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Is it okay if you change?

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I’m a very lucky person in many ways, and one of the areas of my life in which I am most fortunate is my work. I love my job. I believe that teaching the Alexander Technique, helping people to improve their thinking, their movement, and their lives generally, is just the best job in the world.

One of the aspects of my job that I love most is meeting new students. Because I teach courses at a couple of different locations on a termly basis, I see groups of new students fairly regularly. In the past week, for example, I’ve met and worked with three new groups of people. Two of them were at the Folk House in Bristol, and the third was a group of students from the Young Actors Studio at Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.

One of the questions that I (and many of my colleagues) typically ask a new student when working with them for the first time is: “Is it okay if you change?” The range and variety of answers I hear to this question never fails to excite me. “Yes!” says one student. “NO,” says another in a decisive tone. “What?!” exclaims another. “What, my clothes?” asks another. “Hm, maybe…” says another. Lots of different answers.

In my class at Royal Welsh College last Sunday, one of my nw students countered my question with another question. The exchnge went like this:

Me: “Is it okay if you change?”
Student: “Ye- … Hang on. Why are you asking me that?! What’s that got to do with the Alexander Technique?”
Me: “That’s a brilliant question.” I turned to the group. “Why am I asking that question? And what’s it got to do with the Alexander Technique?”

And now I’m asking you: why do I ask if it’s okay if you change? I’ll give you a minute to think of an answer.

——-

There. How did you go? There are all sorts of good reasons why I use the question. But the one that most intrigued my Cardiff students is the one I’m going to talk about today.

So why do I ask about change? Well, it all comes back to what my job is about. Most, if not all, teachers in the Interactive Teaching Method give a standard definition of the Alexander Technique as a part of the introductory class. We say that the Alexander Technique is the study of the relationship between thinking and movement. We talk about the fact that, physiologically speaking, thinking precedes and controls movement – you can’t have a movement without some sort of thinking happening first. Put very simply, this means that, if you want to change the way you move, you need to change the way you think.

If the Alexander Technique is about thinking and movement, and my students (on the whole) want to change something about the way they move, what’s my job? Well, my job in some sense is to help my students change, by encouraging them to change the way they think (or, as my Cardiff students would have it, to ‘mess with their heads’!).

This is what I try to do with that opening question ‘is it okay if you change?’ I want to start the process of change by prodding their thinking – their thinking about change.

My teenage students in Cardiff, I realised, on the whole don’t have a problem recognising change happens. Their lives are full of change: exams, fashion, music, college, university… Everything in their lives is constantly, and visibly, on the move. For the rest of us, change can be a far more slippery concept. We get up, we go to work. We come home. We eat, we sleep. We have hobbies or evening classes we like to go to. We watch the TV programmes we like. Our lives follow a broadly similar patterm. Change, if we think of it at all, becomes something almost to be feared.

When I explained this to my teenage students, their faces became very sad and serious. “But that’s terrible,” they said. “How could anyone live their life like that?”

The thing is – change happens. It happens to all of us. It is in the nature of life that things change. We can deny it, hide from it, dull our perception until we can’t see it any more, but it is still there. Change will happen. Either it happens with our passive consent, or with our active involvement. So why not open our eyes, use our minds, and work on what Alexander calls “the never-ending intellectual problem of constructive control, which, instead of destroying, develops the interest and general intellectual pleasure in even…ordinary acts”?*

So… Is it okay if you change?

*FM Alexander, Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual in the Irdeat collection edition, p.308.

 

 

Stage fright? Untwist your thinking!

Yarn-Kitty-500

Perhaps because the topic is in my mind, it seems as though every time I turn on the TV or listen to the radio I hear another instance of a performer whose career was blighted by panic and performance nerves.The most recent reference was on Radio 3 (the thinking person’s Radio 4!), during a programme about the Swiss-Romanian pianist Clara Haskil.

