Tag Archives: Alexander Technique

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

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one thing into another

 

by Lucy Ash, artist – Alexander Technique pupil of Kamal Thapen

When I started to learn the Alexander Technique, I kept being reminded of this quote by Pablo Picasso. ‘It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.’ The point about the Alexander Technique is that it’s about unlearning everything we have learned – what feels familiar and comfortable is often bad for us – routines of behavior acquired subconsciously over the years by repeating the same action again and again are likely to be the wrong actions. By adopting a technique that is about thinking and then doing, we can create positive change. But like Picasso this unlearning, the business of doing of things differently, takes time and courage.

Applying a technique to our approach to life and the world around us can have very powerful results, but you have to take a leap of faith. As a painter it helps me to apply a technique to my work that is about self-awareness and understanding my body, that way I can get more from it. Painting is very physical, so my body has to work for me. How well I paint depends on my awareness, my thought process, my sensitivity and intuition. By becoming more sensitive I can make better decisions and be more agile. Making art, like the Alexander Technique, is a lot about how the conscious mind connects and directs the unconscious mind so the work has a resonance. I work with mixed media, usually oil paints, spray paint and ink. The process of using mixed media is very exciting – there’s the wonderful thing of how the oil paint and spray paint interact, it’s not entirely predictable and is a process of discovery where I may not know what I’m doing but find out by doing it and being brave. Molding something out of nothing with a mixture of mediums is a big part of what my work is about. Like the Alexander Technique it’s not about the end game it’s about the process. Not knowing where colliding particles will land, not controlling them and not worrying about the rules is part of my approach to creativity.

 Image 

‘one thing into another’ mixed media on linen, 168 cm x 213 cm, 5’ 6” X 7’

Bringing something experimental all together to create a sense of wholeness gives a feeling of completion and satisfaction and pleasure. The pieces of a painting make sense of the whole; in the same way that the pieces of our body make up a whole. The relationship between our neck and head affect to the rest of our body and every subsequent movement and action stem from this connection which, when it works, brings about a graceful and fluid movement. If part of your body is out of sync it affects your whole being, which not only has ramifications on how well we feel but also on how we relate to the world and how the world relates to us, plus it parallels the quality of work we produce as well as the process of painting.

Painters are a bit like magicians in how they transform one thing into another and something out of nothing as well as juggle the constantly changing relationships that have ramifications throughout the whole rest of the work. One mark leads to another; a small mark can instigate big change, which is the exciting part of creating.  So why is change, which is so inevitable, so very unwelcome? A changing world and personal change are incredibly scary even when the status quo isn’t that great. What we know is what we like because it feels familiar and safe and is where we would like to stay if we could, but we can’t. A technique such as Alexander equips us with the tools we need to venture out from the known present into the unknown future. It’s about the fundamental nature of being, integrating and grounding the whole person; it allows bad habits to be unlearned, great works of art to be painted, and needs to be embraced.

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‘one thing into another’, Winchester Cathedral, 2013, part of Creative Collisions 10 days Winchester

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.

Back in the Saddle; thoughts on recovery, riding and the Alexander Technique

by Leonie (Beadie) Charlton – Alexander Technique pupil of Claire Rennie & Erica Donnison

Last year felt like the longest of my life.  January through to August, when I finally had spinal surgery, felt like an interminable blur of pain.  Progressively debilitating back pain had forced me to stop my beloved work as an Equine Podiatrist, stop riding, walking, swimming, cycling, housework, even cooking was nigh on impossible.  In terms of my ability to helpfully participate in my life, with three young children and all that entails, I felt next to useless.  As I became increasingly out of kilter physically, so too did my mental and emotional balance tip dangerously.  It was a frightening time looking into a forbidding sea-swell of unknowns, and most starkly terrifying of all to me was the thought of no longer being able to enjoy my longest and truest passion, riding.

I had two herniated discs, one of which had oozed into my spinal canal and was crushing the sciatic nerve, giving me extreme nerve pain down my right leg and buttock.  The pain forced me into my own body in a whole new way; anyone who has experienced the final stages of childbirth will know the sense of total absorption that comes with intense pain. I see now that the whole experience was like a birth for me; I am brimful with gratitude with where I am now, how my relationship to my back, to my self, to my riding, to my life has changed.

It took something pretty serious for me to change habits that were damaging me, yet now the philosophical emotional and practical applications of the Alexander Technique that I have been able to integrate has brought me so many gifts.  I wouldn’t change anything.  It is an ongoing process of unlearning and learning, of doing and non doing; as a friend (in her mid seventies, who still rides extensively and beautifully) said recently, ‘if you cant enjoy the process you haven’t got a lot going for you!’.

