Tag Archives: Alexander Technique London

Habits Decide Our Futures

F M Alexander’s work centred on the role of habits in our lives.

Alexander is quoted in an article on Habits by Hank Wagner in Agri-View, a magazine for the agricultural community in Wisconsin. This is interesting, as farmers do not often advertise that they have AT lessons, so it is good that they are being introduced to Alexander’s work. The Technique can help all sorts of people cope with stress and problems such as back pain, which are experienced in farming communities as well as by city dwellers. We all have habits that contribute to our various discomforts and, when we learn to recognise them, we can learn how to stop many of them them and to change them. As Alexander stated :
“People do not decide their futures. They decide their habits and their habits decide their futures.” 
 
 
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F M Alexander 
 
This idea can be hard to believe and often we don’t want to accept just how much we are responsible for our habits and how they influence our way of life. Habits can be formed, for instance, as our response to injury, to our environment and to our own thoughts and feelings. Some people want to claim that a problem ‘is all someone / something else’s fault’, whilst others can get very self-blaming and think ‘it’s all my fault’ when they realise how we form out habits. Neither attitude is very helpful – and both tend to be habits in themselves! Acceptance, without blame, allows us to make changes more easily.
 
Wagner acknowledges that habits can be ‘particularly difficult to give up‘ and one of FM’s well known quotes is ‘Change involves carrying out an activity against the habit of life‘. We need to be willing to allow ourselves to change. First we need to inhibit’ or say ‘no’ to our unhelpful habits, then we can then allow ourselves to choose to do something different.
 
The article also cites some research undertaken by University College London into ‘How long does it take to form a habit’ (2009) which concluded that it takes 66 days to form a habit that can be performed automatically. Thinking about the process we go through in AT lessons, that is a lot of saying ‘no’ to old unhelpful habits and ‘yes’ to allowing new habits to take their place. This may help explain to students at least one reason why Alexander lessons are not a ‘Quick ‘Fix’! It takes time to change our habits and this process is helped when you are guided by the AT teacher’s words and gentle hands.

Teaching the Alexander Technique

I’ve been teaching the Alexander Technique for 29 years!

 
That deserves a quiet celebration….
 
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What an enjoyable and satisfying job this is too. I have met so many wonderful people from all walks of life, who have come to me for AT lessons and at least six of those have themselves gone on to train as Alexander teachers.
Of course I have also met many excellent and inspiring AT teachers over the years, including several first generation teachers who trained with F M Alexander himself.  I am very grateful to them as they have helped me to develop my skills and my own teaching work and I would like to thank them all.
One of the best things about being an Alexander teacher, is that I have to keep using the AT work for myself, otherwise my teaching would be worthless and I would probably end up with creating problems for myself, such as back pain.  There are not many jobs where looking after yourself is formally built-in, as an essential part of the process of working. Of course STAT expects teachers to have to have ongoing CPD training  but we also have to we aware of our own body-use minute by minute as we teach – and whilst we live our lives.
One of FM Alexander’s graduates was Margaret Goldie and I had the privilege of having some lessons with her and of working at the Bloomsbury Alexander Centre with her for some years. Miss Goldie had had been teaching for 60 years and had her 90th birthday whilst teaching there – now that’s an inspiring role model!

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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Alexander Technique and Anxiety Conditions

Anxiety and Panic Attacks


The Alexander Technique is well known for helping with our posture and with back problems but not so many people realise it is a useful tool to use in conditions of stress and anxiety. Some people that have for many years found the benefits of using the Technique to help with anxiety, are musicians and other performers, who have found the Technique invaluable to them in coping with stage fright.

It’s not just performers that can benefit from the calming aspects of the Technique – we all can. Almost everyone experiences anxiety at some point in their lives and the strength of anxiety can range from situations when we are just mildly worried about things, through to conditions such as performance anxiety, panic attacks or post traumatic stress disorder.

Using the Alexander Technique during an eye operation.

A pupil of mine mentioned that she sometimes has panic attacks and one of the things we have been working on in lessons is the idea of not reacting to anxious thoughts by tightening up her muscles and restricting her breathing. This not only helps reduce tension but can help to stop the anxiety from building up. 

Shortly after starting AT lessons, this pupil had to have an eye operation for which she was sedated but only to the level where she could still talk – and she could still see the surgeon as he was performing the operation. This understandably lead to her feeling a bit anxious but she was pleased to be able to tell me that “When I used the Alexander Technique, I stopped myself from having a panic attack during the eye operation”.

It was quite impressive for her to be able to use the Technique so well after just 5 lessons. Fortunately, she was asked to lie down in the semi-supine position for the operation and the fact that she had been practising the AT lying down procedure regularly, in this position, would undoubtedly have helped her to remember what she had learned in her Alexander lessons. My pupil found she could use the AT during the operation in order to help herself stay calm, so that she avoided building up lots of tension and was able to keep her breathing more regular and easy. It also helped her that a nurse sat and held held her hand throughout the operation, something we could happily see more of in the NHS. 

