An Unexpected Lesson in Inhibition & End-gaining

Learning Through Untangling Knitting Wool!
I had a few minutes between teaching pupils and I decided I would sort out some knitting wool that had been stored in a bag for some time. When I opened the bag, there was a very large muddle in the middle, where several balls of wool had become tangled up together.
So I decided to sit in the very welcome Spring sunshine, in order to disentangle them. It was a slow job and an unexpected but good learning process.
More Haste, Less Speed
At the times when I was tempted to end-gain and rush, I usually pulled the wool too hard and made the knots tighter. This made the job more difficult and slowed me down.
When I included more of my Alexander Technique awareness, I stopped, or ‘inhibited’ that urge to rush and used my hands more gently and freely – and the wool was far easier to loosen, so that I could better undo the knots.
The whole process was an interesting little exercise in inhibition and in achieving my goal more successfully when I maintained my awareness of the means whereby I was performing the activity – rather than focussing on time issues and trying to speed up getting to the end.
By not rushing, I did the job more quickly!

Successful Alexander Technique Fundraising Workshop

Women’s Alexander Technique Workshop raises £265 in Aid of Mary on the Green charity

I am pleased to say that the Women’s Workshop that I held on March 10th in the Newington Green Unitarian Church raised £225 for Newington Green Action Group’s Mary on the Green campaign. When Gift Aid has been added to these donations, we will have made something like £265! This is the second successful workshop that I have run to raise money for this project.  

This money will go towards erecting a memorial to Mary Wollstonecraft, the pioneering feminist who was associated with Newington Green in the 1790s.

Many thanks to Rev, Andy Pakula for allowing us to use the Upper Schoolroom at the Church for the workshop. 

Thanks also to Susan Brennan for assisting me at the Workshop, helping to make it a successful and enjoyable morning’s teaching.


A Sculpture for Mary Wollstonecraft was erected on Newington Green N16, in November 2020. The  sculptor was the world famous artist Maggie Hambling.

How do You Choose a Computer from an Alexander Perspective?

An Alexander Technique Perspective on How to Choose a Computer

If you search the internet, there are lots of articles and adverts on how to choose a computer. They discuss speed and memory etc along with the advantages of buying smaller, more portable laptops, even smaller netbooks and now mobile phones that access the internet and fulfil many of the functions of a desktop computer. 

There does not seem to be much consideration as to what effect they might have on someone’s general body-use and functioning when using these very small pieces of equipment for long periods of time. 

They can be great to have if you travel a lot and can be a useful accessory – but are they suitable as the main way to access the internet? 

If you look at people on public transport, the smaller the object gets, the more crumpled and contracted the person tends to be as their necks pull down towards the small screen. Also thesetiny keyboards may well create even more tension in the user, producing more tendinitis and RSI in the future, plus neck and shoulder problems.
Most people are more able to look after their own body-use, their posture and tension levels, when they are able to sit in a balanced manner as they look at an eye-level screen. this is why many offices have health and safety reps giving advice about desk set-ups, trying to avoid health problems from developing. 

There are also some points about posture and computer use that have been put forward for people to read, as in my own article on Ergonomics. It is true that people can cause problems for themselves with their poor posture and mis-use when using a desktop, even with a really good set-up – but it is easier to look after yourself when sitting at a desk. 

Issues to Consider

Ask yourself, how much time would you spend using the internet on your phone or netbook? What happens to your neck, hands and shoulders when you use these? Do you get shoulder / neck/ head / hand / arm / back ache from using any equipment now? Might that get worse with a smaller piece of equipment?

Of course, it is possible in Alexander Technique lessons to learn about using such items of equipment in a way that minimises the likelihood of causing yourself damage and this would help a lot. It is so much easier to prevent problems from arriving than to try to let go of unhelpful habits and heal yourself after you are in pain!

But do you consider these issues before replacing your own desktop computer and buying the latest, smallest gizmo to use in its place? 
If not, you may be setting yourself up for some painful times in the future! 
Is that latest bit of tiny equipment really worth it?

Regaining Control of the Voice

Nikolaas Tinbergen, Nobel Laureate on FM Alexander’s Work 

Nickolaas Tinbergen was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology / Medicine in 1973 and a central focus to his Nobel Prize lecture is given to extolling the discoveries and teaching of F M Alexander, who Tinbergen described as “a very remarkable man” .
Tinbergen talks about how Alexander initially developed his Technique as a way of helping himself with vocal problems, so that he regained control of his voice. Gradually, Alexander developed his Technique and began to help people to re-educate the use of their whole body musculature, with results such as people getting less pain, as well as improving their breathing and vocal functioning.
Tinbergen, his wife and his daughter all had lessons with various AT teachers, assessing the work and the changes they experienced, such as better sleep, easier playing of a musical instrument and reduced blood pressure levels.
In his Nobel Lecture, Tinbergen (back in 1973) asks why the medical profession was still reluctant to acknowledge the Alexander Technique. Today, the Technique has found greater recognition but unfortunately, people are still asking this same question.
Tinbergen’s informative and I think very persuasive speech, is available on YouTube

The poise of a 3 year old

The small child in this photo is alert and poised, with her back freely lengthening, quite naturally.  Her head is balanced on her neck in such a way that all her muscles are able to work freely and in co-ordination, so that the heavy weight of her head is transferred evenly right through her body, onto her sitting bones.