I went into hospital with my vast array of painkillers, a book of Mary Oliver’s poetry and several on the Alexander Technique.  I spent the eight weeks following surgery learning a whole new level of awareness of my body, I was following FM Alexander’s directions as much as I could, by reading, by listening to CDs and from the few Alexander Technique lessons I had had previously.  I had no choice but to move very, very slowly; I had to think carefully about every movement I made and took the time to pause and consider before I did anything.  It was in many ways the perfect opportunity to change old habits that had clearly been causing me harm, mainly by doing things with a ‘pushing through/ driving/ no matter if it hurts’ mentality.  Pain had become normal for me over the years, something to be stoically ignored, almost part of my identity.  Well thankfully my body just wasn’t going to put up with that indefinitely.

Eight weeks after surgery I took my horses along to a riding clinic.  I was unsure and pretty anxious on several levels; I didn’t know how the surgery may have affected my riding, the horses had had a long time off so I had no idea how they would be, and I also had a big question around whether I may have lost my nerve.  The minute I was in the saddle I could feel myself different; I was almost totally focusing on my self and my own body, constantly checking in and asking if I was holding tension anywhere, and letting go if I found any.

My horse loved it, after 9 months with no work he gave me the most beautiful trot work I had ever had on him.  Forward, rhythmically and working through his back.  I was overjoyed, I can remember very clearly thinking ‘I don’t want this to end, ever..’. I felt like we were floating together.  I was with my horse, and he was able to flow forwards because my body was free of restrictions.  I could not have had more positive feedback from him.  I was in heaven.

At the end of the session my riding teacher said ‘wow, that’s the best I’ve ever seen you ride.  Eight months off has been great for you.  What’s happened?  What have you changed what have you been doing?’  I paused for a moment before answering with certainty ‘I’ve been really focusing on the Alexander Technique… and I have been letting go’.  Horses are such honest mirrors for us, the minute we do something differently they change.  How we use our bodies makes all the difference to how they can use theirs, and they will show us in an instant the difference between ‘use’ and ‘abuse’.

It takes a great deal of attention and practice to really change habitual patterns of tension, of posture, even of thought.  That is where the AT is so incredibly powerful; the technique is a fantastic tool for helping us become really body aware, to be able to turn off all the muscles we don’t need in a given moment, to turn on just the ones required, and then to turn them off again the minute they are no longer needed.  To the horse, a creature who lives so wholly in the present, that makes complete and utter sense. It is meaningful conversation.  With the help of the AT I am quicker to notice when and where I am holding and can use the directions to help release the blocks.

My riding teacher often says ‘hold nothing’; we give an aid and then immediately we go back to neutral with our hands and legs, if we hold on, hang on or squeeze on anywhere in our body we effectively set up resistance in the horse’s body, and all they can do to stay safe from our mixed messages and clumsiness and heaviness is to switch their own lightness off.  To ride well, really well, it involves incredible self awareness, and is a lifetime’s work, it is a constant meditation, it is an art, and I feel happy and honoured to be somewhere along the humble beginnings of this path.

Paying close attention to what is happening with our own bodies is a fascinating and health giving process, and when you are further rewarded for that close attention by your horse moving more fluidly and happily beneath you, it is massively motivating.  I love these words by the poet Roger Housden, ‘It is our attention that honours and gives value to living things…  When I pay attention, something in me wakes up, and that something is much closer to who I am than the driven or drifting self I usually take myself to be.  I am straightened somehow, made truer, brought to a deeper life’.  To me that resonates beautifully with the practice of the Alexander Technique.

*****

it’s the quality of the spine that influences the horse’. Perry Wood

our good posture is the only thing we have over the horse’.  Eric Herberman

The shoulder in is like herbal tea. It is a potion with medicinal qualities. When you ride it, let it go slow and let it steep.  Let it brew half the value of tea like this is in the careful meditation during its preparation’.  Anon 17th century

Sit well, do nothing, and let the horse do’.  Colonel Mario de Mendoza

*****

Our grateful thanks to Leonie for sharing her experiences.  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 HITE Improve Your Seat Riding and Alexander Technique Workshops today.

Alexander Technique and the Olympics

Have just finished with my last Alexander Technique client in Harley Street for the day and walked through Cavendish Square and onto Oxford Street.  Yes – you CAN feel the difference!  The energy and numbers of people filled with excitement, anticipation and expectation of the Olympic Games is palpable.  And that it is not raining, just now, is a bonus!