The prevalence of the condition is truly mind-boggling. And the most interesting thing about it is that it isn’t just us amateurs who struggle and suffer. Some truly great professionals have fought their panic every performance night. Laurence Olivier survived by asking his fellow actors not to look him in the eye while onstage. Ian Holm, according to the website IMDb, developed severe stage fright in 1976 while performing in The Iceman Cometh, and has barely returned to the stage since.

The most intriguing reference to stage fright in the past couple of weeks was, again, on Radio 3, this time on the excellent programme Composer of the Week. Last week’s composer was Enrique Granados who, in addition to being a fine composer, also a renowned pianist in his day. Indeed, it was his performing career that paid the bills, and this was a source of difficulty for him. For Granados, like Clara Haskil, like Laurence Olivier, like Ian Holm, was a sufferer of near crippling stage fright.

The reason why I found Granados’ plight so intriguing, however, was because of a short quote that was included in the radio programme. Apparently Granados said:

If, in an audience of 1000 spectators, I know that 999 like me but one does not, I will play poorly, because for me that one person will be the only one out there, and I know that nothing I do will please him.

Take a minute to read that quote and think about it. Granados has just admitted that if the audience contains just one person who is not guaranteed to love his performance unconditionally, he will play poorly. Hmm. The problem with this is that no audience is 100% guaranteed to love you, unless it is entirely composed of your family and friends, in which case you are unlikely to hear anything constructive afterwards that will help you to improve.

Not only that, but it sounds uncomfortably like Granados makes a decision to play poorly, based on his fear-filled assessment of the audience. He doesn’t say “I am likely to play poorly.” He uses the far stronger statement “I will play poorly.” That one person doesn’t like me, so I won’t bother to play well because I know that nothing I can do will change their mind. Those of you with any knowledge of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy will recognise this as a fully-fledged cognitive distortion – a type of twisted thinking. Granados is basing his whole performance on his opinion of an audience whose thoughts and feelings he cannot possibly know in any detail! From the sound of this, Granados’ life as a performer may well have been plagued by the tension created by his desire to play well fighting with his decision to play poorly.

Would you want to live in that particular universe? Does the logic of it sound reasonable to you? I suspect not! Yet, when it comes down to it, my hunch is that most performers, when questioned closely, would ‘fess up to a similar sort of twisted thinking around their performance practice. One of the most common, for example, is an actor looking out at the audience before the show, and expressing a strange combination of fear and hatred towards them as the actor wonders if the audience will be ‘good’ tonight.

Clearly this sort of twisted thinking is of no help to us whatsoever. But how do we get round it?

What we don’t do is to try to block out those twisted thoughts, or to just struggle on past them. This is just adding a whole new layer of tension on top of the stress created by the original twisty thinking.

Instead of this, FM Alexander suggests that we approach the problem indirectly by inhibiting our habitual manner of use in reacting to the old stimulus. We then give ourselves the opportunity of making a new decision.* In other words, when we’re approaching the performance date, or when we’re waiting in the wings ready to come onstage, we feel a strong stimulus to think about the audience. Our instinctive reaction is to be drawn away from ourselves and into a nightmarish fantasy where we leap to conclusions about what the audience will like or want. Alexander is asking us to notice the stimulus, but not to be drawn in. Instead of thinking about the things we can’t control (the audience and their reaction to us), we could think about things that WILL be useful to us. We need to make a decision to think about ourselves, about our role or our music, about the care with which we have prepared ourselves to perform.

And we need to stick to that decision. Alexander said:

We are by nature creatures of impulse … and will remain so, more or less, so long as we are content to struggle on … in the last analysis, success will depend upon the individual’s capacity to carry out a decision.**

So make a decision not to be ruled by the twisted thinking that leads us out of ourselves. Think instead of those things that are useful to you: your preparation, a sense of perspective about performance and audience, sticking with the process of just saying the words or playing the notes, and knowing what you want to achieve with your performance.

And enjoy it!

 

*Paraphrase of Universal Constant in Living, Iredeat Combined Edition, p.601.
** ibid., p.602.

