Archive for the ‘Yoga and pain’ Category

Selecting a professional bodyworker to work on your body

Friday, October 12th, 2018

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.

Wrist Exercises, Alexander Technique and Yoga

Monday, July 2nd, 2018

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:

Common mistakes with computer posture

Friday, May 11th, 2018

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:

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

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.

Tip for helping your body on a computer

Friday, April 27th, 2018

Why does it take so long to get results?

Wednesday, February 21st, 2018

I’ve written about a student who wanted know about why it took so long to get results.

This is why.
Because it takes that long for numbness to wear off.
Because we don’t believe it’s possible even though we see it each time we go to class or have a lesson.
Because there are parts of us who need to hide behind the trees for a few years to make sure that it’s safe to come out.
Because it’s a skill that’s just as rich as playing music.
Because the whole thing is really fun and we just like it.
Because it’s really hard and we need that long to get over how hard it all is.
Because we see the gap between where we are right now and where we could be and we either despair and give up or we power on through. When we power on through, we tend to just repeat the same mistakes. When we give up, nothing changes.
Because it just is.

So why put yourself through all that?

I can’t say why you should. I can just say what I’ve found when I show up and do my practice without needing something from it.

I just practice.

Well, I enjoy it. Not always, there are some days when I’m sleep deprived and would rather just stay in bed. Mostly though, it’s become something that’s just me. I used to get anxious that my practice wasn’t the same as other people and therefore maybe wasn’t as good. Now I don’t care, my practice feeds something that makes me more real, more alive.

The more I practice, the better I get at it and the easier it is to get results.

And every now and then, I get instantaneous success!

It doesn’t have to take years, it’s just that sometimes it does.

How long does it take to fix my shoulder?

Friday, February 9th, 2018

Last year, I had a student with shoulder tension come to me for a series of lessons. His osteopath had recommended yoga.

We talked a bit and then he pointed to his shoulder and asked ‘How long does it take?’ He wanted to know how long it would take to fix his shoulder.

My answer, after thinking about it for a while was: ‘3-5 years’.

His response: ‘Huh!!?’

Here’s why it can take that long.

Because the change towards resolving the shoulder tension usually isn’t that long. A few lessons should see some progress. But the problem is that tension will come back. That’s because it’s rooted in habit. Not just superficial habit, but patterns of thought attitude and behaviour which have been around a long time and are hard to change.

Because deep change is difficult. It takes time and it takes practice. Both are big challenges, particularly in the beginning.

Because the change that needs to be made is immediate and simple. Simple is not easy. There’s nowhere to hide. You get it or you don’t. And most of the time you don’t. Most of the time I don’t either. That can be very confrontational, particularly if you have a strong thing about being right or about being perfect.

In essence, you practice over and over again to get something that is an overnight success.

So a lot of the 3-5 years is spent being compassionate about not getting it.

About dealing with the frustration and anxiety that brings up. About learning to practice with a strong desire for progress and at the same time letting go of any attachment to results.

Here’s the thing, if you do that, you’ll get results. And those results will be rich, amazing and bring you back to yourself. The practice is something where you can be you, without some expectation of what you can or can’t do. Then there’s a good chance that you’ll fix that shoulder thing.

Raising fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue awareness

Friday, December 1st, 2017

I’ve been asked to provide a link to articles on fibromyalgia to help promote awareness of this condition.

Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue are serious conditions which can severely reduce the quality of life of the people who suffer from them. These conditions often present with a range of symptoms that are frequently mistaken for something else.

If you’ve been having symptoms like chronic pain or tiredness that never seems to go away, this is well worth a look: