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This is the third interview, in a series of interviews with students of the Alexander Technique (AT) about their experiences of learning the technique.
Students of the technique often come with a specific problem they want to address but then find that they gain a lot of other benefits they had not envisaged.
The following are some of the highlights of Judy’s experiences of applying the principles of AT in her daily life. Judy says it helps to:
- make her walking easier,
- help her manage stairs and slopes easier,
- release into her meditation practice,
- make sitting easy,
- feel she can work out how to do challenging tasks with more ease,
- help her to be calm and feel peace.
Judy is in her 30’s, lives alone and has a number of physical issues which involve both traumatic injuries that became longstanding problems and hyper mobility.
When Judy started learning AT she hoped the technique would have an influence on her posture and help with the pain that occurred with everyday activity. She admits, she didn’t expect it to work, but found out that it did.
Judy decided to learn AT after exploring a number of routes including internet searches, book reading and her physiotherapist’s suggestion to have lessons.
Judy used a number of ways to learn AT including workshops, individual lessons with me and reading more about AT.
Through AT, Judy has learned how powerful her thoughts are in influencing her daily life and she now has a more expansive way of moving in various tasks. Judy says AT is an easy process, not one that requires her mind to churn over.
Judy has found that AT acts as a trigger to release old habits like bracing before an activity (common to many of us).
Learning AT means the technique can be applied to all life activities. It gives a way of thinking about the process of doing activities so that you easily arrive at the most appropriate way to do it and find ease and efficiency. Here’s a few ways in which Judy has applied AT in her life:
Judy said she now knows sitting is easy but before AT she used to kill herself trying to sit upright. She said she was trying to hold a good posture and tried to be good whilst she sat but now she knows about softening and letting go in sitting and as a bonus it improves her posture.
Judy says AT helps with both her meditation practice and general awareness. Judy says she can now sink into meditation. Judy did point out that she also sees AT as a form of meditation.
Judy described a pattern of behaviour that she has become more aware of since learning AT. It happens when she becomes less mindful, less aware. She finds she enters a cycle/circle where she drops things, knocks into things, loses her balance and falls because she has lost her body awareness. She arrives in a room and forgets why she’s there. She rushes, becomes anxious, makes mistakes, and her muscles become tight. Judy told me when she is like this her thoughts are more intrusive and repetitive and she becomes exhausted and experiences fear, pain and tiredness. In the past she couldn’t see a way out of the cycle.
When Judy is like this her only option is to stop. She finds the pain can build even more at that point and describes it like entering a field of hell.
Nowadays she can swing back into this cycle of bad habits but they come less often, and last for a much shorter period. It is in this state she has found she can use the AT and meditation tools. She notices her cyclical thoughts. She notices her fear and she uses AT to come back into awareness of her body.
Judy told me about how she applied AT to a task that she finds challenging: going down stairs. She noticed her usual habit was to brace/hold herself together and take the activity extremely carefully. However, Judy realised AT was a counterbalance to this. She now asks herself what would be the most efficient, least gripped, least stressful way of doing it instead of gripping.
Judy talked about how her 1:1 AT sessions helped connect to the trauma of her original injuries which are still in the background. She feels AT helped her accept and acknowledge that trauma, though she is not sure the psychological effect of the trauma will go completely but each time it comes up, it gets less.
Judy says she is now aware of her body through AT. She felt she was out of her body before (avoiding and ignoring it to try to distance herself from the physical sensations) and AT put her mind back into her body. She also feels AT allowed her to feel safe in her body instead of fearful of it.
Judy now feels that if everyone gets the opportunity to have AT lessons at the time of an accident, any injuries need not become chronic problems.
