UEL Wellness Day ’14

University of East London Wellness Day 18 November 

 
I had an interesting afternoon helping out at UEL’s Wellness Day, on a stall run by STAT (the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique). There were three AT teachers promoting the Technique, plus Ilia, STAT’s manager – and of course there was Alex the skeleton!
The young man in the photo was running the next stall and it was good to be able to introduce the Alexander Technique to him, giving him some ‘hands-on work’ whilst he was sitting, standing and walking around. A good number of students, lecturers and staff kept us busy for the whole time we were there, asking questions and having mini AT lessons, which was great.
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Alex was rather tired by the end of the day……
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Allow Pain to be Your Teacher

As I Say to My Pupils – ‘Pain Can be a Good Teacher’


When we understand the significance of pain and recognise the different types of pain we can experience, we can use pain as a teacher and not just see it as negative. This is particularly true of injuries or aches and pains from tension, which we can feel powerless to change. However, when we listen to our bodies (without becoming obsessive about it) and develop an awareness of habit patterns which can contribute to or even be the cause of our pain, we can begin to make choices as to how we act and move, and so begin to reduce pain – which helps us gain some conscious control over the situation..
Of course, some types of pain are an indicator of serious illness or injury and medical attention will be required, but even here we can often use the Alexander Technique to ease the discomfort and to help manage the pain. 

Pain from a Broken Toe

Some years back I dropped a heavy piece of wood onto my right big toe and broke the end of it. Although the break was tiny, it was of course, very painful and I walked with a limp for some time, despite my efforts to minimise the distortion in my movements.
After a while, I began to notice that my left knee and right hip joints were beginning to hurt. Thankfully I was already an Alexander teacher and I knew these new pains were developing because of the imbalance created in my body-use from walking with a limp. I realised that I was continuing to limp even after my toe had stopped hurting – how quickly habits form! When I paid attention to stopping this habit, my joints stopped hurting. Any subsequent pain indicated to me that I had gone back into the protective limping habit, which I really did not need any more, so I reminded myself to stop that again.
Fear of Pain

After experiencing pain, we often develop a habit of reacting to the thought of pain by tensing up to protect ourselves ‘in case’ and this tends to be counter-productive. Often these reactions are quite sub-conscious but in Alexander lessons we can learn to recognise them and are then more able to consciously let go of them .
Reacting by tensing up at the thought of a dentist drilling a tooth for instance, just makes the jaw tighter, more sore and harder for the dentist to move. We can also give ourselves neck, back and head ache if we lie rigidly in the dentist’s chair. Going to the dentist’s is a great time to apply the Alexander Technique! Lying in the chair, reminding ourselves not to tighten our jaw, neck and back can make the experience far more comfortable – and it’s also a good distraction from the process in hand! 

RSI Pain
One condition that affects many people these days, including computer-users and musicians, is Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) and this is a condition when people often tense up at the thought of being in pain – which just creates more pain. I have taught various pupils with RSI and one of the most helpful things they can do is attend to the pain they experience, rather than continuing to work through it and to avoid tensing up in reaction to the thought that they will be in pain if they perform a certain action. 
By developing an understanding as to which of their actions bring on pain and discovering what it is they do and how they have habitually performed those actions, helps them to realise how they have developed RSI. Then they can learn to avoid unhelpful habits and any pain arising during an activity can show them when they are falling back into the habits that cause problems. 
With the help of an Alexander teacher they are then able to learn to:
1) stop a habit and an activity just before any pain kicks in, so that they can avoid creating more pain. Then their bodies can have a chance to recover.
 
