Tag Archives: Cycling

Rounded shoulders and the relevance of the Alexander Technique – Seán Carey

Biker posture

Biker posture ©Shutterstock

I’m driving slowly along Commercial Street in London’s ultra-fashionable East End when a young female cyclist passes me on the inside. Her expensive-looking bicycle has drop handlebars, though I observe that she is not using her hands to grasp or rest on the lower parts, the curving ends, but the central sections attached to the stem. Nevertheless, I notice that rather than maintaining the length of her spine by leaning forward as a unit from her hip joints, she is curving her back and pulling her head back and down on to her neck as she lifts her face to look forward. She is also pulling her shoulders up and forward so that they appear ‘rounded’. (You can see the same effect in the stock photo attached)

A number of my Alexander students are keen cyclists so I always point out to them that they should think about and organise themselves well if they are to avoid practising unnecessary stiffening while they are out and about on their bicycles. Why? Well, if they are using unnecessary tension and effort to cycle, they are not just adversely affecting their functioning (including breathing, circulation and digestion) but they are also affecting their structure, especially the structure of their spine, rib cage and shoulder girdle, more generally. This can have long-term consequences. In fact, I have been struck over my many years of teaching how stiff in the torso, shoulders, arms and hands almost all my enthusiastic cycling students are.

But it’s not just cyclists who are prone to stiff upper limbs, pushed-forward necks and rounded shoulders. This pattern of mal-coordination tends to affect anyone who uses their arms and hands to touch or manipulate objects. For example, people obliged to sit in front of computers for most of the working day exhibit a similar pattern – postural collapse involving distorting their double-S shaped spine resulting in pushed-forward necks and rounded shoulders. Alas, these poor habits do not magically disappear when someone stands up and goes for a walk or goes down the gym – instead, they become part and parcel of people’s everyday psycho-physical repertoire, affecting everything they do.

Which is why the Alexander Technique is so relevant. Here it’s useful to point out that FM Alexander, the founder of the technique, never made the mistake of thinking of the shoulders as specific entities to be manipulated, but rather he considered them to be part of a total neuro-muscular pattern that required kinaesthetic re-education. That said, he recognised that sometimes the shoulders did require specific attention. In his early years of teaching in the UK Alexander sometimes invited students who were rounding their shoulders to give their ‘orders’ or ‘directions’ for a better integration of the neck-head-back relationship and then add on another order for the shoulders to release ‘back and down’. However, after discovering that this order encouraged most people (no doubt influenced by popular concepts of ‘good posture’) to actively do something rather than simply give their mental directions he then opted to provide the relevant kinaesthetic experience without accompanying words. In short, he decided the less said the better.

Of course, one way of diminishing the amount of unnecessary muscular tension in your body, including undoing rounded shoulders, is to regularly perform Alexander-style lying down – what’s popularly known as the semi-supine position. This involves lying on a firm surface, such as a carpeted floor, with your head supported by a pile of books, your knees pointing towards the ceiling and your feet flat on the floor, comfortably near your pelvis about shoulder-width apart. Your arms can be placed by your sides. Lying down in this way uses gravity to good effect and helps to decompress your spine, and uncurl your shoulders without you having to ‘do’ anything.

For more information on rounded shoulders and the effect of Alexander-style lying down read Seán Carey’s Alexander Technique in Everyday Activity: Improve how you sit, stand, walk, work and run

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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!