The Alexander Technique can help you (literally) unwind

Eva Selhub MD, Contributing Editor

(Follow me at @DrEvaSelhub)

In the 1890s, a Shakespearean actor named Frederick Matthias Alexander set out to discover why he often lost his voice when he performed. (Imagine yourself as a Shakespearean actor, completely dependent on your voice to pay your bills, finding yourself without a voice just when you needed to perform!) Needless to say, Alexander had to figure out why this was happening.

He began by observing himself in multiple mirrors while he prepared to perform. Indeed, he did discover that something changed prior to his speaking: He was contracting the muscles in his upper body, especially his neck, so strongly that his entire posture changed. He theorized that his voice loss could be a result of his disrupted posture.

Fortunately, his guess turned out to be correct. When he was able to release the tension in his muscles with a variety of movements, not only did his voice loss resolve, but he was able to change the habit he had developed of contracting his neck. As he continued to refine and improve his methods, Alexander realized they could help others improve their health and well-being. His discoveries, which have since been codified into the Alexander Technique (AT), are still in use today.

How is the Alexander Technique used today?

Today, AT is considered a mental discipline that teaches individuals how to let go of tension in the body and how to enable the body to move with ease and minimal effort. AT is used to treat a variety of conditions, from musculoskeletal pain and repetitive strain injuries to breathing problems, voice loss, and sleep disorders. Many artists, musicians, dancers, singers, and actors use AT to help enhance their performance. The purpose of AT, ultimately, is to enable individuals to methodically unlearn maladaptive (negative) habits — which can show up in the way we stand, sit, eat, walk, or talk — and instead learn how to return the body to a relaxed, balanced state of alignment and poise.

Is AT for you?

But you don’t have to be a musician or dancer to benefit from AT. Here’s just one example: You, like most of us living in today’s world, spend much of your time on a computer or checking your smartphone for emails and texts. This means you spend much of your time looking down, rather than straight ahead, the way your vertebrae were designed to support your head. Keeping your head bent down for long periods puts continual strain on the large neck muscles, which are meant to normally be lax. In contrast, the small neck muscles (which are meant to hold up your neck vertebrae) are not being used and are therefore lax. The result is that your vertebrae lose their support, so that you end up not only with neck stiffness or pain, but possibly some degeneration in your cervical spine, too.

AT can address this habitual contraction of the neck and teach you how hold your phone, how to position your head, and ultimately, how to re-establish better posture and ease in your body.

Is there science to support AT?

recent randomized controlled study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that Alexander Technique lessons led to significant reductions in neck pain over 12 months, compared with usual care. (Interestingly, the study also found that acupuncture reduced pain as well, compared with usual care.)

Another interesting study published in the medical journal BMJ in 2008 tested a variety of treatments for back pain. A total of 579 patients with chronic or recurrent low back pain were randomly divided into four groups. The first group were given “normal care” (that is, they were the control group). The second group received massages. The third took six Alexander Technique lessons. The fourth group took 24 Alexander Technique lessons. Half of each group also received a prescription for exercise (primarily walking) from a doctor, plus behavioral counseling from a nurse. The results showed that the patients who had AT lessons along with an exercise plan improved the most. In addition, this combined intervention was also the most cost-effective (in particular, taking six lessons combined with an exercise plan).

What does this mean for you?

Proponents of the Alexander Technique would tell you to start paying attention. Pay attention to your posture — the way you walk, talk, sit, stand, or generally do anything, even lifting a forkful of food to your mouth. If you are like most people, your body is likely stuck in tense muscle patterns that may be causing you myriad problems, from back pain to headaches to possibly even anxiety. It may behoove you to unlearn these stuck patterns so you can move through your life with more ease — and much, much less pain.

If you’re interested in Alexander Technique lessons, the American Society for the Alexander Technique can help you find an instructor.



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Acupuncture And Posture Training Can Help Chronic Neck Pain

Neck pain can cause a lot of lost work and disability.
Sam Edwards/735/Ocean/Corbis

NPR – About one out of every six Americans has some form of neck pain, and chronic sufferers have few treatment options. But acupuncture or the Alexander technique, a system for adjusting posture, could provide some long-term relief for chronic neck pain.

Typical care for neck or back pain often involves some pain medication and visits to a physical therapist, orthopedic surgeon or chiropractor. For chronic pain, the kind that sticks around year after year, these mainstream treatment options can be a bit ineffective.

“The thing with chronic pain is you may actually not be able to reduce any pain,” says Dr. Andrea Furlan, a physician and acupuncturist at the University of Toronto and an editor for the Cochrane Back and Neck medical review who was not involved with the study.

But it looks like tacking on acupuncture treatment or Alexander technique lessons could reduce pain just a bit further than usual care. The researchers provided over 345 people with chronic neck pain with a few months of acupuncture or the Alexander technique and compared them to 170 people who just received usual care for a year. By three months, people receiving acupuncture or the Alexander technique had about 10 percent less pain than the people who hadn’t received the extra care, the researchers reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine on Monday.

The improvement persisted. “There was a statistically significant difference between these groups. And it was also there at six and 12 months. That’s the remarkable thing,” says lead author Hugh MacPherson, a senior research fellow at the University of York in the United Kingdom. “Most trials looking at neck pain show the benefits wear off after a time, but we were finding these sustaining benefits.”

That might be because treatments like the Alexander technique and acupuncture try to engage patients in their own recovery through lifestyle changes that typical care doesn’t, says MacPherson. “The patients that embedded the changes that they were asked to make by their acupuncturist did better.”

The Alexander technique tries to adjust posture and body movement to become more natural and efficient, which participants can practice for the rest of their lives. And acupuncture providers often offer diet and exercise advice along with needling. After six months, people receiving Alexander technique lessons or acupuncture had an over 30 percent reduction in pain on average compared with over 20 percent for those without the added care.

That extra drop of relief could help some people. “But it doesn’t seem like a lot,” Furlan cautions. “The problem I have with referring my patients to Alexander technique is that it’s expensive.” She adds: “Not all insurances will pay for that, and not all people can pay for it.”