2) learn to modify how they perform tasks in a more free and easy manner, so they are more poised, using less strain and tension. 
3) learn to challenge the thoughts and attitudes that underlie the overuse patterns they have habitually fallen into. For instance, thoughts such as ‘I must finish this‘, ‘I must continue until I get it right’ or ‘I’m feeling stressed‘ tend to get us to keep pushing ourselves on until there is, consequently, yet more pain. At this point, the quality of our work often deteriorates, so it is far better to stop before this happens!
Completely stopping and lying down in semi-supine for 10 – 20 minutes can allow our minds and bodies to calm down, unwind and we can let go of our habits of tension that keep driving us on. It also helps injuries to recover and we usually work far better afterwards.
Pain Can be a Valuable Warning Signal
It can be a slow process to learn how to change our reactions and to see pain as a valuable warning signal but this process is one that pays off. It can be used with many conditions such as back and neck pain, many types of headache and a variety of other strains. An elderly lady came to me for AT lessons and she had bad arthritis in her knees, so that it was very painful to move into sitting or standing and her knees rather scarily crunched as she moved. However, when she refused to tense up at the thought of moving, she amazed herself by standing up with very little pain – and virtually no noise!  When there is deterioration to our bones, the AT cannot change that but when we allow the joints to move more freely, there can be a reduction in the pain experienced. Pain can help remind us to stop, think and then move thoughtfully, freely and much more easily.
In this way, people find they gain a tool they can use to learn from pain, so that they can avoid those habits that help to create pain, This gives them more choices, helps people to regain some power over the situation and often frees them from some or all of the pain that has been one of their teachers.

Research into Balance and the Alexander Technique

Study: Can the Alexander Technique Improve Balance and Mobility in Older Adults with Visual Impairments?


Yet another interesting piece of research has been published which provides further evidence as to the effectiveness of the Alexander Technique. 

Researchers at the Sydney Medical School, Sydney University, Australia, have investigated the impact of taking Alexander Technique lessons on the mobility and balance of 120 subjects, who were all over 50 years old and had visual impairments. The intervention group were given AT lessons plus their usual care, whilst the control group just received their usual care.

Primary outcome measures of physical performance were taken at 3 months, with secondary outcome measures of postural sway, maximal balance range and the number of falls experienced by the subjects, taken at 12 months. 

Conclusion
The results showed that there were no significant changes in the the primary outcome measures. However, the intervention of taking Alexander lessons indicated there was a ‘significant impact’ on the secondary outcome measures one year later.

The results showed benefits in postural sway for the group that had AT lessons, compared to the control group who did not. This group also had a trend towards fewer falls and fewer injurious falls. Some people who had previously experienced multiple falls, also showed an improved level of mobility.     

This is very encouraging and, remarkably, these changes in outcome came about after having just 12 weeks worth of half hour long AT lessons. Unfortunately, the research team had to reduce the number of lessons from the recommended 20-25 lessons, down to 12 lessons, because of financial restraints. How much more significant might the outcomes have been, if the subjects had been able to have a greater number of Alexander lessons, possibly of 3/4 hour in length, as I and many AT teachers offer?

The research paper states that the findings ‘suggest further investigation of the Alexander Technique is warranted’. It is good to see that amongst the references cited, there are a number of papers relating to prior research into the Alexander Technique, such as the ATEAM Trial re back pain.  Let’s hope more funding is available to develop this research. Further research into this and other relevant topics, will be much welcomed by the Alexander community!


Pregnancy, Childbirth and the Alexander Technique

Pregnancy and Back Pain

Women’s bodies go through dramatic changes during pregnancy and, as the NHS Choices website states, many women experience back pain, particularly during the last weeks of pregnancy. As the baby grows, the woman’s ligaments become more stretchy and the extra weight of the baby tends to drop forwards and down, tilting the pelvis, so that the pregnant mother often loses the length and strength in her lower back, increasing the lordosis and compressing the lumbar vertebrae.  This extra tilting of the pelvis can also contribute to pain in the pelvic area, as in Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction (SPD).

