Alexander Technique in East Yorkshire

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Out of fear into the present moment

The cycle to work was heavenly. Warm, filled with the scent of newly mown grass and umpteen flowers and the inevitable exhaust fumes from a city commute.

Walking onto wards I was greeted with clouds of talcum powder and many other  unaccustomed smells. My olfactory system, my lungs, my whole being was being assaulted all day long with new stuff!  It was my first ever job as a qualified physiotherapist and I was also struggling to breath!

I had been working in various NHS settings for the last three years as a student physiotherapist so much of the hospital smells would not have been that new, but somehow it was affecting me differently.

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Toothache, chicken little, anxiety and the Alexander Technique

I don’t know when I decided not take any notice of TV news. Nor do I remember when I consciously avoided reading the daily papers, but it was before the days of the internet. I imagine I was in my late teens. I just didn’t want to know how bad things were.

As I therefore knew less about the world at large, I marvelled at how my maternal Grandmother kept up with current affairs. One phone call got me up to speed. I am sure it kept her keenly aware into her 90’s and also extremely grumpy.

Despite an aversion to bad news, I did develop a liking for the Scottish Post as they seemed to be more about good-news stories. Their cartoons like the mischievous Oor Wullie and the family life of The Broons made for a  hilarious treat. I  now love a very un-PC paper for its brain teasers and TV guide, but my love of newspapers and bad news in general (isn’t it almost always bad now) and current affairs, ends there.

Maybe you feel this sense that most news reports are bad news?

Nowadays I can’t avoid death, destruction, vandalism, global warming, not global warming, air quality, plastic floating islands, mass extinctions, deforestation, wars, starvation, discrimination and on and on. As a result, I find myself being pulled into a state of irritation and anxiety. Like a nagging tooth pain, for which there is no cure. The internet, and particularly social media, seem to have got to me in ways my paper/TV news avoidance could not. Perhaps a remote cave might help, but I enjoy being in and of the world. So, I can’t avoid knowing some of the heartbreaking news we are bombarded with from all sides, today.

At times I feel like Chicken Little, crying out that the sky is falling in. Except he discovered it wasn’t falling in, and that all was well. My conclusion is that we are finely balanced at a point where we don’t know whether the sky will fall in or not.

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Learn from failure

“We learn from failure, not from success!”         

Bram Stoker

 

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.

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Empowered Birth

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.

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Navigating, journeys and the Alexander Technique

Globe map of worldI 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?”

“Sure!”

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.”

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Parapets and whistling

Penguin on rock

My Dad had quite a few “War stories” he told but the one that I want to tell today is about when he stuck his head above the parapet. A parapet is a low protective wall for concealing troops. It’s a very short story and involves my Dad behind a parapet, his commanding officer, and a random third party doing shooting practice. Apparently his commanding officer bellowed out “Clappison” and my Dad lifted his head up above the parapet, and said “Yes, Sir” and got shot! Fortunately it hit him at the very edge of his forehead. All his kids, and anyone else listening, got to feel the dent in his skull, and the outline of the bullet underneath his skin every time he told the story. He carried the bullet for the rest of his life. I’m guessing it wasn’t a live bullet but a practice round.

My best friend also has a very similar wound from sticking his head above the parapet, but this one happened at school. It happened when he was very young, but he didn’t ever forget it. His body tries to protect him from ever being wounded again, every time he is in company.

Apparently, when he was at school, the teacher decided to tell the class about penguins. As my friend had been reading about penguins, with his mum, the night before, he got really excited. He knew all about penguins and they were from the south west coast of Africa, and even had islands named after them: the Penguin Islands. Unfortunately the teacher had only read about penguins from Antarctica. So when the teacher asked “Where do Penguins come from?” and my friend shot up his hand quicker than anyone else in the class, he got picked to answer the question. The answer made the teacher, and then the whole class, laugh. That bullet landed very deeply and is still felt: everywhere.

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Fish out of water

Entrance swipe card poised in my hand, dressed in perfunctory work out gear, terrified, heart thumping, on the edge of the abyss…I swiped! It didn’t work! Failed at the first hurdle. Panic now rising because I couldn’t even get through the door. If that was difficult then how would I manage whatever awaited me in the gym?

I did get in when someone else came out. I felt helpless, floundering like a fish out of water and yet gyms, just like this one, had been my working environment (my pond) for many years as a Physiotherapist. On this day, I was attending the gym (and still am attending regularly) because I had developed a persistent problem with my right knee and had requested an “exercise on prescription” course which my GP had agreed to.

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The Alexander Technique, Smudging & Pain

Pain spreads the longer it lasts. Has that happened to you? It starts with a pain in a small area, like the inside of the knee for instance, and then seems to spread to the whole knee, and up and down the leg. It’s called smudging! The scientific term is disinhibited. It’s something I have known academically for quite a while. I am now observing it in my swollen right knee which has been a problem since February.

The science is there to explain why the pain seems to spread. It’s why my knee often feels “odd” and like it’s much bigger than its neighbour. It explains why I might be tempted to walk with a stiff leg.

Smudging can happen anywhere in the body. A common problem is back or neck pain which often starts in a small area and then spreads up and down, or across the back. It’s a remarkable “extra protection” mechanism that can be great in the short term to reduce movement but most unhelpful in the long term.

So, what can I do about it? What can you do about it if you think you have “smudging” too?  According to David Butler in his YouTube video there’s 3 things to do. One is education and I would recommend watching his video.

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3QVAY5stO3U

The other two are graded exposure and exploring the “part” in a different context. The Alexander Technique is a fabulous way to help with these two elements and “unsmudge” or re-embody that part that has become smudged.

I am supporting my knee healing by body mapping, thinking about moving, thinking into movement, exploring movement in different ways which are all parts of The Alexander Technique. These all help support the neuroplastic changes needed to unsmudge!

Contact me, Jane Clappison,  if you want to learn how The Alexander Technique can work for you to reduce pain and help you move more freely and easily – 01759 307282.

The next workshop I am giving is “Managing Pain with the Alexander Technique”  on 14th October 2017 if you prefer a group environment to learn. Further details here:- http://www.janeclappison.co.uk/workshops/