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Alexander Technique Helps Me Manage Parkinson’s

Parkinson’s Diagnosis

I heard about the Alexander Technique some years ago from my piano teacher who suggested that it could help me to improve my posture and to relax more when playing.

When I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s 4 years ago, after developing a tremor in my left arm and hand, I decided to follow up on my piano teacher’s recommendation.

Group Lessons Followed by One-to-One Lessons

I began with group lessons led by Hilary which demonstrated the potential of Alexander to help me manage my condition. I moved to having individual Alexander lessons with Hilary in which I have benefited enormously from her sympathetic, practical and clear support. She is always responsive to my particular needs.

Benefits of Having Alexander Lessons

As a result of my lessons with Hilary on the Alexander Technique:

  • I have learnt how to relax my mind and body quickly, any time any place – for example standing on the tube; sitting in the theatre; playing the piano.
  • This not only helps to reduce my Parkinson’s tremor – it also has a more profound calming effect on my whole nervous system, improving my confidence and general ability to cope.
  • My posture in walking, standing and sitting, and my general self-presentation have all improved.
  • I am more aware of, and, through the Alexander Technique, have the ability to correct bad habits – such as hunching over the computer and stiffening the neck and shoulders in response to stress.

Alexander Technique is Integrated into Everyday Life

A great advantage of the Alexander Technique is that it does not require any special equipment or time at the gym. It is integrated into everyday life, shaping how we sit, stand, walk and rest.

I have no doubt that the Alexander Technique is playing a significant part in helping me manage my condition successfully. While it was my diagnosis of Parkinson’s that led me to Alexander, my experience suggests that the Technique can contribute to the mental and physical well-being of anyone, of any age with any health issues – or none.

Helen Forrester CB    November 2022

Alexander Technique Helps Neck Pain and Headaches

Six Years of Suffering Regular Headaches

I went to see Hilary because of a long standing problem with my neck and shoulder. I have had occasional flair ups of shoulder pain for about 30 years. For the past 5 or 6 years I have been waking up in the morning with a headache a couple of times a month. At first I put it down to hypertension and stress but even when my blood pressure was controlled the headaches continued, occasionally developing into full blown migraines.

Last summer I went sailing in the Mediterranean. I had a wonderful time, swimming several times a day, though I was aware that holding my head out of the salty water whilst doing breast stroke wasn’t good for my neck. The morning after an uncomfortable night sail to Corsica I lay on my bunk in agony whilst the others swam. I had a migraine and pain extending down my arm past my elbow. When I returned to the UK there was some improvement but the morning headaches were now happening nearly every day and usually woke me about 3 or 4am. Gentle yoga eased the pain, but I was having to do it at 4am.

Just How DO I Sit and Stand?

My GP sent me to a pain management consultant who told me my shoulder blades were “winged” and should be tucked flatter against my back, and my spine was too straight, it should have more curve. I left the clinic feeling I no longer knew how I should sit or stand or hold myself.

A friend suggested the Alexander Technique. At my first lesson I found it hard to believe Hilary when she told me that I didn’t need to force myself into a different shape. If I relaxed and let my body do its own thing it would naturally fall into position. Her recommended 20 minutes lying on the floor in semi supine seemed to me like a very long time doing nothing much! However I was so exhausted with the 4am headaches I decided to give it a try.

Pain Fades Away With Semi-Supine Procedure and Awareness During Activity

When I woke in the night with a headache, instead of doing yoga I tried lying in semi supine. I began to realise that if I concentrated on releasing my neck and shoulders the pain faded. Soon I was managing to go back to bed and get a few more hours sleep. That spurred me on and I read everything I could find on the Alexander Technique, practised lying down at least twice a day and tried to remember what I learned about inhibition and use in the rest of my day. At first that seemed impossible but with Hilary’s encouragement I know now that it is gradually seeping into the rest of my life.

Swimming and Sailing Again

I’m swimming again, remembering to lengthen and straighten my back. I’m sailing again too, though I still need to work on remembering what I’ve learned when I’m out in a boat. I’m generally much more aware of how I’m using my back and if I’ve been giving my neck a hard time I can usually sort it out with spending a while in semi supine when I get home.

Now Headache Free!

Best of all I’m headache free – they just faded away. Thank you

Pat – June 2017

Alexander Technique Can Help With Hypermobility

Shoulder Pain and Tension

I came to Hilary two years ago when I developed an intense shoulder pain playing the violin. I simply had not noticed how much tension I was putting into my playing. Hilary also helped me to notice other postural quirks and tensions that were affecting my sitting posture, computer use and many basic daily activities. Like many people I have a tendency to “power through” any problem by redoubling effort – my body was finally rebelling at age 40!