Acupuncture sessions typically run around $100, about the same cost of several group classes of Alexander technique. A course of private sessions would cost $400 to $500.

What’s more, these studies are terribly vulnerable to biases from the patient and the caregiver. Some people who are receiving acupuncture or Alexander technique lessons may feel better simply because they’re receiving more attention. “You can’t blind people to these types of studies, so their outcomes may be affected by knowing they were in one group versus another,” writes Eric Hurwitz, an epidemiologist and chiropractor at the University of Hawaii who was not involved with the story, in an email.

But Hurwitz says he likes the study in spite of its flaws. “It was overall very well done,” he writes. “Neck and back pain have among the highest disease burdens, e.g. disability, lost work days.” If those people can find even a marginal amount of relief and gain back some of their life, then it could still be worthwhile.



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Can You Really Roll Those Aches And Knots Away?


You don’t have to get this fancy with a foam roller to gain benefits, researchers say. iStockphoto


When my husband has a particularly tough workout (or workday), he comes home and says, “I have to roll.”

He’s talking about using a foam roller on body parts including the hips, quads and calves, using his own body weight to supply the force. You’ve probably seen people rolling in your gym; some facilities even offer classes. The rollers are available in various sizes and can cost as little as $10 — more for fancier ones with grooves intended for more targeted pressure.

But do rollers actually work?

According to a review of research published in the spring, yes — but there are still plenty of questions about exactly what they can do and how to best use them.

The rollers — and related tools like plastic handheld roller massagers — are meant to mimic some of the effects of massage therapy by targeting tight, stiff muscles, says Thomas Best, a sports medicine physician and professor at Ohio State University and author of the review. He and his coauthor identified nine randomized controlled studies that used foam or handheld rollers for self-massage.

Their review of those studies found that using the devices can help increase range of motion and promote quicker recovery after a bout of exercise. What is less certain is whether they can also improve direct measures of performance such as power and speed, says Best.

Another big question, he says: “What’s the optimal use of this?” In other words, when should you roll, for how long, and with how much force, to get the best results? It’s hard to glean answers from the published studies, which use different methods, target different muscles and measure different things.

For example, one recent study not included in the review looked at the effects of using a special deep tissue roller on NCAA Division I linebackers; it’s not clear whether weekend warriors could gain the same hip flexibility as the elites did.

While the rollers can never replace a skilled massage therapist, they can maintain the benefits of massage and provide some interim relief to exercisers, according to Kyle Stull, a master instructor with the National Academy of Sports Medicine and also a senior master trainer and education manager with TriggerPoint Performance of Durham, N.C., one manufacturer of foam rollers and other therapeutic products.

To best mimic a massage, Stull suggests doing a slow roll across a muscle — about an inch per second — until you find a tender spot. Hold it for 20 to 30 seconds until some of the tension abates. And then he suggests doing some movement to activate the area you just worked on, like knee bends after rolling a quad muscle or ankle rolls after working on a calf muscle. In his experience, rolling daily — once before a workout and then again afterward — is best.

But Stull has a few caveats. Runners and cyclists sometimes get pain in their knee due to a tight iliotibial band, the band of tissue that runs along the outside of the thigh between the pelvis and the tibia. “If you have to roll your IT band before and after every run, you’re using it as a Band-Aid,” says Stull. With that sort of chronic pain or irritation, it’s important to investigate the root causes with a physical therapist or other exercise pro.

He also says certain areas are best left unrolled. Pain in the lower back is likely to be caused by tight muscles elsewhere, so rolling the back directly isn’t going to do much to address the problem, he says. (He also worries about hurting a kidney or liver if you roll too aggressively.) Tight hamstrings are likely better treated by rolling the quads, he says. And neck pain may be more effectively treated by rolling muscles in the chest, upper back and lats, he says. People with osteoporosis or arthritis should also consult a physician before starting a foam rolling program to find out if there are any areas to avoid.

And how much is this supposed to hurt? “A little bit of discomfort is good,” he says. “Excruciating pain, not so good.”

Katherine Hobson is a freelance health and science writer based in Brooklyn, N.Y. She’s on Twitter: @katherinehobson

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Pope Francis Lays Hands On Ailing U.S. Infrastructure


NEW YORK—Treating the frail, long-overlooked structures with an unparalleled display of compassion, Pope Francis reportedly inspired a crowd of onlookers Friday by laying his hands upon the ailing United States infrastructure. “My heart just melted when I watched the pope interrupt his address to walk over and gently embrace this disfigured bridge cross-girder that was covered in unsightly rust,” said New York City resident John Reedy, one of thousands of observers reportedly moved to tears as the pontiff reached out to the weak and crippled metal framework, gingerly kissed the decayed surface, and then closed his eyes while blessing the neglected overpass. “Most people turn the other way when they see such mangled, hopeless infrastructure, but he showed it such tenderness and attention, like he was really willing it to heal. Who knows—maybe God will intervene and save these decrepit structures.” At press time, the Vicar of Christ reportedly called upon the crowd to pray for the swift and painless passing of the terminally ill education system he had recently encountered.



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Back Pain Still Remains a Puzzle for Orthopedic Doctors – Expert


I’m stupefied. Is the global medical community that blind to how the ‘misuse’ of ourselves is clearly causing back pain? 



None of us orthopedic surgeons can answer this very important question in spite of our numerous years of practice.

An Orthopedic Consultant, Prof. Olayiwola Giwa, on Wednesday said the problem of back pain ailment still remained a puzzle for orthopedic surgeons. Giwa, who works with the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Ikeja, Lagos, said that they were still facing the challenge of how to cure it.He spoke at the 2015 Annual Scientific Conference and Workshop organised by the National Orthopedic Hospital, Igbobi, Lagos. The theme of the conference is: “Back Pain”.

“None of us orthopedic surgeons can answer this very important question in spite of our numerous years of practice.

“We can offer medication, we can offer surgery, but we must be cautious with our surgical approach to managing back pain.”

Giwa said that people should accept the fact that “Back pain is youth leaving the body” which he said requires orthopedic surgeons to only manage it. He said, “Because of our current limited knowledge of the pathophysiology of back pain, we would continue to offer the best we think we can.

