degree majoring in Psychology and was in one of the last groups of people that were truly fortunate to be able to study for free. 
The degree was hard to do as a mature student and single parent with 2 small children – then my mother died suddenly of a heart attack. Life had become extremely stressful and I was concerned that if I went on my health would deteriorate and I would end up like my mother.
Then I discovered that one of my Psychology lecturers, Peter Ribeaux, also taught the Alexander Technique at college, so I dived in and took AT lessons. I began to gain tools that I could use to calm myself down and clear my head. I studied better, got better marks and was less cranky with my long-suffering children. Learning and using the lying down procedure in particular helped transform me, as it gave me an immediate tool to help myself with. The AT work also helped me with my old back strain and I learned to listen to my body, ‘regaining’ it and discovering what it needed, rather than my just trying to make it perform for me – as I had been trained to do all through those ballet years.
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Semi-Supine Emergency Kit!
 
I gained my degree – just missing a first – which was sad but also wonderful, as I’d not even had any A levels, because ballet dancers were not deemed to have brains in those days and we did not have that option at the RBS. I then explored the idea of training in dance therapy and did some psychotherapy training but finally decided to train as an Alexander teacher, because I was so impressed by the hugely beneficial changes that had come about in me through having AT lessons.
I commenced my training at the Ribeaux school and completed it at the North London Teacher Training Course run by Misha Magidov, qualifying in 1987. I have had many happy years of teaching and am very grateful that I’ve been able to work in such a wonderful discipline that helps me look after myself in both my my mind and body, as I teach others how to do the same.

Privacy Policy

GDPR and Privacy


With the introduction of new laws re Privacy and Data Protection, I have introduced an improved Privacy Policy and a basic version of it is now accessible on my website. 

At the moment I am still refining this policy, along with information about Cookies and Terms and Conditions. This information will soon be completed and will also be available on my website. 

You may read my Privacy Policy here.

Reaching Up and Bending Down

Harvest Time!
 
Even in my London garden, there are fruits to be picked and enjoyed at this time of year and as I have been doing just that, I’ve been aware of how necessary it is to think of my body-use whilst harvesting. Just how do I climb my apple tree and look up to see where I need to reach for fruit, whilst looking after my neck? How do I bend down to look under the leaves of raspberry plants to search for the often hidden little balls of sweetness, or pick up windfalls from the grass whilst looking after my back?

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Looking Up and Reaching to Search for Apples
It is one thing to look at something above our heads for a quick moment and it is fairly easy to do this mindfully and freely, so that we can maintain as much length in the neck and spine as possible. However it is altogether harder to maintain our balance and some freedom in our neck muscles if we are spending a prolonged period of time looking up, as when picking apples, birdwatching, or painting a ceiling, for instance.
There are always apples that are out of reach – and awkward corners of rooms that can be tricky to get into when you want to paint them! It can be tempting to end-gain and just get on with the job as fast as possible, forgetting to look after ouselves. These situations illustrate when using the Alexander Technique can be so valuable, as we can use it to be aware of our body-use and remind ourselves not to over-reach, or tighten and compress the neck. Continually over-using one set of muscles creates uncomfortable tension and leads to patterns of mis-use, so it helps if we frequently allow our heads to change position and come back to a more ordinary poised stance, for a while, in order to consciously allow the neck muscles to free up and lengthen out again.
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Gardening Requires Lots of Bending Down! Monkey Position to the Rescue
 
Of course we bend down at all sorts of times in order to put shoes on, or pick up toys from the floor etc but in gardening we often have to spend a prolonged period of time bending over whilst working at tasks such as weeding. Being mindful about the way we bend is important, so that we can protect our necks, avoid getting back pain and maintain a good balance during our movements.
For people who’ve had AT lessons, learning how to ‘Inhibit’ or stop, can sometimes be quite tricky and they may ask ‘Why are we having to do this?’  Well, it is an invaluable concept and when we use it during our daily activities, we give ourselves a very brief pause before starting a task or making different type of movement, which allows us the chance to choose how to do something, so we can avoid getting into old habits that mess us up.
To illustrate – rather than bending forwards with my old habit of curling over, which used to compress my spine and torso, I can pause briefly and remind myself to hinge from the hip joints, so that I fold forwards with a lengthened spine and a body that is able to move and breathe freely. In this way I am also utilising the AT procedure which F M Alexander called ‘the position of mechanical advantage‘ but is now nick-named ‘monkey position‘. This is a movement that comes quite naturally to children and we use it in a variety of ways, using a deep version to reach the floor, or a very slight angling forwards over a wash basin with the knees slightly bent whilst cleaning our teeth, for instance – and it’s so much more comfortable for our backs! The woman in the photo above is using an adaptation of the monkey position, in order to check out the lawnmower.
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Semisupine Active Rest Lets Our Spine Decompress
 