However, as can be seen in the photos of this young women at 271/2 weeks pregnant, using the Alexander Technique can help women to maintain the length in the lower back. This AT student had virtually no back pain despite the large size of her baby and she was still able to practice lying on her back in semi-supine, right up until childbirth. She was also riding her bike throughout her pregnancy!
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Childbirth and After
 
Practicing ‘monkey position‘ was one of the ways the AT helped Erica to maintain the length in her lower back during pregnancy and it was particularly useful both during labour and after giving birth. The photo below shows Erica using a very ‘shallow’ monkey position but in her AT lessons, we also explored how she could use a deeper monkey with her knees more bent, which helps encourage the baby to move into a good position for giving birth and will be useful when bending to pick up baby from the cot or floor, for instance. Bending the knees still further takes the movement down into a squat, which can be great to use during labour.
 
Erica kindly allowed me to share her experience of using the Alexander Technique to help her during labour, childbirth and after. She gave birth in hospital and ended up by needing a C Section, as her baby was very large for her small frame. 
 
“During the time I was labouring naturally (before it was clear I would need an epidural and caesarean) my husband and I used a lot of AT techniques, such as always coming back to a free neck, using the exercise ball to relax my hips through contractions, watching out for tension in the jaw and shoulders and accepting the sensations and contractions rather than fighting them. These were invaluable tools for the long hours of labour and I had to use lots of ‘whispered ahs‘ in theatre, as the drugs made me feel very shaky.”
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Monkey Position can also be Used During Recovery
 
“My recovery has been very speedy. After the caesarean I was up and about the next day as monkey helped me to be mobile around the ward – so the hospital were happy to discharge me the next day. The doctors said I was a great advertisement for having a caesarean and the body bouncing back! 
 
Using monkey is absolutely vital for recovering from a caesarean, given the pain and weakness of the tummy muscles. It is the only way to get up from a chair!  Thank you for all your guidance as monkey is saving me a lot of pain throughout the day.”
 
Of course Erica had worked hard at learning and practicing the Technique and she used it in her daily life, even before she became pregnant. This meant that she could call on her understanding of the AT and use it effectively when she really needed extra help.
 
Many thanks to Erica for sharing her experience and these photos, which were taken on the spur of the moment. I am glad to say both Mother and baby are doing well.
 
Next Introductory Workshop for Women and Teenage Girls ~ 7 March 2015
 
An International Women’s Day event
 
 

Paracetamol Doesn’t Help Lower Back Pain

Millions of Days Taken Off Work for Back Pain!
According to the NHS, work-related back pain caused the loss of 7.5 million working days during just one year in 2010 – 2011 ~ and this figure is not unique, it is similar for many other years as well. That is a lot of time off work and must have a big impact on the economy, so treatments for back pain are constantly being researched.

The Lancet has just published the results of a research trial that took place in Australia, which looked at the efficacy of prescribing paracetamol for people with acute lower back pain (24 July 2014). This research was a randomised, controlled trial with over 500 subjects in each group, taken from primary care centres in Sydney and the results show that paracetamol is no more help than taking a placebo at aiding recovery from acute lower back pain! 

The findings of this research therefore ‘question the universal endorsement of paracetamol in this patient group’. This traditional way of dealing with acute back pain is shown, for instance, in the NHS Choices website which mainly advocates ‘keeping active and if necessary take over-the-counter painkillers‘.  No wonder the pain often lingers.

Causes of Back Pain

Some back pain is caused by illness or an accident but the NHS states that the majority of problems are caused by ‘bad posture while sitting or standing, bending awkwardly, or lifting incorrectly’ – what F M Alexander called ‘habits of mis-useAddressing such habits and learning to improve our body-use is a cornerstone of the Alexander Technique and it is now recommended by the NHS as a method of reducing long-term back pain. This recommendation comes as a result of the major ATEAM Research Trial in 2008 that showed lessons in the Alexander Technique were more helpful for people with chronic lower back pain than were either massage or an exercise regime prescribed by doctors.

Prevention is Surely Better than Cure.
I suggest that it would be far more helpful to use the AT sooner, in order to help reduce acute back pain before the problem becomes chronic and therefore a long-term problem. 
Even better is to learn and to use the Alexander Technique in order to let go those habits of mis-use of which we are mainly unaware, until an AT teacher can help us to recognise them, and help ourselves prevent back problems from developing in the first place.
Update

The British Medical Journal, BMJ, have published another paper by the Australian Research Team 31 March 2015. This is an overview of 15 randomised controlled research trials exploring back pain and the effectiveness of using paracetamol. 

