The Ballet Years
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Use the Alexander Technique While You Walk
Winter brings rain, fallen leaves, ice and sometimes snow on
the ground, which can make our footpaths very slippery and treacherous.
very tempting to tighten up our legs, feet and ankles, the muscles
around our hip joints and even our neck and shoulder muscles when walking on slippery surfaces. Most of
the tightening is the result of anticipating a possible fall and this can
be tiring plus restricts our movements and circulation – and it’s a waste of energy!
doesn’t serve us. In fact, tightening our neck muscles reduces the
information we can obtain about our balance, and locking our ankles and
hips also interferes with our ability to fine tune our balance. A recent Research Trial concluded that Alexander Technique lessons aided older people with their balance and fear of falling, so that they felt more secure.
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?
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, bird watching, 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 ourselves. 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.
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.
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!
- 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
International Alexander Awareness Week 2017 9-15 October EVENTS
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!). Interestingly, a couple of days after completing the course, a women had a seizure in my street and I was grateful to be able to use my First Aid training. First Aid courses 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, confident that I know what to do in an emergency and can better care for any vulnerable AT pupils.
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 the need arise. Of course everything I’ve learned on the First Aid course 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 could 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 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 order to get the qualification – that was a surprise and it was the first I’ve done for many years!
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.
And I Still Love my Work!
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.
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.