String on top of the head

Drawing of side view of head with arrow pointing up from top of headPeople 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.

New ideas

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.

A Simple Body Scan

One simple way to calm mind and body is to do a body scan. You can start from your head or your feet and can think this through in greater or lesser detail, depending on how much time you have.  It’s a simple way to tune into the body at any time during the day.  It’s also a great way to help settle down for a good night’s sleep as Chris Holt’s insomnia body scan describes. Here is a simple scan that you can run through; do adapt it for your own body:

  • Feet: Become aware of your feet and include the sense of space between your toes
  • Ankles: Think of olive oil trickling through your ankles
  • Lower legs: Allow your calf muscles to relax, and the muscles at the side of your shins
  • Knees: Our knees have fronts, backs and sides. Time for some more olive oil or WD40 to trickle through
  • Upper legs: Tune into the front, back and sides of your thighs and release any tension
  • Pelvis & hip joints: Think of some undoing in the ball and socket of your hip joint, untighten any tension in your buttock muscles
  • Front of torso: Let your belly and solar plexus relax, think of opening across the belly and chest
  • Back of torso: Think of the back lengthening and widening, releasing tension and tightness
  • Arms: Allow the arms to flow out from the torso, thinking of them being long and lithe. Soften in the biceps and forearms
  • Wrists and hands: Think of the wrists as being wide, the palms as being open and the fingers and thumbs being long
  • Collar bones and shoulder blades: These have a natural width. If you’re upright, think of these as floating on top of the ribs
  • Neck: Release any tension in your neck, imagine space between the bones and remember the neck has a front, back and sides
  • Head: Visualise space at the head neck joint. Allow the head to be poised and balanced on the neck – still but not stiff
  • Face: Soften and widen between the brows and bridge of the nose, soften the lips and think of space between the back teeth. Relax your tongue towards the base of your mouth, rather than pressing against the roof of the mouth.

See if you’re able to continue with this awareness and relaxation as you continue with your day.

Ageing doesn’t need to be a downhill process

Older Woman with back pain - Alexander Technique can improve back pain

Getting older doesn’t mean things inevitably are on a downhill slide.  Getting in and out of the chair can be done without moans and groans and backache isn’t something that has to be accepted as a part of ageing.

It’s about looking at how we do things.  Plonking into a chair is heavy and will round the back, putting pressure on the lower back.  Trying to launch yourself up from the back of a soft low sofa is pretty tricky at any age. Getting up from lying down or sitting is made more difficult if you’re tipping your head back.

Some time back, I worked with an older person who had back and knee problems that were so bad that he was practically having to crawl upstairs by the end of the day.  By our second session, the most important initial change was that he had hope that things could improve.  Hope makes a huge difference.

The arthritis and osteoporosis were still there.  But seeing how he could use his body differently and changing some of his movement habits put less pressure on his joints.

We looked at activities such as sitting, standing and bending and also at getting up and down stairs.  The practical ideas he took on board plus the way he was able to hold his body less tensely changed things enormously.  From crawling up the stairs or grabbing onto the banister, he became able to walk up two flights of stairs holding a mug of tea in each hand!

One of the problems with aches and pains is that one can focus on the problem area too much.  Arthritis and other knee problems can make people dread a movement before they do it – stairs and sitting being two such situations.  The dread or anxiety about triggering knee pain makes people tense.  So here we have a triple whammy:

  • tightening the body
  • focusing on the problem area and ignoring the rest of the body
  • having unhelpful habits such as throwing the head back.

And so there are 3 areas to look at changing:

  • pausing before moving to quieten down the tensing
  • thinking about the whole body and thinking up
  • exploring practical ways of moving which work with rather than against natural balance.

This is what the Alexander Technique is about.  So there are plenty of things to look at and ageing certainly doesn’t need to be a downhill process.