The outcomes showed that paracetamol did not help back pain, caused liver toxicity and did not improve the quality of people’s lives! – and this is what is usually recommended as the first line of defence to help back pain!

You can read an ouotline of the findings below, as reported in the BMJ. As a result of this research, the medicines safety regulator is assessing the safety of over-the-counter drugs and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, NICE, is awaiting the results of the review before making any decisions about whether or not to continue recommending paracetamol for lower back pain and arthritis. It may recommend exercise instead. 

Some of this research has been in the public domain for over a year. However the ATEAM Research Trial which showed that the Alexander Technique was more helpful than exercise for lower back pain and improved the quality of people’s lives, was published back in 2008. How long will it take NICE to understand the implications of this research into the effectiveness of the Alexander Technique and to act on it by recommending AT lessons for back pain, instead of toxic drugs?


You may see the outline of the findings below:
Published March 2015 BMJ 2015;350:h1225

‘What is already known on this topic

  • Clinical guidelines recommend paracetamol as first line a
    nalgesic drug for both spinal pain (neck and low back pain) and osteoarthritis of the hip and knee

  • The evidence base supporting these recommendations has recently been called into question

What this study adds

  • High quality evidence suggests that paracetamol is ineffective in reducing pain and disability or improving quality of life in patients with low back pain

  • There is high quality evidence that paracetamol offers a small but not clinically important benefit for pain and disability reduction in patients with hip or knee osteoarthritis

  • Though high quality evidence shows that patients taking paracetamol are nearly four times more likely to have abnormal results on liver function tests compared with those taking oral placebo, the clinical relevance of this is unclear.’

 

Chilling Out in the Garden

After the Work – Enjoy your Garden

 
Now this is dedication to using the Alexander Technique Lying Down Procedure! 
 
This AT pupil kindly sent me a photo (Aug 2012) which was taken whilst he lay in semi-supine up his garden. He specifically built the little jetty over his pond, so that he can use it as a quiet place to practise the Lying Down or Constructive Rest Procedure outdoors.  
 
Whilst he is lying there he can see the fish and other wildlife living in the pond and garden – and he can also look up into a big tree above him, with sky and clouds as a backdrop. He has a beautiful view which is continuously moving, which helps him not to fix his eyes on just one point as he lies there. This will also help him to remain alert yet quietly ‘working on himself’.
 
Active Rest by pond.jpg
 
© Nicholas Franchini           Photo: Leonardo Franchini
What a great way to unwind after periods of work, sports or gardening – or just to return to a quiet place in oneself. You can find more info about using the lying down procedure here.
Now I wonder if I can create a special outdoor space for myself, where I can practise the lying down procedure with even more pleasure….

Mindfulness and the Alexander Technique

Mindfulness


Mindfulness is a topic that has been explored in the media of late. For instance, an article in the Sunday Times, ‘Breathe deep and mind how you go’ discussed the value of using mindfulness training as a way of helping school children who find it hard to cope with their various experiences of stress, including exams and “body image” pressures. Heads of high-performing schools are concerned at the ‘alarming rise in (pupils) suffering from mental health disorders’ and there is a move to build more resilience in children. This is admirable – but hopefully people are also addressing ways to reduce some of the pressures put upon these youngsters?

Some aspects of mindfulness training have similarities with aspects of the Alexander Technique. The Times article states that a number of schools use mindfulness training as a way of helping children ‘to act consciously and thoughtfully… rather than react with a kneejerk reaction’ and mindfulness ‘has proved effective in ameliorating young people’s mental and emotional difficulties’. This is something that is part and parcel of Alexander lessons, where we learn to inhibit unhelpful habitual reactions, so gaining more conscious control and more choice as to how we respond to situations. 

