Current public health guidance to reduce the spread of Coronavirus includes advising us to stop touching our face and to greet people with, for example, an elbow bump rather than a handshake or kiss. Sounds simple enough, but in practice habits are notoriously hard to change. Hopefully, those of us familiar with the Alexander Technique have a head start, as the skills we have honed are precisely to: 1) Tune in to the habits - physical and mental - that interfere with our optimal functioning; 2) Catch our self in the moment just as we are about to do the habitual thing AGAIN; 3) Choose NOT to do it.
This week one of my students (with a history of back and shoulder pain) mentioned that she was anxious about the wedding party she was going to that evening, as she would be wearing high heels. Her concern was understandable: because they throw the weight of the wearer forward, high heels tend to lead to a compensatory tightening/over-arching of the back that is often accompanied by lower back pain.
We discussed applying Alexander Technique principles to the problem, specifically to think about:
Thus proving that the Alexander Technique can help with (almost) anything!
F M Alexander called his most famous book, The Use of the Self, a title not a million miles from the name of Bill Bryson's new work, The Body: A Guide for Occupants. I heartily recommend the radio adaptation of the latter, which aired on on BBC Radio 4 last week - a "fascinating, witty and surprising journey around the human", gently read by Bryson himself. The five episodes are each 15-minutes long - perfect for listening to whilst lying in semi-supine!
I'm just back from a week in the Lake District, aka 'Wainwright country'. Alfred Wainwright's 7-volume 'Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells' (1955-1966) remains the standard reference work for this beautiful part of the world. The author was at pains to choose routes with good views, and always advised people to watch where they put their feet: if you want to admire the breathtaking scenery, stop! So I doubt he would have approved of how conquering all of the 'Wainwrights' (summits in his guidebooks) has become such a competitive sport. The record for all 214 currently stands at 6 days 6 hours and 4 minutes. I think the title of the account published by a former record holder says it all: 'There is No Map in Hell: The Record-Breaking Run Across the Lake District Fells' (Steve Birkinshaw, 2017). F M Alexander would have called this speed-obsessed approach 'endgaining'; my grandmother would have quoted her favourite poem, by William Henry Davies: 'What is this life if, full of care,/We have no time to stand and stare.'
A new Alexander Technique student asked why I am always "going on about not rushing". I explained a little about how the body tenses in reaction to our anxiety about not being fast enough (mentally wanting to be in the future rather than the only place we can ever physically be, i.e. the present), and how this tension interferes with our co-ordination and our effectiveness.
Then I listened to BBC Radio 5 Live's commentary on the penalty shoot-outs at the end of the Chelsea v Eintracht Frankfurt match on Thursday night.
Sebastien Haller, who went first for Eintracht, displayed "absolute composure, didn't look feared at all, stepped up, took his time" - and sent the goalkeeper the wrong way. Notwithstanding the high stakes - huge crowd, place in the Europa League final - Eden Hazard (shown) looked similarly "cool and confident" as he scored the winning penalty for Chelsea.
Contrast this with Cesar Azpilicueta, who went fourth. "It's a hurried run up...and it's saved! Sometimes you can just tell: it was a very hurried run up by Azpilicueta - he wanted to get it over and done with."
"He looked rushed. Take your time!"
Personal experience leads me to corroborate the benefits of the Alexander Technzique for people with Parkinson's, as reported in my previous post (11/4/19). In February I attended a training course for experienced AT teachers, on teaching the Technique to students with this particular neurological disease. Over two days, we had a number of opportunities to work with people who have Parkinson's (two of whom appear in this photo), in activities such as walking and sitting. The changes were plain to see! My thanks to Loretta Manson, Liz Dodgson, Dai Richards and Regina Stratil, who designed and ran a superb training programme.
Today is World Parkinson's Day. Did you know that the NICE Guidelines include a recommendation to "consider the Alexander Technique for people with Parkinson's Disease who are experiencing balance or motor-function problems"?
This is because of robust research, in particular by Chloe Stallibrass MSTAT, which demonstrated that Alexander Technique lessons led to a significantly increased ability to carry out everyday activities. Participants in the randomised control trial (2002) also reported subjective improvements in balance, posture and walking, as well as improved coping ability and reduced stress.
Today the international Alexander community celebrates the 150th birthday of our founding father, F M Alexander. 'F M' - as he is affectionately known - was born in Wynyard, Tasmania in 1869. His career as an actor, reciting Shakespeare to Australian audiences, was threatened by vocal problems. Repeatedly, he found his voice would grow hoarse mid-performance. The leading doctors of the day were unable to help him, other than by telling him to rest his voice. Alexander deduced that it must be something he was doing that was causing the problem. But what? He resolved to find out for himself. The rest, as they say, is history. To find out what happened next, click here.
Further to my previous post (14/1/2019), which pointed to the relationship between body, brain and behaviour, don't you just love this Charlie Brown cartoon, by the wonderful Charles M Schulz?
Did you see Benedict Cumberbatch play Dominic Cummings (director of the Leave campaign) in 'Brexit: The Uncivil War' last week (Channel 4)? Cummings' wife, Mary Ward, has written (in The Spectator/The Week) about watching the actor prepare for the role. When he came to dinner he tried to understand Cummings' view of Brexit, and also absorbed the details of his body language. Afterwards Ward talked to Cumberbatch about the process of inhabiting a person intellectually and physically: does adopting someone's posture help you think like them? Cumberbatch replied, "That's it, yes. I think posture affects everything from heartbeat to intake of breath to the way you think."