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!
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.
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.)
The Alexander Technique was founded by Frederick Matthias Alexander, an Australian actor born in 1869. He became hoarse and struggled for breath on stage. Doctors did not find anything physically wrong with him and advised him to rest his voice for a few weeks.
His voice came back but his problems returned as soon as he recited again. He wondered what he was doing wrong and set up a room with mirrors all around. He observed himself closely and discovered that he had a number of habits as soon as he went to talk. The habits included tipping his head back, sticking his chest out and tightening his legs.
He spent time quietening these habits which were strongly established. He also freed up his body tensions helping his voice to become strong and giving him a lot of breath control Other actors asked for his advice which led to him sharing his Technique with them.
He became known as the “Breathing Doctor” and medics asked him to help with some of their patients. They were so impressed with his abilities that they urged him to go to England to expand his work. He came over to London in 1904 and set up a training course to train Alexander Teachers in the 1930s. He died in 1955 at the age of 87, teaching the Alexander Technique right up until his end.
My teachers, Walter and Dilys Carrington, trained with Alexander and worked alongside him from the 1930s until he died. Walter was full of wonderful stories about Alexander, or FM as he was known, and I feel very privileged to have trained with him and Dilys.