It is also a really good idea to lie down in the semisupine position at the end of doing such activities, so that we can allow our spines – and whole body – to decompress and to free up.
Applying the Alexander Technique to Our Everyday Activities
 
When I teach, I spend a lot of time helping students to learn how to sit, stand and walk freely, in the manner of traditional Alexander Technique lessons. Students can then transfer this learning into other activities and they learn some specific procedures like Monkey and Active Rest procedures. However, some people wonder how to use everything they learn out in the ‘real world’ and make the AT a tool they can use throughout life.
Therefore, as part of the lesson, I will sometimes explore different activities with pupils, so that they can think about how to apply and include the AT into their thinking whilst performing these. Recently, one student thought about how to do exercises the physio had given her, another couple explored how to use a mouse and keyboard, another fine tuned how to play a guitar, one tried moving a table differently and – a new one to me – one explored how to bend over in order to clean the bath!
The important words here are ‘how to’.  When we include the ‘how’ into our awareness and, if necessary, change the way in which we perform actions, we can begin to recover from conditions such as back pain or RSI. Such a relief!
Remember
STOP
THINK
CHOOSE HOW TO RESPOND
 
 
This short video of  the lying down procedure was produced by the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique, STAT:    https://youtu.be/NhxMNou1Tfo

Some Benefits of Learning First Aid

First Aid as CPD

 

Over the 30 years I have been teaching, I have attended several short First Aid courses and recently took part in a full day Emergency First Aid at Work Course with Siren Training, which was organised by The Old Church where I act as a volunteer (thank you very much!). Fortunately I have never yet been in a situation where I have needed to use First Aid.  Usefully, First Aid can also be seen as part of my Continuing Professional Development as an Alexander Teacher. Not all Alexander teachers have done First Aid and I would like to encourage them to do so, as I came away feeling reassured and confident that I know more about what to do in an emergency and can better care for any vulnerable AT pupils. 

 

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So Why Might I Need First Aid?

 

Some students that come for Alexander lessons are at risk of having diabetic or epileptic seizures, some may be prone to fainting, whilst elderly pupils may be more vulnerable to having heart attacks for instance – and accidents can happen any time. Knowing what to do under such circumstances will help both me and my pupils, should needs arrise. Of course everything I’ve learned on the First Aid course can be transferred to helping anyone who needs such care, so it will also be valuable when I’m involved with local community activities. With our health service increasingly under pressure, I do feel reassured that I am more likely to be able to help someone until one of our brilliant NHS Paramedics arrive.

 

The range of topics covered during the First Aid at Work course can be seen on the certificate below and cover most of the situations that I could come across in my work. These courses have a big experiential and hands-on content, so I came out with some very practical skills but I did also have to take a very short written test, in oder to get the qualification – that was a surprise and it was the first I’ve done for many years!

 

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First Aid for All?

It would be great to have every Alexander Teacher doing some training in First Aid. These courses offer knowledge and skills I believe we should all have – but I hope we never need to use them!

In fact I would like to see First Aid taught throughout the country in schools and colleges so that everyone, eventually, gains at least basic First Aid skills.

Teaching the Alexander Technique for Thirty Years

And I Still Love my Work!

 
However I am rather shocked to realise just how long I’ve been teaching and to see the signature on my certificate has nearly faded away!
 
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So How Has the Alexander Technique Helped Me?
 
Over the years, the AT has really helped me in many ways. Firstly, every Alexander teacher has to be aware of their own mind-body-use whilst teaching (and living) so there is a built-in element of self-care, which is invaluable. Of course life throws situations at us to which we react and I thought I would share some of the ways the Alexander Technique has helped me choose better options of response than would have been available to me without the AT.
Coping With Stress 
When I first started having AT lessons, I was taking a BA in Psychology. My marriage had just ended so I’d become a single parent with 2 small children to look after and needed to retrain, as I could no longer be a classical ballet dancer. I was stressed! Then my mother died suddenly of a heart attack so I was even more stressed and I thought that I could do end up like her if I continued as I was, so I signed up to some AT lessons at college.
Suddenly I had a tool I could help myself with to calm myself down and clear my mind, so I could work better and I gradually became less reactive when faced with difficult situations.The lessons helped sort out a lingering back injury I had sustained whilst doing ballet and, with all the note-taking I was doing, my arms and hands were tense and getting sore but applying the AT helped me avoid developing RSI.  I enjoyed and appreciated the Alexander Technique so much that I decided to train as an AT teacher, once I had finished my degree.
There followed a period of several years where I was teaching the AT and Stress Management in several further education colleges, developing my own AT teaching practice, continuing to develop professionally by training in Psychotherapy and still looking after two youngsters. Much of this had to be done in order to survive financially – but I also had a habit of over-doing things!
Broken Toe
 