“Back pain remains one of the commonest conditions orthopedic surgeons get to treat during the course of their practice as all bipedal suffers from back pain at one time or the other in lifetime.

“It could present as acute low back pain (less than six weeks’ duration), sub-acute (6-12 weeks) or chronic (more than 12 weeks low back pain.”

He listed some of the causes of back pain to include infections, trauma, aging, smoking, and sedentary lifestyle.
On the management of low back pain, Giwa said bed rest was not a solution, adding that anti-inflammatory medications and exercise remain the mainstay of treatment.

He said that though NIPSS was grappling with the problem of IPPIS, funding was the major challenge facing the institute. (NAN)



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Use Your Head! How to Reduce Your Back Pain at Work

Image used with permission from Victoria Stanham.
 Huffington Post Alexander Technique


Alexander Technique Teacher with a corporate background


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If you read my previous post you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Alexander Technique is all about body mechanics. The way you use yourself certainly includes body mechanics, but you are much more than just your body, there’s a whole mental/emotional component that makes up who you are and how you use yourself. It is common these days to talk of the mind-body connection, but the Alexander Technique likes to take this a step further and even consider that there is no connection, as that would imply a separation of the two requiring a bridge between them. A more holistic view is that the mind and body are one and the same, acting as a functional whole, that you are totally indivisible as a person, what Alexander liked to call psychophysical unity.

So, despite popular conceptions of the Alexander Technique, we teachers really aren’t the posture police, as what goes on in the mind is equally important, and posture really could be said to be a reflection of the mind. Mindfulness is all the rage these days and it wouldn’t be a stretch to think of this work as being embodied mindfulness.

Good posture isn’t something you do, it’s the by-product of not pulling yourself out of natural balance/alignment. It is bad posture that is caused by doing. Evolution has left us with postural reflexes that work just fine if we don’t interfere with them. But why do you pull ourselves away from poise and ease?

I like to work from a stimulus and response model, where a stimulus can come from within (ideas, beliefs, emotions) or externally. You can often tell someone’s mood by their body language, but for now I want to draw attention to the way we deal with external stimuli.
Image used with permission from Victoria Stanham.

The simple fact is, you physically follow your attention. Where is your attention right now? As you are reading this it is no doubt going into your computer screen, tablet or smart phone, and low and behold, you’ve poked your head forward. The situation gets worse once you start to type as your attention also goes to the keyboard, you slump towards it and pull the shoulders forward, rounding the upper back.

This situation is compounded by the way we react to stress. You’ve probably heard of the startle response, when you freeze at the sound of a loud noise for example. But you don’t just freeze, just before you do you will have also pulled your shoulders up and your head back and down. When we are stressed we have a tendency to do the same, add that to craning your head forward, following your line of attention and you have a double whammy. Either one on it’s own causes what we in the Alexander world would call a position of mechanical disadvantage. Remember, your head weighs as much as a bowling ball, and if it’s not nicely balanced on top of your spine that is a lot of weight for your neck, shoulder and back muscles to have to support. Is it any wonder that they start to ache! And our reaction to stress is a mental game, you can see why I like the idea of embodied mindfulness now.

The solution then, when sat at your computer, or using your smart phone, is to widen your awareness so that you become more aware of the space around you. It is useful to become aware of the space above you so that you naturally want to release/lengthen your spine in this direction. And to negate the draw of the computer screen and keyboard it is specifically useful to be aware of the space behind you, centre yourself between the space behind you and your computer (or phone etc). It is also beneficial to become more aware of your peripheral vision. The more you do it, the easier it becomes until it becomes a new habit. One thing you don’t want to do is to tuck your chin under, despite this often being suggested. The solution to a problem is not to do the opposite, a common but unhelpful response, but to prevent the thing that’s causing the problem, otherwise you are replacing one bad habit with another. Tucking your chin in takes muscular effort, rest assured this will lead to tension.

So, to recap, poor posture when sat at your computer (or using your smart phone) isn’t down to gravity, poor ergonomics or a by product of ageing, it is due to a narrowing of your attention so that you lose awareness of yourself. Our entire cultural education system encourages, glorifies even, concentration, but that’s throwing the baby out with the bath water. So it’s ironic that the only thing that’s actually doing anything is the only thing you may not be paying any attention to!

In addition, you may also bring a host of other habitual tension patterns that you will engage regardless of the activity you are performing. Either way, an Alexander teacher can help you become aware and let go of all the things that are holding back your performance. Yes, it’s not only actors and musicians who perform, we all perform our daily tasks, don’t let them be a chore, bring some life and quality to them. Some bloke called Will once said “all the world’s a stage”. And the great Carlos Santana (guitarist) said “God made the world round so we can all have centre stage”, what a wonderful sentiment. Find your centre and don’t let the stimulus of modern gizmos pull you out of it.

I want to leave you with a quote from the wonderful Alexander teacher Bruce Fertman:

“The Alexander Technique is not about how we do what we do. It’s about how we are being when we do what we do.”

This blog was originally posted here.

The Alexander Technique has been clinically proven for back pain via an NHS funded, gold standard randomised trial. It was performed by Southampton University and their results were published in the British Medical Journal.

It is also endorsed by, a lottery funded organisation.

World wide resource for the Society of Teachers of The Alexander Technique:



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Child Who Just Lost Balloon Begins Lifelong Battle With Depression

Tremont, at the exact moment when he became a depressed human being.


SAN DIEGO—Shortly after losing grip of a helium-filled balloon and watching it float into the air above the San Diego Zoo Tuesday, local child Caleb Tremont, 3, reportedly began a battle with chronic depression that will last for the rest of his life.

Before Tremont even realized what was happening, sources confirmed the balloon’s ribbon slipped from his hand, drifting up and out of reach and etching into his memory an image that years later will come to represent the overwhelming despair at the core of his life-defining mental illness.

“No, the balloon,” said Tremont, who as an adult will work with his physician and several psychiatrists to find a suitable combination of anxiolytic and psychotropic medicines to quell the disease’s debilitating symptoms, ultimately turning into an over-medicated and unresponsive husk. “It’s flying away.”

