Selecting a professional bodyworker to work on your body

Working with other people’s bodies in a holistic and integrated way is a demanding job which requires high standards of self-care. As part of my own self-care I receive hands on work from other professionals, some of that is from fellow Alexander teachers and some from other body/mind practitioners.

Each discipline has its own focus and its own way of communicating with students/clients. In addition, there are considerable differences between individual teachers, therapists and training schools as to how much to communicate verbally and how much to communicate through body language or with hands.

Some disciplines see themselves as an education and require the full conscious participation of the student having the session. Some disciplines see themselves as a therapy where the participation of the client is much more unconscious.

In 35 number of years of being a recipient of professional bodywork, I’ve found that the standard of work varies a lot. This is my attempt to articulate which standards matter to me and why. These are also the standards that I aspire to when I’m working with students.

Here’s my list:

  • Personally I like to feel that a therapist or teacher is kind, friendly and interested in who I am, as well as skilled at their job. If the professional doesn’t take time to build a relationship with you as an individual it could be an indication that they just see you as a body to be fixed.
  • The bodywork professional is well rested, energised and calm. Doing good bodywork is very demanding and without the highest standards of self-care, you can be sure that professional won’t have the energy or bandwidth to look after you. When I experience professionals who come across as tired, irritated or impatient it does not inspire confidence that they are on my side.
  • The bodywork professional takes time at the beginning of the session to understand what you want and what your current condition is. They invite you to share valuable information about yourself which enables them to customise their work to offer you the most beneficial session to meet your needs at this moment. Some disciplines or cultures rely on non-verbal assessments. That’s fine, as long as you understand the process they are going through. If the professional asks you to get on a treatment table without going through some kind of an assessment first, it could be an indication that they giving you a one-size fits all session.
  • The bodywork professional uses a wide variety of touch. It’s harder to make use of touch when the professional has a one touch fits all approach. Whether that is Alexander teachers who have a feather touch irrespective of who or where they are touching, to the massage professionals who believe that harder is better, it’s an indication that the professional could lack an ability to adjust their touch to individual needs and preferences. When someone touches you in a way that doesn’t completely suit you, you are going to need to make a lot of effort to make use of that touch. Sometimes their touch is so skilful you can feel that it’s still worth it.
  • The bodywork professional has a dialogue with you (not necessarily a spoken one) about how fast or slow their touch is if their hands are moving across your body. If a touch is too fast, it’s difficult for your nervous system to calm down, appreciate and enjoy that touch.
  • The bodywork professional shares an outline of their lesson/treatment plan with you (if you want this – some people are fine about not knowing) at the start of the session. You might have some important input about that, such as you can’t lie on your front today but you can lie on your back.
  • The bodywork professional has knowledge acquired over time about different aspects of how your body works. This might be some knowledge of the scaffolding of the body, some knowledge about muscles, bones and other systems in the body. If a bodywork professional has done a course that doesn’t require time and professional supervision, they’ll be unprepared for the diversity of people and conditions that walk through the door.
  • The room where you are going to have work done is clean, well ventilated, has enough space and is not too hot or cold. It’s really hard to enjoy a session when the therapist is bumping into the furniture or the room is not comfortable. It’s also hard for the therapist to do their best work and can indicate that the centre might not be fully supporting their staff.
  • Any equipment that is used is clean, strong enough to bear your weight and comfortable. If you are lying on a rickety portable massage table, with no props or towels to provide additional support, it’s hard to relax.

Thanks to Jill Banwell for her feedback and suggestions on this article.

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October 12th, 2018

Will the correct definition of the Alexander Technique please step forward?

I read blogs, books and listen to podcasts about the Alexander Technique. Usually, at some point there is a definition of the Alexander Technique.

What’s interesting about these definitions is that they vary widely. Some teachers also seem to spend as much time trying to debunk other people’s definitions as actually creating their own.

Because the Alexander Technique is about mind-body technique, all definitions are incomplete because of our habit of dualistic thinking. We think about the body as though that body didn’t have mind that lives in it. Here’s an example from Pedro de Alcantara.

“The simple act of brushing your teeth, for instance, appears to be purely physical, involving your mouth, one of your hands, and little else. But it’s humanly impossible to do any one thing without there being a psychological dimension. The emotions associated with brushing your teeth are varied and intense, going back to your childhood and involving memories, fears, desires, pleasures, and displeasures. The act contains faint or not-so-faint connections with every visit to the dentist, every meal and its aftermath, every moment of vanity or shame regarding your teeth and your smile. Further, brushing your teeth is a ritualistic act of cleansing that prepares you for talking to someone intimately, for appearing in public, for going to bed at night and entering the land of dreams, and so on. In truth, brushing your teeth reflects the intertwined and inseparable coexistence of the physical, the psychological, and the metaphysical—or to put it differently, body, mind, and soul.”

