For three years, while training as an Alexander Technique teacher, I commuted by train from my home in Medway, Kent, to St Pancras Station where I would then have a 25 minute walk to City Alexander Technique School near Old Street, North London. As I made this journey throughout my first year I would become quite proud at how much better my posture and movement was compared to the general public. With my head held effortlessly high on top of my spine I admit I felt like I had more confidence and enjoyed it. So many people moved like they had the weight of the world on their shoulders and their movements were slow and cumbersome. They heavily trudged while I floated along.

During my second year I would get slightly irked towards what I could only vaguely say was people’s lack of awareness of their surroundings. They looked preoccupied with their own thoughts as if they were bored of using their eyes to see the world and people around them. I became a bit overconfident as my movements gave off a sense of purpose and intelligence.

But come my third year, I forgot my bravado and would simply be a little sad by what I saw as I walked across a reasonably busy part of London. Because now when I looked at people I not only saw ‘bad posture’, as I had in my first year, nor people whose thinking was preoccupied with other things, as I had in my second year, but I saw many of the general public as being almost as if they were in a trance, rigidly walking along an imaginary groove in the path as if they were a Scalextric slot car, without the freedom to choose a different way of moving or engaging with the world and it’s occupants. I guess the drudgery of their daily routine meant they were on autopilot and controlled by habit, under too much stress to think about a better way of moving. And, like a slot car, there was an accident waiting to happen…

On one occasion I saw a delivery man walking with a trolley crossing the road without even looking at the traffic. He came to the cycle lane, and, owing to the fact that he simply didn’t think to look left or right, clattered into an oncoming cyclist sending them both sprawling. The saddest thing is that the poor cyclist, who had done nothing wrong, came off worse as he hurt himself by falling off his bike. Not a serious injury, but the accident simply shouldn’t have happened.

When I arrived at the training course I looked at a picture of F. M. Alexander on one of the walls. I had always liked the picture but couldn’t say why. Now I realised what it was that I saw. He was standing in a way in which he could respond rather than react.

What do I mean by this phrase? Well, I see the words reaction and response as describing what type of movement or activity a person has available to them at any given time. By reaction I mean that there is a learnt behaviour or muscular pattern that is so ingrained it cannot be countermanded easily. It is a habit that the person has little control over. By response I’m describing a state where our movements can be chosen and performed at whichever speed we choose, in the present moment, and usually with the greatest efficiency.

Applying this to the picture of Alexander then, consider that most people seem to have to undo a number of self-imposed muscular knots and locking at joints before initiating movement. Think of those people you sometimes see standing at traffic lights with one leg crossed over the other so that the legs are arranged in an X shape. If they had to move suddenly they would have to rely on a reaction; there would be no control, no opportunity to respond effectively. Alexander on the other hand seems prepared for any interaction with the world. If someone came in and spoke to him you sense he would just raise his eyes or head slightly to look at them and then has choice whether to walk towards them or not as separate decisions that can be made quickly. You sense his initial movements could be as quick as he chooses. In fact, he looks as if he can respond at whatever speed he chooses. Certainly a stillness full of energy!

Applying this to my own emotional response I feel that my intent is more successfully carried out by the body than is achievable by habitual reaction. My upbringing meant I felt it was frowned upon to show anger. The Alexander Technique has enabled me to acknowledge there is nothing wrong in being angry at times. Walking through crowds I get frustrated by some people’s lack of awareness, irritated at how they are ignoring the world around them. I don’t use the Alexander Technique to judge whether or not it is appropriate for me to get angry or not at what I realise is a trivial thing. Instead I use it to choose how I respond or perhaps I should say what I choose to do with my anger in this situation, in relation to how it can inform my movements. For example, do I use it to move more purposefully, to think more purposefully, to give more presence to my movements, to give more confidence in myself? Can I let my voice and choice of words respond to and convey my anger? In this way the Alexander Technique stays interesting and allows me to avoid any sense of prescriptive behaviour which would not allow me to respond how I wish.

So responding rather than reacting is not a superimposed calmness, it is not moving with deliberation or talking with long pauses before each sentence to gain control of your breath, but a way in which our intent is more likely to be performed accurately, very much as we intend it to be. In this way we can gain a greater sense of control and wellbeing by using the principles of the Alexander Technique.

Utilising lightly poised positions which enable us to have a mechanical advantage in everyday activities means we have freedom to respond to the busy world around us with an efficient movement always available to us.

David Orman (2018)

It all started when I was working as a Recycling Operative. My job was to go from house to house with a 40 litre box and fill it with tins, bottles and cans that had been left out for collection. When my box was full I would sort it into different compartments on the back of the truck, sometimes moving. The contents of the boxes were often not rinsed out and so very smelly, especially on hot days. This meant holding my nose as far away from the box as possible and holding my breath until it was all over!!