“Come back,” added the toddler who will never feel entirely happy or normal again.

The symbol of melancholy and loss that will haunt Tremont for his entire adult life.

Sources indicated that upon seeing the balloon disappear behind a line of trees, Tremont began to grapple for the first time with the same feelings of irreversible loss and guilt that will eventually prevent him from enjoying activities he once loved and cause him to become utterly despondent in the face of a seemingly hostile world.

“I told you to hang on to it, buddy!” said Tremont’s father, inadvertently encouraging his son to blame himself for losing the balloon, sowing the seeds for neuroses that will render the 3-year-old unable to connect emotionally with other people, ruining many of his relationships and eventually causing him to be overly harsh on his own children for their mistakes. “Don’t cry, it’ll be fine.”

The increasingly distraught 3-year-old, who will gradually come to believe that he is a complete failure and a burden to everyone he knows, then reportedly burst into tears in what was only the very start of an inexorable, decades-long descent into severe clinical depression.

“It’s only a balloon, honey,” said Tremont’s mother, unaware that the dismissive response only served to compound the anxieties forming in her young son’s mind. “Come on, let’s go and see the animals.”

Tremont, whose sadness will swell over the course of years into what seems like an infinite, gaping dark void that neither monoamine oxidase inhibitors and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors nor dietary changes will be able to close completely, was reportedly uninterested in seeing the animals.

“I didn’t mean to let the balloon fly away,” said the person who, while undergoing extensive psychotherapy in his mid-30s, will sometimes recall his childhood and try in vain to pinpoint some particular event that may have triggered the depression. “I didn’t mean to. I want the balloon back.”

At press time, Tremont’s parents had reportedly bought him a replacement balloon that was the wrong color.

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Alexander Technique for Scoliosis

Hope for sufferers, especially for parents of children with the condition

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byGo to the profile of clothildeclothilde 

Scoliosis is a lateral curvature of the spine. Mine is “adolescent idiopathic scoliosis,” which means “onset during puberty, cause unknown.”

There is a cruelty, a double-whammy in this condition: that just as one is becoming conscious, self-conscious, of the body and its changes, the scary, alien nature of adolescence is given a literal twist; scoliosis-havers confront potential deformity and lifelong pain and health issues.

I never felt seen, or heard. The only cultural artifact that resonated was Judy Blume’s novel Deenie, which may still be the only true-as-a-bell account of what it feels like to be blindsided by the diagnosis.

In fact, when I was diagnosed, I was having my annual check-up with the family doctor. Excited about having “caught me early,” the doctor showed me plates in a medical tome, images of severely deformed people, saying “this is what you have.” I was 12; it was horrifying.

Scoliosis is not just a cosmetic issue, although it is painful when clothes hang wrong, skirt hems are never level, when catching sight of yourself in a mirror can feel assaultive.

To compensate for the spinal asymmetry, some muscles and ligaments overwork, others atrophy. Organs are squashed or displaced. One leg does more work, one shoulder tightens. In a negative-feedback mechanism, the compensations become codified, and worsen the situation. It all feels, however, normal. The body is coiled like a spring; bilateral equipoise is lost to sense-memory. People with scoliosis are working very hard, even when at rest, to literally and figuratively, hold it all together. This actually affects neural pathways, the brain, and thus mood and psychology.

I have, as my Alexander teacher told me yesterday, “debauched proprioception.” That means that I have an innaccurate map of my own body, a skewed sense of the vertical, of where center is, of what relaxed is, of where I am in space.

Alexander Technique is a bodywork modality. For me, it has been the most helpful, the most crucial thing I have done for my scoliosis, and for my psyche. I recommend it unreservedly for adults or adolesents with scoliosis. I also recommend it with parents in mind, the parents who’ve schlepped their kid to orthopedist and brace-maker and radiologist, who’ve watched their child have to pathologize and quantify their own body, who feel helpless and saddened by the seeming inexorable and fated progression of the disease.

Alexander is the antidote to a mechanistic, objectifying, and alienating diagnosis-treatment process. I’m not advocating abandoning mainstream medicine. I do, however, believe that Alexander is both the perfect complementary treatment, and also life-saving for adults for whom there is no more treatment except wait-and-see.

An Alexander session is called a “lesson.” There’s something telling and crucial in that. You’re not a patient, you’re not a client, you are a student. You are in a process of learning to connect with your body in a deep. experiential way. The teaching is mainly through touch, which bypasses both linguistic, conceptual thought and habitual body patterns and defenses. There is always more to learn, deeper to go. And it feels really, really, really good, as if you are being returned to yourself, when you didn’t even know you’d been gone.

When I leave my lesson, I am more grounded to the earth, and also literally taller. There is more spece between formerly compressed vertabrae. My breathing is deeper, my voice comes from a deeper place, less wispy. Tension I didn’t know I was carrying is dissipated. I see more clearly, and see others less judgmentally. My movement is efficient and integrated. My joints are more articulate and freer, and at the same time more connected to my core. Most of all, I remember who I am. I don’t mean in some epiphany way to do with thoughts or words or insights; it has to do with re-inhabiting myself, as myself.

At least as my teacher practices it, my hour session has two components. Sitting, and lying down. After each, I also walk, to incorporate what has just been learned.

At the core of Alexander is the simple principle of body alignment, that the feet connect and ground into the earth, the head rises into the sky on a plumb line, that the limbs move freely in the sockets, that there is no extra effort or distortion of natural body mechanics.

More easily said than done, as anyone who lives now on earth knows.

In order to facilitate alignment, Alexander teachers guide the student with touch, sort of suggestions that can be whisper-light, or sustained and firm. It is a different touch than a massage, and although it is about, really, untangling energetic pathways and unwinding long-standing habits, it employs no reiki, meditation, mantras, or spiritual-symbolic systems.

Alexander Technique teachers learn and teach (the certification is extremely rigorous, and involves anatomy, developmental physiology, neural and brain patterning) that the headbone is connected to the neck bone, the hip bone’s connected to the thigh bone. The body is one system, and everything is connected and affects everything else.

