This is the 10th interview in a series of interviews I carried out with people who have had Alexander Technique (AT) lessons.
This interview is with Dorothy, who is in her mid 70’s, retired, lives with a partner and leads a very full and active life. Dorothy has been having face to face Alexander Technique lessons with me for a few years.
Each time Dorothy comes for a lesson she tells me about something new that the Alexander Technique has helped her with. Since doing this interview, one of the things she told me was that she used to dread filling and emptying the washing machine. She told me the problem wasn’t so much getting down to the washer but getting back up. She used to need to pull herself up on the washer. Now, she doesn’t even need to think about it.
AT has influenced Dorothy’s life profoundly. She no longer rushes through life, ticking off everything on her “to do” list, but instead, experiences the richness of being in the present moment. Here’s her thoughts about that:
I would like to know a little bit about what impact having Alexander Technique (AT) lessons has had for you.
What drew you to the Alexander Technique?
I began having lessons in May 2017. Up to the onset of the pandemic I was having lessons every month.
Although I started lessons in 2017, I found out about the Alexander Technique about 25-30 years ago, when I was on a complementary therapy course. Back then, I noticed a lady on the course and thought there was “something about her”. I discovered this person was a teacher of the Alexander Technique and I remember thinking “I must do something about that.”
Later, I was on another holiday and the leader of the holiday, whom I had met a year earlier, looked totally different. I remember thinking “Wow!” I discovered she had learned Alexander Technique for swimming but, actually, I felt it had changed her whole persona.
I finally was prompted into having lessons for myself because my yoga teacher told me about a local teacher, you.
What impact did you hope Alexander Technique lessons would have?
I wanted to learn AT for posture. My posture was not very good and I felt if I improved my posture it would help me in other ways too.
Was there anything you expected about learning the Alexander Technique? Did that happen?
I had no other expectations, other than improving my posture, which has happened via lessons.
I have changed the way I sit and I am more upright. It’s much more comfortable and I have adapted my furniture by using cushions, and moved furniture to sit square on to the TV & kitchen table.
Was there anything unexpected about learning the Alexander Technique. If so what was it and what impact did it have?
Learning the technique has transformed everything.
My confidence is much improved and I am so much more aware and in “control” of my body.
The AT has affected every single thing I do.
I noticed I am now as tall as my partner. I know that because I can see myself in the mirrors whilst dancing. Previously I spotted that I was stooping/smaller. I now spot other dancers stooping and it encourages me to be more up and use AT. Also, I don’t get tired like I used to do after lessons.
I always struggled to get my feet to the floor in sitting. They used to dangle. It was a particular problem when a passenger in a car. I used to do all sorts of things before to manage the discomfort, such as putting my feet on the dash board. I can put my feet flat on the floor now and it is way more comfortable.
In the car, I can now sit back, chill and enjoy it.
I cycle a lot and this too is less effort when I apply the Alexander Technique. I also have a different mindset towards my cycling and I do not push myself so much, which makes it more enjoyable.
This is a pleasure now and I allow time for it. Previously I would do 20 lengths and want it over with. Now I find it no effort and I can get into the zone and keep going. I feel “as one” with the water. I can be in the water up to an hour, and I don’t feel I need to get out. I do, simply because the next session is starting.
I recently read a book by Alexander Technique teacher, Malcom Balk called “Master the Art of Working Out“ and it helped me to notice different parts of my body when moving and exercising. For example when swimming, I no longer think of the lengths as being important, but the way my body moves is more in my focus.
Learning the Alexander Technique turned swimming into being very meditative.
I regularly go walking and now walking is easier, more enjoyable, comfortable and a better experience.
I used to use walking sticks but now I find them a nuisance apart from on really difficult terrain.
AT has made an incredible difference to my walking. I used to treat it like a race, but now I don’t think of it like that and I can go for longer and I feel less tired. Before AT I used to be all about getting through the next 500yards. I pushed myself to be the first one up to the top of the hill but now I enjoy the process. I don’t think I have slowed down, but I am no longer rushing and finding walking boring.
Even “waiting for others” when I got “there” was a problem, but now, even if I do need to wait for others, it is not a hassle. I use AT principles, like directions, or noticing what is around me. There’s so much I can use from AT in this situation.
Recently when walking I got pain in a muscle, I think I may have pulled the muscle. When I noticed the pain, I paid more attention, slowed down, became more mindful and became aware of my body and the discomfort went.