One day I dropped a heavy piece of wood onto the end of my big toe and broke it. Perhaps the first sign that I wasn’t as strong as I had expected myself to be but I didn’t think of that at the time. It was a tiny break but very painful! Of course I was limping for a while but soon realised that limping was quickly becoming a habit which threw my body out of balance, so that my knee was beginning to hurt.  I was very grateful to being able to use the AT to help me let go of the limping habit, so I could return to walking in an even and co-ordinated manner and my knee stopped hurting.
Major Operation Followed by Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
 
Not long after, I faced the challenge of having a major operation, which again caused me to move unnaturally for a while and the AT work really helped me at this time. However my recovery seemed slow after the operation and it became apparent that I had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which took several years to recover from.
It was so hard for me to avoid doing too much on the days when I felt OK – and when I over-did things, it would take many days for me to regain some energy so that I could function again! The Alexander Technique was such an invaluable tool to have, as it helped me to be aware of my habits, to notice my reactions to things and to be mindful of my body-use, so that I could learn to pace myself appropriately and gradually recover. I also made frequent good use of the lying down procedure!
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And Now?
Since then I have been continuing to teach the Alexander Technique in my own practise and at the LCATT Teacher Training course for many years. I also use the AT throughout my daily activities (for example being aware of how I’m using myself using the computer as I write this) so that I can help myself maintain my poise and freedom of movement.
Each of the life situations and problems I have had to face have taught me more about myself and more about how the Alexander Technique can help people in so many different situations. It is not a cure-all but it really can help us in a huge range of situations when we learn it – and importantly, remember to use it!
Want to try out the Alexander Technique?
 
 

Look After Your Back When You Cough and Sneeze

Hay Fever!
 
An osteopath friend told me that some patients go to her because they hurt their backs when sneezing and coughing. I remembered this again now because the pollen count has been high so I have been suffering with hay fever over the last few weeks and have been sneezing a lot! My family and my pupils are used to me sneezing, often 8 times in a row, so I have had lots of time to think about how to look after myself when I do so.
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During wintry weather, people with heavy coughs and colds may also seek the osteopath’s help – unless they find a way of avoiding this problem to begin with by looking after their backs, for instance through having Alexander Technique lessons. You may well ask ‘how can using the AT help you when you sneeze?’ Read on…..
 
Sneezing and Coughing Create Strong Spasms

One of the main reasons that back problems can happen when sneezing and coughing, is that when we hold ourselves in a fixed or twisted manner, with locked knees, contracted muscles and habitual tension in the lower, lumbar region of the back, this tightness will be increased by the spasms of coughing and sneezing. The spasms will obviously be more exaggerated if you have long bouts of coughing so that the jolting can strain your muscles, sometimes even damaging an intervertebral disc, causing great pain.

Bend Your Knees When You Cough and Sneeze!

However, if we learn to unlock our hips, knees and ankles so that they can bend, this can help our back to be freely lengthening, so the muscles are able to respond more elastically as our ribs expand and contract with the sneezing and the jolt can be softened so that it ripples through us, rather than straining us. This way of sneezing and coughing can also be helpful for people after having abdominal surgery, possibly with the addition of holding the abdomen for extra support during the sneeze – something I found incredibly helpful after having major surgery.

So I will sometimes, as a small part of their AT lessons, work with my pupils to help them find a way of sneezing and coughing so they look after their backs – yet another activity to explore performing with optimal body-use!
The more able you are to have free, balanced and elastic body-use, unlocked knees and a free neck and back, the more resilient your muscles will be during and after each spasm. Remember to let the tension go again that inevitably built up during coughing and sneezing, so that you do not take that with you into your next activity.
Even if you have not had Alexander Lessons and learned how to do this in a AT way, you can help protect your back if you remember to bend your knees, so you let your legs act as the shock absorbers they are designed to be.