Category Archives: Health

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.

Over-use of Mobile Phones

Kids Ask Parents to Turn Off Their Phones!

The BBC reports a survey of secondary school children that shows the social impact of mobile phones, with many families having a home life that is being harmed by their overuse. Parents frequently use their phones during mealtimes, for instance, so that children have asked them to turn their phones off. Not surprisingly, the research also stated that many children were frequently sleep deprived because of using their phones late into the night. Some teens even managed to be on their phones for 20 hours a day during weekends and holidays! Add into the mix the epidemic in both adults and children having painful ‘text neck‘ and RSI problems, it is easy to see how damaging phone use can be.

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This five year old is poised and alert as she has breakfast and, hopefully, she will be able to maintain this easy body-use as she gets older. She does not use any phones, tablets or other screens and her parents aim not to use their phones in front of her. No doubt she will begin to use some technology at school soon but as yet she is being encouraged to find entertainment elsewhere so that she can develop her creativity, reading and active play in many other ways. This little girl does not know about the AT but her mother does some yoga, which she sometimes copies and this helps her to be more aware of her body-use.
It’s Not Good to Frequently Feel Ignored 
The above photo is in stark contrast to the one used in the BBC article, with father and daughter both slumped on a sofa, both heading towards having neck problems from the ways they are using their bodies. The father’s head is dragging forwards and down over his phone – a typical iPosture, with a text neck scenario developing in him as he ignores his daughter. She is twisting her neck and her whole body expresses how fed up she feels, in true psychophysical unity, as she stares out in front of her.

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Whilst mobiles are very useful bits of equipment, it is worrying that they seem to become so addictive and dominate people’s lives. I find it sad to see so many young Mums (and some Dads) pushing a toddler in a buggy but with no interaction between them because Mum ignores the child  – the mobile phone gets all the attention. What sort of habits of relating to other people and of phone-use will those children develop? Copying parents is a big part of the way we learn as they are important role models for us, so the pattern is likely to be copied and repeated as the child grows older. Many tiny children already use screens for hours on end, which is leading to some developing problems when really young. In a previous blog ‘Evidence of Text Neck in Seven-year old Children’ I discussed this alarming situation which has been created through the over-use and mis-use of mobiles and tablets.
There Can Be Another Way
Fortunately, Alexander lessons can help people unlearn habits that have been causing problems and, ideally, help them to learn how to avoid developing habit patterns of mis-use to start with. This was very important to F M Alexander, who ran a school for children which incorporated his theories and teaching into the daily life of the school. One school, Educare Small School is run along the same lines and the AT underpins every activity there.
Today, both adults and children are able to access individual lessons in many parts of the world and a group called Alexander in Education is promoting the Technique in UK schools and colleges. The educational institutions that include the Alexander Technique in their curriculum range from specialist music schools and colleges, to a children’s nursery.
All of that is great and quite exciting but it’s important for parents to realise just what sort of body-use and way of life they are modelling for their children and the impact it can have on their future lives, even before they are old enough to go to school. I’m sure many parents believe they are doing just that already but perhaps they can refine their awareness to include the little things in life too, such as how they use a mobile or tablet, how long they use it, how much they exclude others when using a screen and how they look after their own body-use as they text, chat and game away on their phones. Children are watching – and waiting for you.
There’s an interesting podcast from Body Learning you might like to listen to:

Could Using a Scooter Make Children Lopsided?

