Alexander Technique in East Yorkshire

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Why do we need to improve our posture Jane? You don’t. Here’s why!

An ex physiotherapy colleague, who I respect greatly, recently saw one of my Alexander Technique (AT) adverts. His response to what I had written was ‘Jane, why do we need to improve our posture?’ The short answer was ‘you don’t,’ but it got me thinking, and thinking…and thinking, about posture. It’s a commonly used word. A simple definition is “the position in which someone holds their body.” We kind-of understand what it means, or do we?

My machinations grew to me wanting to write a blog about posture and how it relates to the Alexander Technique.

I thought it would be useful to link it to a story from my past about posture and I came up short! Literally. As a child, I can’t remember anyone ever asking me to sit up straight or complaining about my posture. However, young kids don’t usually have a problem with their posture. They have an inherent way of doing things that seems to involve a great, easy, effortless way of being.

When I went through school, almost all my friends were taller than me and more willow-like. I guess at an unconscious level I admired their qualities and also, I didn’t want to stare up into their faces as we walked to and from school. I wanted to be level with them. My need to be upright was related to a need to fit in. I wanted to be the willow. I know I wanted to be taller as they shot upwards. I suspect it was one of the reasons I didn’t adopt a slumped posture. I probably tried to stretch upwards. Of course it wasn’t really about posture but other things.

I loved dancing too! I remember teachers instructing us to lengthen through our legs and arms. Reach beyond the foot and the hand. If anything I am fairly sure I held myself tightly and upright so that I “looked” like, what I thought, a dancer should look like. Yes, I was definitely thinking about how I appeared as I danced, how I came across to an audience and how I wanted to be in the world. It wasn’t really about posture, yet tenuously it was.

The nearest I can come to having an actual conversation about posture was in my teens when my grandma criticised me for wiggling my hips when I walked, but, knowing me, I couldn’t get my head round that and I probably did it all the more.

The first time I heard about the Alexander Technique was via a dancer who said he had become taller through having AT lessons. However, my lessons didn’t start then. They eventually started as I was curious. I wanted to experience the benefits my friend described: he was able to do simple things in a magical way, without effort. Nothing to do with posture.

My training to be an Alexander Technique teacher did not involve posture lectures either. In fact most Alexander Technique teachers will tell you AT is not about posture, and it’s become a bit of a dirty word for them (1 & 2). Yet, I bet if you Google posture you will probably find Alexander Technique is somewhere in the results. Or if you ask someone what AT is about, they may well say it’s about posture.

Historians will tell you that posture is a “fashion” thing. Look back over the centuries and you will find standards for posture have changed. It is more dependent on when you are, where you are, who you are and what you do! (4)

Recently posture has become a problematic subject for many health professionals as the latest research shows that posture does not cause pain problems. That slouching is ok. Text neck doesn’t cause neck pain (5). Physiotherapists now cringe at the assessments and advice they used to give about posture. So do I, as it was so prescriptive. Postural advice can make people even more rigid and fearful of getting things wrong. The opposite of what it should be.

Even though AT is not about posture, some of the early books on the topic have photographs of good and bad posture, and seemingly right way to do things and wrong ways. F. M. Alexander himself, in rare videos of him working, looks like he is sculpting his pupil’s body into a more upright position (3).

Many Alexander teachers do talk about posture in their advertising: even me. Magazine articles talk about good posture. Physiotherapists, the NHS and other health professionals still instruct us (their clients) on it (6 & 7).

Even though we are beginning to understand that posture isn’t the issue, it’s still in vogue to have “good posture”. I regularly see crazy products to strap those shoulders back. Slouching is not “fashionable.” People who slouch are often seen as lazy, even though that idea is based on the past, and when being ramrod straight was seen as a good thing as it implies having a back bone! Sadly therefore, slumping is still undesirable.

It’s no surprise then, that a lot of people come to me for Alexander Technique lessons wanting to improve their posture. Mostly it’s not about the posture. It’s usually because they are suffering in some way.

One thing we now know is “posture” can affect our mood (5). Or is it that our mood affects our posture? Probably the latter. When we are suffering we do tend to withdraw and shut off from the world. When we are in pain we try to minimise the pain and that often means we hold ourselves stiffly or start to curl up.

