How do you know when you’re being sabotaged by your habits?

I was assisting on yoga teacher Donna Farhi’s 4-day workshop in London recently and this question came up.

 ‘how do I know when I’m in my habit?’.

On the surface, it sounds like a reasonable question. We know that habit can take us out of the moment and sabotage your best intentions, so knowing that when you’re in your habit is important. It’s a sign that you’re out of touch with the moment, you’re lost in the past or obsessing about the future.

But if you look deeper, this is one of those questions that can easily get you chasing your tail in endless circles. Because, the moment your attention is about checking into to yourself to see whether you’re in your habit, you’re already there.

So, if you have to ask whether or not you are in your habit, you probably are.

Once you have an intention that brings you deeply present, you never have to ask whether or not you’re in your habit. This is because your habits will immediately present themselves to your awareness.

For example, if I tend to clench my teeth a little and I’m relaxed and with friends, I probably won’t notice that habit so much or the effect it’s having on my ability to communicate.

But if I want to sing in front of 200 people, you can be pretty sure that I’ll be very aware of that habit because it will be getting in the way of what I want to do.

So, if you want to get to know your habits well, set an intention to be present and work towards being in an environment where you will be presented with a challenge and lo and behold, your habits will immediately make themselves known.

Alexander realised this and his solution was to give people verbal directions that could be repeated when they wanted to be more present. His formula started with ‘Let the neck be free to let the back lengthen and widen’. Nowadays, other teachers have refined these directions and you might also try out something like ‘I’m not compressing my neck’ or ‘My neck is free’. See https://www.bodylearningcast.com/selfdirection/ for more information on these newer variants.
What you say ‘my neck is free’, you’re acknowledging that you have the universal tendency to tighten your neck and you’re giving yourself a different instruction that allows you to contrast what you normally do with something easier.

Our work on being present and letting go of habit doesn’t have to be a huge commitment spanning years, it can be a simple 10 second set of directions.

Of course, most of us have tough life habits deeply embedded in our identities, ways of moving and our way of relating that do need more sustained work over a period of time. And these 10 second directions can be the first footstep on that long road.

There is a whole art to setting intentions and changing your perspective on the environment. It takes practice and skill. I’ve been doing that for the last 10 years with my one to one students. Why not sign up for some lessons?

Interested in finding out more? Sign up to my free 5-part course on pain free shoulders.

July 10th, 2018

Wrist Exercises, Alexander Technique and Yoga

I often hear other Yoga teachers asking questions about the right exercise for a particular condition. This is a question that I posted an answer to in a Yoga Facebook group which illustrates Alexander Technique thinking about those types of questions.

Question: I have a question about supporting wrists. One of my regular students runs a cafe and from years working in hospitality has over extended her wrists in both directions. I know poses to stretch wrists and help with and prevent arthritis but not so many to provide stability and strength and help with that pattern of over stretching. ..she’s able to do poses like cat, downward dog and plank. .. it would be great to find some regular practices she can to do to help.

Note to non yoga people: cat, downward dog and plank all involve being on all fours and supporting part of your body weight with your hands.

I’ve worked with people with wrist problems, usually over use injuries caused by too long at the computer and then getting over enthusiastic about gym/yoga stuff.

Here’s my thinking on this: If your student is able to do cat, downward dog and plank then she might not have a wrist problem. She has a what FM Alexander called a use problem. That is, she’s getting herself into a panic in the complex dynamic of her life. From that place she is putting force and effort through those joints in a way that isn’t supported by her body’s natural design.

You could give her exercises and poses from now until forever and they will probably be of limited use. She needs to get to the heart of why she is mis-using her wrists in the first place.

Alexander Technique can help because there’s a clear pedagogical goal of giving students the tools they need to investigate the root causes of their problems. Then Yoga poses could be a way of illustrating these tools. This type of thinking is 180 degrees away from the normal exercise mentality which pervades many movement practices. It’s the idea that if only you know the right exercise, your problems will be fixed. Instead, if we are learning the fundamental principles underlying all movement then we’ll be able to flexibly apply what we know to any situation.

Back to the wrists. In my experience, people who have wrist problems almost always tighten and brace in other parts of their arm structure. They believe that their arms start at the glenohumeral joint and completely ignore the deep connections their arms have to all parts of our torso.

It’s like their arm is just the sleeve of a t-shirt and has no connections to the rest of the t-shirt.