Alcantara, Pedro de. Indirect Procedures: A Musician’s Guide to the Alexander Technique (The Integrated Musician) (pp. 3-4). Oxford University Press.

Because of our tendency toward dualistic thinking when talking about our minds and bodies, it’s very difficult to come up with definitions that are short, media friendly and pithy.

Having listened and read a whole lot of definitions, they seem to fall into 3 main camps.

In the first group, the emphasis is that Alexander Technique is mysterious and undefinable. There is so much about the technique that is subjective personal experience that it’s impossible to define it. Patrick McDonald, on one of his rare appearances on film says that the technique:

“one doesn’t want a sergeant major thing of pulling the head back and sticking the chest out. On the other hand one should slump yourself down and contract your body, that’s wrong too. The right thing is in between those two things and I can only explain that with my hands”

In other words, he can only explain it through giving someone the experience.

The second set of definitions the emphasis is on our bodies, in particular, about our co-ordination and moving out of tension or pain. It’s about unlearning bad habits that produce tension in our bodies.

Here’s a typical definition from this group on the STAT (Society for the Teachers of the Alexander Technique) web site.

“The Alexander Technique is a skill for self-development teaching you to change long-standing habits that cause unnecessary tension in everything you do.
Whatever your age or ability, the Technique can help boost your performance in any activity and relieve the pain and stress caused by postural habits, like slouching or rounded shoulders.”

Another one from Dan Cayer

“The Alexander technique is a process for synchronizing mind and body and starting to become more aware of habits that are interfering with one’s wellbeing and causing pain”.

http://bodylearning.buzzsprout.com/382/158464-how-the-alexander-technique-can-help-people-with-chronic-pain/

The third set of definitions the emphasis is on the Alexander Technique as a philosophy. It’s about learning how we think. It’s about understanding our unconscious and impulsive behaviours so we can make better decisions.

Peter Nobes:

“Alexander Technique gives us a ‘means-whereby’ we can achieve what all the self-help books are offering. A means-whereby to real, lasting change. The Dalai Lama says that the purpose of life is to be happy. What we have here is a means-whereby to achieve it”.

Nobes, Peter. Mindfulness in 3D: Alexander Technique for the 21st century (pp. 116-117). The Real Press.

Pedro de Alcantara talking to another musician about what the Alexander Technique really is:

“All problems are the same and all problems are due to you becoming temporarily insane… so you have a crazy idea about the effort you need to make in order to sing … it’s the way that you are thinking about the problem that is creating the problem”

Pedro de Alcantara, The Real Truth Behind the Alexander Technique (http://bodylearning.buzzsprout.com/382/489976-the-real-truth-behind-the-alexander-technique)

Bruce Fertman:

“Now my work as an Alexander teacher revolves around how we choose to respond to the world within us and all around us. How do we choose to respond to our own thoughts and emotions, to physical sensations both pleasant and unpleasant? How do we choose to respond to criticism, to praise, to deadlines, to the wind? How do we best adept to an ever-changing world, to our uncertain futures? The question is not how can we move well, but how can we move well through the course of our lives, how can we live life fluidly, articulately, powerfully, sensitively, pleasurably, and responsibly?”

Bruce Fertman, Teaching by Hand, Learning By Heart, Foreward page IX

Most definitions try and include some of above aspects.

“The Technique evolved by the late F. Mathias Alexander is generally regarded as one for altering postural behaviour of individuals, and indeed it can be so regarded. However, it concerns itself with considerably more than this. It is a technique for altering the reaction of the individual to the stimuli of his environment, and thus it can be applied to a whole range of human activities, whether these be regarded as just thought processes or processes involving predominantly muscular activity”

Patrick Macdonald

Will there ever be a universally agreed definition of the Alexander Technique? Given the fact that there are now a wide variety of different practices and ideas about it, I doubt it. Maybe that’s a healthy thing.

And the last word goes to the man himself. When Alexander was asked for a one-word definition of his technique, he came up with:

“Readiness”

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September 6th, 2018

Alexander Technique is all about improving your posture, isn’t it?

In the TV series ‘Ugly Betty’ Wilhelmina tries to book an Alexander lesson for another character because ‘I noticed that your posture needs improving’. The joke is that Wilhelmina is a nightmare control freak whose probable motive in booking the lesson is just another way of controlling the other character.

If part of the Alexander work is learning to let go of our habitual reactions to stimuli then it’s safe to say that there is a massive collective fail when the ‘p’ word is introduced. Cue lots of defensive Alexander teachers losing their collective cool while they say, rather testily, that it’s not about posture.

There’s even a facebook page of an Alexander teacher based in London where title of the header graphic is ‘It’s not about posture’.

I started wondering why this is. After all, everything vaguely similar to the Alexander Technique has students/clients who show up with distorted ideas about what it is. They expect certain results without having the remotest clue about the processes they are going to have learn in order to get those results.

