Stress and the Alexander Technique

The Alexander Technique is all about only using what we require for an activity and no more. So many of us add in unnecessary muscular tension to everything that we do, whether it be sitting, standing, walking or doing any activity, and when we are under stress we tend to this even more than usual. The result is muscle aches and stiffness and a general feeling of not performing at our best.

We are fundamentally a combination of mind and body. We cannot separate the two, so when we are under any form of stress, we often do things to ourselves that cause us problems long term. When we are stressed, we often contract our muscles more than we need to, pull down on our spines and generally tense up. The Technique teaches us an alternative way to respond to stress, by stopping that habitual reaction to add in tension and enabling us to choose a different path.

One of my favourite quotes is from Viktor Frankl, the Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist, who wrote the following: ‘Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom’. The Alexander Technique is a powerful education method that teaches us to respond to things in a different way, whether that be eliminating the tension in our shoulders when we are stressed or simply stopping and taking the time to work out how we are actually going to respond to something. It’s a technique which is incredibly useful when we are busy, stressed and panicking about the things we need to do (or not do).

 

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Get moving and increase productivity

We are back after the summer holidays and many of us are sitting at our desks for 8 hours a day or more; we are living increasingly sedentary lifestyles. Health issues caused by sitting or being less active are costing businesses billions and the human cost in terms of injury and disease is high. It’s hard to produce our best work when we are tired, uncomfortable and suffering from aches and pains, and it is not just your physical health that will benefit from getting moving. Exercise has a positive effect on mental health and in particular anxiety and stress, which are endemic in the working population today.

The World Health Organisation tells us that we should be standing for 4 hours a day and doing 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise a week as a minimum. But how is this possible given business demands. Here are my top tips:

  • Get creative with your meetings. Walking or standing meetings are a great way to get staff moving, burning calories and increasing their energy. Walking meetings are also a great environment to have difficult conversations with team members, so get out in the fresh air, walk and talk.
  • Get up from your desk regularly. Go and talk to colleagues rather than sending emails and take 5 minutes to walk up and down the stairs every hour or so. This gets the muscles moving, the blood flowing and the heart pumping.
  • Get out of the office at lunchtime. Research shows that cardio exercise which is done in blocks of 10 minutes or more benefits our health and productivity so it actually takes very little time. Just make sure you get your heart rate up to a 7 out of 10 (out of breath but you could hold a brief conversation). Getting outside at lunchtime will also help beat the post lunch slump and boost productivity
  • Do simple movements at your desk, which will go unnoticed by your colleagues! Try drawing the alphabet with your feet; do simple leg stretches to increase blood flow; suck in your stomach, hold for a few seconds and release then repeat (this can also be done with the glutes, the muscles in your bottom). And if you are feeling adventurous, try doing 20 squats every time you go to the bathroom.
  • Think about your commute. This is the best way to get moving more in the working day. Things like taking the stairs rather than the lift, walking up the escalators or getting off the train or bus a stop early are all things that we should be doing as standard. Think about whether you can walk or cycle to work. Many cities are smaller than you think and walking can take about the same amount of time as public transport, which you consider rush hour traffic or waiting for the train.
  • Think about your posture. Sitting effectively and eliminating excess tension will help you move with more freedom and ease. This is not about sitting stiffly with a string coming out the top of your head but sitting with economy of effort; this will instantly boost your energy levels.

We might not be able to banish desk jobs for good but there are many things we can do to be more active in the working day and these small changes will have a big effect in terms of overall health and productivity.

Running and the Alexander Technique

With the Ealing Half Marathon rapidly approaching, many of my clients are gearing up to meet the challenge. So how can the Alexander Technique help?

The Technique is all about economy of movement so is a valuable tool for any runner. If you only put into your running what you require and no more, then you can direct your energy into running faster and for longer. Being efficient, smooth and effortless in activity can help prevent injuries caused by repetitive movements and can transform the gait of anyone from the occasional jogger to the seriously competitive.

Above all, the Alexander Technique is about thinking in relation to movement. If you develop the mental discipline to move in the most effective way possible, you can reduce the risk of strain and injury, go faster and for longer and increase your enjoyment.

 

So what is the Alexander Technique anyway?