I also listened to a CD, done by Joan Diamond, about AT and walking and I found the directions on that very helpful.
What impact does all this make?
I find that I notice “something is not right” or “not comfortable” and then I pay attention to what I am doing and change my position to something that is comfortable.
Sometimes I make a choice to go fast (which was a habit before) but mostly I do not race through things.
I notice other people’s posture and that informs me to pay attention to mine.
I feel I am much fitter now for not “pushing through.”
I do not over do it and I really enjoy it when doing exercise.
I learned to understand my body and know how it works by learning the living anatomy during AT lessons. Recently I broke my wrist and found the living anatomy and directions really helpful as I recovered.
I have a DVD on active rest and I find this is very relaxing and it helps me to sleep.
Is there anything else about learning the Alexander Technique?
Touch in lessons
I feel that touch from an AT teacher helps my awareness and helps me release tension. I feel the touch has a longer term impact after the lesson as the memory of how to do things stays with me better.
I feel the hands on of a lesson are not the same as AT learned from a book or video (which I have done).
I feel there is a healing energy from my teacher, and I enjoy the warmth of her hands in a lesson
I feel I am more aware of my surroundings and I put this down to AT. I enjoy colours, light, shadows, reflections. I saw a reflection of clouds on a coffee table at my home and found this fantastic, fascinating and amazing. It’s often like that with this new found awareness.
I feel more confident in my memory. I used to write things down to remember them. I always needed a note book. Now, I write things down much less. I think it may be due to AT.
My partner is into birding and he asked me to remember when I see red kites. Before I wouldn’t remember exactly where they were. Now, I remember exactly where they are. It’s easy, and I don’t have to write it down.
Visit to York Alexander Technique School (YATS)
I loved this, and appreciated it because AT has opened up the possibility of meeting other people. I had a session at YATS with Alex Farkas and whilst I was waiting for the lesson I began to read. Lena Schibel-Mason showed me a way to read with more ease: books on a cushion on my lap. I’ve continued to do it that way. Lena did all of it without speaking but it felt just right. “I felt Lena’s presence radiated”.
I feel my confidence has increased. I am able to use my body to maximum potential.
I am not afraid of dying like I used to be. I know I have all sorts of things to do and I am so grateful I can still do them.
I am not as tense as I used to be. I am calmer and can pay more attention to things, which means I do not get as angry, and can relax more. I feel my brain has more time to process things before reacting (like happens in road rage).
The Alexander Technique
There are so many things I could think about from learning the technique. It’s not a hardship. I can choose what to focus on. I also think it adds many dimensions because I can notice how I move in the present moment. It is so interesting. It opens doors.
If you would like to discover how Dorothy gained all these benefits, why not try some #alexandertechnique lessons? Get in touch?
Tel: 01759 307282 OR
My place of refuge, for many years, was snuggled up on my grandparent’s high backed two seater sofa between nanny and either the dog, Tiny (who wasn’t that tiny) or my granddad Joe (when he was home from sea).
The sofa would be pulled in front of the glowing fire on these occasions. We would be waiting for bread dough to do it’s magic. It’s receptacle, the wide mouthed red clay earthenware pot, would be sat on the hearth. The inner yellow glaze hidden by a damp white tea towel. I still have that vintage pot and I have made bread with it many times.
Nanny always gently patted the yeasty white mound, as if that sealed a secret agreement to rise, just before covering it in the towel. The memory is extremely clear in my mind, as are her gnarled hands which she believed resulted from stretching material over wings of planes during the first world war.
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Reduce eye strain:
Jane’s May 2020 AT Project
My May 2020 project is on the use of screens in relation to how I use my eyes.
Here’s what I have been exploring:
- intensely looking at the screen,
- allowing the subject matter to come to me,
- noticing what’s behind the person or the thing I am looking at and what is behind me. Being aware of the space between my back and the back of what I am looking at,
- looking at what’s around the screen, what’s behind it, what’s to the side of it. Changing my focus from what is on the screen to what is around it,
- flipping from one to the other.
The reason I have been doing all of that is to find out what is more comfortable to sustain and what works best for me. I think it is a little bit of a combination of everything excluding intensely staring.