I started having fun with thinking about what if it were true that the Alexander technique was all about posture.

In the spirit of Byron Katie, is it really true that the Alexander Technique is not about improving posture?

No, I can’t know for sure that the Alexander technique is not about improving posture. If someone tells me that the Alexander technique is about improving posture, who am I to correct them? Posture is one of those words where we think we know what it means, but do we really? If I don’t really know what the word means, why am I so upset if someone tells me that part of my job is sorting out their posture?

What happens, who do I become when I believe that the Alexander technique is not about improving posture?
I feel confused. There’s a part of me that, after 30 odd years of learning the technique, still thinks positionally and posturally. I try and pretend that I don’t do this, but if I look at my family photos there are generations of us all with iposture / text neck well before such a term became fashionable. I’ve been trained by my family and of course by society to think posturally. It turns out to be a very deep set habit. It’s so deep, that even though every Alexander teacher I’ve ever had is at pains to tell me that it’s about relationships and qualities and not about posture, there’s still part of my brain that is trying to figure out what the right position for my head and spine.

What’s the turnaround?
The Alexander Technique is about improving posture.
Posture is the most visible outward change from having lessons. Yes, I’d like to point out the more subtle benefits like increased choice, calmness, less pain and more ease in life. Unfortunately, these more subtle qualities are often very much in the eye of the beholder. One common meaning of posture is to take a position, an attitude to something. So, yes, I definitely improve someone’s attitude to life.

If the Alexander Technique is not about improving posture, why don’t we just lead with our definition in the first place? It’s not down to us to change other people opinion or ideas, in fact that’s neurologically very difficult. It’s much easier to change people’s ideas or opinions by giving them new information rather than asking them to stop thinking about something they have already invested time and effort in believing.

So, what we need is a universally agreed, short and positive definition of the Alexander Technique. This definition will then allow us to ask potential students and the media to update their current definition with a much better one.

What could be easier? Well, that’s the next article. Will the correct definition of the Alexander Technique please step forward?

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

September 6th, 2018

Street food Alexander for lifting heavy suitcases

I’m at an Alexander retreat as an assistant and we’re all studying how our arms connect to our bodies. In particular, the connections that our arms have to our bodies that we tend to overlook. We tend to overlook the connection from our armpit down to our tail (our lats). And we tend to overlook just how many arm muscles there are in the back of our body.

In fact most of the muscles that we can see when we look at a swimmer from the back are arm muscles.

We’ve done a few experiments and the teacher in charge, Midori, has worked with a couple of guys carrying a table to show us how to think of this area. You can see them visibly transforming into moving easier and stronger as she does the work with them.

I’ve been given 15 minutes to help a small group with carrying luggage.

Carrying luggage is a really interesting Alexander study. Firstly, it’s a study in timing. When you’re carrying luggage, you’re usually thinking about anything but actually carrying something. You’re thinking about catching your plane or how you’re going to get from a train station to where you’re going. In other words, you’re distracted.

Secondly, carrying luggage is an action where you transition from very little load to lots of load in a short space of time and rarely when your body is in an ideal state. You sit for a long time and then suddenly you need to get up and quickly carry luggage.

Thirdly, carrying luggage involves getting your arms and legs to work together, something most people find very challenging. I’ve found that a lot of my students make good progress when I ask them to move their arms from their back or move their legs from their back. Ask them to do both together and it’s another level of difficulty.

We were all practising lifting a normal largish suitcase. I noticed one woman very carefully bent down to get her hands close to the suitcase and then froze into place just before lifting. Finally, she picked up the luggage as though it might bite her. When I checked the rest of the group, they were all doing something along the lines of think, freeze then try and move.

This is a situation that calls for street food Alexander.

Street food Alexander is a quick something to help you in busy situations. Where there’s no time for leisurely gourmet Alexander. It’s something that organises us quickly and allows us to move into picking up the luggage at a good pace.

So, street Alexander is ‘head, tail, move’. It can be shorted to ‘head, move’. Each word has a light but definite emphasis and when the moving part happens, that’s when you move. There is a natural pause between ‘head’ and ‘move’ to allow your body to organise itself. When you say ‘move’ that’s exactly what you do.

You move even if you think it isn’t working. Even if you can’t feel anything changing. Even if you know you made a mistake and you want to stop and try again to get it right this time. You still move. Otherwise the freeze habit takes over.

We got it all working a bit more easily. I found I needed to be very tolerant of imperfection. The idea was to get everyone just a tiny little bit more organised and then let them move. When I’m getting people to pick up the pace, it has to be super simple otherwise confusion starts creeping in.

Once confusion is there, its close friend freeze is never far behind.

We all learned something these experiments, me probably more than the students!

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August 16th, 2018

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/

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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.

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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