Tonight the final episode of ‘Freeze the Fear with Wim Hof’ airs on BBC1. I’ve enjoyed watching the Dutch “Iceman” train a likeable bunch of celebrities to rise to one freezing challenge after another, in a scenic but perishingly cold location somewhere in the Italian Alps. It may seem a far cry from the Alexander Technique, which tends to be taught in a warm, dry teaching room. But both involve the mastery of one’s response to a stimulus (which F M Alexander called “Inhibiting” and “the control of reaction”). In episode 1 of ‘Freeze the Fear’ we see the celebrities tense up as they face the prospect of a jump into a hole in the ice, shrieking and squealing as their bodies hit the icy water. By the end of the series, they have learned to control their breathing and their thinking in order to stay calm and centred. Both the AT and the Wim Hof method help reconnect us to ourselves, to others and to the world around us. The ambient temperature, however, is very different.
A friend in her early sixties has had five falls in the past four months.
“I clearly don’t know where my body ends and starts as I also often end up misjudging and punching the cupboard when reaching for something or walk into the door frame. Clearly some of it is doing two things at once and rushing. Do you think the Alexander Technique would help with this?”
My answer to her was YES! The AT will:
Furthermore you will develop an ‘upward orientation’ so that if you do stumble, you are more likely to release out of it rather than hit the ground.
I added the following proviso: like the proverbial light bulb in the old “How many therapists does it take to change a light bulb?” riddle**, you have got to want to change.
** Q: How many therapists does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Just one, but the lightbulb has to really want to change
Alexander Technique Music Conference 2021
If you are a musician, you will be pleased to know that a wonderful new resource has become available online to help you find comfort, balance and freedom in your playing and/or singing. It's available FREE on the Alexander Technique Music Conference 2021 YouTube channel.
Alexander Technique specialists at UK conservatoires and elsewhere have contributed to a series of short videos, providing practical support for musicians at all levels and covering a wide range of instruments. Click here to take a look.
Hearty congratulations to my colleagues Judith Kleinman, Catherine Fleming and Henry Fagg for curating such a valuable resource.
*Daft Punk Photo by Luwadlin Bosman on Unsplash
How easily do you get up from a chair? New research published in The BMJ, and reported in The Times today, suggests that slower chair risers at the age of 65 are associated with a 14% greater risk of mortality over the next 10 years.
My worry is that some people will read this statistic and conclude, "I must try to get up more quickly". But rushing to rise from a chair is likely to lead to an increase in effort and strain, when in fact the goal should be to move with greater lightness and co-ordination - exactly the qualities encouraged by the Alexander Technique, and undermined by hurrying. Unfortunately speed is simpler to monitor than ease, which is why researchers tend to favour it as a measure of functioning.
Research led by Professor Archana Singh-Manou, University of Paris
Photo by Mitch Moondae on Unsplash
The clematis flowers around the entrance to my teaching studio have opened out spectacularly this year - welcoming back AT students to in person lessons after months on Zoom. Given that the Alexander Technique is famously 'hands on', it has been a revelation to discover that it CAN be taught online. The general consensus though is that, while virtual AT lessons are better than nothing, they are not as good as 'the real thing'.
To welcome newcomers to the Alexander Technique, I am offering a special introductory promotion throughout June: your first two lessons for the price of one!
This morning the welcome news that hugs are coming back to care homes prompted BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour programme to explore the importance of touch. To find out more about why we feel touch-deprived in lockdown, and why touch boosts the immune system and a sense of wellbeing, listen to Suzi Godson's succinct explanation of the science.
In normal times, touch and hands-on guidance are key components of learning the Alexander Technique. While I have been pleasantly surprised how much can be conveyed in a Zoom AT session, I confess I am itching to use my highly-trained hands again. Roll on April 12, when in-person AT lessons will be permitted once more. And swimming. And haircuts.
This month marks the 25th anniversary of my graduation as an Alexander Technique Teacher, following three years of training at CFT. Thank you to my teachers - in this photo: Penny O'Connor, Ann Penistan and David Gorman. And thank you to my students.
The title of my thesis back in 1995 was a quotation from the legendary American baseball coach, Yogi Berra: "If there's a fork in the road, take it." I'm glad I took it.
This morning on Radio 4 Claudia Hammond revealed the results of the BBC Touch Test, the world's largest study on attitudes to touch and its significance in our daily lives.
One key finding was that - even before Covid-19 - most people would like more touch than they actually receive.
Alexander Technique teaching is famously 'hands on' - or at least it was, until the pandemic forced us to rise to the challenge of teaching metres apart or via Zoom.
It is important, when we talk about touch, to focus on the quality as well as the quantity. Alexander Technique teachers spend three years training to 'put non-doing hands on' our students in a way that feels safe and has a positive effect on their wellbeing. Sometimes the primary intention is to gently guide the person away from old patterns of moving, towards newer, lighter ones. Sometimes the purpose is to 'tune in' and then subtly encourage them to shed excess tension; to feel more grounded, connected and whole.
We look forward to the day when we can employ our tactile skills freely once again!
One of the many sadnesses of Lockdown was that the Alexander Technique for People with Parkinson's course that my colleague Deborah Levy and I were due to run this Spring had to be cancelled.
The good news is that Canadian Alexander Technique teacher Candace Cox has just published a superbly informative and beautifully illustrated book on the same subject: Living Daily - Alexander Technique for Parkinson's Disease.
Candace and I trained together (in London)...back in the 1990s!
There are some downsides to Zoom (think tired eyes, aching back) but there are some surprising advantages - beyond the obvious ones of being able to work, study, exercise and keep in touch remotely. I'm thinking of the square or rectangle on your screen which enables you to you see yourself. What useful feedback! Notice what quirks accompany your communication. For example, do you tend to lean to one side, tilt your head when listening, jut your head forward when speaking...?
Becoming conscious of our habits of tension and imbalance is the first step towards letting them go. F M Alexander made this discovery over 125 years ago by using mirrors to observe himself. A small silver lining to lockdown is that now we have an electronic means of boosting our self awareness.