Blog

Exercise and the Alexander Technique:
A Pupil Offers Suggestions
by Bob Kahn, PhD

Bob compressed

Bob is a medical writer living in the northwest of England. For the past nine months he has been a pupil of Kim Cant MSTAT.

Why exercise?

As we age, it is important to exercise in order to move efficaciously, avoid falls and keep our bodies and minds in good shape. However, what kind of exercise is appropriate with the guidance of the Alexander Technique? Being over 80 now, this is not a casual question for me nor for many others, but a life-promoting or life-threatening issue. Therefore, I suggest each exercise should be linked to a key question: Is the exercise compatible with Alexander Technique experience? Let’s treat the Alexander Technique as a guide for which exercises are most appropriate given our age and hopes.

What exercise will work best for me?

How we move, sit and stand impacts how well we live as human beings. Alexander Technique teaches clearly that first, we need to learn to stop and inhibit certain habits, and only then begin to consciously develop new healthier ways to link together our necks, heads and spines. Any good exercise should help us to be aware of ourselves, with our feet firmly on the ground, our posture upright, but not rigid, and our muscles relaxed. You should decide for yourself how best to exercise. Whatever exercise you choose, you need to keep asking: Is this exercise (or what the exercise teacher is asking me to do) in keeping with the principles of the Alexander Technique? Is this exercise helping specific parts of my body to be free? Bad habits can arise from bad exercises.

When and where should I exercise?

I do not find that exercising alone works for me. I much prefer an exercise class with a small number of people who support each other, with a teacher who explains which muscles and bones are strengthened or endangered by specific exercises. I know that learning the Alexander Technique is best done on a one-on-one basis between a teacher and a pupil. However, once you have learned the basic principles of the Alexander Technique, you need to apply those principles throughout the day, becoming aware of the strengths and weaknesses of your own muscles and bones. Sitting in front of a computer for more than an hour without moving around is not a good idea. Moreover, when sitting it is helpful to place against the back a rubber ball with spikes, pushing the ball against the back of the chair to reduce pressure and improve posture.

How should I exercise?

Learning to walk properly is a great form of exercise. Aiming for 6,000 to 8,000 steps a day is a sensible target, but such a bold goal has to be approached slowly rather than slavishly. Walking with Nordic poles exercises the top half of the body well, especially the shoulders and arms. I find that one exercise class a week is not enough and the Alexander Technique fits well with Tai Chi and Qi Gong and aerobic exercise generally, if performed slowly.
Go to it!
I have found it helpful to look upon all exercise as a hierarchy with Alexander Technique at the top of the pyramid. For me, that pyramid descends from Qigong and Tai Chi, to aerobic exercise (slowly) and walking. Many years ago, my wife and I found Alexander Technique helped to resolve back problems. But now I have discovered that Alexander Technique is important for the whole body and mind. If we each pause and reflect BEFORE we start to move, we will move differently with fewer bad habits, more purpose and perhaps slower as well.

Being present and noticing our reactions

What a strange and challenging couple of years we have all had. I think that all of us have had a tough time and have handled the situation in different ways. I have certainly found myself on heightened alert.
As we are starting to emerge from the worst of the pandemic I thought it would be a good idea to remind people of the relevance of the Alexander Technique to how we handle everyday situations.

Our reactions to what life throws at us can have an impact in all sorts of ways. It can leave us fearful and stressed, with a resultant additional layer of tension in our body that we are not even aware of. If we carry on in this way we may find that our old areas of pain resurface to some degree or we remain on heightened alert and become stressed, often over reacting to situations. However if we start to reapply some of the principles of the AT we have a chance of restoring some our natural balance.

soap bubble 522890 1280

Let's just try this little exercise so we can move from" being in our head" to "being in our bodies" and experience ourself as a whole.