When they do this, there is no dynamic self adjusting movement within the collar bones and shoulder blades or clear relationship between head, tail, arms and the spine. Instead, the collar bones and shoulder blades are usually braced and frozen down on the ribs. They have an inherent internal model of stability which involves freezing and bracing rather than stability being the result of tuning into our bodies’ natural self adjusting micro movements.

I also usually check their bodies’ keystone relationships. Are they able to centre their pelvis? Are they able to move their heads easily at the top of their spine? If these are out, then they can have domino effect on the periphery.

Being curious and interested in why she thinks she needs to over extend her wrists in both directions while she’s at work will be a good start. It could be that she’s over extending her wrists because she’s shut down her natural range of movement else where in her arm structure or spine. Once you have a feel for that, there’s a good chance that the exercise she needs will present itself.

A good resource for these types of thinking is Liz Kock’s Core Awareness, Donna’s books and Bruce Fertman Teaching by Hand, Learning by heart.

Another interesting way to look at wrists is here:
https://peacefulbodyschool.com/2013/02/27/neck-and-neck/

Interested in finding out more? Sign up to my free 5-part course on pain free shoulders.

July 2nd, 2018

Workshop results, Computers, Yoga and the Alexander Technique, June 2018

We started out with some Alexander directions as a way of warming up connection between mind and body. Alexander directions are invitations to your body to release, usually they are words but sometimes they can be images. We did negative directions, paradoxical directions and then freedom directions. Negative directions are in the form of ‘I’m not compressing my neck’. Paradoxical directions are saying something that is contradicted by what you’re doing. If you say ‘I’m not walking’ while walking, it can free up the habitual part of you that gets involved in walking.

We did some head / spine body mapping by finding the contrast between head pulling down on spine and head leaving spine and head resting on spine. Then we did some mapping of how our pelvis was aligned within our body by doing dog tail (tail tucked under), duck tail (tail pulled back) and dinosaur tail (pelvis in neutral). These terms come from Robyn Avalon’s Living in a Body series of workshops.

Normally, I’ll leave at that for my initial set of ideas for body mapping. However, all of the class were my regulars so we could go deeper. In this case we went into the interior of our head and I showed how brain and eyes worked together with the scarves as the optic nerves. Was very interesting in how that worked out.

I talked about learning the skill of differentiation. How to become more sensitive to the things that cause us problems closer to the moment they kick. I also talked about the skill of keeping directions light, of putting in the order and then waiting for the result to come back.

The yoga part of the class was a reasonably leisurely sun salutation. We lots of Eyebody line movement practice with back bend and forward bend to integrate brain, eyes, vision and the environment. All the people in the class noticed that sometimes they were really in their bodies, sometimes in their eyes or brain but rarely in everything all at once. That is a skill that takes some practice.

Ended the yoga part with a great restorative pose for each. It was really peaceful and quiet.

Then on to the computing part of the class. This took a bit of setting up but after a while we had a set of functioning computers.

I asked the participants write an email to someone easy, then someone difficult. I timed them while they were doing it. It was interesting that everyone completely underestimated how long it took to type the email to someone difficult. Most people assumed that it would take a similar amount of time. They were very surprised when they found it took twice as long.

We did some more body mapping with forearm rotation and flexion at the elbow. It turns out that how your elbow moves as your hand comes to type on the computer is really important.

Then I did a bit of individual work with each person. One person wanted to work on checking data. It involved lots of head rotation between one screen and another. We worked on slowing down the rotation so she could take in the information she needed between one screen and the next.

Another person wanted to work on being really hunched over the computer, knowing that it was bad for her but somehow not doing anything about it. I worked with getting her more comfortable where she was at. Then I got her to come slowly out of it.

The participants said they enjoyed the workshop and said that they found the work with their upper body on the computer particularly helpful.

Interested in finding out more? Sign up to my free 5-part course on pain free shoulders.

June 14th, 2018

How do you get out of pain caused by computers?

Computers are often a cause of pain and we can get confused about the real source of that pain. This is about what happened to me on retreat recently where I looking into the cause of my own pain. More on the computers later.

I was on an Eyebody retreat recently and woke up with some pain in my lower back. This is unusual for me and although I was tempted to ignore it, I had a feeling that it was trying to tell me something. Alexander Teacher Jeremy Chance often says that pain is what is right about you, not what is wrong.

I decided to investigate.

