Category Archives: History

Should you run in shoes or run barefoot? by Seán Carey

Running_shoes_display

Last week it was the effect on the feet of wearing high heels that was in the news. This week it’s whether running wearing a pair of trainers is better for you than running barefoot. University of Queensland researchers found that the cushioning and arch support features found in most modern trainers and running shoes can potentially impair ‘foot-spring function’– though with the important caveat that shod running may contribute to other advantages in a runner’s foot muscle function, especially in the activation of the muscles along the longitudinal arch of the foot. The researchers concluded (as researchers tend to do) that more research was required to explore the relationship between the foot and the muscles around the ankle and knee joints during running.

Certainly, all the top athletes I’ve observed in recent years wear some sort of shoe when competing. On the other hand, many elite middle and long-distance runners, hailing from rural areas in countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia, have grown up not wearing shoes or only wearing them occasionally. In fact, there is a huge advantage for all of us at least to walk barefoot whenever possible. Why? Well, the sensory nerves on the bottom of your feet provide important proprioceptive information about the ground you are walking on. Your brain and the rest of your nervous system interpret these signals to keep you upright with the minimum amount of effort in locomotion. This process is made more difficult if shoes are worn – and interestingly the more cushioned or stiffer the shoes, the worse the problem. In fact, even wearing socks on your feet interferes with this proprioceptive process.

However, walking barefoot and running barefoot are not equivalent activities. Most experts, such as Harvard evolutionary biologist Daniel Lieberman, recommend that if you are used to running with shoes but wish to make the change to running barefoot or using minimalist shoes you allow plenty of time to make the transition. And, from an Alexander Technique perspective, it’s not just your feet that you need to be concerned with. Much more important in many ways is the balance of your head on your neck. You want to keep your head freely poised so that your back musculature provides the necessary support for your body weight and allows your legs to move freely. Tighten your neck muscles and you’re pulling your head down on to your shoulders and compressing your whole body from the crown of your head to the soles of your feet. In short, you will run heavy and feel heavy. And that’s true whether your feet are shod or not.

For more information on walking and running 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

 

Is your mind like a foraging squirrel in a park? Seán Carey

“The mind races around like a foraging squirrel in a park, grabbing in turn at a flashing phone-screen, a distant mark on the wall, a clink of cups, a cloud that resembles a whale, a memory of something a friend said yesterday, a twinge in the knee, a pressing deadline, a vague expectation of nice weather later, a tick of the clock,” says Sarah Bakewell in her excellent new book on phenomenology and existentialism, At The Existentialist Cafe: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails.

Squirrel

In the analogy of the mind as a foraging squirrel there’s no doubt that Bakewell provides a pretty good description of how many of us experience the world while we are awake. However, whether everyone in all cultures, or indeed at all times, experiences life in such a frantic fashion is an interesting question. I would argue not. Why? Well, partly on the grounds that Bakewell’s list of attention-demanding objects or experiences is so thoroughly Western, urban and post-modern (think of people working in cities such as London, New York, Paris or Tokyo who make their livelihoods through listening, talking and typing and take frequent coffee breaks but probably not East African hunter-gatherers digging for tubers, collecting baobab fruits or chasing baboons), and partly on the grounds that those of us who have had lessons from a competent Alexander Technique teacher know very well that when the head achieves a better balance on top of the spinal column, allowing the neck and back muscles to provide support and stability for the whole body, this results in a less strained, more rhythmic pattern of breathing as well as clearer vision. At this point our experience of ourselves in time and space is no longer dominated by a habitually restless squirrel-like mind with a subordinate, barely-felt body but is transformed into an experience and also an appreciation of how one’s body and mind are so profoundly interconnected.

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

Available through Amazon for £18.99 with free P&P.

Private one-to-one Alexander Technique sessions can be booked with Seán Carey on Thursdays afternoons with HITE Ltd, 10 Harley Street, London W1G 9PF. Tel: 020 7467 8461

Alexander Technique in the Saddle – Origins

FM  Alexander on Horse

FM Alexander on Horse

Saddle work has a long history in the Alexander Technique. In 1955, a 4-year- old girl with spina bifida started having lessons with FM Alexander. She didn’t have the use of her legs and was unable to sit up. But Alexander was confident that if he could get the girl to stand, he would be able to help her walk.

Alas, Alexander died soon after their meeting. But his assistant teachers had a bright idea. To help the youngster gain more balance, they worked with her while she sat on a toy donkey. It was fun for the girl and easier for the teachers. She was able to sit comfortably on her sitting bones and the teachers could help her overall co-ordination and get release on her legs.

As she grew, the donkey was replaced by a wooden trestle with a horse’s saddle. By the time she was 13, the Technique had helped her build up enough upper body support to start to walk with callipers and crutches. This led the way forward to leading an independent life, going to university, driving and working.

In time, saddle work expanded and was also used to work with other Alexander students. It is an enormously helpful way to get undoing and lengthening in the legs. Our legs and hip joints often tend to get very tight and tense, particularly with the amount of sitting in modern life. Saddle work can also help with lower back pain, particularly in the lumbar and sacro-iliac areas.

In fact, sitting in a saddle is often feels easier than sitting in a chair, as the balance is directly on the sitting bones. Also, excessive tensions in the legs and the hips can release, often including those we are unaware of. Often we are not even aware we are holding tensions unnecessarily. The Alexander Technique helps us get to the tensions even held below the radar.

For horse riders, practising on a wooden horse with hands on guidance by an Alexander teacher helps to get a sense of a good seat, without needing to grip with the legs, buttocks or back. And a wooden horse won’t respond to any riding signals so is a good opportunity for experimentation!

FM Alexander himself was a keen horseman, as was his assistant Walter Carrington. Today horse riding and Alexander Technique have close connections. See Back-in-the-saddle-thoughts-on-recovery-riding-and-the-alexander-technique written by one of our students, a rider.

The next HITE ‘Improve your Seat’ workshop is from 1:30 – 4:30pm on Saturday 6th October at 10 Harley Street, London W1G 9PF. Designed especially for riders, you will gain insights and experiences through the application of the Alexander Technique on how you can find a comfortable posture and even seat on the saddle and discover a more harmonious connection with your horse. For further information and to book your place click on Improve Your Seat – Riding and Alexander Technique Workshop today.