Monthly Archives: January 2016

How do you do the housework, in Goa?

Goa’s Patnem Beach

Can you lean forward from your hip joints, holding a brush, without compressing your double S-shaped spine, stiffening your legs and feet, or pulling your head down on to your neck? If you spend long hours sitting in a C-shaped slump in front of a screen, the answer is probably not. But look at this photo of two women sweeping Goa’s Patnem Beach just after sunrise. You will see that the woman in the blue sari is working much more efficiently than her colleague. By placing her open left hand on her lower back, the weight of that arm (around 4% of her body weight) can release through her pelvis, her legs and then into the ground. Her supported left arm also counterbalances the weight of her right arm which is holding the short broom made from coconut leaves. That, in turn, helps to keep her spine extended, supple and strong. Very clever. It also means that she will never experience chronic lower back pain!

By Seán Carey

For more information on how to bend and use yourself better read Seán Carey’s much-acclaimed book, ‘Alexander Technique in Everyday Activity: Improve how you sit, stand, walk, work and run’
Available through Amazon for £18.99

 

Can you stand on your toes?

Jessica Ennis-Hill

What do you do if you want to eat a juicy, but just-out-of reach, apple on a tree? You go up on to your toes, of course. In fact this movement on to the toes has likely played a very important part in the evolution of the uprightness and mobility of our species, including the unique ways humans walk, run and jump. Healthy, young children from all cultures are very good at going on to the toes – they just pop upwards – though interestingly many of us adults in Western-type societies perform the movement very badly. Why? Well, instead of maintaining alignment with your head balanced on top of your extended, double S-shaped spine, chances are that as you initiate the movement on to your toes your neck muscles will shorten and stiffen which, in turn, will result in your head compressing your spine and narrowing the back musculature. Simultaneously, you will sink into your legs and throw your body forward. Put simply, you have lost some of your internal length or, to use FM Alexander’s apt phrase, you have ‘shortened your stature’. Does it matter? It certainly does if you’re hungry and can’t stretch those extra centimetres to get that lovely apple! And shortening your stature not only involves stiffening from your head to your toes but also means that you are fixing your rib cage and barely breathing. Not good. But look at this picture of 2012 Olympic Heptathlon Champion Jessica Ennis-Hill standing on her toes in preparation for her run-up in the high jump. Jessica has brilliant alignment – head poised, spine extending, her back musculature widening, and her leg muscles stretching without strain. One last thing: although she is relatively small for a high jumper – she stands at 1.65 metres (5′ 5″) – Jessica has jumped 1.95 metres (6′ 5″) and was for many years joint British record holder for the outdoor event.

By Seán Carey

For more information on how going on to the toes should be performed read Seán Carey’s much-acclaimed book, ‘Alexander Technique in Everyday Activity: Improve how you sit, stand, walk, work and run’
Available through Amazon for £18.99

How do you stand?

Seán Carey explains how humans are the only animals that have the potential to stand fully upright – though how many of us actually do that?

Standing male posture

How much do you weigh? Eight, 10, 12 or 14 stone? Whatever your body weight you need good support from your musculoskeletal system to stand without strain. In fact, humans are the only species that can stand in a fully upright stance, with flexible ankles and fully extended knee and hip joints. With our joints stabilised by ligaments, body weight is then efficiently transmitted into the ground through the bones of a double S-shaped spine, pelvis, legs and the platforms of the feet, notably without much need to use the body’s large, powerful muscles, such as the gluteals, thighs and calves. Intriguingly, as anatomists have discovered, this alignment allows a healthy person to stand for hours, swaying slightly, using only seven per cent more energy than while lying on the ground.

But how many of us are capable of such efficiency in quiet standing? Very few, alas. The big problem for most of us is that we never, ever manage to come up to the potential of our full height – that is, the measurable distance between the crown of the head and the soles of the feet. Instead, we tend to droop or collapse, pulling the head down on to the neck, raising or collapsing the shoulders, pulling the lower back in and pushing the pelvis forward, as well as stiffening the muscles that operate the ankle, knee and hip joints. Given this pattern of mal-coordination, it’s hardly surprising that many of us suffer from a variety of musculoskeletal problems – chronic lower back pain, chronic neck pain, shoulder stiffness, achy legs or flat feet – as well as fatigue.

So is it possible to improve the efficiency of how you stand? Yes, although it’s fair to say that this takes more brainwork than physical work. For example, there’s no point trying to get some extra height by tightening the abdominal, gluteal or other muscles to ‘engage your core’ or by ‘tucking your tailbone under’. If you do either of these things you will only create additional tension – yet another ‘different form of badly’ to use philosopher and Alexander Technique enthusiast John Dewey’s pithy phrase – rather than a genuine release of your body’s musculature brought about by Alexander-style thinking (‘ordering’ or ‘directing’) that allows you to achieve your full height.

Seán Carey

For more information read Seán Carey’s Alexander Technique in Everyday Activity: Improve how you sit, stand, walk, work and run

Available through Amazon with free P&P