As the temperature falls, there can be a tendency to hunch up and hold ourselves tight, the Alexander Technique provides an opportunity to be present and to notice your physical responses. Here are three areas to consider:
Neck. Are you ducking your head down in the cold/rain/wind? How does your neck feel when you do this?
Shoulders and Arms. What are your shoulders up to? Have they crept up to your ears in an attempt to keep warm? Does this actually warm you? Are your arms and hands tight if you cross your arms around yourself in the cold?
Back. Are you curving your back forward and down? Is your back held tightly? Are your ribs moving freely with your breath?
Perhaps you could observe these three areas daily for the next 7 days. It doesn’t matter if you are indoors or outdoors, still or moving. Any increased body awareness is a bonus.
One of the many thought-provoking pieces of advice that I was given by my Alexander Teacher, Lizzie Atkinson, was:
Perfection is a stick to beat yourself up with
If you look for a perfection, to be perfect in something, you may need to wait a lifetime or several lifetimes. So let’s give ourselves a break and allow ourselves to be less than perfect. We will never be perfectly symmetrical, have perfect posture, some people may never be completely free of their pain. But we can work towards that and learn an awful lot along the way.
A fulfilled life is about giving things a go and trying things out without having to get it right. Allowing yourself to be wrong is a great gift. There’s so much to learn from that.
My Alexander students can be surprised when they get up from a chair in a way that is unbalanced and unstable and yet I am happy about it. It’s usually because they’ve let go of a familiar habit and gone into the unknown. It might be a bit messy and it’s work in progress but we’re getting somewhere. Getting things ‘right’ can be accidental. Getting things ‘wrong’ gives us something to work with, something understood of an old habit or a new avenue of insight and thinking to explore.
I’m currently making some curtains. The old part of me – the more academic and mathematical side from my school years – wants to analyse it all, make thorough measurements and work it out beforehand. But that means that the material sits for months and years in a sewing pile.
The new part of me recognises myself as a creative person. One who can take some more casual measurements and then work things out as I go along. It’s not perfect but at least there will be a pair of curtains fairly soon to keep out the winter cold. And I’ll be learning along the way so that my next sewing project will be better and will take on board all this experience. Am I going to win the Great British Sewing Bee? No. Am I going to sell my amazing curtains and cushion covers and make a new career? No. Am I going to have fun and feel creative and satisfied as I listen to Desert Island Discs and The Life Scientific podcasts and the sewing machine whirrs along? Yes. And it’s so enjoyable and so generous for me and so much more gentle than trying to be perfect.
There’s a fantastic short video about how the Alexander Technique works in education, whether normal schools or music or drama colleges. It’s beautifully shot and is very clear and informative. Well worth at least one look. Here’s the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TOMlc0f0orA
How does the Alexander Technique help students? It shows them how to:
understand their reaction processes
have a longer attention span and more focus
be mindful of the way they do things
see how they normally do things and see what they can change
find space to become more aware of themselves
respond to demands without being overwhelmed
think to their body to hold less tension
It’s increasingly vital for young people to have an understanding of these ways of thinking. More and more youngsters are getting backache and suffering from stress. Their bodily use at is often very good at an early stage but starts to deteriorate when they sit at tables and use a pen. Twists and slumps set in. If we can catch this early we can nip a lot of problems in the bud. It takes a skilled eye and understanding to do this and needs a gentle, kind approach. Unfortunately, suggesting that they ‘sit up straight’ just builds in stiffness and doesn’t change things. It also stops free breathing.
Please bring the video to the attention of anyone you might know in the educational field so that we can build awareness.
When I am moving someone’s leg in an Alexander Technique lesson and I ask them to let me take the weight of their leg, quite a number of people apologise and say sorry for holding tension in their leg. Clearly they’ve not done anything wrong. But saying sorry is a strong habit. It’s quite a British habit as my tale will tell later. We’re very proficient at saying sorry…. even when we don’t need to.
If someone bumps into us or accidentally kicks us, we can be the one to apologise. Occasionally, if I’m working with someone who is particularly apologetic, I invite them to a “sorry challenge”. Here’s how it goes:
Try to notice how often you say sorry
Then try to not say it if you don’t need to.
It may feel a bit bad to not say sorry, or naughty or it may even feel a bit rebellious. That’s just fine. It’s pretty tiring to be good all the time and we’re human, after all.
What does that automatic “sorry” do to us? Well, it’s different for everyone. But it can make us feel small, insignificant, unimportant. It might make us tighten and shrink a bit.
A Swedish friend who has recently moved to the UK told me of an incident on a London bus when a young man had accidentally kicked an older woman’s foot. He mumbled an apology but she hadn’t heard it and rebuked him loudly. He apologised , they had a chat and all was remedied. My Swedish friend was amazed on 3 counts:
The chap had said sorry in the first place;
The woman had exclaimed out loud at him not saying anything;
The man apologised again and they had a chat.
She didn’t think any of this would happen in Sweden. Imagine what my friend would think if she kicked me and I said sorry to her!
(And sorry to any Swedes who would have apologised on the bus.)
Hoovering can be uncomfortable and can make your back ache. What can happen is that you stand fairly still and overuse the arms – pushing and pulling with your arms, making loads of effort. This leads to bending forward, often putting strain on the lower back. Here are some ideas to experiment with:
Make the handle long enough so that you don’t need to bend as you hoover
As you hoover, step or rock forward and back – a bit like doing a dance – and the hoover handle will just move with you
Reduce your effort and let the hoover do the work. Make the suction right for the surface. If it’s too high, you have to make an effort to move the brush; if it’s too low, then you have to go over the surface more times.
Hoovering is my least favourite chore. And that’s worth noting because if you dread something, then you tend to tighten up before even starting it. So I have a little chat with myself to think that it might not be that bad. And I sometimes plug myself into some music to dance as I hoover. It’s so much better that way.