Since taking lessons with Hilary (initially regular weekly lessons, then occasional) I have noticed improvements in many areas:

  • Almost immediately my ability to sit still in meditation for 45 minutes improved noticeably – I became able to release aches and pains as they developed, without having to change position 
  • I learnt to approach the violin with patience, whereas before I had been “rushing” at it and tensing up
  • In my running club I improved my pace, core stability and breath coordination
  • I became aware of unhelpful posture habits: twisting my body at the computer, collapsing onto the sofa, clenching my right hand whilst texting, or leaning my hips against the kitchen sink whilst washing up.

Body Awareness and Co-ordination

Even more than these specifics though, the greatest benefit has been the overall improvement in body awareness and coordination. This has been sorely lacking all my life (pun intended) as I have always had hyper-mobility in several joints. I had not previously realised how much it affected me and limited my choices. Since working with Hilary on improving my proprioception and kinesthesia, I am now much more confident in how I use my body and am constantly improving my basic coordination skills, leading to stability and strength rather than frustration and injury. I feel like my mind and body are friends again now.

The New Family Game: ‘Posture Police’!

Lessons with Hilary have always been fun and relaxing, she listens every carefully and adapts her lessons to give precisely what is needed that week. I always leave her beautiful house feeling refreshed and buoyant. The only down-side is that I’m afraid I am a bit of an Alexander-evangelist now, and have roped my whole family in as “posture police” – with noticeable improvements in all of us!  By “posture police” I mean my kids are now in the excellent habit of saying “nice straight back, Mummy!” to me (or “ooh, your back is really curved when you’re putting your shoes on, you should bend your knees!” Also to each other, and they are more easily aware of their own movements and postures. (They do know it’s not supposed to be a stiffly-held straight back.) I have the feeling they are so much more aware of their bodies than before.

Having done plenty of martial arts, my husband Marco has better posture and balance in movement than I do generally, but he is not immune to “laptop and couch slouch” – now he has three pairs of eyes ready to remind him. It’s become quite a family game. We’re all helping each other take care of our bodies better.

Pascale (Architect and Mother of Twins)

My Alexander Technique Journey

One student’s route through to training as an Alexander Technique Teacher

I started to have Alexander Technique lessons with Hilary King in 1988 after a lower back injury at work and persistent pain.  I loved the AT lessons immediately and especially enjoyed using semi-supine to control any discomfort and pain and also to reduce stress.   I found Hilary was always very compassionate and attentive and took a lively interest in my work and lifestyle, to try to understand how my difficulties may have manifested. She was always very calm and considerate, paid attention to detail and was a very patient teacher, showing enthusiasm and commitment to the lessons.

I continued to have lessons for well over 12 months and during that time I became pregnant and Hilary saw me right through my pregnancy and for a few lessons after I had given birth.

After that, family life and work took over but AT thoughts were always in the back of my mind and I often gave informal advice to family and friends, lying down ‘talk-throughs’ to my young children and I often thought about how I was using my body for myself whether I was sitting, standing or lying down.  I even dreamed of training to become an AT teacher……….

Roll on to 2010 and my work and family life changed dramatically.  My children had flown the nest and my work pattern changed for the better, with reduced hours and stress.  So I started to think about AT training again.  I ‘Googled’ Alexander Technique and immediately found Hilary was running an International Women’s Day workshop in March.  The forces were speaking to me, I had to go!

And so, in September 2011 I started training to be an AT teacher at LCATT (London Centre for Alexander Teaching and Training), where Hilary also teachers, and I graduated in July 2014.

It was a wonderful three years including extensive aspects of bodywork, mindfulness and nurturing the soul and now, whilst being semi-retired, I have embarked on a new career. How wonderful is that!

Thank you Alexander Technique and to Hilary for making my introduction to the AT so enlightening.

Deborah Levy

Deborah teaches in Crouch End, N8

An Experience of Alexander Lessons

Towards the end of 2012, I realised that I was struggling to find ways to deal with harmful levels of stress that were leaving me prone to panic attacks and fearing chronic exhaustion. I recalled having tried Alexander Technique lessons in the past and, although I had not been convinced at the time, I thought I should try again. Once I searched on the internet I noticed that there were a number of teachers practising in and around this area of North London, but Hilary King’s website inspired confidence.

Coping Strategies and a New Vocabulary

Arriving for a session with a practitioner that you have never met in person, be it an osteopath, a psychotherapist or an Alexander Teacher, can be a daunting experience. But on first meeting Hilary for one to one lessons, she struck me as someone who was calm and understanding, as well as a perceptive listener. Over a year on, it is reasonably difficult to recall how strange it is to have a lesson for the first time. I will have felt self-conscious on first experiencing gentle hands-on work, standing still as Hilary explained what she was doing and what I had to (not) do. As when an Alexander Teacher takes hold of your left hand and lightly lifts it and pulls it away from the body, the student is to do nothing: not anticipate, not assist, and not resist. Not-doing is a remarkably difficult concept to grasp and, more importantly, it relies on trust: that your teacher is there for you and that this repetitive and somewhat banal movement will change you. Your teacher will encourage you to talk about your daily activities and show you how you can apply AT to perform these without unnecessary tension and paying more attention to the moment. ‘Why not use a slight monkey position when chopping vegetables’, for example, is one of Hilary’s favourite suggestions. A new vocabulary will also be acquired, and whilst doing a monkey is self-explanatory, there are other terms that are quite baffling initially: to have a loose and free neck, inhibition, end-gaining, and more.

