There is much emphasis in the Alexander Technique on undoing the collapsing and narrowing tendencies that accompany life in our sedentary, indoor and hi-tech modern world. As I jogged through my local wood early this morning, it occurred to me that a walk (or run) in nature can be our friend in this regard. There is nothing like ancient woodland, with birds singing from undergrowth to highest canopy, to invite one’s awareness up and out. And as we are what Alexander termed ‘psychophysical unities’ (i.e. mind and body are inseparably linked), the body expands into greater length, openness and – dare I say – ‘springiness’ in response.
In a recent interview, McMafia star Juliet Rylance was asked, 'What is the greatest challenge of our time?' Her reply: 'Apart from the very real threat of climate change, it might be as simple as a lack of stillness. The world feels as though it's speeding up, spinning out of control. I think at least some of our issues would be relieved by a bit of quietude.' FT Weekend Magazine, January 13/14
The Alexander Technique has many benefits, and one of them is helping to quieten our over-reactive minds and over-tense bodies. Lying in semi-supine is a great way of introducing some stillness into our busy lives.
My recent post ('I never thought I could do that' 12/12/17) about a new study investigating the benefit of AT to older people with a fear of falling reminded me of a 2007 research project that covered similar ground. Almost ten years ago, I attended a very inspiring presentation by two American colleagues, Sarah Barker and Glenna Batson. Their pilot study at the University of South Carolina explored the effects of a two-week trial of the Alexander Technique on elderly people living in a residential community.
Sarah and Glenna showed us video footage of participants being tested before and after their series of group AT lessons. The improvement in the elderly people's balance and co-ordination was plain to see. Thanks to a little googling, I have discovered that the video clips can now be viewed on youtube - and by following this link.
Recently I have been working with a mentally sprightly but physically frail octogenarian who is very unsteady on her feet. The most striking improvement is that, whereas when she first came for AT lessons she rose from a chair with difficulty, relying heavily on her arms, now - with a little directed thinking - she can get up without using her hands.
Today I learned of a new UK pilot study which investigated the changes following an AT group intervention for older people with a fear of falling. It concludes that "the intervention had a positive impact on falls-related and physical skills" - and also on psychological wellbeing.
The research paper, co-authored by AT teachers Lesley Glover and Jane Clappison, along with a team from the University of Hull, is published in the European Journal of Integrative Medicine (January 2018). It can be accessed free via this link until January 2018.
Happy National Lying Down Day! - so designated by STAT (Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique) as part of International Alexander Awareness Week, 9-15 October.
STAT is encouraging everyone to tweet photos of themselves in semi-supine, #LieDownDay #SemiSupine #AlexanderTechnique, and has produced a short video with tips on how to lie in the position beloved of Alexander teachers and students, also known as balanced resting state or constructive rest.
Thank you to Feedspot, who have chosen my blog as one of the 'top 50 Alexander Technique blogs on the web'. The other 49 can be viewed at blog.feedspot.com/alexander_technique_blogs/.
Unlike some of my friends, I've chosen not to go down the fitbit route. Nevertheless, I confess that I am chuffed to discover that (provided I have it with me) my iphone will tell me how many steps I walk/run each day - for no extra charge! Under the phone's 'Health' icon, there is even a short motivational film which concludes: "The less we sit now, the more active we can be later." I'm all for moving around, but an obsession only with the quantity of steps can smack of endgaining (F M Alexander's term for efforting, straining and hurrying to get something done, without due consideration for the process). Learning the Alexander Technique helps ensure we pay attention to the quality of our movement too. So, I say: the more we attend to the 'how' alongside the 'how much' today, the more active and pain-free we can be tomorrow!
I read in yesterday’s The Times that rowing is back in vogue, both in gyms and on the water. This surprised me, as it is a form of exercise that is notorious for causing back, neck and shoulder injuries. The full-page article (’On the pull: why rowing is hot right now’) by Peta Bee enthused about the fat-burning, body-building and cardiovascular benefits, as well as the latest equipment. Will it also mention the pitfalls, I wondered? In fairness, towards the end of the piece, it did: ‘…common mistakes include raising the legs prematurely, focusing too heavily on arm pull and arching the back too much. Without good technique you are asking for niggles and injuries in the long term. “It’s imperative that you focus on technique to ensure you get the fundamentals right in the early stages,” [fitness coach Allyn] Condon says. “Making the stroke longer and slower is far more effective than pulling too hard and fast. It’s better to be precise and efficient. The whole stroke should blend as a continuous flow.” In Alexander Technique terms, an endgaining approach is harmful and - in the immortal words of Bananarama - “it ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it.”
So ran a headline in the TES last week. Alexander Technique teachers have been saying this for years!
In a survey by the charity YoungMinds, 82 per cent of teachers agreed that the focus of exams had become disproportionate to students' wellbeing. Theresa May is being urged to redress the "fundamentally unbalanced" education system. Click here to read the TES article.
This is not a new problem; F M Alexander commented on it in his own writings in the first half of the twentieth century. A shout out to STAT's Alexander in Education Group, which is working hard to improve the situation. Click here for more information.
This is the first time I've posted a link to a foreign-language video. It's from the Association Professionelle Suisse de la Technique Alexander (APSTA/SBAT). In less than 100 seconds it effectively conveys the essence of the Alexander Technique. Even if you don't speak French, you will get the message. You will probably be breathing more fully by the end of it too. Click here to watch.