The suffering my clients experience comes about for many reasons. Maybe positions at work (that they have to be in for hours on end) seem to bring discomfort which over time then turns into pain. Maybe they just hate work? Perhaps an injury has made life very challenging. Pain, often lack of sleep, and possibly joint stiffness then makes things they love to do difficult too. Yoga class, once a joy, becomes uncomfortable. Playing their musical instrument for hours has to end. Crafting and TV watching becomes too painful and the crafting stops. Maybe they have relationship problems, bereavements, financial issues. Things spiral downward and life becomes limited and more like hard work.

Often alongside these changes my clients spot themselves in a mirror or shop window and see a stoop. Their partners tell them they are now slouching when once they did not. Maybe they can’t be bothered  to change it. Sometimes they try to change it but it’s no longer comfortable to be upright, to sit up. It feels too effort-full so they give up. Friends, and family see they are suffering and may even suggest Alexander lessons because they have heard it helps with posture or they know someone, in a similar situation, who has had benefit from lessons. Their health professional may even suggest AT. They do an internet search and find someone like me. We gently explore AT and discover it is not really about posture and they discover their posture improves as a side effect! So it’s not about posture and yet it is.

I am so glad that posture brings us together so I can share what I mean when I say posture improves as “a side effect” and together we can explore what the Alexander Technique can and does offer. It has such a profound effect for people.  I love sharing the work and seeing the light return to my clients eyes, restoration of hope as they begin to move more fluidly, with ease and less pain, witnessing their joy in returning to the things they love, slowing down and being in the present moment, hearing about all the gifts those things bring for them (1), and somehow that comes across as good posture.

 

 

  1. The Alexander Technique won’t teach you ‘good posture’ – Peter Nobes

 

  1. Poise, Not Posture. Don’t Try To Stand Up Straight – Adrian Farrell

 

  1. F. M. Alexander giving a lesson:  A) & B)

 

  1. Upright and Uptight – The invention of posture – Tom Jesson

 

  1. Three reasons you have neck pain and why posture isn’t one of them – Christian Worsfold

 

  1. Your posture is way worse than you think. We prove it – Bob and Brad 

 

  1. Common posture mistakes and fixes – NHS

 

 

Alexander Technique project October 2019: Finding Spaces

A few weeks ago I learned a trick that birdwatchers use to find birds in trees. They don’t look for the bird outline, they look for the spaces that they can see in a tree and are much more able to spot a bird outline.

I hear birds in my garden but many times I wonder what kind of bird is producing such a beautiful song. I generally search in vain for the answer. With this new superpower, looking at the spaces, it was a joy to spot the Robin amongst the branches, following me from bush to bush, eagerly waiting for worms, as I worked in my garden.

I got the tip from a fabulous piece written on the 9th September 2019 on a Facebook page called The Feldenkrais Guild UK.  They have been writing regular pieces which I have often shared to my Facebook page. The pieces made me aware of how similarly Alexander & Feldenkrais saw their work.

The topic for my “project” this month grew from reading that piece because the writer offered a way of applying the birdwatchers trick to the body.

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Alexander Technique and Blood Pressure

I have no fuse. At least it feels that way. I imagine myself as a huge round black cartoon bomb but without a fuse. That’s me. I can be pushed and pushed and pushed…and then BOOM, I EXPLODE. I often feel shame when that happens. I learned that response from my childhood. I learned to suppress anger. My history informs me that anger brings rejection and calm doesn’t, so it’s understandable I have these habitual responses. I didn’t learn to use the feeling of anger effectively.

I’m learning to accept and embrace my anger. I am learning to be compassionate about it and be curious when it erupts. It’s a work in progress. Some of the process is about accepting what is and not changing it.

The Alexander Technique is about being in the present moment, accepting things as they are, releasing into it, and not “doing” something to change it. I like that it takes me into calm. However, I am using it to explore my anger. It doesn’t mean I have to explode, shout, scream, deny it, suppress it, just let it be what it is, a feeling that informs me. I can then choose what I do.