Find a nice supportive chair where there is peace and quiet


Firstly let us just stop & press the pause button, you don't have to do ANYTHING just sit quietly........................... 
What do you notice? Do you notice your breath? - I often find when I come to quiet that I involuntarily take a deep breath.............................. 
Now let's think about the support of the chair, our sit bones & the support of our feet on the ground. Feel connected to the supporting surface
So we are not only connected to the ground but get a sense of the space all around us, above our head, behind us & in front. Think of our 3 dimensional whole and allow yourself to take up that space and if you are a fan of the Great British Bake off imagine you are the dough rising in the bowl as it proves
Now again be present listen to the sounds around you.....................
We can now think some Alexander thoughts. Think of our sitting bones on the chair and our spine & torso are supported like building blocks and finally our head sits gently on top of our spine. We can think of releasing any tension in the shoulders and neck as we think of lengthening & widening in the whole of the upper body as we continue to grow into the space all around us
Notice if there is any tension in the jaw, think of the jaw hanging from the little hollows behind the ear lobes
Sit quietly and observe how you feel overall 
I hope you have found this useful and I that you could maybe try this daily for the next 7 days and let me know how you get on. You don't have to be sitting you could try it while you are waiting for the kettle to boil.

How did you get on with the 7 day challenge? Let me know - I welcome feedback

Essential tips for home workers to avoid the pain of poor posture

Over the past couple of years a lot of us are home working. At work we will have probably had an HSE assessment for our workstation and maybe we have had special chairs or equipment provided to help us sit more comfortably then we switch to working from home leaving all these aids behind. If you have been working from home for a few weeks maybe you are starting to experience neck or shoulder pain because you are not sitting comfortably.

So here are 5 tips on how to improve your posture when sitting at a computer.

#1 What kind of chair are you sitting on?
I prefer a plain old stool. Chair backs make you lazy and stop your back muscles from working properly. If we use a chair with lots of lumber support this doesn't help strengthen your back muscles, so when we do other activities we already have weaknesses in our back. It's no wonder we are prone to slipped discs when we attempt a spot of gardening or DIY. A useful tool I show my clients is the use of a foam wedge to sit on. This encourages a more upright posture and is a good investment rather than buying a posh office chair.

Foam wedge for sitting#2 Notice where your feet are

Are your feet tucked under the chair? Are your legs crossed? We all know these are bad habits, but they are seriously bad habits that can cause overarching in the lower spine. You need your legs and feet to help support the weight of your upper body so place them flat on the floor.

#3 Locate your sitting bones and use them!

Sit bones

  When seated slide your hand underneath your bottom and locate the two knobbly bits - these are your sitting      bones and form the basis of the support for your upper body when sitting. Now slump, what do you notice (you    are no longer sitting on your sitting bones?). Find your sit bones again - you will probably feel more balanced      and poised and on your way to better posture.

 

 

 

 


#4 Wear your invisible crown

 always wear your invisible crown 5

Imagine you are wearing an invisible crown and think into the top of your head as your spine lengthens towards the crown of your head. Alternatively you could think of the upper molars (the teeth at the back) moving away from your sitting bones. You may get a sense of your torso lengthening at this point.

#5 Notice any tension in your shoulders

Your arms and shoulders work more efficiently when you are sitting upright. The arm is a ball and socket joint that hangs beneath the shoulder girdle. Let your arms hang down to the side of you. Observe any tension in your shoulders and allow them to soften. Slumping causes us to have rounded shoulders and a rounded upper torso, which can develop into a dowagers hump.
Now think about the hands leading the arms towards your desk and the computer. Practice initially with the palms of your hands on the desk, think about your shoulders softening, releasing any tension you may have and let the elbows hang down. Turn your attention back to your sitting bones and feel the support of the chair - think about your torso lengthening. You are now ready to start work.
If you need to lean over your desk it's useful to know where your hip joint is. Most people think it's to the side of the pelvis when it's actually where your trouser pocket is. This is not only where we bend but we can also use this joint to maintain an upright posture and straight back when sitting. So to lean forward go over the hip joint keeping a nice straight back.

Improved sitting   A quick recap
  * You have sit bones so use them more. Why not put a post it note on the edge of your computer screen to remind you.
  * Think into your invisible crown and notice if your shoulders are opening out naturally or if they're rounded or raised. Allow       them to soften.
  * Apply these basic skills and you'll soon be on your way to having better posture.

            And in the words of Alexander

                     Its not the furniture its how you use yourself FM