Children’s scooters have just been included in the UK Consumer Prices Index, CPI, as they are so popular they are having a financial impact in the UK. There must be a lot of people
using them!
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This photo show that many children love them – here in Stoke Newington, scooters are a favourite mode of transport for going to school and numbers of scooters get parked in playgrounds. They are brilliant for helping to keep children active and fit in a fun way and it is lovely to see kids zooming along the road, poised and lively, with their heads leading them into movement.
Pushing With One Dominant Leg?
But how could scooters possibly make children lopsided? Well, I wonder how many parents and teachers notice if children always use the same foot to propel themselves forwards? I imagine quite a number of people have never given it a thought.
But do please think about it – what impact might that have? Even tiny children use scooters and may do so for several years. If one leg is always pushing, then one set of leg muscles in that leg is being developed, whilst the other leg is always supporting, so a different set of muscles will be developed in that leg – so the muscles could grow visibly bigger in the stronger leg.
What would the implications be for the body’s general balance and poise, if legs develop differently from each other in this way? Unhelpful at the least and possibly harmful, if the imbalance became exaggerated through frequent over-use of one leg in preference to the other. This problem can affect adult scooter users too but would have a greater impact on children’s bodies whilst growing and developing and could be one way that children’s bodies could gradually become a bit lopsided. If it’s just habits causing the distortion, that can be avoided!
Twisting and Torsion
Another problem that could arise, is a habitual twist in the torso (and probably the knees) if the child scoots in an uneven way. Muscular torsion in the neck and back is also a potential problem with using skateboards, if the same foot leads all the time. Muscles in the neck and torso could work unevenly, the back and pelvis could become lopsided, which could eventually cause pain and discomfort. Given how many children and adults are using scooters and skateboards these days, we could end up with a large number of people seeking help for problems such as neck and back pain at a later date.
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This skateboarder has pretty good body use, leading with the head and using his hip joints freely. However, if he always leads with the same foot and he has to look in the same direction all the time, torsion problems in his neck and back could develop.
Mindfulness and Body Use
However, with awareness and by establishing habits of good body-use right from the start, including alternating their feet regularly, these problems could be avoided, so children and adults can have fun without interfering with their natural poise and balance.
If problems have started developing, Alexander lessons can help people to let go of their habits of imbalance and twisting, so that their head neck back relationship can be regained and a more evenly balanced way of using equipment such as scooters and skateboards can be learned.

Texting Gaming Posting and Text Neck

Do you spend hours at a time using your smart phone and tablet?

Do you also experience tension headaches and pain such as Text Neck? Maybe back pain and RSIIf so you need to become aware of just how you are using your body whilst using these technological gizmos. Some people become addicted to using them so it would be good to acknowledge just how much time you spend on them, all the time developing habits that will impact on your body and possibly damage your health in the process.
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‘Skellyphone’ is my name for this imaginative mural
I love this wall painting in Finsbury Park! It seems to suggest that the person doesn’t even know they are alive, they are so engrossed by the smart phone. The whole energy of the image is down, down, down – in much the way that real phone users sit  – even the mouth is down. So that heavy head is off balance and compressing the cervical vertebrae and other parts of the spine so would be likely, in a real person, to result in neck and postural problems. Many, many people are seeking help for painful necks and shoulders that have developed because of the over-use and mis-use of smart phones and other gizmos..
Do you worry about kids ruining their posture through over-use of phones? 
If you read my previous posts about Text Neck and how it has been found in children as young as 7 years old, you can see just how heavy our heads are and how neck and tension problems can arise, particularly when the sort of posture Skellyphone is displaying becomes habitual. Don’t let texting become a pain in the neck – we can learn how to do it differently!
We CAN have a Smart Posture to go with our Smart Phone!
The more aware we can be of our tendency to sink and contract down into ourselves when we use phones and other technology, the more likely we will be to be able to change our habits so that we look after our bodies. We can learn how to use them in ways that help us to maintain (or regain) our poise, avoiding tension and pain from developing. Phones are not heavy, yet we often let ourselves collapse down as we hold them as if they weigh a tonne!
Short video about how to avoid Text Neck:

Overwork and Study Pressures Can Harm You


Studying can damage you – if you mis-use yourself 


Offices and performances have deadlines and exams get students working long hours. Some people will be damaging their health in the process. This has been understood for a long time. As Mary Wollstonecraft said in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman 1792, ‘People of genius have, very frequently, impaired their constitutions by study or careless inattention to their health’
People still pressure themselves into over-working intensely (in-tense-ly – get it? ) at the expense of their health, whether it is reaching deadlines for the boss, feeling stressed, aiming for high scores in exams, over-practising on a musical instrument, or pushing themselves way beyond their natural limits in dance or sports. The end gainingno pain no gain’ attitude has, unfortunately, led to many injuries over the years, which so often stop the person working or performing altogether. We don’t need to do that. How much better when we pace ourselves and are mindful of how we are using our bodies, particularly under stress.
Be mindful of your habits and how much tension you put into your mouse hand
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Are you aware of how much tension you put into your mouse hand and do you keep working without a rest, despite RSI pain developing and making life miserable? This does not serve you – stop such habits now, before they stop you working! Many people set their equipment up well but do not notice how they actually use them. Do you tense yourself as you anticipate using the keyboard and ‘getting down to work‘? This downward energy will restrict your hands and arm use and such compression often results in neck and back pain.
Become aware not just of what you are doing but how you are doing it.  Be mindful of your habits and allow your hands to move towards the keyboard and mouse softly and freely, without any reaction of tensing up. Keep reminding yourself not to tighten as you work and take frequent little breaks to free up your hands, arms and back again. This will also clear your mind and help you work better. This is easier to do with the help of an AT teacher.
Don’t mindlessly ‘Keep going until it’s finished’, without taking breaks
It is a common story that new AT pupils tell me as they describe why they have come for Alexander lessons ~ ‘I felt I had to keep going because ‘it’ was so important and then I got headaches / RSI / hurt my back / got ill / strained a muscle’… Many people raise their blood pressure levels because of stress and overwork and that driven ‘nose to the grindstone‘ attitude towards work, usually distorts our posture and impacts on our general health. 
If we thrust our neck out to look at books, phones and screens, we collapse the chest and our (heavy) head gets pulled forwards and down. The neck is constantly held out in front of the torso, so that it gets more and more tense as it tries to hold up the weight of the head without proper support from the bony structure of the skeleton and back. The neck and head become out of alignment – typical of ‘Text Neck’! This distorts us and puts a lot of pressure on the neck vertebrae and the upper back so that Kyphosis develops, frequently resulting in damage and pain. It also pushes extra weight down into the arms and hands, making hand-use more difficult and restricted – very unhelpful if you want to make music, for instance.
This fixed, pulled down posture has been beautifully portrayed in a sculpture, ‘The Scholar’ shown below, which was exhibited in Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens, Cape Town. How familiar is that body-shape in those that study hard! You can see how the heavy weight of this man’s head has been dragging his body down; endless study giving him a wealth of knowledge perhaps, but at the expense of his physical well-being. 
‘The Scholar’ by Tapfuma Gusta 
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All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy
Have you noticed how many words in English that are associated with work are descriptive of tension and a downward energy? We reflect that in our minds and bodies if we are not careful – but luckily we can learn to change this!
It helps us in many ways when we let ourselves lighten-up and allow our minds and bodies to change gear, to rest and play as well as work. As one pupil put it:
“When I use the semi-supine rest procedure in the office at lunchtime, it means I have a clearer head when I re-start work and I get less back pain”
Next Introductory WorkshopUnwind Free-up and De-Stress ~ 18 June
Limited Places, so please book in advance

Keep Calm in the Dentist’s Chair


‘I’m Going to the Dentist’

For many people, even the thought of going to the dentist tends to bring about a reaction of tensing up in defensive anticipation and their anxiety can mount still further when they actually see the dentist and his tools. However, we can learn the Alexander Technique and use it to help reduce our tension levels and anxiety whilst the dentist is working on our teeth, so we are much more comfortable throughout dental procedures. Also, if we have a relaxed jaw and are calm, this will make things easier for the dentist!   
This image expresses some of the feelings associated with sitting in the dentist’s chair. It also shows the dentist looking rather unhappy about his own experience, which, sadly, is often the case. Research has shown that many dentists suffer from back pain, heart problems and depression and, apparently, are twice as likely to commit suicide as the rest of the population. It would be great if more dentists learned the Alexander Technique so that they had a tool they could help themselves with whilst they work, could look after their backs as they bend over their often agitated patients and could help themselves let go of tension at the end of what can be a long and stressful day’s work. 
I saw my dentist recently and was very aware of how I constantly needed to remind myself not to react with tension to every drilling noise made! On a practical note, I first had to ask the dentist to adjust the height of the neck rest to suit my body as I lay back in the chair. Then it was up to me to keep calmly maintaining the length in my spine and to avoid creating tension in my jaw, neck and back muscles so that I could make the procedure more comfortable for myself.
Dentist at work.jpgThis image illustrates just how easy it can be to compress your neck in order to let the dentist look into your mouth and pulling your head back like this puts so much extra pressure on your cervical vertebrae and discs. It is really worth being mindful of how you lift your chin and open your mouth, so that you do this freely, with as much length along the curves in your spine as you can, thus reducing compression and distortion.  It will also be easier for you to have a relaxed jaw so that it opens wider, if your neck is relaxed.
Another great thing about using the Alexander Technique whilst at the dentist’s, is that it gives you something positive to think about, rather than just focussing on all the sounds and sensations – and you can feel less powerless as the dentist drills and polishes your teeth.
How useful the Alexander Technique can be!

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!