At the Dentist…..

Another excellent time to use the AT is when we visit the dentist, where people experience different levels of discomfort and anxiety whilst receiving treatment. It can be very tempting to pull our head back with loads of tension in the neck, whilst holding the jaw open stiffly during dental procedures. However, we can use the Technique to keep our jaws more free, to look after our necks and backs and to help ourselves be calmer as we lie in the dentist’s chair. 

Another bonus is that it’s helpful to have something else to think about, other than the drill or whatever bit of metalwork is filling our mouth at the time! It can be very reassuring to know that we can use the Alexander Technique to help us cope with a huge range of different situations and conditions.  

Next Intro Workshop for Women & Teenage Girls 9 March.  Booking and info here.

Individual Lessons regularly available. You can contact me here.

Alexander Technique Intro for Women & Girls

Introductory Workshop for Women & Teenage Girls 
 
Saturday 9 March ~ 2.0pm – 4.30pm
£25
Fundraising for Mary on the Green 

 

Reg Charity: 1087866
 

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All fees will be donated to MOTG, towards erecting a monument to the pioneering feminist and human rights activist
Mary Wollstonecraft, here on Newington Green 
 
This Workshop is linked to International Women’s Day, giving women and girls a chance to try out the Alexander Technique in a small friendly group. There will be some gentle experiential games, demonstrations, hands-on work ~ plus a nice cup of tea or coffee. 
 
SMALL GROUP:  PHONE TO SEE IF PLACES ARE STILL AVAILABLE
020 7254 9206
 
 
A Reduced rate 1:1 lesson will also be available to participants
 
 
Mary Wollstonecraft
But with awareness and AT lessons, we can free ourselves from this prison!

The ‘Stiff Upper Lip’ habit

Research shows the British habit of having a ‘Stiff Upper Lip’ may reduce Cancer survival rates.

The BBC cites research that indicates people in the UK tend to be slower to contact their doctors when they notice possible cancer symptoms and this puts them more at risk than patients in most other countries. As with most conditions, the sooner there is a diagnosis, the more treatment options are likely to be available. Delaying diagnosis can reduce cancer survival rates (as can a lack of NHS funding!)

The article says this is particularly true of Brits over 50 years of age, who often say they are embarrassed and don’t want to waste the Dr’s time. Researchers also suggest they still have a ‘wartime mentality’ and feel they need to be stoic. Money worries and the recession add to fears about losing jobs, so many people feel less able to admit to having a problem, so it is understandable why the ‘stiff upper lip’ comes into play.  How sad – if only they could allow themselves to seek help sooner.
A Stiff Upper Lip impacts on other conditions too

Some people come for AT lessons because their constant back problems or RSI (for instance) have become so painful that they are finally driven to seek help and come to the Alexander Technique. Often they have tried so hard to do their best that they’ve lived and worked through stress, pain or illness for months before deciding to address the problem, which usually makes their condition worse and can lead to more serious illnesses and ME, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. 
People often find great relief from their pain by learning how to use their bodies differently in AT lessons but the more entrenched their habits and the longer they have been around, the harder it is for change to happen and for healing to occur. When we are ready and willing to allow ourselves to change, change usually takes place – the earlier this process starts, the easier it is and the sooner we can feel more comfortable in our bodies. This isn’t necessarily age related. I have known some eighty year old pupils more open to allowing change than some fifteen year olds!

Don’t be so Stoic!

Most of the time we just don’t need to be so stoic (although very occasionally, it is a useful skill to draw upon).  It is important to know when we are stuck in a pattern that does not serve us so we need to stop working in the way in which we have been doing and to allow ourselves to ask for appropriate help. 

To illustrate what often happens, I will explore the problem of RSI. There are many people who constantly use computers or musical instruments and experience increasing levels of pain. They continue working right through the pain in order to meet deadlines and they stoically believe they have to keep on going, despite their discomfort. This is not a very pleasant way to live and yet many people ‘keep a stiff upper lip’ and keep working, getting caught in the mouse trap. Changing the mouse may help briefly but then the pain tends to come back with overuse – unless the way they work and use their bodies also gets changed. Far better to seek help quickly, as one drummer recently did, in the very first weeks of having painful arms.

It’s OK to seek help sooner ~ Know when to STOP

My second example is of a new AT pupil who described her experience of previously having ME – I’ll call her Mary. As a younger woman, she had been both working and attending college at the same time and was doing far too much. She also had a full social life and chose not to take any of her holiday for a full calendar year. Then Mary became ill with sinus problems which just wouldn’t go away but she ‘just kept on working’ through her illness – until she found she couldn’t walk. Mary ended up in hospital for a week and spent three months being ‘out of it’ and unable to walk. Her body had rather dramatically told her to stop being so stoic and to stop overworking! 

Mary began to recover and to walk again. She changed her attitude towards work and her studies, so that she did a lot less and did not overstretch herself. The ME lasted for four years or so, which is rather less than it takes many people to recover and this may largely be due to the fact
that Mary took her condition seriously and made important changes in her attitude towards the way
she worked, cutting out everything unnecessary and ‘extra’, which gradually allowed her body to heal and her health to improve.

