Alexander Technique in Education

child at laptop - poor posture as chair too low

child at laptop - poor posture as chair too low

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.

Walter Carrington – centenary celebrations

Walter Carrington riding a horse
Walter Carrington riding a horse
Walter Carrington riding. © Constructive Teaching Centre

We celebrated what would have been Walter Carrington’s 100th birthday this week at my Alexander Technique training school. Walter and his wife, Dilys, ran the school for many decades and I was so lucky to have trained with them – they were well into their 80s when I started my teacher training.

The school in those days was in Holland Park, London, in a huge Victorian terraced house where Walter and Dilys had lived since the 1960s. As well as doing my teacher training, I also worked on the reception desk, managing Walter’s diary. Visitors regularly came from all over the world to spend time in the school and/or to have lessons with Walter. These appointments were like gold dust. If there was a cancellation, we had a box file with over 200 names on the waiting list for a short notice lesson. There was always someone who was able to hot foot it over to Lansdowne Road. Walter was one of the key figures in the world of the Alexander Technique. His knowledge and experience were of the highest order.

The main teaching room at the school was a large bright room with huge windows at either end. It would have probably been the lounge in normal houses. There was a conservatory at the back of the house leading from the lounge via glass doors and occasionally squirrels nested in the roof spaces of this. We spent most of our time in these two rooms where we’d either be lying down on one of the 3 wooden tables or else working at the chairs, sitting and standing. It doesn’t sound like hard work but the mental focus and ‘rewiring’ that went on used to knock me out during the first year and I’d often go home and sleep soundly for an hour.

Days were filled with the sound of laughter and Walter’s belly laugh rang out above everyone else’s. We were always cracking jokes. His laugh was described by an erudite colleague as a Rabelasian one. It’s taken me 15 years to look this up – Rabelais was a French satirist known for the ‘riotous licence of his mirth’. Rabelais also collected plants and curiosities and France can thank him for the melon, artichoke and carnation. Whilst I’m not aware of any botanical leanings, Walter was had a huge range of interests and read widely on many different topics.

Walter trained with FM Alexander in the 1930s and in 1941 qualified as a pilot in the RAF, serving in the Pathfinders. His plane was shot down in Hungary in 1944. He and his crew survived but were taken prisoner. He had broken many bones, including his pelvis and had to relearn how to walk.

Despite various hip replacements, he loved horse riding and continued to ride thrice weekly until his late 80s, stopping only because his horse, Badger, was being retired. We went on a group outing to see him riding one day. Other Alexander Technique colleagues were also giving dressage demonstrations and it was fascinating to see the horses dance round the stable. But Walter was the main attraction for me. This elegant gentleman of about 87 years, wearing a shirt and tie and bowler hat, was riding on an enormous horse with the joyous smile of a 5 year old. What a sight to behold.

Walter loved horses. His teaching room/study was filled with prints and statues of horses. There were also piles of books, largely about the Alexander Technique, but also about learning computing.

Every day he would read to us from one of Alexander’s books, often breaking off to explain particular points or to offer observations. Many of these impromptu discussions have made their way into print, notably The Act of Living and Thinking Aloud. This is fortunate as, try as I might, I don’t know if I ever once managed to stay awake for the whole half hour. His voice lulled me into total relaxation every day. On Tuesday at the party, a recording was played of one of Walter’s talks, with all of the mumblings and laughter going on in the background. Like Pavlov’s dogs, I went to get up when I heard the old doorbell in the background.

Walter was a very kind man, calling everyone “my dear” and having a ready smile upon his face. Happy Birthday, dear Walter. Thank you for all that you taught me. Much love.

Tanya x

Kate Kelly and Tanya Shoop
Having a drink with Kate Kelly, fellow bibliophile.
© Constructive Teaching Centre
Books - 'Remembering Walter Carrington'
Memories of Walter from colleagues and pupils.
© Constructive Teaching Centre
Photos of Walter Carrington
Photos of Walter Carrington.
© Constructive Teaching Centre

Text Neck from Poor Posture

Drawing showing strain on neck if leaning forward in neck


AT drawings - strain on neck

Holding your head down to look at a mobile when texting can put a real strain on the body. A recent study states that texting can harm your health.  Poor posture is one of the main causes.

Text Pain, Neck Pain

Our heads are quite heavy, around 4-5kg. This is the weight of 4-5 litres of water:

AT drawings - weight of head in water

Better Posture

This is fine when the head is in balance. But tip the head forward and start multiplying those bottles of water.

Thus good posture and head balance is important. This is what the Alexander Technique is all about. Imagine a point between your ears. This is where the head neck joint is.

Drawing of Natural Head Balance restored by the Alexander Technique

Forehead Forward

Next, consider that the forehead faces forward and doesn’t tilt upward. We don’t need to fix it the head into place but need to think for it to be in balance.

Drawing of Head Neck Balance for correct posture

Phone to eyes, not head to phone

Now let’s bring the phone into the picture. Instead of tilting the head down, we can bring the phone upwards towards the eyes. This leaves the head neck balance alone and takes the strain off the neck, back and shoulders.

