People often think the Alexander Technique is about imagining a string or golden thread coming up from the top of the head. It is certainly useful to think upwards. Much of our attention is downward: reading, typing, texting, cooking, childcare. This can make us slump and this can cause back pain or neck pain.
String on top of the head – Neck Tension?
A thread coming up from the top of the head can sometimes make people over stretch their neck. They may also tip the head backwards. And this can bring tension into the body.
String on top of the head – Back Pain?
Backache, whether it’s lower back pain or upper back pain, can happen when we’re trying to do the right thing. But knowing what the right thing is can be tricky. And so the Alexander Technique is useful as it dispels some myths. If you are overstretching imagining the string, then you might still have back tension or lower back pain.
Good posture is free and not rigid or held
We want connection to the floor as well as thinking up to the top of the head. Try some of these ideas listed below as well as imagining the string and then see what works for you. There’s only so much we can do for ourselves. We rely on feelings that may be faulty and have habits we’re unaware of. An Alexander Technique teacher has an objective eye to see what your habits are – where you overstretch or where you slump. They can then guide you, through explaining and hands on work, so you can have better posture and feel more comfortable.
Think up from your feet all the way to the top of your crown.
Think of the space above your head.
Imagine your hair sprouting from the top of your head.
Imagine bubbles constantly travelling up through your body to the top of your head.
Find an Alexander Technique teacher
You’re welcome to contact me for a free 15 minute consultation on the phone or zoom before trying out a lesson with me. If you don’t live in London, then my professional body can guide you to someone in your area.
I love working with pregnant women. During pregnancy, a woman’s body is changing rapidly. It’s important to develop good habits early on to help avoid back pain.
Pregnancy – Adjusting to the Bump
I help women to strengthen their back and to find balance and ease, both physically and emotionally. We do a lot of work with bending to learn how to support the back properly both during pregnancy and when the baby arrives. I also have ways to show how not to arch the back which is a common posture during pregnancy.
We look at preparing for labour and getting ready for when the baby comes, being back and neck aware. If a couple wants, I can also work with the birth partner so they know how they can support mum. One thing I focus on is the quality of touch so that the touch is supportive and not adding to tension.
It’s best to start as early as possibly – ideally from 3 months.
Adjusting to the baby
There’s so much to adjust to when a new baby comes into the world, that mums (and dads/partners) can forget to think about their own bodies. And this can cause havoc with their backs.
It can also be quite stressful and emotional.
In an Alexander Technique session, we can look at a range of practical activities such as:
- bending and avoiding back ache: over the pram, cot, bath, changing mat
- breastfeeding without straining your back and neck
- sitting comfortably when playing with the kids on the floor
- carrying your baby without arching the back
- working out the best way to wear a sling
- using baby car seats without damaging your back
- how to find calm and reduce anxiety.
I’m very happy for parents to bring the baby into the lesson. If the baby’s sleeping then the two of us can work together. If the baby needs attention, we can work while you hold the baby or breastfeed.
I’m also happy to sing to the baby to soothe him or her – lullabies and football songs, whatever their preference!
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.
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.
Why use a saddle?
Once someone has had a few lessons, we may look at saddle work on a specially made wooden trestle.
The body can often balance more easily on the saddle so it is useful to explore tightness in the legs and hip joints. And if someone hitches up their back and shoulders to be upright, they can discover this is not necessary.
You don’t need to be a horse rider to benefit from saddle work. Office workers often love it as it can be more comfortable than sitting on a chair. And horse riders have often achieved remarkable improvements in their riding.
Origins of saddle work
This way of working originated in 1955 from a four year old girl with spina bifida. She didn’t have the use of her legs so couldn’t stand and sitting was difficult.
My old teacher, Walter Carrington, started working with her on a toy donkey. It was fun for a little girl and easier for him to work with her to build up her strength and balance. As she grew bigger, he eventually moved on to the horse’s saddle and wooden horse. Her upper body became quite strong and she was able to walk using callipers and crutches and the way was freer to lead an independent life.
Feeding a baby can take up a fair proportion of a parent’s day and so it’s important to be comfortable both for yourself and for your baby. Whether breastfeeding or bottle feeding, it’s easy to focus more on the baby than yourself and this is where back pain can set in. Here are some top tips for looking after your posture for comfortable breastfeeding:
- Back support: You need support for your upper back, ideally between the shoulder blades. It’s important that your back is upright rather than slouched. If the seat is deep, such as on a sofa, you may need 2 or 3 cushions to support your upper back.
- Neck pain prevention: When looking at your baby, either to see if he has latched on or if you are looking in her eyes, think about what is going on with your head and neck. Use your eyes more to look down and if you need to tilt your head, nod your head from the head-neck balancing joint between the ears rather than shoving your head down from a lower point in the neck.
- Shoulder pain: Are your shoulders up by your ears? Ensure the baby is supported well, especially with a newborn. You can raise the baby’s height by putting cushions underneath so the baby is brought up to the breast, rather than breast to baby. This will also help over-curving your back.
- Leg tension: When sitting, are you on tiptoes? Try putting something under your feet so that your legs can relax. If the baby is too low, see the tip above on using cushions.
- Anxiety: Feeding doesn’t come easily to everyone and can be a time that is fraught with anxiety. Taking your time to make yourself comfortable will quieten your body that will feed through to the baby and can also help calm your mind.
It is a great pleasure for me to work with a mum who is feeding her baby. Helping her to get a sense of comfort, often for the first time, shows with a smile in her face and a peacefulness in the room that is almost tangible. As well as showing her how to set herself up when at home or out and about, I also work hands on to help build relaxation in her body.