Mindfulness training in classrooms helps children learn to notice their thoughts and feelings as they sit quietly and breathe deeply. Anthony Seldon suggests that ‘Every school in Britain could begin this journey back to sanity and self control by introducing two minutes of stillness every day’. Whilst this is a great beginning, just two minutes a day does sound somewhat minimal.

Mindfulness in Movement – Including Breathing

One of the beauties of the Alexander Technique is that part of the work is learning to develop what could be called ‘mindfulness in movement’, so that we aim to live our lives and perform everyday activities, including breathing, with more awareness. Becoming aware of our breathing and just observing it, as in some mindfulness training and in the AT is one thing. Being asked to make ourselves ‘breathe deeply’, as some people advocate, is another. It very much depends on HOW we breathe, as to whether or not this is helpful or, possibly, even harmful.

F. M. Alexander known as F.M.) was aware of how schools and the army used to advocate deep breathing exercises and he wrote extensively about the pitfalls of following any routine which used end-gaining principles‘ to force the breath. For instance his paper ”The Dangers of Deep Breathing’ (1908) outlines how this frequently results in distortions and patterns of mis-use such as ‘lifting the chest and collapsing’ whilst trying to breathe deeply, which usually ’cause an exaggeration of the defective muscular co-ordination already present, so that even if one bad habit is eradicated, many others – often more harmful – are cultivated’ .

F. M. himself had breathing problems as a young man, which contributed to him losing his voice when he was reciting on stage. He described himself as breathing through his mouth so that he made audible ‘sucking and gasping noises‘. In learning how to change these habits, F.M. began to develop the Technique as we know it today. Alexander was known by many as ‘The Breathing Man’ and he helped many people become better poised, with a coordinated use of their muscular mechanisms, so that their breathing could work smoothly and naturally. This is still a central part of Alexander lessons today.

Attention v Concentration

William James, an early and influential psychologist is quoted, as having stated that an education that taught people how to focus their attention would be “the education par excellence” – whilst he could perhaps be describing mindfulness training, this could also describe the Alexander Technique as well. F.M. was very keen to apply his methods to the general education of children, so that they could avoid developing bad habits that might stay with them all their lives. In 1924 the ‘Little School’ was started with
the help of Irene Tasker, a Montessori and AT teacher and the children were given Alexander Technique lessons alongside ordinary schoolwork, so that they were taught how to be aware of their psychophysical functioning – that is, their thinking and body use – throughout their school day. Unfortunately the second World War interrupted the work of this school and it was not able to be re-started after the war ended. Today, a number of schools incorporate the Technique into the curriculum to great effect, as do music and drama colleges. 

FM Alexander wrote of the problems of ‘mind-wandering’ and old habits which result in ‘thought-grooves’ but suggested that while we need to gain control of our thought processes we should ‘beware of so-called concentration‘ as it denotes conflict and leads to physical tension. 

Instead, Alexander says:
We must cultivate… the deliberate habit of taking up every occupation with the whole mind… which necessitates bringing into play every faculty of the attention’. (The Alexander Technique  – Essential Writings of F M Alexander selected by Edward Maisel 1974)

Now this, surely, is mindfulness in action and it enriches our lives.

NHS Overview of Alexander Technique

NHS Choices

It is encouraging that the NHS website includes an overview of the Alexander Technique in the ‘Choices’ section of the site. This gives a description of the AT and also includes details of some research studies which have investigated aspects and outcomes of having Alexander Technique lessons. 

NHS Choices states that there is evidence the Alexander Technique may help to relieve long term back pain and acknowledges that there is preliminary evidence to suggest it may help with Parkinson’s Disease, depression, avoidance of falling, improving respiratory function and stuttering. 

Anecdotal Evidence and Support from the Scientific Community.
There has always been support for the Alexander Technique from members of the medical profession and the scientific community. When F M Alexander was developing the Technique in the 1920’s, he had the support of eminent scientists such as the psychologist and educational reformer Prof John Dewey, the anatomist Prof Raymond Dart and the neurophysiologist Sir Charles Sherrington. When F M was establishing his first teacher training course in 1930, he was also supported by a large number of doctors who respected and valued his work. Still later in 1973 when Nikolaas Tinbergen became Nobel Laureate for Physiology and Medicine, he devoted a section of his acceptance speech to describing the benefits of the Alexander Technique.  