So, you might want to explore these ways of looking (at an ipad, screen, phone etc) with me right now? Join in with me via the youtube video below? (at 1 min 50 secs)
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The coronavirus has meant that much of the world is operating far more online and that includes many Alexander technique teachers. For some of them, online work has been their main source of income. For some, like me, the virus has meant my face to face work has had to stop and I have needed to do some training to grow my online work. Mio Morales and Jennifer Roig-Francoli generously provided this training.
In the process of exploring online work, I have been practicing giving online lessons with a fellow AT teacher. This month’s project emerged out of that.
When I use “screens” I tend to, very slowly, inexorably, get drawn into the screen. I hinge at the hips and move my throat towards the screen, lift my chin, and look down my nose. My shoulders and shoulder blades move backwards and together! It is an old habit. I have shared a very old photo of my Dad and I peering at a computer screen screen of his newly purchased BBC machine (very old computer from the 1980’s) to show you how bad it can get. So I know it’s always there if I don’t engage some other strategy. I also get visual and vestibular migraine (strange gorgeous zig zags before my eyes and feeling dizzy) if I use a screen too much.
This habit is not the only one! There are so many ways to lose sight of “good use” when looking at a screen. My version might be like yours, but it may be very different. My colleague noticed they have a similar tendency but the emphasis for them is on the upper chest moving towards the screen and tightening in the lower back.
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Easington, a tiny coastal village. A few houses and caravans. It wasn’t a seaside village like we know of today. It was, however, where I spent my summers when I was very young.
I sat, protected on three sides by chocolate coloured, East Yorkshire coastal clay enjoying it’s cool windbreak quality. I now know this coast is eroding faster than anywhere in Europe and the North sea I was looking at, covers many lost villages. I didn’t know or care about any of that. All I knew was my bum was cool, the skylarks were serenading me in the fields behind, and I was hidden from my family and friends at the campsite, and I felt safe. I felt more than safe, I just was. No school, no timetable, no agenda, no pull, no expectations. I had little experience of school at that point anyhow and those other words meant nothing to me. It was blissful.
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As you know I write a blog a couple of times a month.
It has been very difficult to find the appropriate words for the second one of the month. So I did a video and wrote some of my thoughts around why I did a video:
I can’t say it will be alright due to the coronavirus. I can’t say I am coping amazingly well despite all my expertise of relaxation, meditation, Alexander Technique and so on.
What I can say is that I have been anxious, distressed, frightened, calm, peaceful, happy and every other emotion possible. It feels my life was thrown up in the air like confetti and it’s falling down around me. I’m watching it land. Some bits are blowing away. Some bits I have already picked up again and hold close. Some bits I hope I find even though they are out of sight.
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This month’s project was about playing with the phrase:
” the knees can go forward and away“
If you have not had Alexander Technique lessons before, in AT terms, this phrase is called a direction. Simply put, directions are thoughts to bring about how we wish to move (prevent what we don’t want to happen).
F. M. Alexander talked about four main “directions” which are:
Let the neck be free,
so that the head can go forward and up,
so that the back can lengthen and widen,
so that the knees can go forward and away.
As I mentioned, directions are thoughts. They are preventative wishes. In this case, the latter direction is to prevent your knees/legs fixing, holding, gripping and any other manner of things they get up to.
Here’s the process I went through during this exploration:
I started using the direction. The thought of knees going forward and away. I gave the direction (had the thought) in as many positions and situations as I could,
Before I gave the direction (had the thought) I did nothing. It’s important to be in a neutral state (inhibit in AT terms) before giving directions.
I became aware of the present moment. Sights, sounds, sensations,
ready for something and nothing,
I then noticed where I needed to do less, though the simple act of noticing brings about less effort.
In stopping, coming to neutral, preparing to think knees forward and away, my hips, pelvis and legs released. That release continued up my spine, whole back, head and breathing! I was surprised at how much I was doing unnecessarily and how it affected my whole system.
I reflected on my awareness of the way the leg moves. How the leg is a unit, and combined with the trunk, moves rather like an angle poise lamp, in many activities. It is a complex activity when broken down.
Also that the leg spirals unlike an angle poise lamp! The spiral is an important element of knees going forward and away. Released hips/thighs/knees spiral away from each other as the knees and hips bend.
This direction needs release in the hips/pelvis. It prevents the legs from doing what you don’t want them to do. It allows them to spiral following their inherent anatomical/physiological function. You might not notice the spiral happen, but it is happening, from a present moment neutral state.