Four words to conquer stage fright

As I write this, I have less than a day before I take to the stage area of a local church and perform a lunchtime recital with my recorder quartet. If I were counting (which I’m not), I’d tell you that I’m to be walking out and playing my first notes in 22 hours’ time. And once upon a time, just the act of typing that sentence would have caused within me a paroxysm of cold fear.

I’ve always loved playing music, but I never enjoyed performing. I hated – no, loathed – the act of walking out onto the stage. As the years went by, it became harder and harder to function as a musical performer. This fear, combined with the debilitating pain I suffered in my arms, put a stop to any desire I had to share music with others.

But not any more. I am a recovering stage-fright sufferer.And the Alexander Technique has been the most powerful tool I have possessed in advancing that recovery.

For me, part of the process of studying and teaching the Alexander Technique has been a methodical re-examination of the rules I have made for myself around issues such as performance. So often I see articles in the press and online that stress the physical aspect of this work, as if it was limited only to physical movements such as sitting or standing. But the scope of the Alexander Technique is so much broader than this. My colleagues and I often say to students that it is a physiologic fact that we can’t have a movement without some sort of thinking preceding it. If this is true – and it appears to be so – then we must draw the conclusion that what we think is of vital importance.

This means that the ideas and beliefs that we have about certain activities may be the very things that are holding us back from performing those activities as well as we would like. This is certainly true in my own case, and from the experiences I have teaching, seems to be true for my students too.

Based on my own experience of stage fright and that of my students, these are the major issues that I believe cause the problem:

Lack of preparation.

This is possibly the biggest issue amongst my acting students. This is how it works: I know that I have not practised enough and do not have the music/speech/whatever completely under my belt. So I worry about messing it up. Then I worry about messing it up – in public. ‘What will they think of me?’ My head is now spinning so much that I have little or no chance of remembering my music/speech/whatever.

Perfectionism.

I place pressure on myself by expecting myself to be perfect and to give a flawless performance. I also know that this is pretty much impossible. So I also berate myself first for expecting perfectionism, and second for the mistakes I am certain to make. Now we are back to ‘What will they think of me?’

Etiquette.

People expect performers, especially amateur performers, to display nervousness prior to going on stage. It becomes good manners to oblige. By extension, it is bad manners to appear calm and confident!

Misunderstanding the physical.

Most people experience certain physical sensations pre-performance:  ‘butterflies’, shaky knees, etc. We are conditioned to think that these are bad and will disrupt our performance. What if these are simply side-effects of pre-performance adrenalin – the same adrenalin that sharpens our instincts, our senses, and speeds up our thinking processes…

So, how do we get around these issues? With four simple words! And to help you remember them, they mostly begin with P!

Here are the three Ps and one G:

Preparation.

There is only one way to know something really well, and that is to do the preparation. We all hope and dream that there is some kind of shortcut, and that talented people don’t need to do the long hours of study. Actually, they do. That’s why they are so talented.

Perspective.

Does it really matter if we make a mistake? Realistically, who is going to notice? And even if they do, will one or two little mistakes really outweigh all the good things about your performance? Of course not!

Process

As soon as we start thinking about the audience and wondering what they are thinking/feeling, we have lost our train of thought. We are no longer doing the process of performing, but wondering about the after-effects of it. In traditional Alexander Technique language, we are end-gaining rather than sticking with the means we have chosen in order to achieve our goals. In my experience, when I am staying within the process of singing or playing a piece of music, note by note, phrase by phrase, I don’t have the time to worry about the audience. And my performance, I am told, improves radically as a result!

Goal.

It’s often overlooked, but… What are you trying to achieve with your performance? Do you have a goal? Having a goal in mind for your performance can make a big difference to the way you approach things. For example, my recorder quartet recently performed at a local music festival. Our aim was to test one of our pieces in a hall acoustic, to check whether all the notes could be heard clearly on the instruments we had chosen to play. Because we had a specific goal in mind, nerves weren’t an issue.

So there you have it – three Ps and 1 G towards conquering stage fright, based on my experience. I hope they’re of help. And if you catch up with me on Facebook, I’ll let you know how the concert goes!