There is by now a wealth of anecdotal evidence re the benefits of learning the Technique, such as can be seen from the Testimonials section of my website. Conditions which people mention as having improved with learning the AT include:

  • Back Pain
  • Headaches
  • Mood swings
  • Posture
  • Repetitive Strain Injuries
  • Stress
  • Whiplash

Students also found AT lessons aided: recuperation; reduction in the use of pain relief medication; pregnancy and childbirth; general wellbeing; confidence; musical performance; running marathons! These are just some of the ways in which people have found the AT has helped them and an exploration of the literature available about the Alexander Technique will reveal many other conditions, activities and lifestyles that have benefited from the application of AT work.

Research based Evidence 

As yet, only some aspects of the Technique have been researched and only a few large scale clinical trials have taken place but an increasing amount of research is being undertaken to investigate the effectiveness of the Alexander Technique.  The NHS considers some of these studies robust enough to scientifically support the claims that both Alexander teachers and their pupils have made about the Technique and includes references to these in their article, including the ATEAM Trial  in which the AT came out as the most effective treatment for patients with chronic and recurrent back pain.

If you would like to find out more about more research that has been done, The Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique website lists a much wider range of studies than does the NHS site, including the major studies and some of the small scale preliminary ones which have begun evaluating the Technique. These studies indicate a wider range of possible benefits to be gained from taking AT lessons and further research into these topics would be advantageous. Of course funding is an issue as large scale clinical trials are costly but STAT’s Research Group is keen to support and promote further AT research within academic institutions.

Sitting Can Damage Your Health

The Health Hazards of Sitting


This is the title of an article in the Washington Post which aims to address some of the health problems associated with sitting, particularly for long periods of time. Whilst many of these problems were familiar to me as an Alexander teacher, I was rather surprised when I saw that over-sitting increases your risk of mortality. 

A research study of people watching TV over a period of 8.5 years, showed that those who watched for 1-2 hours a day had a 4% risk of dying, whereas people who watched 5-6 hours had a 31% risk – and over 7 hours a day resulted in a massive 61% risk of dying. Of course many office workers also sit at their desks for over 7 hours a day – so beware.

Some of the health hazards listed that are associated with too sedentary a lifestyle are organ damage, poor circulation and brain function, muscle degeneration, soft bones, strained necks and bad backs. Quite a list!

What Can We Do to Avoid Problems?

So what does the article suggest people can do about this if they have to sit or use desks for long periods of time? Some gentle exercises are mentioned and these may well help, depending on how they are performed.

One suggestion is to sit on something wobbly (intentionally wobbly, that is).  I understand Google has supplied them for their staff to use, which is great. I must say I do love sitting on my exercise ball whilst computing and I am doing so right now.

I agree that using a ball in this way can help us stop fixing our bodies which in turn helps to keep our musculature active and flexible – and it’s hard to slump when sitting on a ball. But some people start locking their hip and leg muscles when on the ball, perhaps because of fearing falling off, so it can help them to learn how to avoid that tension reaction and allow themselves to sit freely, despite the constant movements. Balls can also be used for gentle exercises and for having a good stress-busting bounce occasionally (like a grown-up Space Hopper). 

Another good suggestion the article made is to use desks that enable people to alternate sitting and standing. One of my pupils had an adjustable desk at work and it did help her manage her back pain – but of course she also had to learn new ways of sitting, standing and moving around in order to make best use of this facility because previously, using the desk on its own had not get rid of her back pain. That’s where learning the AT can be so very useful, because applying the AT whilst working and living her life, my pupil gradually got rid of her debilitating back problems and then joined a dance class for fun – she could not have done that before!