I invited my knees to go forward and away: For me that is forward and away from each other and away from the back,
invited the thighs to lengthen into the movement,
the back to release away from the knees,
the knees away from the back,
invited the knees go away from each other like off-set headlights,
knees releasing and flowing into the movement.
These invitations can all happen before movement occurs.
Movement happens with ease using the Alexander Technique. To allow this direction to happen with ease, the hips are released and the knees start in neutral ( not bracing back), and the spiral has freedom to happen. It is important to be mindful that the movement arises rather than is “done.” It arises from a thinking process.
Doing the movement is counterproductive. Of course this non-doing movement takes a bit of getting one’s head around it. It is a fundamental element of the Alexander Technique but it takes some practice and it helps to have the support of a teacher.
The exploration reminded me that knees forward and away is an important direction in that it feeds into so much of our system.
- Do nothing, notice the present moment, notice your legs
- Soften, release any perceived tension in the body
- Ease in the pelvis/buttocks
- Ease in the hips
- Soft knees
- Flow through the legs
- Think “knees forward and away”
- Choose to move (or not) allowing the knees to go forward and away
“You have to have the overall intent of going up. And you have got to make sure that you are not bracing the knees, not tightening the adductor muscles, not tightening the muscles at the pelvis and so on. You’ve got to take care not to do those things. Now it will probably help you to think of the knees going forward and away, but do watch out because if you’ve got a yen to do it, to force the knees forward and away, then you will be in trouble. So, remember, the knees forward and away is a preventative, preventative, preventative order.”
“The Act of Living” by Walter Carrington
If you would like to explore what having ease in your legs both in stillness and movement can be like, prevent doing the wrong thing, come and have a few Alexander Technique lessons! Happy to help!
They were on the way to a match. The car was full of excited people all chattering away. They were on the way to a new venue so the driver was using their phone as a satnav. It wasn’t on the dashboard but propped up on the handbrake between the two front seats. The screen could be seen at a pinch but the verbal directions were being followed. Unfortunately due to the noise of the passengers the driver was having trouble hearing those directions. That wasn’t a problem at first.
As the journey progressed they moved into unfamiliar territory so the driver looked at his phone to see what was coming up. It was only for a second or two perhaps. Suddenly there was a scream which made the driver look up. They were within yards of the back end of a bus which had stopped. The car driver banged their foot down hard, but in their panic missed the brake pedal. Their only option was to swerve, out into the oncoming lane. Luck was definitely on their side as no cars were in that lane and disaster was averted. The shock and the thought of what might have been reverberated for a long while.
Oprah Winfrey talks about life’s lessons starting off as a little nudge and then becoming a huge boulder thrown at you calling you to pay attention. I often think about that. The driver who told me about their shocking car journey reminded me about how life keeps calling to us to wake up and pay attention, and it also reminded me about my work.
So many of my clients spend a lot of their life going from task to task, head down, failing to see the full picture, failing to smell the roses. They ignore the many messages their body is giving them and only begin to listen when it becomes a problem. They plough on with stress and pain, and push it out the way to get on with life’s tasks. I think life is too short to to be like that. A treadmill, never stopping.
I don’t think life is about crossing off jobs on a list. Lurching from one thing to another, mind on the next job, not the one you are doing, but sometimes that is what life becomes. It loses it’s sparkle.
The Alexander Technique is often what people turn to when they get a huge wake-up call, when stress and pain get too much. They realise that they need to do things differently. I often see people when their message to look up and take stock has become like a boulder, not a nudge.
Some of my greatest joys are found in moments, when a client realises that slowing down is a good thing. I love it when they tell me they stopped and noticed the present moment. Stopping is an essential part of learning the technique.
Last week a client talked about stopping to look at the snowdrops in the garden when normally they only realise they have gone when the daffodils are in bloom. Actually they usually miss the daffodils too. It made my day. I felt their life was well on the way to being richer.
Perhaps you recognise yourself in this? Perhaps you know you have a tendency to push on. What would it be like to learn to stop and be at ease in the present moment. Easy body, easy mind? Give it a try for the next hour? Stop every 10 minutes and just notice one thing. What’s around you and within you? What can you see, hear or feel?
I’d love to work with you if life is calling to you to stop and discover what it’s like to enjoy being in a body and in the present moment. Get in touch?
Alexander Technique Teacher
Image by Hans Brexmeier, Pixabay