 

Can’t they see I’ve changed?

For my article this week I am again shamelessly pillaging from Chris Guillebeau, superb blogger and traveller and speaker of many truths. Specifically, I’m going to bounce my ideas off his excellent article Homecoming and the Adventure Detox.

In the article Chris talks about the strange decompression effect that can happen when you come home from a trip. You’ve seen and heard new things, and these things have changed you. You want to share them with friends and family. But friends and family may not be interested in what you have seen or heard. They’ll listen politely, but actually they’re keen for you to engage back in your home world – “Have you seen what’s happening with American Idol?”. Anyone who has travelled and had deep or memorable experiences can testify to the disconcerting and deflating nature of this ‘decompression’ experience.

The reason why I’m talking about this article by Chris, apart from the fact that it’s excellent, is that it so neatly describes what is happening in the lives of a number of my Alexander Technique students just now. One student in particular has undergone a lot of changes as a result of working with the principles and tools that I’m priveleged to share with them. In the 18 months or so that this person has had lessons with me, they have changed radically, both physically and in the way that they relate to the world around them. But it is only now that friends and family are starting to notice that they are different. Why?

Why is it that even those who are nearest and dearest to us are not able to see when we have changed? I think there are two issues that contribute to the problem.

Knowing how to look

From working with young actors, I’ve learned one basic fact. Observing is a skill, and most people don’t have it. They’ve never been taught how to look, to really look, at anything.

This problem is compounded when we are asked to look at people. In Western culture we are taught that it is rude to look at others. “Don’t stare!” we are told as children. So we begin to look away, to keep to ourselves. We sneak glances at others, on the pavement or on the train, but we don’t look for long, and we certainly don’t make eye contact! In effect, far from encouraging observation skills, in effect we are taught from childhood NOT to look.

If we don’t, can’t or won’t look, how will we ever see what is different? In fact, how will we ever truly see anything at all?

Analysing conditions past

When FM Alexander talked about his strategy for planning the protocol of a movement, he talked about “analysing the conditions present.”* In other words, looking at what is in front of us at that particular moment, and creating a plan of action based on what we see. Sadly, familiarity can breed contempt: why bother checking out that chair again when it looks the same as the one yesterday? The same thing happens with families and friends.

When we meet someone for the first time, we have no choice but to respond to whatever cues the person gives us regarding their character, personality and appearance. It’s completely different with families and friends. Because they’ve known us a long time, our friends and family tend to respond to us based on their experience of us in the past. They don’t need to observe us afresh, because we’re just the same as we were before, right?! Well, no, actually!

This is why those of us who live a long way from our parents can find it really difficult to visit home. We struggle to hold onto our adult identity as our parents continue to interact with us in the same way that they did all those years ago before we flew the nest and created our own lives.

Our friends and family see us as they used to see us, and as they want to see us. They love us, but sometimes the version of us they love may not fit us as neatly as we all hope and assume. So when they notice that we’ve changed, the odds are that we’ve metamorphosed so radically that their cherished but out-dated impression of us can no longer tally with the person in front of them. The degree of change forces them to reassess.

But they haven’t noticed I’ve changed – what should I do?

When you make changes in your life, and your nearest and dearest continue to interact with the person you used to be, you have a very simple choice. You can relinquish the changes that you have made and conform to their impression of who you are, or you can hold on to the decisions that you have made.

For a time this may be uncomfortable: there may be a disjunction between how your loved ones expect you to respond to them compared to your actual response. But which would you rather be – true to others’ expectations of you, or true to yourself?

And, just as a final thought… If you know you are changing and growing and improving, does it matter if that change isn’t recognised by others? Is the improvement any the less real for not having external approval?

Let’s commit to the process of change. Approval may come, or it may not. Discomfort may come, or it may not. But the process, if it is considered and appropriate, will lead us towards improvement. And what more can you ask than that?

 

*The full phrase used in the Evolution of a Technique is “analyse the conditions of use present.” But why stop at your body? Why not analyse anything around that is relevant?

 

Don’t copy me!

