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.
Sitting is the new smoking
Further to my last post, 'Gravity is our friend', here is a useful article for runners, by Alexander Teacher Sean Carey, published in The Irish Times recently under the title 'Running: How to make gravity your friend'. 'Observe athletes such as Ethiopian distance runners Kenenisa Bekele and Tirunesh Dibaba or US sprinter Allyson Felix [shown here] at the start line and you can see that they always stand in good balance and alignment.' To read the complete article, click here.
People tend to blame their slouchy posture on gravity. In fact, gravity helps keep us upright, rather as the pull on the guy-ropes is necessary for the verticality of a tent-pole. When I trained as an Alexander Teacher over twenty years ago, my head of training, David Gorman, used to often remind us, "Gravity is our friend". A recent study by Scientists at the University of California illustrates this. Researchers examined six Nasa crew members before and after missions to the International Space Station, and concluded that 'low gravity weakens the small muscles that connect to the vertebrae, helping to support and prevent misalignment of the spine.' Am I volunteering to go into space to offer Alexander Lessons to Nasa's astronauts? No.
As reported in The Times 26/10/2016
The Doctor Who Gave Up Drugs
Last year it was Gareth Malone. This year my new TV hero is Dr Chris van Tulleken. If you didn’t catch the two episodes of The Doctor Who Gave Up Drugs when they were broadcast on 15 and 22 September (9pm, BBC1), do watch them on your i-player. The programmes’ premise is that we are a nation of pointless pill-poppers. Our GPs are all too ready to prescribe painkillers and anti-depressants. However not only do these drugs not work, they do us harm – both in terms of their side-effects and the perpetuation of a culture of passive reliance on medication. In these two excellent programmes, Dr Chris convincingly demonstrates that regular exercise is a far more effective treatment. He offers his guinea pigs ‘a miracle cure’ which will, in addition, improve mood, reduce the risk of all kinds of cancers, and is side-effect free. ‘What’s the catch?’ asks Michael, who has high blood pressure. Dr Chris: ‘There is no catch!” But there is. These seriously unwell people need to do something for themselves. All of which resonates with my experience teaching the Alexander Technique: the students who are motivated to take responsibility for themselves, and to apply the Technique beyond their lessons (rather than relying on their Alexander Teacher to ‘fix’ them) are the ones that get the most benefit from the work.
Congratulations to Sue Laurie, whose book 'Touching Lives: Memoirs of An Alexander Technique Teacher working with the RSC and National Theatre' launches at the NT tomorrow. Sue has just celebrated her 80th birthday and what she has achieved – and is still achieving – in the theatre world is phenomenal. Her pupils include Dame Judi Dench, Sir Ian McKellen, Benedict Cumberbatch and Sir Lenny Henry. The book will retail at £14.99 but is available at a pre-publication price of £11.99 plus p&p up until tomorrow (14th September 2016) using this link: HITE - pre order copy of Touching Lives by Sue Laurie
Today I visited David Hockney's wonderful exhibition, 82 Portraits and 1 Still Life. It's a fascinating experience for students of the Alexander Technique, as each sitter brings their own uniqueness to how they sit in the same yellow chair. Some are more balanced, 'up' and calmly alert than others.
A couple of additional points of interest from an Alexander Technique perspective:
I've just learned that John McEnroe learned the Alexander Technique. Did it help calm him down?
As Wimbledon 2016 gets under way, perhaps you're feeling inspired to get your own racquet out of the cupboard. Whether you're a regular or an occasional tennis player, you have probably acquired a bunch of habits that are unhelpful on court. For example, do you tense up when a killer smash opportunity comes your way? Do you engage in too much mental chatter if the game starts to go badly? If so, check out 'The Alexander Technique: A Way to Effortless, Natural Tennis'. In this article on his Tennis without Tension website, professional tennis coach and certified Alexander Technique teacher Gary Adelman describes how the Alexander Technique can help tennis players maximise performance and minimise effort and tension in their game. "Play!"