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.
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.
I was visiting a friend at the weekend and their 9 year old was using the computer for his homework. Whilst this looked a lot more fun than homework was in my day, it might not be fun in the long term (or even short term) for his back.
He was sitting at the kitchen table. His feet didn’t reach the floor. He was working at a laptop with a small screen so was having to dip his head to read the screen. He was only using one hand to type and was twisted as he reached over the keyboard. Because of this, his right shoulder was higher than the left, his back and neck were twisting and he was coming off his right sitting bone a bit.
Kids use computers for homework and computer games, browsing and drawing. It is a disaster in waiting if we don’t address their posture – backache, neck pain, shoulder pain, tight hips are all waiting to leap at a potentially young age. There are also implications for eyesight problems too if they stare at a screen for too long, keeping a limited focal distance
So, what can be done to help things? Here are a few ideas:
- Awareness, awareness, awareness. Parents, carers, teachers and young people all need to know that using our body well is as important as using the computer well. Think posture first.
- Chair Height – shoulders. The chair seat needs to be high enough so the forearms are parallel to the keyboard without raising the shoulders. If the forearms are sloping upwards, the chair is too low. Use books or a cushion to raise the seat height if it’s not an adjustable chair.
- Chair Height – legs. If their feet don’t reach the ground or aren’t flat on the floor, put something under their feet. Either some books/blocks or a small stool if they are really little. Their thighs should be parallel to the floor.
- Screen Height. Ideally, the top of the screen should be level with the eyes. A separate keyboard is helpful for laptops so the laptop or netbook can be propped up on something to raise the screen height.
- Watch for twisting or slumping. There’s a lot more to this than meets the eye which is where a trained Alexander Technique practitioner can advise. But at least start to look at their posture and notice what is going on. Also keep an eye on your own posture as children mimic adults. I find that parents who bring their children to me to look at their posture are often slumped in the chair during our appointment!
- Don’t “Sit Up Straight!” Following the above point, sitting up straight makes people hitch up and be stiff. They often arch the lower back and push the chin up too far. Instead, see if they can wriggle onto their sitting bones. More gentle and may be more effective.
If adults and children are sharing a computer, then these adjustments needed to be made for each person. It’s tempting to think that we’re only going to use the computer for a bit but we do tend to get a bit sucked in and then find we’re on it for longer than intended.
I’m happy to work with children. They often only need a few sessions. I do prefer that the parent/carer also has lessons with me. It helps the adult have an experience and greater understanding of what we’re working with and will help them with their child as they can share ideas and insights.
To avoid neck strain, the top of your computer monitor should be at eye level, about an arm’s length away. Our eyes naturally look about 15 degrees down and so will then naturally look onto the screen.
There are various bits of equipment that you can buy to raise the screen but a cheap and cheerful option is to prop it up on some large books.
For laptops, it’s a different scenario as the screen is invariably too low and may even be a little close. This is fine if only using the laptops for short periods of time. If you are using a laptop a lot and don’t need it to be too portable, you can buy a separate keyboard and mouse. Ideally, the keyboard should be a “low profile” keyboard – one that is fairly flat. You can then prop the laptop up, an arm’s length away, with the top of the monitor at eye level. There are different types of kit available for this including ones that are like cookery book holders and others that are like bean bags. But, once again, you can always prop the laptop up on some large books.
Posturally, it is not good to push your head and neck forward to read the screen. This can cause neck pain, back and shoulder strain. It’s worth getting your eyes tested regularly to ensure you can see clearly. You can also look at getting a larger screen or adjusting the print size on screen. But also trust your eyes as pushing the head forward may just be an unnecessary habit.
So as well as thinking about your computer set up, think about your body and how you use it.