It’s coming in very handy whilst I wear a 24 hour blood pressure monitor. I want to rip it off my arm almost every time it beeps. That heralds the machine starting up. Frequently it pumps up, and fails, and starts again but with more pressure. It takes my breath away. My arm feels alien, like it’s turned into one of those rubberised fake arms. I think it might pop. I feel panic. I am irritated that I am having to go through this. My genetics are catching up with me despite years of healthy choices and oodles of relaxation and ways to find calm. Also, years of suppressing and denying anger and wanting to stay in a calm, peaceful state. My thoughts are wandering towards what the night is going to be like. Will I have bloodshot red eyes through lack of sleep in the morning?

I am observing what happens to me. How I tense up and brace. How the cuff restricts my movements which irritates me. How my thoughts are going towards tonight and the possibility of lack of sleep and the future possibility of medication. In this instance it’s not helpful. It will show higher readings as a result! I am choosing to stay in the present moment, notice my feet, stay grounded, notice my neck, invite it to have flow, notice my muscular response and choosing to invite ease and calm. I am not jumping over the reactions but I am responding to them appropriately.

The Alexander Technique is a tool. It can be a lifestyle as well. In this instance it is an extremely helpful tool. I am glad I can use it.

If you are interested in exploring how the Alexander Technique can help with anger, reactions you don’t know what to do with, overwhelm get in touch.

 

Jane Clappison MSTAT

Alexander Technique Teacher

01759 307282

www.janeclappison.co.uk

Alexander Technique: Endgaining or present moment?

The bottom half of my parent’s enormous garden was always looked after by my Dad, and since he passed away it has gradually become neglected. The clematis took over the lilac tree and pulled it down, the saplings, brambles and bind weed invaded everywhere. It became a wildlife haven. However, it had to be tamed as it was invading the neighbours gardens too. We also had to tame a lot of the saplings before they became trees too wide and high to manage.

So, my husband, sister and I all converged on the unruly garden last Sunday. We started at different points and hacked our way towards each other. It reminded me a lot of the Sleeping beauty story. Eventually we began to see glimpses of each other through the undergrowth and despite the rain, we kept going and met in the middle. We were surrounded by devastation, sweaty and wet, but had a great feeling of achievement.

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The Alexander Technique and eyes (2)

The eyes still have it

 

I have been reminded that what one sees is in the eye of the beholder, including beauty. I gave that some thought and realised how one sees is also the same. Do you notice how you look at things. Do you notice some of the ways that happens? I’ve spotted myself looking for safety, curiosity, pattern recognition, body language. Looking close up with mouse eyes, looking at the big picture with eagle eyes. What do you notice about the way you look. Does it make a difference? How does it affect your body and what you notice as you stay present?

This week I have been marvelling at how thinking about my eyes leading movement has an effect on my neck movement. It started off by doing an exploration described in Elizabeth Langford’s book Mind and Muscle, an owner’s handbook. I am grateful for her explorations of the eyes and have developed another version on similar lines. In the book, one exploration is done on all 4’s and the other is done with walking and changing direction. Both are fun to do. It’s adaptable to all sorts of activities and I have been doing my version in sitting and standing.

For those of you with neck problems might I suggest you do the exploration when you are with your Alexander Technique teacher? Either way, go as far as is comfortable and as few repetitions as is comfortable. You can chose to do only part of the exploration too, instead of all of it at once.

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Alexander Technique & Resistance

Resistance

I have a very painful right shoulder. It’s been brewing for over a year. It’s been something and nothing until about 6 weeks ago when it became very stiff and painful and now involves my arm up to my wrist. It has meant I have had to ask for help when dressing and undressing. The challenge of asking for that is another issue!

This week I have been thinking about my resistance to that pain. I don’t want it. It’s a nuisance. Yet it’s there. I try to ignore it but I can’t. It’s just on the edge of unbearable, but of course it’s always bearable because there’s no other option. I try to be independent but I need help. Yes, I also need sympathy and understanding and even that’s hard to accept when I have crazy rules like “I should know how to sort this pain”. I’m irritated and pissed off with it. The resistance to the whole thing, the attempts at being angry with it, ignoring it, fighting with it, bring me a painful shoulder and a lot of inner turmoil and tension. It got me thinking of The Borg (a fictional, alien race: you have to be a Star Treck fan) .