“It’s a tool that helps me reconnect to my body. Now I see things clearer, everything is ok, I am the person I want to be.” – Judy
If Judy’s story has got you interested, and you would like to learn the Alexander Technique, telephone me on:
01759 307282 or use the contact page on my website www.janeclappison.co.uk
I shared a bedroom with my sister until I was about 10. There were lots of pluses to our cohabitation. Excitedly standing at our bedroom window together, on Christmas Eve, trying to spot Santa on his sleigh, was one of them.
On the minus side, I was absolutely challenged by stuff all over the bedroom floor. I still remember the visceral reaction to the chaos. To my sister, the floor was her playground and storage space. It was bliss when I got my own room, though it was extremely tiny. My Dad built cupboards in the room for me. Essentially it became a cupboard from floor to ceiling, with a window and a bed in a recess. It wasn’t hard to keep it tidy.
Somehow, I coped with my sister’s chaos, and over the years I became tolerant to “excessive-to-me” sights, sounds, sensations, emotions, touch, movement: all stimuli. However, if you saw my desk right now you would not think I liked things to be ordered and calm, nor that I still panic when things get too messy. My husband describes my desk filing as a “sedimentary” system and when it gets to full height he describes it as shale. There is a logic in the chaos as the heap consists of things I am challenged to categorise and thus store, jobs pending, and things at the ready. I can tolerate the mess up to a point. When I have completed a job, or when I work out where they belong, they are filed away, A-Z style.
Lately, my tolerance to life seems to have shifted. Visiting cafes (a beloved pastime of mine) is a challenge. It has been gradually changing, but became really obvious last week, when I visited a local cafe that has just been re-furbished. It has huge windows, and the bustling street beyond is in the experience. They have opted for a wooden floor and wooden tables which all scrape and bang, and culminate in unique background percussion. They have lovely twinkly, bright lights, and the sun streams into the windows: it’s a bright environment. They also fitted an extractor fan in the open kitchen and its noises, plus the focused, pressured, yet light-hearted kitchen atmosphere, pervades the whole space. Add to that, the background music, which isn’t really background, customers who turn up their volume to be heard, hissing espresso machines, serving staff darting around. I had ordered, paid, and was sat there realising that it was just-too-much-for-me. I felt every cell in my body was vibrating and I wished for more calm than that cafe could offer.
I gained a better understanding of why things have changed for me when I read an article by Kate Wagner, in The Atlantic (an American magazine):
It’s an interesting read. Essentially the sparse modern decor increases noise, whereas the older style cafes had more noise absorbing furnishings. Therefore cafes are generally louder.
So, what did I do when I received my parsnip soup, focaccia, and berry tea? I decided to just be with the whole nerve jangling experience. I used the Alexander Technique to stay present, grounded, and get to know what this experience was really like for me, rather than brace against it and escape from it. I could then nurture myself with the food, luxuriate in the warmth of the radiator next to me, and even enjoy the cacophony. I also pondered on the merits of noise-cancelling headphones.
Do you notice if you brace against excess stimuli or too much chaos? Do you notice the effect it has on your body? Would you like to explore a way to be more aware of your reaction to these things and choose what to do about it? Get in touch! Have a few Alexander Technique lessons. We could even explore the process in a cafe together!
Jane Clappison MSTAT
“We learn from failure, not from success!”
Dear Alexander Technique students,
I want you to drop your standards (and me, mine). Here’s why:
I was sat in a great cafe, here in Pocklington. They have a tiny table, just for people like me. It’s right next to the cakes, so I can enjoy all their gorgeousness without taking on a single calorie (could inhaling the smell do that?). I was sipping my cappuccino, trying not to get a “joker” smile from the chocolate. I was also writing about my challenges to simply sit down and play my harp.
In came a young woman wrestling with a huge guitar case (you know, the type that withstands almost everything), music books and full hessian bags. Before she sat down at a table, the guitar reverently went on the seat next to her, one of her bags got another seat and the floor and table the rest. She gave her order and proceeded to open up a music book and play the air with her fingers. She was humming in her head (I could tell) and tapping her foot too. I knew she was playing that piece, I could almost hear it. Here was a musician, through and through.