Mindfulness in Action

As the weeks went by though, I found Hilary was teaching me so much more than just how to sit, how to actively rest, how to walk, how to breathe. Alongside this process of repetition, I began to cultivate patience and being in the moment, and this allowed me to understand how I had been living life at an odd pace. Inevitably so, as such is the demand of modern life, to be drawn out of your present self and instead become caught up with what took place yesterday, what will need to be done tomorrow and what might happen next year. Therefore, you are standing in the kitchen hunched over the chopping board with one foot pointing outwards, in the direction of the hallway, should the phone ring, whilst fretting about when to complete that overdue report and, all the time, trying to ignore a regular pain niggling in the middle of your back. Instead, you could be doing a monkey and chopping leeks in your kitchen one April evening, taking pleasure in the task and stopping, perhaps, to notice that the days are now lighter for longer and you feel at ease. The report is still over due, the phone might ring, but this is the here and now.

Connecting With My Body

Whilst regularly attending AT lessons, Hilary was enabling me to connect with my body and the way I use and (mis)use it, encouraging me in the exploration of issues of trust in a safe environment, and gently showing me how to engage in the present. Hilary’s amiable sense of humour was part of the process from the start, a welcome quality because taking a close look at our self (body, personality, mind and habits) can be unnerving in its moments of revelation. Whilst I was initially anxious when being asked to consider an activity I found difficult, such as standing on the wobble board, I eventually realised that Hilary was not actually asking me to master the art of ‘monkeying’ on a small circular and unstable bit of plastic! Rather, Hilary was getting me to notice where and how I was stiffening in anxious anticipation of not accomplishing a task to perfection and, one day, instead of feeling that sharp sense of irritation with myself, I started to laugh. And my laughter had changed, it was no longer self-conscious or tightly nesting in my upper chest, but formed part of the release of tension – specifically from the belly. It was not like learning to laugh, as if for the first time, but remembering how to laugh with my whole being again.

Conscious Choices and Change

To conclude, learning the AT has not only allowed me to develop the necessary strategies and inner strength to cope with what life can unexpectedly throw at us, but it has been instrumental in helping me find the courage to pursue the changes I wanted but found difficult to acknowledge. It has allowed me to appreciate through simple exercises, like catching (or not catching) the ball, that I have a conscious choice over how I sit and where I sit, how I stand and when I stand, what I do and why I do it (or do not do it). AT, if embraced and practised, can be empowering. If you live locally, you will find that Hilary is an empathetic, thoughtful and reliable Alexander Technique teacher, and she will help you work towards letting go of unnecessary tension and set you up with your own toolbox, so to speak, of AT skills so that you can go onwards and upwards.

JCH  April 2014

The Alexander Technique and How it Helped Me

Alexander Technique – My Experience

I worked in a college where a colleague told me that Alexander Technique had changed his life.  He managed a congenital skeletal problem through Alexander Technique.  I was moaning about my bad back – I was spending more time at the computer than in the classroom at this time, and despite having a good chair, I could hardly get out of my car at the end of some days without eye-watering pain.    I had seen osteopaths for years for my back (a car accident injury ) but only got short-term relief.  Then my legs began to ache …

So I thought AT couldn’t hurt.  Compared to osteopathy or chiropractic, it seemed a very minimal approach involving almost tiny adjustments of muscles.   But this is what worked.  Over a few weeks my back hurt less and less until I could sit at a meal in an ordinary chair and not notice my back.  I practised at home:   easy to lie on my back, listening to music for 20 minutes or so.  Not every day – my life was packed – but great before an evening out or after a long difficult day.  I no longer had back ache.  At all.

My aching legs, though, were the precursors of a more serious, long-term endocrine condition.  My energy, memory, and stamina were affected and I had constant muscle pain.  I continued with AT which helped me to cope with the worst.  Lying in the AT position made it less necessary to take pain-killers and helped me to be more calm and not to panic about the future of this illness.  Hilary helped with tips for finding rest and respite in difficult situations.  For instance, in hospitals, concentrating on having a free neck really helps in avoiding getting sucked in to the chaos and frustration evident all around in staff and patients …

I am better than I was, though had to leave work and live a reduced life.  AT sees me through difficult days and is a pleasure in the not so difficult days.  I still leave Hilary’s house feeling lighter and freer and am so grateful to her for her insights and practical care she has given me over all these years.

Try it.  It can’t hurt!

Maggie