Tag Archives: lessons

We know about the head but what about the feet? by Seán Carey

Standing male postureFM Alexander famously said that improved coordination comes ‘from the head downwards’. Does that mean that he neglected other parts of the body, including the feet? Definitely not. He knew from observing himself using a three-way mirror arrangement that while standing (and in motion) that as well as interfering with the balance of his head on his neck he was also making unnecessary muscular tension in his feet. In fact, he was contracting and bending his toes downwards in such a way that he was throwing his weight onto the outside of his feet, creating an arching effect, which in turn interfered with his overall balance.

Many of us will be able to identify with that or a similar type of misuse. For that reason we need to keep in mind that we do not possess the flat, extremely elastic and prehensile feet of ot
her primate species, such as apes and monkeys, which are so useful in tree climbing. In fact, one very important function of your parallel aligned toes is for balancing and feeling the ground. You can explore this by standing on one foot and then flexing your toes upwards so that none of them are in contact with the floor. It’s difficult to maintain balance, isn’t it? Your toes also play a vitally important role in locomotion. So you can also experiment with walking forward or backward with similarly upwardly-flexed toes on both feet. You will discover that this results in a tightening of your leg joints and torso and a pattern of movement which is very stiff and awkward.

The big problem is that most of us stand with too much weight on the front of the feet. However, this often goes with a pattern of general postural collapse – pulling the head down on to the neck, pulling the lower back in and stiffening the ankles, knees and hips. So if that’s what you’re doing in everyday life then you need to find a way of coming back from the pivot point of your ankle joints in such a way that the three contact points of the feet – areas around your heels, big toes and little toes – are equalised. But this is not just a matter of thinking of your feet in isolation; instead, it is a function of your general coordination. Put another way, balancing on your two feet is achieved not by ‘doing’ anything specific with your feet but by giving directions for your head, neck and back and then adding on suitable orders for your ankles, knees and hips joints and making a movement, such as walking forward, backward or sideways, so that as you move all your body’s joint surfaces are opening away from each other and your feet are releasing into the ground. As Alexander told those on his first teacher training course: ‘Everything in the body should be moving away from its nearest joint starting from the head.’

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

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

 

Why F M Alexander name checked the latissimus dorsi muscles – Seán Carey

FM Alexander, the founder of the Alexander Technique, rarely mentioned specific skeletal muscles in his writings but he made an exception in his account of the hands over the back of a chair procedure detailed in his second book, Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual, where he name checked the latissimus dorsi muscles.

Latissimus dorsiThe flat, fan-like latissimus dorsi muscles are part of a group of what anatomists term “superficial muscles” – that is, they are to be found just under your skin. In fact, you can easily locate part of one or other latissimus dorsi muscle by using your fingers and thumb to pinch the widest part of your back behind your armpit.

But why would Alexander specifically mention these muscles? Well, firstly because he was always interested in anything involved with breathing. Although the latissimus dorsi muscles are not primary breathing muscles, they do assist with the contraction and expansion of your rib cage. The second reason he was interested is because the latissimus dorsi muscles are the only ones in the body that connect the pelvis to the arms as each muscle runs from the lower back, travelling up around the outside of the rib cage to pass through the armpit and then attaches to the inner side of the upper arm bone, just below the shoulder joint. Although thin the latissimus dorsi muscles are incredibly powerful. Furthermore, even though Alexander did not explicitly spell it out these muscles play a hugely important role in any number of everyday movements in which you use your hands to manipulate objects. For example, you employ the latissimus dorsi muscles to open a fridge door, remove clothes from a washing machine, pull weeds out of the ground, or with your hand on a banister pull yourself up the stairs. If you are an athlete you will also be interested to know that also you use them in running, throwing and swimming.

As anyone familiar with the Alexander Technique knows, it’s best to use our muscles at their optimum length. But the intriguing characteristic of the latissimus dorsi muscles is that unlike other muscles, such as erector spinae, that run from your tailbone to your head and help to maintain or create lengthening in your body, your stretched or released latissimus dorsi muscles act to both lengthen and widen your torso. Which is good news because that helps your legs to release away from your trunk so that you experience what Alexander called “lengthening of the stature” – the ongoing stretch or release between the crown of your head and the soles of your feet. That’s beneficial because you will then breathe more easily and more deeply without any need to focus directly on breathing (as in popular activities such as yoga, Pilates or mindfulness). Furthermore, tight latissimus dorsi muscles can cause chronic neck, shoulder, middle or lower back pain, and rounded shoulders.

So, Alexander was right to draw our attention to the latissimus dorsi muscles not in an abstract or “academic” sense but because it’s to our advantage to develop awareness of them at a sensory level through an activity such as hands over the back of a chair to restore or maintain good general muscular elasticity and coordination.

For more information on the body-mind continuum and the hands over the back of the chair procedure 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

How do you use your hands?

pencil_grip3

What’s the difference between you and your nearest living relatives, chimpanzees and bonobos? Well, not too much in terms of DNA percentages but quite a lot in terms of how the hands work. One key difference is that while chimps and bonobos have long fingers but short, weak, immobile thumbs, you have relatively short fingers but long, strong, mobile thumbs. The result is that, unlike your great ape relatives, you can you fully oppose your thumbs and the pads of each of your fingers, a pattern that enables you to grip or pinch objects with great precision. You employ it all the time in everyday life – for example, when buttoning your shirt, text messaging, or holding a pencil or picking up a coin.

Interestingly, healthy, young children are very dextrous – typically, toddlers can easily hold a round object such as a ball much bigger than their hand by elastically opening the hand very wide, thumb angled away from their other fingers, and then making contact with the top or side of the ball with a minimum amount of flexion or grip. It’s as if the child’s hand is sticking to the ball. How many adults are capable of this? Not many because most of us create too much muscle tension not only in the hands and arms but also in the rest of the body’s musculature, especially in the upper torso. Which is a great shame. But you can learn how to undo excess muscular tension by paying attention to how you use your hands in conjunction with what FM Alexander, the founder of the Alexander Technique, called the ‘primary control’ – maintaining the balance of your head, while your supportive back muscles lengthen and widen to provide stability not only for your head but also for your arms and hands.

By Seán Carey PhD

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

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

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

 

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