On the weekend I taught a day workshop (about Alexander Technique) at the Bristol Folk House, a lovely venue in central Bristol. Amongst my students for this workshop I had a husband and wife lady of the couple said that they have a six-year-old daughter, and that they had been trying to explain to her what they were doing that Saturday. They had told their daughter that when people are young they move around really beautifully, but that as they get older, for one reason or another, sometimes they don’t move so well or so easily as they used to. And Mum and Dad wanted to investigate whether they could move a bit more like their daughter.

I think this is an eloquent description of something that a lot of people feel to be true. Children seem to move so easily and beautifully, with an artless grace that we adults can only wonder at. How do they do it? And what happens to them – and us – between early childhood and adulthood to cause us to lose it?

What happens to us – part 1

One of the other participants in my Saturday workshop was a lady who had a standing lesson. When I worked with her to counteract the habitual way she pushed her hips forward while standing, she exclaimed that I was stopping her from standing up straight. She then gave an impression of  her school mistress telling her to ‘Stand up straight!’

My student had been out of school for a couple or three decades, yet that teacher’s admonition stayed with her. Words are powerful things. If we are told to do something as a child, and told it strongly enough, it is entirely possible that we will keep doing that thing long after the person who told us to has gone away or lost interest! This is even more likely if we received praise for following their instructions.

What things do you still do, just because a teacher/coach/parent told you? And if you have contact with children, are you careful about what rules you choose to pass on?

 

What happens to us – part 2

My son, when he was younger, absolutely loved a book by author Helen Oxenbury. It’s about a little boy called Tom and his toy monkey Pippo. My son’s favourite little story from the book began like this:

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This is the second major thing that happens to us. We find someone we love, and we want to be like them. So we do what Tom does in the story – we copy the person we love. And we most often choose to copy the eccentricities of the person we love. We copy their walk, or the way they hold their head. Tom begins copying his father’s walk as an act of love.

 

Losing it – or not…

The thing is, we’re all really tempted by the idea that a childlike freedom and gracefulness is just that – childlike, and therefore a thing of the past. We feel nostalgic and a bit envious, and assume that like belief in Father Christmas, our freedom of movement, once gone, is lost forever.

This is a big trick.

If we believe this, we are cutting ourselves off from the truth. We never lost it.

We never lost it.

We listened to our teachers, and tried faithfully to do what they told us (‘Sit up straight!’). We copied those we loved, and did it studiously and well. We lived our lives, and made decisions about what was possible and what was not, and lived accordingly.

All of these acts are decisions. And decisions can be changed.

We have lost nothing. Our natural grace and elegance of movement is still there and waiting for us to rediscover it. And this requires nothing more nor less than a change in our point of view – what Alexander describes as “the royal road to reformation.” Like all roads, sometimes it may get a bit rocky, or may take a few twists or turns. But choose to stick with it.

This is what Alexander says to encourage us:

The brain becomes used to thinking in a certain way, it works in a groove … but when once it is lifted out of the groove, it is astonishing how easily it may be directed. At first it will have a tendency to return to the old manner of working … but the groove soon fills, and although thereafter we may be able to use the old path if we choose, we are no longer bound by it.*

Moving freely and easily is available to us. The path is waiting…

*FM Alexander, Man’s Supreme Inheritance in the Irdeat complete edition of the 4 books, p.67.

Put the patient down!

Last Friday, I travelled to Southampton to give a talk about Alexander Technique to the women of the NHS Southampton and Salisbury Breast Imaging Unit (part of SUHT).

These women are amazing. They carry out all the mammograms that form the main part of the screening programme against breast cancer in their part of the world. Sometimes they work from their comfortable and welcoming base in Princess Anne Hospital in Southampton. More often, they have to drive a large van up to an hour to a town or village in their catchment area. They park up, then spend the day carrying out the scans using the equipment on the van. For every patient who comes through their door, they have to greet the patient, (usually) calm them down, help to position the patient in the imaging equipment, take four images, label everything carefully, then help the patient out the door. They do all of this in seven minutes. Yes, seven minutes per patient.