I asked myself the questions that I normally ask all my students. Better during the day or during the night? Definitely better during the day. Just asking questions started to get me out of injury panic mode. Injury panic mode is where I start to believe that I have something permanently wrong with me and my future fills with fearful thoughts of pain.

After a bit, I realised it was my bed. I was away from home in an unfamiliar bed. F*ing bedding fell off every night. I was tensing to keep it on.

Better but not quite there.

I started reflecting on something the workshop leader, Peter Grunwald had said: “This is a seeing workshop, not a feeling workshop”. I realised that I had been taking this literally and had been suppressing, ignoring and denying my feelings.

And in so doing, I had cut off one of my most vital resources. My ability to sense the small micro self correcting movements which informs and supports most of my alignment work. My body was simply reminding me that I had forgotten. I was putting a twist into my lower back that isn’t part of the design of our lower spine.

Once I had brought these small movements back, in a couple of hours the pain was gone and in fact my lower back felt better than it had for a while.

When I reflected more on this, I realised that he didn’t ask anyone to suppress their feelings. Quite the opposite, he asked that they let their feelings come up without attaching any particular meaning to them. All too often, at the first sign of any unfamiliar sensation, students grab at that feeling and start trying to do something in their bodies to control it.

I figured out that I need to include the qualities of permission and allowing in my learning. Rather than getting caught up in over literal interpretations of other people’s ideas, maps and methods.

There is a common fear among yoga students going to a workshop that they will somehow be persuaded to do something that injures them. If injuries happen, sometimes the root cause of them is a student disconnecting from their own wisdom and inner resources.

This is why I take some care to set up a teaching environment that is about creating exploration from a place of curiosity.

It’s about developing and prioritising the student’s felt sense of what is going on. I’ve found from experience every student needs a way of creating this exploration for themselves. Many need a lot of structure. Some need more permission and allowing. It all depends on what I’m attempting to teach, where I’m at and where my students are at.

In 2015 I went to assist on a teacher training retreat lead by Donna Farhi. I realised that I had some interesting stuff to say about things that most yoga people over look. The connection between their heads and their spines. How to integrate a piece of learning. How to talk about co-ordination.

I also realised that I needed to do more work on the connection between feet, ankles and ground. My Alexander Technique training had given me a bias of working on my upper body. I set myself the task of having something useful and interesting to say about every major joint in the body.

That’s a long journey but I’m getting there.

In the process, all sorts of interesting connections are emerging from my head to the rest of my body.

I’ve long known that it’s often not the stuff that we do on the mat that solves all our physical aches and pains. It’s developing an awareness that you can carry into your everyday life. That’s why I’ve always included a section in my workshops that all my students to work on situations that cause them tension.

In a couple of weeks I’ll be taking that one step further and holding a workshop on a major cause of tension in most people’s lives: how we all work on computers, smart phones and other devices.

I’ve already given this workshop to a group of Alexander teachers.

You can download all sorts of advice about working with computers and smart phones. Taking breaks. Adjusting the ergonomics of your chair or work station. Doing some stretches that get your body moving. But these are all short term and often superficial fixes.

The course I lead focusses on what’s really important when you work on a computer. Your relationship to your body and to your environment.

It doesn’t fix your shoulders, it works on teaching principles that will allow you to fix those shoulders long term. It gives you skills to include your body in whatever you do in life.

I have a rare skill set for this. I’ve used computers professionally for over 25 years, even built my own PCs and I’m an Alexander / Yoga teacher. I won’t be offering this course again at this price and for this small size group. Take advantage while you can.

Computers/Smartphone, Alexander Technique and Yoga, London, Saturday 9th June 2018, 10am to 1pm. Cost is £28.

Click here for more information.

Interested in finding out more? Sign up to my free 5-part course on pain free shoulders.

May 30th, 2018

Why do we hunch over smart phones?

I was walking in my local park recently when my eye was caught by a woman walking towards me. She was walking well, an easy stride and a natural free movement.

Then she took out her phone to check a message. Instant transformation for the worse. She hunched over, her body locked up and her natural stride disappeared to be replaced by something much more awkward.

That little mini drama is played out with almost everyone I know (often including me!).

It’s the moment of disappearing into a whole set of beliefs, movements and attitudes that end up creating that hunched up, iposture look.

What causes this?
I think there are 3 main causes.

We don’t really know what smart phones are. We’re bombarded by marketing that presents them as cool, friendly and trustworthy devices. Yet, what are they really to you?