Intuitively I knew she had the experience that would really help me with my harp playing issue. I sat there feeling a bit nauseous at the thought of going over and starting a conversation. Never before had I attempted that. Then she looked up and smiled at me. The warmth of it gave me courage, to ask her if she still found practising a challenge. Yes, was the answer. She also shared so much more. It gave me hope for my musical adventure.
What’s this got to do with standards? What’s it got to do with the Alexander Technique?
One of the other things that lovely young woman said, was that she records her playing, and listens to it for mistakes. It’s the mistakes she learns from.
Mistakes to her are what help her excel at what she does. They are part of her deep practice. They are her tool to getting better at her craft.
So, when we realise we have not “inhibited” when we are applying the Alexander Technique, when we lose the present moment and dive into life without a pause: it’s not a failure to meet a specific standard. It’s simply another bit of information to learn from. We will have the opportunity to grow from those moments, review what it is we want, choose what we might do next time, how we want to be next time, and play with it!
Perhaps the standard should be to make as many mistakes as possible?
Fancy making some mistakes with me? Take lessons in the Alexander Technique!
Call the Midwife is my favourite TV programme. I feel totally emotionally wrung out after I have seen an episode but, despite that I couldn’t miss one. Episodes are set in the 1950’s and 60’s and involve a team of midwives, based in a convent in the East End of London. My heart bursts open each episode with the compassion and kindness portrayed through human stories from birth to death. An episode I recently watched involved 2 main stories. One of a sensitively portrayed death from cancer and the other of a single mum who had a breech birth (i.e. feet first, when many babies come head first).
Breech births are more complicated than a head first birth and need a skilled birth companion as support during the birth. The nurses on Call the Midwife knew what to do. Nowadays most potential breech births end up with a caesarean delivery, to minimise risks.
Caesarean deliveries for some while have been as quick as possible and very perfunctory. Especially in an emergency when there is a sense of urgency.
I was delighted therefore, to watch a video of a slow caesarean. In this video, baby’s journey into the world was, as I saw it, powerful. They had lower lighting, music, mum could see what was going on (not screened from it) and once babies head was clear the surgeon was mostly hands off. The awesome thing was that the baby pushed itself/walked itself out. After that, baby was put on mum’s chest for skin-to-skin bonding for as long as she wished (which in this case was six hours!)
The Mum to be had informed choice, and had a birth plan, that was honoured.
There are complications in both caesareans and breech birth. So whether a woman gives birth vaginally or via caesarean, she should have informed choice. She should know the risks and benefits, whatever way baby comes, of all her options. She should also be able to decide, for herself, what is the best way of birthing for her and have her wishes respected.
The medical profession should be available to support her, to be informed, every step of the way, pre-conception onwards.
The Alexander Technique can also support women and help them to be empowered at all stages of pregnancy. For example, how to adapt comfortably to the changing bump. How to prepare for the type of birth or positions during the birthing process. How to feed, push prams, lift baby, play, and all other post birth activities…with ease.
There are a couple of books about the Alexander Technique and Pregnancy*. If you want to know more, maybe read one of those books or contact me for a session.
How might it help you? I will let a client and her husband tell you what learning the technique did for them…
EW & EW 1/9/16 – I wanted to thank you for all you work and support. The birth was wonderful. I laboured on my knees with my husband with me and in the water. I progressed quickly with being so low and delivered naturally despite her being in a back to back position
I had the most fantastic experience. I never understood when people said they enjoyed their birth experience before. I could cry thinking about how peaceful it was. Another thing I noticed is that I didn’t ache at all after the birth because my body was so relaxed throughout. When I had my first baby I was so frightened I ached for days after from the tension. I am now using the techniques when breast feeding to check my position.
I would recommend it to everyone and will be passing on the book you recommended. I will definitely be back in touch once I’m back in the world for some more sessions!
