Heart v Mind: What Makes us Human?
Ella Fitzgerald’s ‘Tain’t what you do but the way that you do it’
The Alexander Technique’s about posture isn’t it?
Well, not really!
It’s true that changes in posture do come about as a result of using the Technique and this photo of fellow Alexander teacher Refia Sacks, out and about in South Africa, illustrates that a nice easy poise is one of the benefits of learning to use use our bodies more freely and effectively in our everyday activities. However, the aim of Alexander Technique lessons is not about improving posture.
Refia Sacks – sitting with casual poise
In AT lessons, we learn how to move around and use our bodies in a coordinated way without tension and it is the quality of our body-use that is all important. As we allow our bodies to work the way they are designed to, our posture does tend to improve. But that is an outcome, not the aim.
Some people manage to retain their good body use into adulthood, without ever having an Alexander Technique lesson. However, most adults lose the free and often graceful movements that we had as children and often end up rather ‘crumpled’, with a variety of aches and pains. One of the joys of having Alexander lessons is that we can often regain – or find – some of the co-ordination and freedom of movement that is more natural to our bodies.
Natural, easy poise whilst working
I watched this woman in Mexico as she sat quietly working away at her knitting and she demonstrates that adults can indeed sit and work in a relaxed manner, with a lengthened spine and good posture. As she sits in the café, she has a lovely strong back and quiet poise, which allows her arms to move freely as she concentrates and works on her task. Too many people drop their neck and head forwards to do knitting, computing and similar tasks, The result is that they get neck and back pain from their mis-use and from the weight of the head dragging down towards their hands. Such poor posture and body-use can contribute to developing RSI, particularly if there is lots of habitual muscle tension.
I doubt this woman has had AT lessons and there is no knowing how much attention she has paid to thinking about how she uses her body. This woman appears to be comfortable in her body. How many people do you see sitting at desks, pianos and computers, who have a similar free and easy poise and balance in their body as they work?
If you want to re-find your natural poise and freedom of movement and would like to prevent having pain whilst you work, come and try some 1:1 Alexander Technique 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.
‘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.
Research to Help Chronic Neck Pain
Research shows that long working hours increases the risk of having a heart attack by a staggering 67%!
Now this is something that seems obvious to me as an Alexander Technique teacher but it is good to have some formal research published on the topic. There have been many occasions, unfortunately, when I have seen people overworking for long periods of time until they get really ill – in a variety of different ways it has to be said. At this point, they often have to stop work altogether for a while. But the good news is that they usually find that the Alexander Technique can be a very helpful tool to use to aid their recovery.
The lead researcher in this study of using information about working hours as a method of predicting heart attacks, Professor Kivimäki of UCL Epidemiology & Public Health, reports that people who worked more than 7-8 hours a day were 5% more likely to have a heart attack than people with a similar health background and heart risk level. Those that regularly worked 11 hours or more, increased that risk to a dramatic 67%.
Is working overtime really worth that level of risk?
The research suggests that Doctors need to include questions about work hours and lifestyle when assessing heart risk factors. It also encourages workers to look after themselves and to keep their working hours to around 7-8 hours a day.
Alexander Technique lessons can help people become more aware so they can modify the impact of overwork on their general health and wellbeing. Importantly, the Technique can help people avoid their own habits of overuse and misuse of their bodies, which can help the nervous and cardiovascular systems to calm down. As one consultant cardiologist put it:
‘The Alexander Technique is a realistic alternative to beta blockers in the control of stress-induced high blood pressure’.
Dr Bent Ostergaard – Consultant Cardiologist
How do you use your mobile phone?
I’m not talking about which button you press… Rather, do you think of applying the Alexander Technique to the way you use yourself when using your mobile? Watch other people using a phone, it can be an eye-opener. You may well see habits that you can recognise as being similar to your own, so that you can learn from them about your own use (and mis-use).
The phone between shoulder and ear
The most exaggerated way of mis-using yourself when phoning, is to clamp the phone between your ear and your shoulder whilst you continue another activity with your hands free. With this habit, it is usually the same shoulder that always gets scrunched up. Just think about what happens to your neck, as you continually compress down on one side of the vertebrae. Neck and shoulder pains will soon be on their way, if they are not with you yet, unless you stop this habit.
Making a ‘private’ space with our body
Another common form of mis-use, often seen in busy open plan offices and noisy public places, is to thrust the neck forwards, curling in and downwards whilst talking, in an attempt to gain some sense of privacy. This is a particularly frequent form of mis-use seen in mobile phone users. This cannot create the private space we would like but it does create tension and problems in the neck, shoulder and upper torso. These become very tight, stiff and pulled down into a forward curve as we box ourselves in, often resulting in back and shoulder pain as a result of developing a pronounced kyphosis.
Our sensory appreciation is often faulty, so we can be unaware of such habits of mis-use, even when we are conscientious about applying the Alexander Technique in other areas of our life.
One young woman realised that this habit was so strong that it felt impossible for her to use her left hand and ear during a phone call, even though her hearing functioned perfectly well in both ears. Now that’s a strong habit that was purely built around her perceptions. However, once aware of her pattern, the young woman could begin to let go of it and work to improve her use, both during Alexander lessons and during her phone calls.
This sort of habit is a good example of how our thoughts and attitudes
get played out in our bodies, illustrating the way the body and mind
interact and work as one.