If the child is able to maintain this free and easy poise as she grows up, she will be fortunate. Most of us started out life with a similar, natural but unconscious, postural alignment but most of us lose it over time. Many people start Alexander lessons in order to improve their posture and reduce back pain.

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In Alexander Technique lessons we can begin to reclaim this birthright, by learning to maintain our poise and increase our freedom of movement, through making conscious choices about the way we use ourselves during all our activities. Sometimes, we even feel younger again.

An elderly pupil recently told me “I wish someone had told me about my sitting bones as a child, rather than hitting me and telling me to ‘sit up straight’! I could never find a way to sit up then but since I’ve been coming to Alexander lessons and I’ve discovered my sitting bones, it’s all so much easier and more comfortable”.
Just telling children to ‘sit up straight’ usually doesn’t work (even without the fear and tension that must have been created by such aggression). There are gentler and more effective ways of encouraging good posture and body use!

Poise – Why do we lose it?

Poise and Posture

When we are children, most people have a beautiful easy poise, as is illustrated in this photo of a little girl sitting on a giant snow seat on Newington Green. Despite the obvious cold, the child is sitting easily and in a relaxed manner, whilst many adults would be bent over and tensed up against the cold!

There are many influences in our lives that get us interfering with our natural poise. Our attitudes and emotional experiences are reflected in the way we use our bodies and our minds gradually tend to become rather set so that our view of the world – and our physical responses to it – become rather fixed and habitual. Stress, peer group pressures, accidents and illnesses all play their part in moulding our habitual body use and many of us end up crumpling our bodies down into ourselves – whilst others over-extend and arch their backs in an attempt to ‘stand up straight’ – both of which pull us off our balance and poise.

Fortunately, F M Alexander realised that we are able to reduce some of these effects if we are willing to let go of habits of thought and behaviour that interfere with our natural use. During Alexander Technique lessons, we can learn how to do this and in so doing, regain much of the fluid, free and poised way of being and moving that we had as children and feeling more comfortable in ourselves.

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Shivery Weather

Free Up Your Movements in the Cold

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The recent cold spell that we have been having looks very beautiful in the bright morning sun but it has brought some rather cold, tense and shivery pupils into their Alexander lessons!
It is hard not to tighten our muscles up when the temperature dips but it is so much more helpful to us, our bank balance and to the environment, if we put on another layer of clothing to keep us warm, rather than getting tense and turning the heaters up without thinking.
With wintry frost and ice around, with snow possibly on its way, it’s time to take care on pavements. If you are afraid of falling, it is tempting to tense up all over and in particular around your hips and thighs. When they tighten up, this also impacts on our lower backs and tension there may well result in back pain building up.
It may help you to remember that you’ll have more sense of your balance and more control over your movements, if you refuse to tighten but walk in an alert, poised and free manner. Now is a very good time to apply all you have learned in your Alexander lessons and to think about your body use in your daily activities, in order to avoid problems such as back pain  from developing.

The Alexander Technique challenges our habits

Have you made some New Year Resolutions?

It can be very hard sticking to our New Year’s resolutions as most of them challenge an aspect of our behaviour – and we just want to go straight back into our usual habits. 

Many resolutions are promises to ourselves to modify our behaviour and to let go of old habits that we want to change and we can help ourselves by using the Alexander Technique – yes, the AT, which is about far more than just looking after our backs or improving our posture!
When we learn the Alexander Technique we develop our self-awareness and learn to say ‘no’ to habits that do not serve us, so that we can have the chance to consciously choose how we want to move and act. This is directly applied in AT lessons to activities such as choosing to let go of habits of tension that interfere with the way we stand up or sit down for instance. Once we have stopped our old habit, we can then choose to stand up in a new way that allows us to move more freely and in a more coordinated manner. This often leads to improvements in our posture and a reduction in aches and pains but these are the outcomes of changing our habits. 
If we hold onto our habits, we can’t change.
The same process can be used when we see some mince pies and want to have yet another one. We know that we ‘shouldn’t’ have one but often do it anyway without much thought. However, if we stop and say ‘no’ to reacting to that urge by immediately picking the pie up, we give ourselves a chance to reflect and make a conscious choice about whether or not to eat it. 
This makes it much easier to continue to say ‘no’ to habits such as over-eating and can help us to keep to our resolutions and to let go of old habits.
The Alexander Technique challenges our habits. 
‘We can throw away the habits of a lifetime in a few minutes, if we use our brains’ 
F M Alexander
Start the New Year afresh – Try it out for yourself! 

 Further info Phone Hilary:  020 7254 9206
Introductory AT lessons are available on a regular basis.

Is the Alexander Technique about posture?

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.

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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.

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.
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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?