I’ve been teaching the Alexander Technique for 29 years!
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 gaining ‘no 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.
Don’t mindlessly ‘Keep going until it’s finished’, without taking breaks
‘The Scholar’ by Tapfuma Gusta
All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy
‘I’m Going to the Dentist’
Can we avoid reacting with tension?
I Love My Work
- “Lying down in semi-supine is the best part of my day”
- “My back pain has improved massively since starting AT lessons”
- “I can’t imagine how people manage without using the AT”
- “AT has helped me be more upright and confident so I don’t feel I have to hide any more”
- “It feels as if someone has just oiled my spine!”
- “I have already benefited a lot from this first session”
I love these drawings by Leonardo da Vinci
to change ourselves and our behaviour, so that we can remain mindful not only of our body-use but also of our surroundings during these activities.
TV’s Trust Me I’m a Doctor – ‘How to get stronger in just a few weeks without going to the gym!’
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…
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.
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.
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.
The Alexander Technique is Not Just About Sitting and Standing!
Following on from my previous Blog entry on the condition called ‘text neck’ , it is interesting to see that the Daily Mail has published an article about an Australian chiropractor, Dr James Carter, who has reported seeing ‘an alarming increase’ in the number of patients coming to him with text neck within the last 2 years – and that about 50 percent of those patients have been school-aged children.
Dr Carter, and many other practitioners, have been finding very obvious postural changes associated with text neck, which lead to spinal damage and pain in people – including children as young as seven – which Carter puts down to their addictive over-use of smart phones and tablets for many hours at a time.
X-Ray of Seven Year Old Child’s Neck
These X-ray photos illustrate the damage to the neck that can result from this type of prolonged misuse. The first one is, sadly, of a seven year old boy and it shows just how compressed the cervical vertebrae are and how over-curved the neck has become, so that the head is pulled back and down. What cannot be seen in these particular X-ray photos is the way this compression continues downwards, into the rest of the spine.
Of course children are very mobile physically and it’s possible for them to assume this sort of position temporarily and then to come out of it into a more aligned poise with a more suitably lengthened-out neck. However, the more frequently such contracted positions are assumed, the more habitual this way of being becomes for the child – so the less mobile and adaptable the child’s body-use becomes and the more damage ensues .
The second of Dr Carter’s photos shows a more normal curve in the neck. This is particularly obvious at the top of the neck, which shows a space between the top vertebra and the skull – a crucial area which we need to keep freely moving, in order to enable good poise, balance and general body-use. Freeing up this area is a central part of Alexander Technique lessons.
F M Alexander’s ‘Directions’ that he formulated for us to use on an everyday basis, is one of the AT tools we can use to help us avoid this back-and-down compression. If the 7 year old child was able to give himself these directions regularly, this would allow his spine to freely lengthen out again, in a similar manner to that shown in the second photo. FM’s directions are regularly taught in AT lessons and give people a wonderful tool with which to help themselves:
Allow my neck to be free
To allow my head to go forward and up
To allow my back to lengthen and widen
X-Ray of ‘Normal’ Curvature of the Neck