Some of the patients are small and birdlike, and have – how can I put it? – assets that befit their small and birdlike frames. Other patients are considerably larger, and have assets that are rather heftier. And the mammographers have to heft these assets into the imaging equipment, and help to hold them there so that the images are clear and the patient doesn’t have to come back for a rescan. They do this ‘hefting’ (can’t think of a better word for it!) by extending their thumb and creating a V-shape with their hands, then ‘sweeping’ the assets into the machine (‘sweeping’ is their term for it). And they do this for every patient. Every seven minutes. Every day.

These lovely mammographers are starting to suffer from shoulder and back pain, and RSI-like symptoms in their hands and thumbs. They invited me down to Southampton to give them some tips and advice on how they can work to improve their working conditions and thereby alleviate some of the pain.

So what did I do? Well, one of the things that I did was to look at their hands, and then tell this story…

One of my least favourite household jobs is filling the washing machine had in Australia). One day I was bent over double, shovelling clothes through the door. One of my son’s socks had escaped, and was a few steps away. Without straightening, I walked over to get it, walked back, then put it in the machine. Then I noticed my husband’s hankie, halfway across the kitchen floor. Again, without bothering to straighten, I went to get it. The machine was full. Without bothering to stand up, I got the detergent ball, put it in the door, then turned on the machine.

Then I noticed the cat water bowl was empty. Without bothering to stand up, I picked up the bowl, filled it, put it back. I went on with other bits of cleaning. After a few minutes, my back started to feel tired. I realised that I still hadn’t bothered to stop bending over. I was walking around the house like Groucho Marx! I hadn’t yet stopped filling the washing machine!

My mammographer students were no different. Even though they had stopped scanning for the day, even though there were no patients anywhere nearby, their hands were still ready to heft and sweep. When I pointed this out to them, most of them looked down at their hands, and allowed their thumbs to go limp. They sighed in relief! They admitted to me that, now that they thought about it, they realised that they always kept their hand ‘ready to sweep’ – from first thing in the morning, to last thing at night.

They had forgotten to put the patient down.

My simple suggestion was this. What would happen if the mammographers put the patient down – not just at the end of the day, but between patients?

And what about you? Is your right hand always ready to click the mouse button? Are your shoulders permanently prepared to lift that bag/child/rucksack?

What would happen if you ‘put the patient down’?

 

Hemlines and stuff we do to ourselves

I’m going to tell you a little story that doesn’t put me in a very good light. In fact, it makes me look a little silly. Feel free to have a giggle…

For years, I used to complain about clothing manufacturers. No matter which shop I went to, no matter what skirt I tried on, the hemlines just didn’t seem to be straight. I’d try on skirts, sometimes buy them and take them home, and feel a little cross about the fact that the hem always seemed to be a little higher on one side than the other. And the fault always seemed to be the same side (the right side, in case you’re interested).

It wasn’t exactly earth-shattering – I mean, it wasn’t the bane of my life. On the scale of life crises, it barely rated at all, especially when compared to the RSI I suffered in my arms. But it niggled. Every time I put on a skirt, my eye was almost irresistibly drawn to the hemline. It was like an itch that just wouldn’t go away.

Why couldn’t the clothing companies get it right? And why was it only me who seemed to notice?

By now you’re probably leaping way ahead of me. “It wasn’t the skirts!” I can hear you exclaiming at your screens. And you’re absolutely right! But it took me years – and I mean, years – to make that realization for myself. One day I looked at myself in the mirror, and I saw for the first time why my skirts never hung straight. For the first time, I actually looked and really saw my hips. My hips weren’t level. I was managing to contract the muscles on one side of my torso in such a way that my right side was shortened, causing my right hip to be raised. It wasn’t the skirts that had the problem: it was me.

I think of that day every time one of my students asks me why they haven’t seen a particular truth about their use of their bodies before having Alexander lessons. This usually occurs when they have discovered that they do something that, post-discovery, they label as unnecessary or silly, and they want to know why they didn’t find it out sooner. There are a couple of important points to be made about this.