We don’t know what we truly believe about who we are and how we interact with the world. Smart phones are often used as an extension to how we interact with the world. If we have trouble with that, then smart phones will probably be an aspect of that.

We don’t know how our bodies work when they are functioning naturally. We hold on to faulty internal maps of where and what everything in our body does.

A simple example: if you think that your jaw is part of your head (as opposed to being a limb of your skull) then you’ll probably push your chin out as you look at your smart phone screen. That movement of pushing your chin out is the start of the iposture problem.

Want to find out more? Come along to my workshop on Computers, Smartphone, Yoga and the Alexander Technique on Saturday 9th June 10am to 1pm in London, UK.

Interested in finding out more? Sign up to my free 5-part course on pain free shoulders.

May 18th, 2018

Common mistakes with computer posture

We’re all given well-meaning advice about posture when it comes to sitting at computers. Most of it is either too vague or general to be of use of just plain wrong.

Take this article for example:
https://thenewdaily.com.au/life/wellbeing/2018/05/01/good-posture-practices/

It advises this for standing – ‘While standing, it is best to keep your shoulders back and aligned’.

It sounds like it means something but quickly doesn’t.  Shoulders back from where? From the front of your body or from your neck? How far back? Aligned with what? Is this a one time movement or do you need to keep repeating it? How much effort will it take?

Then there’s this one
https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/workplacehealth/Pages/Howtositcorrectly.aspx

This page give advice on ergonomics, the height of your screen, the position of your mouse.

Both sites give advice based on an outmoded idea of how our body works in practice.

In this idea, posture is static, positional and requires effort to maintain. Corrections are about getting good bio-mechanics or ergonomics.

They ignore our sensed, emotional and spiritual connections to our environment. If there is a disconnect in any of those it show up in your body as ‘bad’ posture.

So what is bad posture?
Bad posture is holding a position which is hard for your body to maintain easily for a period of time and believing that there is no other way of doing it.

Our bodies are flexible and adaptable. We can put ourselves into a wide variety of positions without a problem – even the infamous iposture or text neck position is fine. The problem is that iposture / text is difficult for our body to maintain for any length of time. Add the usual anxieties that most people bring to the act of using a computer and smart-phone and you’ve got a recipe for strain that could lead to injury.

So what is good posture at the computer?
Here’s my definition:
The ability to respond to the computer with balance, poise, ease, enjoyment no matter what pressure you’re under. It has physical components too. These are the relationship of your body to the surface you are resting on. The organization of your torso, particularly your head, spine and pelvis. The habits that pull out of this ease are multi-layered and includes your emotions, your mental focus and your sense of connectedness as well as your muscles and bones.

Here’s a definition from Pathways to a Centred Body by Donna Farhi and Leila Stuart

Structural Core Stability is defined as the ability to center your body in a clear relationship to ground, gravity, and space. Bringing awareness to the core structures of the body can assist in the synergistic activation of both primary and secondary core muscles. Your body is then able to organize itself around a fluidly stable and responsive core.

Here’s one tip that will begin to change your posture at a computer:
Connect backwards from the task on the screen you’re looking at to your body so that your task includes being aware of your body. It is this inclusiveness that will allow your work on a computer flow.

Want to find out more? Come along to my workshop on Computers, Smartphones, Yoga and the Alexander Technique on Saturday 9th June 2018, 10am to 1pm in London,UK.

Interested in finding out more? Sign up to my free 5-part course on pain free shoulders.

May 11th, 2018

Tip for helping your body on a computer

Interested in finding out more? Sign up to my free 5-part course on pain free shoulders.

April 27th, 2018

Are your hands causing you tight shoulders and neck?

I was at Robyn Avalon’s Alexander Teacher training workshop a few weeks ago.

There’s one particular exercise that she does with hands. You touch something with tense hands. Then you touch again, this time consciously dropping as much tension from your hands as you can manage.

It’s striking how little we can feel when our hands are tight. Trying to feel with your hands becomes an effort.

Many of us try and feel something in your hands by tightening something in your shoulders and neck. When that doesn’t work, we persuade ourselves that we feel something, even though the feeling is not really there. Or we give up and conclude that our hands are not accessible.

What would it be like to turn off the tension so that you can feel what’s under your hands? When you turn off the tension, even if that turning off is imperfect, you start to notice what’s really under your hands.

