Quietening the Mind and Body

I wanted to share some ideas from a couple of pieces I’ve read which are about a gentle way of being more present.

Philippa Perry writes about ‘focused attention’ in How to Stay Sane. Focused attention improves how we observe and experience our body and mind in the present, without criticism. It can boost our concentration and help with stress.

A Holland and Barrett magazine article had some practical suggestions to put this focused attention, or meditation, into place. A ‘countdown to calm’:

  • Look around you. Name FIVE things that you can see
  • Next name FOUR  things you can hear
  • Reach our and touch THREE different textures – how do they feel?
  • Breathe in – try to notice TWO different smells
  • Can you taste ONE thing? Take a deep breath and exhale slowly

I’ve found these very helpful and easy to do (apart from the taste and smell which are not my strong points). I can also just start them straight away rather and that helps break into the daily mind chatter. They are simple and possible to do anywhere, sitting, standing, walking or lying down.

Posture in cold weather

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:

  1. Neck. Are you ducking your head down in the cold/rain/wind? How does your neck feel when you do this?
  2. 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?
  3. 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.

Let me know how you get on.

Cat wearing a red scarf



Sitting and Back Pain

Do you have back pain from sitting for long hours? Lying down on the floor for 5-10 minutes is a great way to look after your back, especially if you’re sat at a screen all day.

woman lying down on back, head on books, knees bent, feet on floor, hands on stomach

This allows your back to unfurl after slumping. The floor gives us support. Taking time out also benefits our mind. Stopping. Pausing. We can breathe more easily. Tuning into our self is mindful. Noticing our body. Noticing our emotions.

Set Up

  • Surface: Ideally, lie on the floor rather than a bed/sofa.
  • Head. Support your head with books so that your neck is in neutral. If there are too many books, your chin will tuck down and it may be difficult to swallow. With too few books, your head will roll back, pushing your chin upwards. Make sure the books don’t dig into your neck.
  • Legs. Bend your legs and look for a comfortable distance away from your torso.  Your knees should float up towards the ceiling independently: don’t lean them against each other. Ensure your feet are flat against the floor. Experiment with the distance between them: you want to to feel like your legs are balanced rather than being held tightly. You should be able to relax all the muscle groups in your legs, including those behind the knee. 
  • Arms. Place your hands on your belly or your chest. Alternatively, put them out to your sides, with your hands facing up. Ensure there’s some space under your armpits so you don’t end up bunched up under your arms.


  • Release tension step by step. First, start thinking at the neck to let the neck free.
  • Think of your back lengthening and widening.
  • Think of your legs extending from the torso and your arms widening away from it.
  • ‘Scan’ down your body to find areas of tension and see if you can relax them.
  • Breathing slowly and deeply can also help your muscles release tension. After a little while, allow the breathing to be natural and not forced.


  • Easing back pain
  • Better posture
  • More calm and relaxation – less stress
  • Taking time to tune into our bodies encourages a subtle awareness of ourselves. It helps us release tension, and become more aware of our posture in daily activities.

If you’re using a laptop when sitting on the sofa, have a look at these top tips too.

Lying down – Mindful rest

Lying Down the Alexander Technique way: semi-supine

Lying down – simple but effective

Alexander Technique lying down is a simple but highly effective way of relaxing the mind and body.  The semi-supine position involves lying on your back with your knees bent and with books under the head to keep the neck in neutral.

This is often the favourite part for people in an Alexander Technique lesson and some practically run to the table when they arrive!

Lying down helps your body quieten after being upright. It gives your back a rest. And it is surprisingly comfortable. The number of books under the head is different for everyone. Try to find a height so that the back of your neck is neutral. Too few books and your chin will point up and the back of your neck will be shortened. Too many books and your throat might feel constricted.

Alexander Technique teacher working with person on table

Hands on contact

The quiet, subtle touch from my hands helps to release muscle tension and to quieten your nervous system.  As well as the hands on work, I am also monitoring breathing, watching with my eyes and listening with my hands for tension and twists.

After lying down, people often say that they feel taller or calmer.  They can feel like their shoulders have melted into the table. Their faces often relax and they can look younger.

I give ideas to the person on the table so they lear how to think to the muscles to quieten them. Getting brain to talk to muscles. Relaxing is quite a skill.  We build up a series of thoughts, or directions, so that it becomes a self-help technique.

This is something that can be done at home or even at work. It’s such a simple way of looking after oneself.

The more you lie down, the more you are remembering to be in the moment and think about yourself rather than what you need to do. So it’s mindfulness in action.

Night night sleep tight or tension and insomnia?

3 pillows

Sleep - photo of 3 pillows

Do you get a good night’s sleep? ‘Night night sleep tight’ is OK if it means sleeping well but if tight means holding tension, then it’s not such a great phrase.

Sleeping positions

I am asked regularly about the best positions for sleeping and so I’d like to draw your attention an earlier  blog post about sleeping positions. This has suggestions for different set ups whether sleeping on your back, side or front. My view is that it’s best to get a good night’s sleep and to not worry about trying to find the perfect position. However, there are suggestions for pillow arrangements that may help.

Body Scans to aid sleep

Of course, it’s also worth some Alexander Technique ‘thought support’ to help free up any tension from the day. A body scan starting can address this, freeing up the neck, jaw, back and limbs. Thinking from brain to body helps us to become aware of where we hold tension so that we can free it up. Once we’re asleep we can’t act on this but we can think things through before we drop off to sleep or if we wake in the night.

Our minds can be pre-occupied and so running thoughts through the body bring us into the present moment, quietening down the mind chatter.


Having suffered from insomnia on and off over the years, I’ve tried out a few things that have helped:

  • We have daytime thinking and night-time thinking. Daytime thinking can be more logical and is often about planning things or working things out. Dreamlike thinking can be quite random and even surreal. If you can’t sleep and you’re thinking daytime style have a go at having some more random thinking. I either try to get back into my dream or to get into random thoughts that have nothing to do with my everyday life, eg zoo animals, colours floating through my mind, to see if this takes my mind elsewhere.
  • Some people like music or white noise. The best thing for me is to plug myself into some podcasts. It’s a good idea to tuck the headphone cords above the head to avoid getting strangled. Either I have an interesting listen or I drift in and out of sleep.
  • Not worrying about not sleeping. A book on sleeping advised that we all wake in the night a few times and that’s normal. The problem is when we can’t get back to sleep. Knowing that it was normal to wake really helped so that I stopped getting into a pickle about having insomnia and relaxed more.

I went to a talk recently on the neuroscience of sleep. The main pieces of advice are to try to go to bed at a similar time each night and to ensure that the bedroom is as dark as possible. These all help with melatonin levels. Light from TVs and electronic devices can also be problematical for some in getting to sleep and low level lighting before bedtime is a good idea.