The article also illustrates some of the impacts of slumping at a desk and makes it very clear how unhelpful this can be, showing a woman sitting in a collapsed position. However, the text here is somewhat misleading as it seems to suggest that we avoid using our sitting bones:

People who sit more are at greater risk for herniated lumbar discs. A muscle called the psoas travels through the abdominal cavity and, when
it tightens, pulls the upper lumbar spine forward. Upper-body weight rests
entirely on the
ischeal tuberosity (sitting bones) instead of being distributed
along the arch of the spine. 

But we do need to sit on our sitting bones! The main illustration in the article, of the slumped woman, does show too much weight going through the rear part of the sitting bones, which is not helpful and would be likely to cause lumbar back pain. However, if the pelvis were realigned to be more upright, the weight could be distributed through the spine, then transferred through the pelvis and into the central part of the sitting bones, or into the legs if standing.  

Strangely, the illustrations showing people the ‘correct’ way to sit and stand, omit showing the pelvis and sitting bones altogether, so the person appears to be finely balanced on thin air and the tiny coccyx. 

“There’s No Such Thing As A Right Position” FM Alexander

It is so easy to fall into wanting a quick fix and assume that standing or sitting up straight for sensible amounts of time and then taking exercise, will solve all problems. Well, while this strategy may help a bit, it’s quite possible to sit and stand in a rigid manner, for instance, which can build up tensions, restrict our breathing and may lead to other problems in the future. Stiffening like this is tiring and people usually can’t keep it up for long.

As Alexander himself put it when teaching:

I am putting into gear the muscles that hold you up, and you are putting them out of gear and then making a tremendous effort to hold yourself up, with the result that, when you cease that effort, you slump down worse than ever”. (FM Alexander Aphorisms) 

So it is not just about the positions we sit and stand in, but the manner in which we use our bodies during our activities that makes the biggest difference of all. We can learn to be aware of our body use, gradually putting our muscles ‘into gear’ so we find an easier and more balanced way of sitting and moving around that enhances, not damages, our health.

Applications of the Alexander Technique: Luggage

Everyday Activities:- Pulling a Case or Trolley

 
One of the activities that people sometimes ask to explore as part of their Alexander lesson is “How is the best way to pull luggage around and avoid getting backache?”
 
These days we are fortunate to have roller luggage and laptop cases that dramatically redce the weight that we have to deal with when travelling and commuting. Despite this, many people still end up with back ache or sore shoulders after pulling bags around, so it is really helpful to think about how to apply the AT to this and other everyday activities. 
 
As usual, it is important not to assume that good equipment will solve the problem on its own – we still need to think about the way we use ourselves as we manoeuvre heavy cases through crowds of people…..
 
We can learn a lot from the way this little girl is moving. She is alert, poised and aligned; her head is balanced as it leads her into movement; her upper chest widens out comfortably as her right arm reaches back and pulls the handle of her trolley. This child is not consciously aware of how she is using her body. However, as we get older we can learn to develop mindfulness and be aware, so we can give ourselves more choice as to how we move and act in the world.
 
Child with trolly .jpgAwareness and Choice
 
Some frequent but unhelpful habits to notice and to ask yourself about:
  • Do I hold the luggage handle at the right height for me?
  • Do I twist my torso as I drag the luggage behind me?
  • Do I pull down on one side of my body?
  • Do I rush through stations and airports tensely, carelessly, or with awareness?
  • Do I grab the luggage, or thoughtfully take hold of it – and how do I lift it?
  • Do I remember to stop and think before pulling or lifting something heavy – am I evenly balanced with a lengthened spine when I move or lift?
When you develop this type of Alexander Technique self-awareness, you can begin to answer some of these questions, so that you can have more choice about how to perform any activity. By  taking a moment to think about your body use and applying the AT to something like pulling your cases, you can help yourself avoid over-tiring, straining or even damaging your neck / back / hands / arms as you travel around. This process of noticing unhelpful habits can be easier with your AT teacher and some fruitful work can be done with this sort of topic in Alexander lessons