Textures and surfaces start talking through you. Another realm of being drops into place and a wordless experience is there for the having.

For our wordy, visually stimulated, devices obsessed culture, this can be an antidote.

Another world is there.

I’m going to be looking into this topic in more depth in my workshop on ease in computer use with Yoga and the Alexander Technique in a couple of months.

Using Computers & Smart Phones with ease using Yoga and the Alexander Technique. Saturday 9th June 2018, 10am to 1pm (https://www.yogaground.com/workshop/39)

Come along to this workshop and find out how to do this.

Interested in finding out more? Sign up to my free 5-part course on pain free shoulders.

April 27th, 2018

Workshop Saturday 9th June, Working with Computers/Smartphone using Alexander Technique and Yoga

Cost is £28. There is an early bird discount of £22 if you apply before 12th May 2018

Computers and smart phone cause a lot of people problems. Aches and pains, even debilitating conditions and injuries.

But what if we could figure out what was really causing each one of us the problem? This workshop uses ideas from the Alexander Technique and Yoga to explore the remedies for computer / smart phone issues.

Human beings have always had tools. These tools that have evolved over time to be part of our culture and we use them in ways that are almost semi-conscious. How often to you think about the way you hold a knife when you cut an apple? That’s because the design has evolved and it’s now an accepted part of our culture.

It wasn’t always like this, think what it would to be one of the first to use a knife to cut your food.

It’s the same with a computer. Compared to most of our tools, it’s in the very early stages of design and development.

What if there was a different way of being with a computer or smart phone that actually felt good in your body? What if we could slow down and take the time to figure out how to use these tools to actually make your life better? Come along to this workshop and find out how to do this.

The workshop will consist of

Body mapping
Body mapping offers the opportunity to bring the more anatomical approaches into a more thoughtful reflective approach which combines movement, function, anatomy and emotion in one package. It looks at what our internal map of our body is and then asks how we feel about that.

Yoga Poses
We’ll be working with some simple poses that help you recover from working on a computer.

Personal work on your issues
General knowledge of your body and doing Yoga stretches help, but it is figuring what exactly your issues are that will really help you make a difference. In this part, we’ll be using the Alexander Technique to build a more personal approach to your work with computers and smart phones.

We will be doing some simple vinyasas (flowing sequences) and asana as part of the class.

It is suitable for all yoga practitioners including complete beginners.

Click here to apply for this workshop

Interested in finding out more? Sign up to my free 5-part course on pain free shoulders.

April 12th, 2018

Working with computers, how to find ease

I’m at an Alexander Technique retreat and I’ve been given a student who has never done yoga, never done Alexander Technique and he wants to sort out his shoulders. After a bit of going back and forth, it turns out that the source of his problems was how he worked on a computer.

I asked him to recreate the situation in his office, we set up a desk with a computer and a phone. He started doing what he normally did. He tucked his phone into his shoulder, started typing and then tried to answer a question from his colleague – all at the same time. I was struck not by his posture (which is never a static thing), but by his timing.

He was trying to do everything all at once, answer the phone, talk, type. Most of the problem wasn’t something he was doing in his body, it was something he was doing in his life. His body was just desperately trying to keep up and sending him urgent signals that he was doing too much!

Donna Farhi says “I think now I can say I hardly ever meet people who truly have spinal problems. I meet spines that have people problems.”

And that was the case here. Just asking him to figure out how to do one thing at a time produced a noticeable change. He stopped crouching over his computer, sat up, looked around and for the first time took a deep breath.

That wasn’t all I needed to do with him.
I also needed to work with how he rotated his forearm to hold a mouse. Like many people, he had locked his elbow to his side and that meant he couldn’t rotate his forearm comfortably to hold a mouse.

After a bit of work with my hands, he was getting more comfortable.

Of course, unless he also figured out how to put these ideas into practice using the idea from the retreat, then he would simply revert back to his old problem.

Once you’ve figured out what the issue is, you still need to practice to make sure that you remain problem free.

I’m going to be looking into this topic in more depth in my workshop on ease in computer use with Yoga and the Alexander Technique in a couple of months.

Using Computers & Smart Phones with ease using Yoga and the Alexander Technique. Saturday 9th June 2018, 10am to 1pm (https://www.yogaground.com/workshop/39)

Come along to this workshop and find out how to do this.

Interested in finding out more? Sign up to my free 5-part course on pain free shoulders.

April 12th, 2018