Since scoliosis produces and reinforces patterns of imbalance and distortion that become habitual and codified, the entire body-mind system is out of whack. But, rather than focusing on the spine itself, or on areas of pain, Alexander creates space and freedom by working equally at the extremities.

It is eye-opening to begin to understand the body’s maps through a lesson. I have worked with my teacher for many years, so she is highly attuned to my body states. Each lesson is different. Yesterday she gripped right above my elbow, very firmly, a place I believed to be in a neutral state. After a moment of resisting, some deep ligaments released, and my shoulder released, and my spine uncoiled, in a smooth unspiraling. I have had the same holistic experiences whne she presses my outer calf muscle, or pulls firmly on my second toes as I lie on the table. Sometimes she will press on either side of the hinges of my jaw, and my whole head gets hot and I feel like I can finally rest inside my head.

Now, the Alexander Technique speaks to me in my own language, partially because I was/am a dancer, and have both a matter-of-fact mechanic’s relationship to my body as well as an attunement to energetic trajectories. For me, the body has been the most direct way for me to both think and feel. I can’t get to the same place, for example, through talk-therapy, because I am articulate and analytical and words become a gorgeous prison. I can’t get there via mantras and incense because iconographies are seductive and loaded.

People are different, and different things work.

But the reason I highly recommend giving Alexander a try, and a good 5 or more lessons of a try, at that, is because, for those with scoliosis, our bodies have been pathologized and problematized in a terrible cycle of self-alienation. The body is a site of censure, and self-abnegation or repulsion.

Alexander allows a direct experience of a pleasurable, integrated, fluid, malleable body. While the orthopedist pronounces a seemingly immutable number of degrees of curvature, and by doing so fixes an immutable distortion that the sufferer identifies with, despairs of, Alexander allows for a forgiving, mutable, resonant and alive bodymap.

And, while it feels wonderful, it’s not simply a relaxing indulgence; it is actually a rigorous lesson of deep repatterning, but requires no theory or self-judgment or act of willpower to change things. In fact, used to being proactive, I have had to untrain myself from doing too much, from patterns I had thought helpful. It is such a relief to understand I can do less.

My sense is that the Alexander Technique will really resonate with teens who are coming to terms with scary body changes. Like all one-on-one therapeutic modalities, a lesson is a conversation, and you’ve got to find a teacher you trust and like for it to really work.

I am not sure that adolescent-onset scoliosis is entirely dissimilar from bulimia, anorexia, or self-cutting.

I’m also going to go out on a limb here — and this is intuition, not data, not science.

Although adolescent-onset scoliosis is mostly “idiopathic,” as in unknown cause, I have a strong intuition that it correlates to trapped energy seeking an outlet; the energy could be stress, anger, unconscious sexuality. I have an intuition it has an element of repression or control, and believe there is anecdotal and statistical correlation to a certain kind of girl (most sufferers are girls), with characteristics of perfectionism and a tendency to worry or anxiety.

I am not sure that adolescent-onset scoliosis is entirely dissimilar from bulimia, anorexia, or self-cutting. All occur primarily in adolescent girls, have a distorting, punitive aspect, and have elements of control and repression at core— almost like a compulsive self-BDSM.

I would be very curious whether the Alexander technique might not be as effective as talk-therapy for some of these disorders, or at least a valuable complement. For girls who have pathologized, disowned, rejected their bodies, a practice involving re-integration and which allows for a different experience of inhabiting the body may just help distance and dissipate the fierce identification with dysmorphias.

Yoga. I practice Iyengar yoga, for much the same reasons I take Alexander; it is a body-alignment-focused asana practice, encouraging body awareness and balance with liberal use of props and tractioning. (I take an advanced Iyengar class at a studio equipped with a rope wall, and spend much of the time hanging upside-down, stretching and tractioning. I modify most poses.) I could write an equally long piece about Iyengar yoga, but my one caveat is that it is possible, in a group class, or with an inexperienced teacher, to work the body unintelligently, or even further stress it. For that reason, new students should find a teacher who specifically offers classes for scoliosis, or who has trained with an Iyengar-for-scoliosis master teacher. Iyengar is the yoga tradition that has actually developed this sub-specialty.

Pilates is great for core strength, which is one of the first casualties of bracing. It also has traction, and tracking apparatuses. However, Pilates teachers tend to be from a fitness background (some are ex-dancers as well), and have not been trained to modify the exercises for spinal asymmetries. Especially for growing and malleable adolescent bodies, I would not recommend Pilates. I have had many classes and private sessions, and only ONE teacher grokked the situation and gave me some modified insruction that lengthened and balanced my spine.

Body-mind-centering and Feldenkreis are two other bodywork modalities that focus on movement repatterning, body integration, and simple movement in space.

Specific recommendations:

Google these: (will not link as I do not want this general article to be conflated with any sort of marketing or endorsements.) Any of the below resources can help you find a trained practiononer in your area.

Balance Arts Center (Alexander technique lessons, also wonderful floor classes that combine yoga and Alexander.)

Yoga Union Center for Back Care and Scoliosis (Iyengar yoga)

Genny Kapuler (Iyengar)

Elise Browning Miller (Palo Alto, yoga for scoliosis pioneer.)

And best of luck. I am not someone who can fully embrace the “scoliosis is the best thing that ever happened to me” narrative, but I can say that the paths I have taken to ameliorate it have led me toward self-acceptance and moments of wisdom. And, on the money front, when I had a corporate job, I was able to use my supplemental health flex-pay benefit to pay for Alexander lessons. (You pay with before-tax income.) You need a doctor to prescribe Alexander to do this.

46 Relax! You Don’t Do It!

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Original Post:

When I was younger I was frequently told by a variety of well-meaning folks to relax your shoulders. But I could never seem to do it. The more I tried to relax my shoulders, the tenser they seemed to get – and the more frustrated I got.

Excessive muscular tension is a contributing factor to poor posture and musculoskeletal pain. So learning how to relax overly tense muscles is fundamental in improving posture.