At HITE we are really looking forward to the Olympics Opening Ceremony.  Not so much for the ceremony itself but because it marks the start of the Games that have been 7 years in gestation.  We want to see the athletes, the A-W of sports from archery to weightlifting (there is no X, Y or Z!) and perhaps like many others endeavour to discern what makes the greatest great.

What are the ingredients, in what quantity, regularity, combination and timing?  Natural talent, childhood motivation and encouragement, or was it an ‘I’ll show them’ attitude?  Hours, days, weeks, months, years; a lifetime’s dedication to get to this moment – the starting line.

To how many other people, projects and distractions has one built up the ability to say, ‘No’, in order to focus on the ultimate glory of Gold at London 2012.  In the Alexander Technique, knowing what we do not want is as important as knowing what we do want.  The saying ‘no’ comes first in order to open up the space and the pathways for what we do want to be realised.

How much does nutrition matter?  From Jamaican Usain Bolt who got Olympic gold at Beijing and broke the world record for the men’s 100m on a pre-race meal of chicken nuggets, to the claims from Serbian male tennis gold-medal-seeking Novak Djokovic that eating gluten free has helped to improve his energy and form.

The men’s 100m sprint is somehow absolutely mesmerising.  Who is the fastest man on the planet? Usain Bolt said yesterday that if he wins the Gold in London 2012 he will become a legend.  This is what he has been preparing and hoping for; the years of dedication will all be over in less than 10 seconds – and that’s about the length of time it would have taken you to read this sentence.  Everything must work at this moment.  The reaction from the starting pistol, the burst of strength and sheer power, the co-ordination, flow, energy, obsession and determination all coming to the fore.

But as Alexander Technique teachers we will also have our trained eyes open across all of the sports for the ‘Primary Control’ working within the athlete.  The ‘Primary Control’ is the unique head-neck-back relationship which is the lynchpin of the Alexander Technique for optimum performance – be it in sport, music, acting, business and our daily life.  It is not only available to Olympic athletes but is the birthright of all of us.  It is that natural, flowing co-ordination that you see in a young child where movement appears flowing and effortless.  It is when mind and body are in an inseparable state of dynamic poise, which helps us to reach our potential in all of our ventures whilst maximising rather than jeopardising our health and well-being.

So on that note, HITE would like to wish you all the most fantastic London 2012 Olympic Games, and we’ll keep you updated with our insights as they progress.  And do send us your observations and comments.  If you are interested in improving your running, cycling, swimming, horse riding, or any other of the Olympic sport, by learning the Alexander Technique, then contact us today by email info@hiteltd.co.uk or tel +44 (0) 20 7567 8461.  You won’t regret it!

Top 15 Benefits of Learning the Alexander Technique (AT)

1.    Alexander Technique is ‘Common Sense’  … when you think about it.

  • AT is based on the principle that our ‘use’ – the way we do what we do – affects our functioning (mentally and physically) in all of the activities in our lives.  It does not require a stretch of the imagination to realise that the way in which we, for example,  stand, walk, bend, sit at our computers – affects our health, performance and well-being, but we are often so busy getting things done that we don’t think about how we are doing them.  The AT is about re-discovering our natural poise, the poise that we are born with and you see in young children.  It is, one of the foundations for good health – alongside nutrition and exercise.

2.    The Alexander Technique helps us to look, feel and perform to our best – male or female.

  •  As a woman, it helps us reveal our natural beauty, grace and elegance.  As a man it helps us to be our naturally handsome selves with an assured presence.   Male or female you may find that you are calmer, more composed and deal with difficult situations better – and that people notice.
  • This is not something which is superficially achieved with a combination of stress, strain, pulling in stomachs, plastic surgery, and expensive make-up and clothes.  It is the ‘looking good in whatever you wear’.  Onlookers may wonder how you do it, or what it is about you that they can’t put their finger on.  After lessons, friends may say. “you look well”, or ask “Have you lost weight?”
  • In essence it could be said that the AT helps us feel more confident about ourselves and our abilities, and makes us more attractive to others.  We come across better.

3.    Alexander Technique  is scientifically proven to work: 

  • Significant long-term benefit from Alexander Technique lessons for low back pain sufferers has been demonstrated in a major study published by the British Medical Journal on 20th August 2008 at Link to British Medical Journal BMJ Randomised controlled trial of Alexander Technique lessons, exercise, and massage for chronic and recurrent back pain
  • To summarise
    • 24 AT lessons proved to be most beneficial
    • Six lessons followed by exercise were about 70% as effective as 24 lessons
    • Long-term benefits unlikely to be due to placebo effect
    • Lessons were one-to-one, provided by experienced STAT teachers
    • This was a randomised controlled trial
    • 579 patients with chronic or recurrent low back pain; 144 were randomised to normal care, 147 to massage, 144 to six Alexander technique lessons, and 144 to 24 Alexander technique lessons; half of each of these groups were randomised to exercise prescription.