Wisely, Mary has taken a sabbatical in order to avoid going back into her old patterns of overwork. She wants to stay in touch with what is really important to her and has started having Alexander lessons in order to enhance this process 
Many people over the years have found that learning the Alexander Technique can help them to manage conditions like ME, RSI and back pain, as they begin to fine tune their energy and tension levels and learn to pace themselves better. 
The Technique not a cure-all but most people find the work incredibly helpful in all sorts of different situations and conditions – it can even help you free your jaw, smile and begin to let go of a habitual urge to keep a stiff upper lip!

F M Alexander’s Birthday

F M Alexander’s Birthday ~ 20 January 1869 – 10 October 1956


Frederick Matthias Alexander was born 144 years ago today, in a rural area of Tasmania which has unfortunately, been in the news recently for having major bush fires – whilst here in London we have what is for us, quite a lot of snow.
I am very grateful to Alexander for having developed his Technique, as it continually proves to be so useful and rewarding to use and I include as an important part of my daily life. Not only do I enjoy teaching the Technique but I apply FM’s work all the time – and right now the Technique really helps me when I have to cope with maintaining my balance as I walk around on slippery pavements and snow!
This process has been aided by my fitting ice grips to my boots and this has made it far easier to think about my use as I walk, as I’m not continually worried about falling down.
It is so easy to tense up our legs and hips when trying not to slip on the ice – but this really doesn’t help! The tension tends to go right up into our backs, which then restricts our breathing. Another unhelpful habit is to bend over to look down at the snowy pathway, which pulls people off balance. We move much more freely when we are poised and avoid getting into such unhelpful habits.
I also notice how important it is to keep breathing easily through my nose, so that the cold air gets a chance to warm up a little before it reaches my lungs. When we allow our shoulders to remain loose, plus free up our backs, abdomen and hips, rather than hunching against the cold, our lungs also work more easily and freely. Alexander was known by some people as ‘The Breathing Man’ and when I apply the Technique in these ways, I can begin to appreciate just why he gained that name.
Thank You Mr Alexander
So thank you Mr Alexander for developing your Technique ~ and for teaching other teachers, so that they have spread the AT work far across the world. 

Leonardo da Vinci Anatomy Drawings

Leonardo da Vinci Anatomist Exhibition


There is a wonderful exhibition on at the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace, of Leonardo da Vinci’s anatomy drawings and if you are interested in art or the workings of our bodies, this exhibition is not to be missed! 

I have been very fortunate to have visited the exhibition as part of Clod Ensemble’s ‘Physical Thinking’ course. This allowed us, as course participants, to view the drawings after the Gallery had closed to the general public. What a privilege to be able to see Leonardo’s delicate, precise and beautiful work close to, without having to peer through crowds of people! He turns anatomical diagrams into fine art.

As an Alexander Technique teacher and ex-dancer, I find the short course both informative and fascinating, as Suzy Willson of Clod Ensemble leads the sessions and encourages us to find the movements suggested within Leonardo’s drawings of bones, internal organs and muscles, then to express those through our own bodies. It’s a very special experience to be exploring our body movement whilst surrounded by Leonardo’s works.

The Leonardo da Vinci Anatomist exhibition continues until 7 October ~ catch it while you can!


Hearts and Minds

Heart v Mind: What Makes us Human?


This is an excellent programme shown on BB4 0n 10 July 2012, so it will still be available on iPlayer for a while to come.

David Malone explores our society’s conflicting views of the heart, with the view from people with a poetic sensibility describing the heart as being central to our emotional states, whilst a more anatomical, mechanical approach sees the heart purely as a pump which is part of our physical make-up.

Contemporary research is taking place which bridges this gap and shows that the physical  heart has neurones that bring about changes, for instance in the heart-rate, in response to our empathic and emotional reactions.  

This is a fascinating programme that questions the mind-body split that F M Alexander was always challenging in his writing and when teaching his Technique. Keeping an awareness of these issues during Alexander lessons will surely enhance both the teaching and the learning experience.

This programme is well worth watching. Visit iPlayer to see it here 

One Child’s View of the Alexander Technique

This short piece was written by a young secondary school child for his Religious Studies homework and it illustrates an aspect of the Alexander Technique that is not often known by about many people, who often think that lessons are only about ‘sitting up straight’ – until they have experienced the work for themselves.

No mention of the Alexander Technique had been made by his school teacher. However, the boy had experienced some Alexander Technique for himself and he had also seen how people around him had changed in themselves, after taking a number of Alexander Lessons.

The boy’s words illustrate the fact that the Alexander Technique is a form of psychophysical learning which explores the relationship between the way we think and feel and the way we express those aspects of ourselves through the way we use our bodies. The Alexander Technique can even have aspects of being a spiritual experience – it’s not just a set of ordinary physical exercises that you do in order to improve your posture.

I will leave his homework to speak for itself.

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