But here’s the problem. Muscles don’t relax.


Muscles don’t relax.

Muscles contract or they don’t contract. Muscles don’t relax.

Try this experiment: Curl your hand up into a loose fist. Now squeeze your fist tight. As tight as you can. Now, just stop squeezing your fist. Don’t open up your hand, just stop squeezing your fist. Do it a couple of times.

First you did something—you squeezed your fist tight.

Then you stopped doing what you were doing—you stopped squeezing your fist.

You did not do something new. You simply stopped doing what you were doing.

Try this second experiment: Place your hand palm down on the table. Spread your hand to make it as big as possible (like you might do if you were trying to palm a basketball). Now stop spreading your hand. Don’t curl your hand up. Just stop spreading it. Do it a couple of times.

First you did something—you spread your hand.

Then you stopped doing what you were doing—you stopped spreading your hand.

You did not do something new. You simply stopped doing what you were doing.

In both of these experiments my guess is that you did not have to think through how to stop doing what you were doing. You just requested it and it happened. Both of these experiments are gross examples. You can really feel the change when you stop doing what you are doing. What is important to realize is that you have the skill to request yourself to stop doing something you don’t wish to be doing. You don’t have to figure out how to carry the request out. You have to simply give the request—to not do.

The problem a lot of us face when we try to relax is that we try to figure out how to do relax—when in fact muscles don’t relax. And in trying to figure out how to do relax we end up contracting our muscles even more—because muscles only do one thing—contract.

In the two experiments above you first contracted muscles to do what was requested (to squeeze your fist or to spread your hand). You then stopped contracting muscles. You did not relax your muscles.

When I started to study the Alexander Technique I explored changing my approach to my shoulder tension (and ultimately a lot more). What did I have to lose? My old approach of trying hard to relax my shoulders wasn’t working. And what’s that famous quote attributed to Albert Einstein? Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

Now when I notice my shoulders are overly tense, instead of trying hard to relax my shoulders, I first acknowledge that it is me that is overly tensing my shoulders, which is not helpful. Then I give myself a gentle request to do less of the tensing. This is a skill that I have been practicing and continue to get better at.

You may think this is just semantics, but I have found, and a lot of my students have found, that this small bit of knowledge about how muscles actually work and changing their approach to be extremely useful over time if practiced.

So, if your current approach of trying to relax overly tense muscles isn’t working for you what do you have to lose? Instead of continuing to try harder in the same way, why not try a different approach?

Image courtesy of sixninepixels at

Do You Need To Stretch Before And After Exercise?

Here’s a more in-depth article on the pros and cons of stretching after my post on foam rolling yesterday:

Health and Medicine

August 31, 2015 | by Rob Herbert


Original Post:


Many people stretch when they exercise or play sport. Others don’t stretch but feel they should. And some people don’t see any reason to stretch at all.

The reasons for stretching are diverse. Most people think stretching makes them more flexible. Some believe stretching reduces the risk of injury, reduces soreness experienced after exercise, or enhances sporting performance. Optimists think stretching does all these things.

But do we really need to stretch when we exercise? And does stretching increase flexibility, reduce the risk of injury, reduce soreness and enhance sporting performance? The answer is neither yes nor no.

Randomised Trials

The only way researchers can get a really clear idea of the effects of stretching is to conduct randomised trials. (Here’s a clear explanation of why randomised trials are special that you can read later.)

In randomised trials, a lottery is used to allocate each participant to either receive the treatment (in this case, stretching) or not. Then the outcomes (injury, muscle soreness or sporting performance) of the trial participants who stretched are compared with the outcomes of those who didn’t. The difference in the outcomes of the two groups tells us about the effects of stretching.

The first two trials of the effects of stretching on risk of injury, conducted on 2,631 army recruits, showed three months of routine stretching before exercise didn’t appreciably reduce injury risk. A more recent trial on 2,377 recreationally active people had very similar findings: three months of regular stretching had little or no effect on risk.

Together, these trials strongly suggest stretching doesn’t appreciably reduce injury risk.

A number of other randomised trials have investigated the effects of stretching before and after physical activity on the soreness experienced after exercise. They suggest stretching does reduce soreness, but the effect is very small.

A review of such trials concluded that:

muscle stretching, whether conducted before, after, or before and after exercise, does not produce clinically important reductions in delayed-onset muscle soreness in healthy adults.

Flexibility And Strength

The effect of stretching on sporting performance is less clear, or at least more complex.

Few randomised trials have measured sporting performance as an outcome. Instead, most have studied the effect of stretching on two intermediaries that are likely to affect sporting performance: flexibility and the ability of muscles to generate force.

Ballet dancers and yoga teachers, who stretch a lot, tend to be more flexible than the rest of us. Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Ballet dancers and yoga teachers, who stretch a lot, tend to be more flexible than the rest of us. Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr, CC BY-SA

To understand the effects of stretching on flexibility and muscle force generation, it’s necessary to distinguish its acute and chronic effects. Acute effects manifest immediately after a stretch whereas chronic effects manifest only after repeated bouts of stretching, perhaps over months or years.

Stretching acutely increases flexibility: after just a few seconds or a few minutes of stretching, joints move further and resist movement less. But this effect is transient. Once the stretching stops, flexibility returns to pre-stretch levels. And recovery is largely complete within a few minutes of finishing the stretch.

It’s possible, but less certain, that stretching also has chronic effects on flexibility. Regular stretching could stimulate adaptations of muscles and other tissues that bring about lasting increases in flexibility.

Everyday observations suggest that’s true, because ballet dancers and yoga teachers, who stretch a lot, tend to be more flexible than the rest of us. But, while it seems obvious that regular stretching makes people more flexible, it has proved remarkably difficult to demonstrate that in controlled experiments.

Stretching does make people tolerate stretch more. That is, it makes people feel able to get into more stretched positions. And this increase in stretch tolerance may make people feel more flexible even when they’re not.

Either way, the effects of stretching on flexibility – acute or chronic – could be exploited to enhance performance of some sports. It seems likely that hurdlers or gymnasts, for instance, could perform better if they were more flexible. More generally, it appears likely that stretching could increase performance in sports that require flexibility.