I’ve seen my wife give birth to both of our beautiful daughters. The pain of her first labour was mitigated only by gas, air and heavier-duty forms of pain relief thrown her way; the rigours of the second, however, were barely evident to me as she breathed and chanted her way through in a state of near-calm. From my viewpoint, her two labours couldn’t have been any further apart – the first saw her shrouded by tears and expletives, thrashing around red-faced in agony; the second, using the Alexander Technique, was typified by a serene sense of purpose. She didn’t swear once.
Jane Clappison, Alexander Technique Teacher
*The Alexander Technique for Pregnancy and Childbirth – Britta Forsstrom and Mel Hampson
*The Alexander Technique Birth Book – Illana Machover and Angela Drake
I was so excited! My fella was home at last! I was madly in love and thought he was the most handsome man on the planet and he could do no wrong. We were at Manchester airport and we needed to get back to Hull. Basically West across the UK till you can’t go any further. We got in the car and I threw him my map (it was before the days of sat navs).
“Navigate us home will you?”
Despite being in a “caring profession” for the latter part of my working life, in certain ways I have a very analytical brain. It’s probably towards the “masculine” end of the spectrum, and especially where map reading lies. I had navigated for a few road rallies, so I knew how to plot routes and read maps, and I presumed it was common to most human beings, and especially to the male of the species. Consequently I had no doubts the love of my life would get us home via the shortest route. However, this was not to be the case! I discovered he wasn’t perfect and we had our first relationship challenge! I won’t call it an argument, because it wasn’t, in the classical sense.
A few moments passed and I was given my first instructions as to where to go. I was driving, he was the navigator. All was good. I could just point the car in the directions he gave me. So I did.
When we were driving through leafy suburbs, of goodness knows where, I finally said I thought we were going the wrong way. I pulled over. He didn’t know where we were on the map. That was a bit of an alarm bell. I suggested we ask someone, but that didn’t go down well. I regained my confidence when he seemed to know where we were on the map after all. We set off again.
When we were in the middle of a very seedy part of Manchester, next to a row of shops, I again decided to bring up the possibility that we were lost. (Just to clarify, Hull has lots of seedy areas too). We stopped again. This time I decided to check out where we were on the map, but I needed to know where he thought we were. Rough ball park figure? It wasn’t long before I said “You don’t know how to read maps, do you?” and, yes, you guessed, the reply was “No.”
We got home, but the 2-3 hour journey ended up being 5 and we knew an awful lot more about each other at the end of it! I didn’t take that opportunity to teach him how to read maps, and he never asked. We did eventually decide to take life’s journey separately. However, I know he has managed to drive across the continent without maps and I imagine he had some awesome detours.
Some people say that it’s possible to learn the Alexander Technique without books, as F.M. Alexander managed it that way. Others say it’s possible to read books and learn how to do it. Even others are now learning the Alexander Technique via video’s and online tutorials. Traditionally it was done with a teacher, present in the room, and mostly on a 1:1 basis, but also via groups. I imagine, no matter how, there will be some dead ends, detours, and possibly confusion. It is in the experience of doing it that one learns most. My take is that the intellectual/cognitive process often comes after the experience, or at least alongside it.
Without a map, it’s highly possible to get lost, end up in unwanted places and never get to the intended destination. There may be some incredible adventures. Even with a teacher, present, in the room, who has already done their Alexander Technique journey and knows their route and the terrain, it can be blissful and yet sometimes challenging to learn the technique. However, your teacher gets to know you and how to help you explore your beauty spots and is there with any pitfalls and bogs on the way. They can support you in where you want to go and how to navigate the best route.
What’s wonderful with the technique is the journey is a step at a time. The place you are standing in is what is explored and each step is an adventure.
I would love to join you on your Alexander Technique journey. If you would like to have a lesson/come to a workshop, contact me via the contact page or phone me – 01759 307282