Alongside my job on the bins I was playing the guitar in two local bands. I would rehearse three nights a week and often have gigs during the week meaning late nights and early starts. I was burning the candle at both ends, but was young and thought it was normal.

After a while I began to experience some difficulties. At first there were slight niggling pains in my neck and shoulder. This got worse over time and my lower back and right hip began to hurt as well. The pain would move around between these areas. This made heavy lifting difficult and I would have take time off work. This would provide brief respite but the pain would return and always worse than before. I sought help from doctors, physiotherapists, acupuncturists and osteopaths. They all helped to fix me, but I would always break again.

At one point my left hand started to seize up making it impossible to play the guitar.  This was a disaster. The only thing that made work bearable was playing in bands. My friendships revolved around them, they provided me with a creative outlet and gave me a sense of purpose. Suddenly it seemed they were to be taken away. I was becoming really quite depressed by the whole thing. I was only young yet my body seemed like it was retiring!

I thought that perhaps the problem with my hand was linked to how I was playing the guitar.  I reasoned that if I could fix that I could at least play again and worry about the other problems later.

I searched online, googling my symptoms and looking for cures. Something called the ‘Alexander Technique’ kept coming up. I tried to ignore it at first, it did not sound like it was for me. My bands were loud and uncouth and I could not join the dots between this and something that was used by pupils at the Guildhall or Royal College of Music. I was not in that league. My idea of musical training at this point was to watch ‘WestWay to the World…The Story of The Clash’ quite a lot of times.

I searched around for something else, but nothing was forthcoming and I was getting  desperate so after a few months I gave in. I got in touch with a local teacher called Sue and explained my situation. She seemed confident that she could help.

I turned up to the calm and tranquil setting of her teaching room in my steel toe capped boots and high vis jacket smelling of refuse. That poor lady must have thought she had her work cut out. We worked with a chair and on a table and it all seemed a little odd but I left feeling better than when I went in and so I made another appointment.

I had lessons weekly and they helped in many ways. Not only was my body starting to feel a lot better, it seemed the way I thought about things was changing. I noticed how set in my ways I had become and realised this was holding me back. I changed job and stopped playing in bands to focus on learning to play the guitar with more skill. I also started to take drum lessons, something I had always wanted to do, and began listening to all kinds of music both old and new from all over the world. I was also engaging with the Alexander Technique a lot, doing my lying down work and practicing the procedures I had been shown in my lessons. I read a book, “The Use Of the Self” and as soon as I had finished it , I read it again.

Although things were improving in my life, I felt something was missing, that a bigger change of direction might be required. I explored different options and training to be an Alexander Teacher kept was one that seemed appealing. I had no interest in becoming a teacher per se, I just felt knew the benefit I had gotten from weekly lessons, and so imagined what having lessons everyday for three years would be like. I asked Sue what she thought and she agreed it would be a good idea.

Having decided on a course of action I needed to save the money to cover the course fees. I took on a second job at the pub over the road from my office and I moved into a box room in a house share with just enough space for a bed to save on rent. I worked overtime when I could, did extra work in my holidays and I got meals at the pub when I worked there, so was able to save nearly all my wages from my day job, slowly getting together the fees for my training.

EventualIy I moved to London and began my three year training, lodging with my Aunt who was very kind and charged me minimal rent. I worked in pubs and as a guitar and drum tutor in evenings to make ends meet. The training itself was sometimes emotional, often challenging and always brilliant! It was not until my last term that I really  considered the idea of teaching. I qualified in 2009 and contacted Natacha at the Bloomsbury Alexander Technique Centre to see if I might be able to work there. Luckily there was a slot going spare so I took it and I have been there ever since.

I am glad I took that first lesson. Currently I help to train prospective teachers of the technique at City ATS, something I never imagined would happen when I stepped into Sues teaching room all those years ago! The Alexander Technique helped me get my life back by ridding me of the pain that I was in, but it also it gave me a new path in life, one that I find fascinating and I count myself lucky to be doing a job that I love.  I aim to teach for as long as my body, brain and clients will put up with!!!

Joe Detnon (2018)

Get in touch with your spine. When the spine is allowed to function as an integrated whole it gives us strength. It’s an interesting fact that the only parts of ourselves we cannot see without the use of a mirror are the head and the back. So we need to develop a different kind of awareness and trust in this inner core structure. Developing freedom of movement along the whole length of the spine, allowing the head to be poised by directing the spine to rise up through the body.

The spine is the true core or ‘inner comfort’ of the body which gives it strength. The word comfort comes from the Latin ‘com’ and ‘forte’ which means ‘with’ and ‘strong’.