It seems likely that hurdlers could perform better if they were more flexible. Melinda Huntley/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

The other way stretching could affect performance is through its effects on the ability of muscles to produce force. The clearest conclusion that arises from studies on humans is that stretching typically produces a small, temporary reduction in the strength of stretched muscles.

This suggests it may be unwise to stretch muscles immediately prior to sport if it requires generation of large muscle forces.

To Stretch Or Not To Stretch?

For recreationally active people, these research findings suggest stretching might have a very small benefit and probably won’t do any harm. If you like stretching, stretch. If you don’t like stretching, don’t do it and don’t feel guilty about not doing it.

For high-level athletes, there’s more at stake and the decision is harder. Stretching might increase performance in sports that require lots of flexibility but could temporarily decrease muscle strength; it makes more sense to stretch if you’re a hurdler than if you’re a weightlifter.

These conclusions come with some caveats. First, most of the research into the effects of stretching has investigated the effects of “static” stretching – stretches that are applied and sustained for a short while. There are many other ways of stretching, but most have been the subject of relatively little research, or only poor-quality research.

Another caveat is that, while quite a lot is known about the acute effects of stretching, much less is known about its chronic effects. No one has attempted to conduct a randomised trial of the effects of regular stretching over periods of years.

It may be that, in the long term, regular stretching has important effects. Then again, it may be that the long-term effects of stretching are harmful, or that there’s no long-term effect at all: we just don’t know.

Similarly, good evidence of the superiority of one method of stretching over another, or of the long-term effects of particular kinds of stretching, doesn’t exist.

To finish on a more positive note: while it appears that stretching doesn’t appreciably reduce risk of injury, there’s good evidence that warming up does. An intensive, well-structured, active warm-up can substantially reduce risk of injury, so try doing that the next time you exercise.

The Conversation

Rob Herbert is Senior Principal Research Fellow at Neuroscience Research Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.





Alexander Technique Classes, Lessons, Workshops by Brett Hershey in Los Angeles Burbank at


7 Reasons Why Foam Rolling is Better Than Stretching


 by Brett Hershey

I’m not saying stretching isn’t useful. I enjoy some stretching and find it beneficial. In fact, stretching and foam rolling can be excellent complementary exercises.

And what’s more important than either stretching or foam rolling is how you use yourself (and any particular muscles) the other 23 hours 50-odd minutes of the day. That’s what the Alexander Technique is all about! To find out more about the Alexander Technique here or to find a teacher in your area, click here.

However, I have found personally as well as vicariously through my students that foam rolling is generally superior to stretching and here’s why.

Foam Rolling:


 #1 Does the Same Thing as Stretching

Alexander Technique Foam Rolling4

The point of stretching is to lengthen the muscle fibers. By rolling back and forth over the muscles (exactly like massage), the muscle fibers release and elongate, as they do when stretched (correctly!).


 #2 Is Safer

Alexander Technique Foam Rolling 4

Most of us pull too hard when we stretch. We’re either tearing the muscle fibers or the excess force triggers the STRESS REFLEX, in which the muscle contracts to protect itself. When we do this, we are actually shortening our muscles (the opposite of what we want) and can stress, even damage, the ligaments and tendons.

Furthermore, we often we often constrict and/or collapse other parts of the body in an attempt to stretch a particular muscle:

Bad Stretching


#3 Alleviates Soreness & Releases Trigger Points

Trigger Points

Contrary to popular opinion, stretching doesn’t cure muscle soreness or release trigger points (tiny knots that can develop in muscles when they are injured or overworked. They may cause local pain, headaches, neck and jaw pain, etc.). In fact, aggressive stretching can cause muscle soreness.  Imagine a bungee cord with a knot tied into it (trigger point) and then envision stretching the cord. This just stretches the unknotted portion of the muscle and the attachment points. The knot, however, has remained unaltered. Foam rolling breaks up the knots (think tenderizing meat), relieving myofascial pain, resuming normal blood flow as well as function.



#4 Breaks Up Connective Tissue like Fascia, Adhesions & Scar Tissue


Your body will build up fascia where there’s injury or over-use to provide support. This often occurs when there is misuse, and we are asking a part of our bodies to function beyond its design. The body’s solution often becomes the problem, since this build up of tissue can shorten as well as weaken muscles, restricts movement and can cause pain. Stretching does very little if anything to break up and dissolve these adhesions. Foam rolling



#5 Maps Out Our Bodies


For many of us, the body is a nebulous instrument we use but from which we often feel disconnected. Foam rolling is an excellent tool for getting to know ourselves – where the muscles and joints are (and are not!), where we hold tension, where we don’t, etc. Often we’re not even aware of all the tension  we are holding. By applying direct pressure, foam rolling brings this subconscious tension to our attention so we can address it. From the Alexander Technique perspective, it’s a sign we’re over-working that particular area and we can examine and change movement habits that may be responsible.



#6 Is a Better De-Stresser

Foam Rolling Alexander Technique

Would you feel better after a 20-minute massage or 20-minute stretch? Fortunately, foam rolling accomplishes BOTH. You can’t help but feel better when you release unnecessary tension in your muscles as well as break-up restrictive connective tissue. I’ve only felt better after foam rolling, whether it’s 5-minutes or 5o-minutes.



#7 Expedites the Alexander Technique

Alexander Technique Los Angeles Burbank Actor Before After

One definition of Alexander Technique is a mental toolbox of instructions/directions one can give themselves at any time during any activity to improve their use. While foam rolling is technically ‘physical therapy,’ it softens the muscles and fascia so it’s more receptive to the AT instructions  we give ourselves. It also shows us where we are holding excess tension and can wake-up areas of collapse or atrophy. We of course need to pay attention to how we are (using ourselves as we are) foam rolling, but I find it to be an highly-effective tool when learning the Alexander Technique.



Buying a Foam Roller

Foam Roller

Might be the best investment you’ll ever make. Recommendation: Buy styrofoam vs. foam rollers. Foam rollers degrade over time while Styrofoam rollers maintain their shape and integrity forever!