4.    Alexander Technique gets at a root cause, it does not just treat symptoms – thus saving you time and money, as well as enabling you to reduce medication and  in some cases avoid surgery.

  •  The need for services from health practitioners such as physiotherapists, osteopaths, massage therapists, chiropractors will probably reduce or even disappear as you learn how to stop causing the problems in the first place.  In some cases, surgery may also be avoided.  You may also find that you are less reliant on medication, such as painkillers, anti-inflammatories and anti-depressants.

5.    No need to rely on Alexander Technique teacher indefinitely

  •  The AT is taught – clients are students rather than patients.  As a student you gradually learn to become aware of habits that might be getting on your way and how to prevent them.  Thus you are empowered and able to take responsibility in a positive sense and means that you are not forever reliant on external support.

6.    Learning the Alexander Technique is an investment – scientifically proven to be cost-effective

  • An economic evaluation published in the British Medical Journal BMJ (11th December 2008) has concluded that Alexander Technique lessons are an effective and cost-effective option for the NHS. BMJ Randomised Control trial of Alexander Technique Lessons – Economics Paper
    • The evaluation found that a series of six Alexander Technique lessons followed by an exercise prescription is more than 86% likely to be a cost effective option for primary care providers treating patients with chronic non-specific low-back pain.
  • You identify the root cause of problems while  learning this skill which allows you to understand the means to apply it in all activities for the rest of your life.

7.    No need to do special exercises:

  • We learn to think during our activities, not simply repeat old ways.
  • We can learn to apply the AT to sport / exercise /dance – activities of interest to us – enhancing our whole well-being rather than having to do boring exercises and find the time to fit them in.

8.    Not about doing more in our already busy lives, but learning to do less

  • It is not so much about doing more on top of what we are already doing, but about learning to become aware of, and not do what is not necessary in the present, and un-do the unnecessary habits of the past to allow our natural poise to shine through and improve our performance.

9.    Universal Appeal – helps us whatever our job, interests, activities

  • Because the AT works at a fundamental level of being a human being, it helps us regardless of our occupation, interests, profession, gender.

10.  Helps all aspects of our lives.

  • It affects all areas of your life because it works at the level of your co-ordination in all that you do.

11.  Doesn’t matter about age, helps us all avoid aging before our time.

  • We will all die, but surely it would be good to live fully until we do!  The AT helps us do that and learning helps us whatever our age.  George Bernard Shaw started his lessons with Alexander aged 78 with extremely beneficial results and I have clients in their 80’s who are delighted by their improved health and well-being and their ability to be more active and be in less pain.
  • On the other hand I have clients in their twenties who have already experienced debilitating pain and feel that they are aging before the time.  In fact, I was in this situation too and know the feeling!  Learning the AT can reverse this trend enabling us to live fuller lives and be far more optimistic about the future.  AT gives you back hope.

12.  Alexander Technique works indirectly rather than directly / specifically

  • AT, through helping us to re-discover our natural poise, provides a general improvement in our health and well-being through an improvement in the way we work.  Thus the cause of specific problems may go away.  In fact, health problems that we weren’t even aware that we had may go away indirectly, such as poor digestion.

13.  Can help us deal with a disability

  • If you are in the situation where you have a disability or disabling condition eg through polio, thalidomide, Marfan’s syndrome or through previous surgical intervention, learning the AT can still help you to become the best you can be by learning how to use yourself most efficiently.  This can make a significant difference to one’s quality of life.

14.  Benefits are experienced from day 1 and throughout learning.

  •  This education provides therapeutic benefits and often people begin to feel better from their 1st lesson, as well as having a transformation in their attitude through the realisation that it makes a difference.

15.  Helps give clarity of thinking and deal with all aspects of life

  • As we become more practised in observing and becoming aware of how our habits  may be detrimental to us, and practised at how to change them, we are able to be more honest with ourselves, more reasonable and better able to make positive choices. In short, it helps us be more aware of our choices and increasingly more able to make better ones.
  • In conclusion, learning the AT improves the quality of our lives – and we each only have one of them – and this is it!

For further information visit www.hiteltd.co.uk e:info@hiteltd.co.uk