Sayings like “He has no backbone” or “Don’t be so spineless” are expressions that describe an attitude showing a lack of aim or direction, a lack of presence in the now. When teaching groups I sometimes get them to walk around the room thinking that they don’t have a spine and head, that they are simply arms and legs. They end up walking slowly, without energy, heavily and don’t like it one bit. I then ask them to imagine that they are just a spine and head walking around the room. Now they flow along, peacefully, happily and with lots of energy. Try it yourself.

Did you know that the cartilage discs between the vertebrae in your spine are largely made of water, especially the inner nucleus. During waking hours spent most of the time in an upright position, standing walking or sitting (and admit it, often slumped), these discs become compressed and lose moisture. Normally it is only during the night when we lie down in bed that the pressure is sufficiently reduced so the discs can again soak up lost moisture. This is one reason why we are a little taller when we wake up in the morning and gradually become shorter as the day goes on.

Alexander Technique teaches you the perfect remedy for this. Taking 15-20 minutes lying down in semi-supine the Alexander way once or twice during the day allows this re-plumping up of the discs and may help prevent unnecessary wear and tear.

Your Alexander teacher will show you the best way to do this.

Find a quiet space, ideally on a slightly cushioned hard surface, e.g. a mat on the floor. Put a few paperback books or a yoga block to support your head (not the neck). You want to have enough support under the head that your chin isn’t tipped up but not so much that it is tucked down on your throat. Have your knees bent with the feet flat on the mat, about shoulder width apart. Allow your arms to release away from the shoulders and fold the forearm and hand back to rest gently on the front of your body. Gravity will do the work for you to help let go of excessive tension and holding in the body, gradually allowing your spine to lengthen and your whole body expand. Let your eyes stay open if the light isn’t too much.

If you haven’t got 15 or 20 minutes do it for 5 or 10, but don’t put it off. This is a great way to unwind and allow mind and body to work as one.

David Orman (2017)

Fascia is the ‘new muscle’. Everybody is talking and writing about it and working with it.

Fascia is the connective tissue that envelopes and interconnects every part of our body. It is the thin sheath of stuff that covers each muscle, each muscle fibre, every organ, blood vessel – well everything actually. You may know it as a tendon when it becomes thicker at the end of a muscle and connects it to a bone.

I first came to understand about it when I was training in the early 80’s and I still remember some descriptions of it that made me understand the amazing interconnectedness of this extraordinary part of us. One image was that if you could take away everything except the fascia you would be left with a ghostly 3D image of the person, a bit like the ghostly outline of a stick insect after it has shed its skin, except it isn’t just the outside but it makes an internal outline as well. The other was something an osteopath said: Imagine that when the human being was made, with all the skin, bones, muscles, blood vessels, nerves and organs. And just when you thought it would be ready to go live you realised that all these parts would rub against each other. What a painful mess that would be. So you open up a little hole in the top of the head and pour in a thin film which would seep in between every little part of the body. This film would make the parts move and glide smoothly over each other.

Fascia is strong, elastic, moist and kind of slippery so it can move about easily when we move, breathe or eat. So that we can move about freely and easily!

It doesn’t act like muscles. Muscles get direct instruction from the brain via the motor nerves. You can talk directly to them asking them to contract or you can stop sending a contracting muscle and allow it to release. The way I like to think of the fascia is that it behaves as if its one and only purpose is to hold you together in whatever shape you make, whatever limit you put to it. So for example, if you are slouching at the desk for 8 hours it shrinks to that shape, if you use too much muscle effort to do everything or you over-tighten muscles with intense strength exercises without the release element, your fascia will hold you in that tight muscle bound shape.

Over time these habits of misuse will make the fascia, the tendons, shorten and that is why you might have a great Alexander lesson but the effects wear off. You have managed to let go of tension and feel longer, wider and freer after the lesson, but later you feel that you are ‘getting pulled back’ into the shrunken, tighter shape again.

That is because fascia takes time to change. It can be released by deep tissue massage of various kinds, and stretching and keeping mobile will help too. But as we know if we do these activities with the old habit pattern we will simply revert to the status quo. Alexander Technique aims to re-educate the way you co-ordinate your muscle use so that gradually you will free the fascia and prevent it tightening. As you learn to stop slouching down and to stop over-shortening muscles, the fascia will be stretched and gradually be longer as it get the message that this is the new limit you put on it.

An elastic stretchy fascia is wonderful for everyday life as well as for running, playing sports, working out, singing or playing any instrument!

 

Hand Writing 2

Our handwriting is an expression of our use. Obviously if we use a lot of excessive tension then we might be pressing harder with the pen, or we might having difficulty in controlling the outcome and have a sprawling handwriting, or the tightness in the hand and arm and neck might make us write in tiny tight letters.

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CityATS new website

I hope visitors to this website will find it easy to use and that they like the fresh and spacious look.

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I have always thought that one day I would like to run my own Alexander teacher training school and this is now becoming a reality. City Alexander Technique School has been approved by STAT (The Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique) and we are now accepting applications with a projected start in September this year.

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