A Google search on The Borg phrase “Resistance is futile” resulted in: “resistance: the refusal to accept or comply with something. futile: incapable of producing any useful result; pointless. So “resistance is futile” means that refusing to accept what is happening is pointless, and you should just give up.”
If you are being assimilated by The Borg then maybe giving up is the option. I’m not Jean-Luc Picard either. I’ve discovered the way is not giving up, giving in or resisting the pain. I have found a more zen like, Alexander Technique approach: I am releasing into what is happening. Releasing into my reaction to the pain or thoughts of future pain.

Movements can be so painful that I unconsciously brace before I move. The bracing is in anticipation of pain, but that often results in more pain when I do move. How do I know that? When I don’t brace I have much less pain. Often it’s still very uncomfortable but I am not adding to it.

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Alexander Technique and Acceptance

When I worked as a physiotherapist I used a process called Motivational Interviewing. One of the key elements to the process, which is about helping people change, is termed “rolling with resistance”. It basically is about not attacking and confronting someone directly. It’s a compassionate way of working with someone who is not yet ready to change.

Despite having years of working with people where I rolled with their resistance, my own habit, applied to myself, is often to go for the cure: attacking and changing something before I have accepted the reality of the situation. It doesn’t work, and it hasn’t worked in a specific instance and the habit is still there. There’s obviously some unconscious resistance. I am not ready to change. I am creating conflict by trying to change something that is not ripe to change. Thus, I have been working with acceptance this week.

I have been gently accepting this habit I thought I had changed, really wanted to change, but had not.

I have been using the Alexander Technique and inhibiting my urge to change the habit. Instead I have been accepting it’s presence and releasing to it. I have learned a lot more about it by doing that.

This same process can be applied to all habits of thought and action, to pain and discomfort. To anything that you want to change. First comes acceptance: doing nothing to change it but, by doing nothing, it’s doing everything. It’s being in the present moment, with it, just as it is, not as you want it to be. Being at peace with where you are.

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Alexander Technique, present moment and feet

Finding the present moment
through your feet!

I made my feet, especially my toes, a project this week. Can my feet bring me back to the present moment? It’s a kind of thinking to bring about non doing.

In The Use of the Self, F. M. Alexander talks about taking hold of the floor with his feet. He explains that that habit was part of a bigger picture. It sure is.

During this project I noticed I often try to grip the floor with my toes, sometimes I have a lot of weight on my heels, especially when walking. I got to be re-acquainted with some of the unhelpful habits I have, like standing on the outside of my foot when I dry my other foot. Doing that gives me less stability and area to balance on.

Does all that matter as feet are constantly adapting? What I do know is that I don’t have to do any of that extra stuff. I can do nothing instead. I can let my feet do what they are designed to do. It’s much easier and I get some amazing feedback through my feet for all the movements I do, if I leave them alone.

I was pleasantly surprised as I noticed the sensation of the bedroom carpet in the morning. I am always amazed at finding something new in ordinary, everyday activities. I enjoyed spotting the texture and temperature contrast between the carpet and the wood of the floor in the bathroom.

When I invite my feet to rest on the floor, and release to the floor, everything I do, because it’s part of a whole pattern, becomes easier. It also instantly takes me into the present moment.

Maybe you might like to make your feet a project too? Could be a 5 minute project as you do an activity or a longer term project.

You could focus just on noticing your feet in the moment, notice what happens if you invite them to release.

Notice what around you as you do all of that. Let the images come to you rather than forcing it.

If it seems your feet are illusive – try waking them up with massage, or giving them a wash and dry every nook and cranny, or roll your foot over a tennis ball. There are so many ways, and we do these kinds of things in Alexander Lessons.

If you know about the primary directions like “let the neck be free” add your feet into the picture. Can your feet be free to rest?

Let me know if you have any questions/how you get on?

Jane Clappison
Alexander Technique Teacher

01759 307282