‘What’s that?’ is usually the response I get when I say that I am an Alexander Technique teacher. It’s an educational method, which has been around for well over a hundred years and has helped countless people move more easily, free themselves from everyday issues and be more in control of their mind and bodies. You can go to your osteopath for treatment and have some great results, but if you carry on doing the things in everyday life that were causing you difficulties in the first place, that treatment might not be as long-lasting. The Alexander Technique gives you the tools to take that understanding into the day to day and make the changes sustainable. Sounds good, doesn’t it? But what actually is it?

Fundamentally, the Alexander Technique is experiential. Experiencing a lesson is by far the best way to see what it can do for you and to see its incredible benefits. But let me explain first how a lesson works, whether it is individually or a group. We will discuss the work, perhaps read some text and it being a principle based discipline, will have a look at some of those principles that underpin it. Then you, the student, and I, the teacher, will go to work. Lessons take place ‘in activity’ so this activity could be sitting in a chair, standing, walking, bending down, playing the tuba or knitting! It does not matter what the movement is, we just teach while you are ‘in activity’. As a teacher, I will then gently use my hands to suggest subtle changes to the way that you are doing that activity so that you can move more freely and effectively. The use of hands in this way is something which sets the Alexander Technique apart from other disciplines.

But explaining it is really best left to those who have experienced it so I will leave you with some quotes from the students of the last Introduction to the Alexander Technique course in Autumn 2016.

“A brilliant introduction to the AT and I highly recommend Lynsey as a teacher. I just feel so much better for it and am moving much more freely.”

“The pain in my shoulder has gone! I am also calmer and more considered in my daily life.”

“It has helped me enormously… the technique has given me a greater awareness of my posture, positioning and informs me to let go of holding tension in my body.”

“I loved the interaction between the tutor and the students. The interactions linked the theory with the practice visually. It just made sense. I loved the way the group gelled too.”

A saddle and two lost dogs: how I found the Alexander Technique

I first encountered the Alexander Technique by accident. I was working as a management consultant in the city, was stressed, busy and tired. I was visiting Bristol to drop off a horse’s saddle to someone I knew and asked another friend if I could stay with her. She happened to be training to be an Alexander Technique teacher, which I had heard off but didn’t know anything about. Fortunately for me, our plans to have a quiet dinner did not materialise as her two lively Jack Russel terriers decided that this was the night they were going to go hunting and not come back. Not wanting to drag me around the fields looking for dogs, my friend suggested I attend the group Alexander Technique class that night that her colleague was running and we would meet up later. I reluctantly agreed.

Well, that night was a game changer. I didn’t understand what I was seeing; all I knew was that I wanted some of that. I did not realise that my body could feel that way. I felt light, free and my anxiety reduced. And all this happened with the help of a gentle guiding touch and a few questions from the teacher, Simon. A few weeks later I was at an introductory session, led by Dr Don Weed (a leading author and expert on the Technique, who was to become my tutor and mentor), I signed up for a 5 day summer workshop and in the September found myself on a 4 year teacher training programme to learn to be an Alexander Technique teacher in the Interactive Teaching Method.

I still didn’t really understand what the Alexander Technique was….

However, over the next 4 years I learnt how to really think, to exercise control over my mind and body, to make decisions based on sound judgement and above all to start fulfilling my potential as a human being. This probably sounds rather grandiose and time consuming but rest assured, you do not need to train for 4 years to be a teacher to get the benefits of the Alexander Technique.

In a handful of lessons, my mind was opened to how I could properly operate the body I lived in. I learnt that I didn’t need to be carrying tension around all the time, I didn’t need to feel that knot of anxiety in my stomach, I didn’t have to have regular headaches or a niggling back ache. The everyday aches and pains that we put up with or think ‘oh, I’m just getting older’ could be got rid of. I could feel free, alert and ready for whatever challenge life threw at me.

Having now qualified as a teacher and running an active practice in West London (alongside my personal training and public speaking work – yes, I never did go back to being a management consultant), I find I am still improving. And that is what I love about the Technique. It is about constant improvement, getting better, feeling better all the time, whatever our circumstances. I can’t think of a better way to live than to help others learn this too.

And all because of a saddle and two lost dogs (who, by the way, were eventually found in a field later that night)….