The first is this. Each of us live in our own private universe (Stephen Covey calls it a paradigm), where everything is right, makes sense, and seems to be logically consistent. In my own private universe, my body was right and normal and fine. Therefore, the skirt manufacturers were clearly WRONG. The hemlines were so clearly their fault and their problem that I didn’t even bother to question it. So if you, for example, like to lift up your whole shoulder girdle in order to reach your computer keyboard, that will feel right and normal to you, and you won’t question it. And that’s completely understandable. We can’t blame ourselves for stuff we don’t know that we’re doing. Let’s have some compassion for ourselves.

But maybe, as my hemlines did with me, something niggles you somewhere at the back of your brain. Like that itch that won’t go away…

In that case, maybe it’s time to use a question from FM Alexander’s toolkit. It’s the tool I used to discover my funny hips. It’s the tool that started FM on his journey from voice trouble to the development of the work we now call the Alexander Technique. Back in the beginning, talking to his doctor about his vocal troubles, Alexander asked this question: “Was it something I was doing … in using my voice that was the cause of the trouble?”

 

Is it something I’m doing to myself that is the cause of the trouble? This is a profound question. A student of mine, a plumber, found this question incredibly powerful. When he got into his van, put his hands on the wheel and felt neck pain, he asked FM’s question. ‘Is it something I’m doing to myself?’ And the answer was yes. He made some changes to the way he was sitting, and the pain went away. He asked FM’s question when his back hurt after picking up his toolbox. The answer was yes. He streamlined the number of tools in his toolbox, experimented with lifting it differently, and his back stopped hurting.

 

This can be a great step on a journey of discovery. Maybe you’ll find out profound things. Maybe you’ll streamline your toolbox. Maybe you’ll be able to take hemline adjustment off your To Do list. But whatever you discover, enjoy the thrill of it, and let me know how you get on.

Teach the chairs…?

chair

When I have a new student, especially if they have a history of back pain, it is pretty likely that at some point they’ll ask me about chairs. Often their workplace has bought them a fancy new office chair, or they’re waiting for one and cursing the chair they’re using at the moment. They don’t like going places like the movies or a cafe because they fear the chairs will be too uncomfortable for them. So they ask me about chairs, and whether they should spend their money on a nice, new, fancy, expensive ergonomic chair.

I especially like it when this question is asked in my main teaching room, because at my desk is just such a chair. It’s one of those kneeler chairs, but it’s a fancy one on runners so that you can rock back and forth like a rocking chair. It has a nice backrest. The upholstery is a lovely emerald green, and the chair wouldn’t look out of place in a set from Star Trek. It’s a nice chair.

I bought it back when I was suffering from severe RSI symptoms in my arms. I spent a lot of money on it, hoping that it would help ease my pain so that I could finish my degree thesis without crippling myself.

The chair didn’t help. It wasn’t because it wasn’t well designed – it is. It wasn’t that I didn’t spend enough money – I spent plenty, believe me! The problem was that the chair didn’t have the power to stop me doing all the extra STUFF with my muscles that was causing the problem in the first place. It turned out the chair couldn’t stop me slumping: I was smarter than it was.

I keep the chair now to remind me of how powerful the human mind really is. It doesn’t really matter how many gadgets we buy or how much we spend. What we need to do is to change the way we think! FM Alexander said that we should waste no time in educating the furniture, but educate the people. Let’s give ourselves the ability to adapt ourselves to our environment, so that we can be comfortable wherever we happen to be.

So how do we do this?

First of all, take a look at the chair. Are all chairs the same? Obviously not! But how often do we actually look at the chair we’re about to sit on? Is it high or low? Very cushioned, or quite firm? With a backrest? If so, what sort?

Ask yourself: what do I need to do to sit in this chair? What joints have I got to help me? Where am I going to bend?

Use this information. Form a plan. Then put your plan into action.

And when you’ve given it a go a few times, drop me a line and let me know how you’re getting on.

Image by winnond, FreeDigitalPhotos.net