Alexander Technique Lessons

Any Alexander Technique practitioner can help you learn the skill of ‘mind talking to muscle’. We help you to understand what natural body use is and how to achieve it for yourself. We have a very gentle touch which guides the body how to let go more, even when it may have spent years, or even decades, holding on for dear life.

Call now to book an appointment and start taking care of your spine.

Creative Writing, Body Mindfulness and Calm

Drawing of pencil writing letters

Drawing of pencil writing letters

A new discovery has been the use of creative writing to help observe my body and its posture (or ‘use’). I recently went on a great workshop called Creative Writing and Yoga with Philip Cowell.  Normally I have a complete writing block, hence the lack of regular posts on my blog, and this causes me some angst. But the writing workshop has freed things up a lot.

Every day, I now write four pages in a notebook. These are called Morning Pages – possibly familiar to people who have read The Artist’s Way. It’s stream of consciousness writing with no rules and no need for internal editing. It has given me a sense of calm as it’s essentially an opportunity for mindfulness by decluttering one’s thoughts.

Yesterday, I was writing away and my thoughts were drawn to my body – how I was sitting and writing. I started documenting this. I noticed that I was sat slightly off the chair as I hadn’t moved some things under the table and so was sitting around these. My head was resting in my left hand. Bit by bit, I wrote these observations down, with a writer’s eye. It was useful not to change anything immediately so that I could explore the details.

Then I put my ‘Alexander hat’ on. And I shifted the things from under the table and brought both feet on the floor. I relaxed my right shoulder, thought up through my spine and head and I let my left hand softly help keep the pages of my book open. Much more comfortable.

It has been a revelation to use writing to bring a greater body awareness.

One exercise in the Creative Writing for Yoga workshop happened after we’d done some gentle yoga movements. We then had to write a letter to a part of our body. A few people read their pieces out. They were so different. Some were funny, others moving, all were observing things from a more unusual perspective. Someone wrote to their thumb, another to their belly, I corresponded with my left hip.

So these are my offerings:

  • Write Morning Pages – 3 or 4 pages, any time of day, anything that’s in your mind
  • If you are aware of your body as you write, note it down in detail. Tensions and all. Then become more thoughtful and note that down. This doesn’t have to be in your Morning Pages.
  • Do some gentle movements and then write a short letter to part of your body

Hands-On Yoga: asana and the Alexander Technique

Hands on Yoga - Tanya Shoop

Crawling & the Alexander TechniqueDo you practice yoga and want to explore a new perspective? Or have you studied the Alexander Technique and want to try it out within a yoga setting?  Three years ago, I’d been practising Chris Holt’s gentle style of Hatha yoga and was drawn to her retreat in southern France, run by an Alexander Technique colleague, Lucy Ackroyd.  The combination of  yoga, AT discussions, a rural setting and having meals laid on was bliss.  The three of us held long conversations, exchanging ideas and understanding.  Yoga, like the AT, is all about awareness – of body, mind and the relationship between the two.  The mindfulness aspect of the AT is really helped by the meditation practices of yoga and I’ve found that people who mediate are used to quietening down their “mind chatter”.

 

Chris and I have developed a workshop style we call Hands-On Yoga where we are bringing the 2 disciplines together.  I explain some of the ideas behind the Alexander Technique and Chris then brings this to teaching classical Hatha Yoga asana. As Chris demonstrates and describes these postures and movements, I bring a gentle hands-on touch, helping encourage further releases from tension and making subtle adjustments where required.  With this fusion of our work, we are hoping that people will gain a deeper self-awareness and sense of comfort and ease.

 

Yoga triangle

The style of yoga that Chris teaches is very gentle and very thoughtful and it appeals to me on many levels.  She spends time exploring small movements so each yoga student can see what their range of movement is like, for example with their shoulders.  When we move on to some of the yoga postures, she reminds us of the experiments we did with the shoulders so that arm movement is more considered and doesn’t involve arching of the back or raising of the shoulders.  This is so in keeping with AT mindfulness and I sometimes use some of these movements in my Alexander teaching practice.

Chris has also trained in restorative yoga.  Here she uses a variety of supports – bolsters, blankets, blocks – so that the body feels totally supported.  Keeping in these postures for a few minutes is supremely relaxing and can enable a deeper release of tension.  I have brought some of this into my Alexander practice and sometimes use a bolster under the knees for some people when they are lying in semi-supine, particularly if they have tension in their legs and hip joints that is hard to undo.

With our Hands-On Yoga workshops and holidays, we have a mixture of AT insights, yoga and meditation practice.  Some sessions are separate and at other times, they work in conjunction.  “It’s truly brilliant,” says Kate Byron, who joined us on retreat in 2013. “The attention to detail has really helped me understand what yoga can be and helped me start to feel in touch with my body, which I haven’t felt for years.”

Chris Holt and Tanya Shoop run occasional Hands-on Yoga workshops in London and will be leading a residential Hands-on Yoga retreat  5-7 September 2014 at Holland House in Worcestershire.

Garden - Holland HouseHolland House - Alexander Technique and Yoga weekend course