Here’s a link:

I recommend the 18” x 6” for easy storage and transport. $13.40 plus shipping.



Want to Learn How to Foam Roll?

Check out my How 2 Foam Roll video:

Alexander Technique Los Angeles Burbank How 2 Foam Roll


Alexander Technique Classes, Lessons, Workshops by Brett Hershey in the Los Angeles / Burbank area at 310-346-7198

Five Ways to Build Natural Breaks Into Your Working Day

headshotAdrian Farrell

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Alexander Technique Teacher with a corporate background


Original Post:

I like to view the Alexander Technique as exploring how we respond to stimuli and the quality we bring to our awareness in movement. And if the stimulus is too big for us, learning how to reduce it. That may be from finding a more mechanically advantageous way of performing a physical task to learning to mentally stop and and reassess how you are going to respond. A far cry from the Posture Police that I’m usually labelled with, not that your posture wont benefit from this way of thinking.

Now, that’s all well and good, but does that mean you should try and “Alexander” your way through every waking moment? Thankfully no, that would be unrealistic and frankly unappealing. Yes your awareness of yourself will improve with Alexander Technique lessons so that you naturally choose, and have the ability, to take better care of yourself, but there are also some common sense ways to reduce the challenges (stimuli) you face at work.

Thankfully you’re not literally chained to your desk.

The office environment presents all sorts of physical and mental challenges, the main one being having to sit at your computer all day with the associated problems that brings. Thankfully it is possible to reduce the amount of time you sit at your desk and keep you more mobile with a few changes to how you approach your working day, and in my previous career working in IT, this is what I did myself (except for the last point, or at least I’m not admitting to it):

  • Get a hands free set for your desk phone. Obviously this helps when you are talking on the phone and need to use your computer, but in addition, it’s great to stand up and pace whenever you talk on the phone. You’ll even find your conversations more engaging and that you communicate better.
  • Get the teas/coffees in for your team. Not only does this get you away from your desk, it’ll make you popular too.
  • Go for a smokeless cigarette break. Seriously. Smoking may be health scourge no.1, but at least smokers get a regular break. And for as long as cigarettes are legal I recommend that you join them, albeit upwind, and amaze yourself with the insider information that comes out in smoke breaks.
  • Get up and talk to a colleague in person instead of using instant messengering or email, especially if they are in another room or on another floor.
  • And finally, we have my friend Sarah Warman to thank for this, and I’m going to quote her exactly as she posted it on her Twitter feed: “If ur feeling achey sitting at a desk all day, take a break & GO DANCE IN THE LOO! Ur body will be so happy!! (As will u!) ‪#‎GODANCEINTHELOO‬” – and why not, if your colleagues are getting the teas and coffees in too you should get plenty of opportunities to dance!

Screen Shot 2015-08-31 at 3.56.34 PM
I gave a presentation of the Alexander Technique to a Human Resources manager from a major chain of hotels not long ago, and it was these simple ideas (minus Sarah’s wonderful contribution) that had him writing furiously in his notepad. What hadn’t escaped his notice was that they also helped to build better communication and relationships within and between departments. Bonus.

And for the times you can’t get away from your desk? Have a read through my previous blog on sitting well to help you make the most of the situation and I’ll continue to write some more tips for you in future blogs, so do check back in.

So hows about setting yourself a 5 day challenge to incorporate as many of the above points as possible and then report back here and tell me how it is all going?

Hopefully these ideas will help to bring some ease to your working day, but if it’s been “one of those” days, and we all have them, there’s a little Alexander Technique exercise you can do for yourself when you get home called constructive rest, and I’ll write more on that soon.

P.S. extra thought, take the stairs instead of the elevator! If you work in a very tall building at least take them when you are going down, it’s invariably quicker than waiting for the lift to turn up!

This blog was originally posted here.

The Alexander Technique has been clinically proven for back pain via an NHS funded, gold standard randomised trial. It was performed by Southampton University and their results were published in the British Medical Journal.

It is also endorsed by, a lottery funded organisation.

World wide resource for the Society of Teachers of The Alexander Technique:

There’s a single nerve that connects all of your vital organs — and it might just be the future of medicine

Post from:

by GAIA VINCE, MOSAICJun. 1, 2015, 6:20 PM

Lina Hayes/Flickr

When Maria Vrind, a former gymnast from Volendam in the Netherlands, found that the only way she could put her socks on in the morning was to lie on her back with her feet in the air, she had to accept that things had reached a crisis point.

“I had become so stiff I couldn’t stand up,” she says. “It was a great shock because I’m such an active person.”

It was 1993. Vrind was in her late 40s and working two jobs, athletics coach and a carer for disabled people, but her condition now began taking over her life. “I had to stop my jobs and look for another one as I became increasingly disabled myself.” By the time she was diagnosed, seven years later, she was in severe pain and couldn’t walk any more. Her knees, ankles, wrists, elbows and shoulder joints were hot and inflamed. It was rheumatoid arthritis, a common but incurable autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks its own cells, in this case the lining of the joints, producing chronic inflammation and bone deformity.

Waiting rooms outside rheumatoid arthritis clinics used to be full of people in wheelchairs. That doesn’t happen as much now because of a new wave of drugs called biopharmaceuticals – such as highly targeted, genetically engineered proteins – which can really help. Not everyone feels better, however: even in countries with the best healthcare, at least 50 per cent of patients continue to suffer symptoms.

Like many patients, Vrind was given several different medications, including painkillers, a cancer drug called methotrexate to dampen her entire immune system, and biopharmaceuticals to block the production of specific inflammatory proteins. The drugs did their job well enough – at least, they did until one day in 2011, when they stopped working.

“I was on holiday with my family and my arthritis suddenly became terrible and I couldn’t walk – my daughter-in-law had to wash me.” Vrind was rushed to hospital, where she was hooked up to an intravenous drip and given another cancer drug, one that targeted her white blood cells. “It helped,” she admits, but she was nervous about relying on such a drug long-term.

Luckily, she would not have to. As she was resigning herself to a life of disability and monthly chemotherapy, a new treatment was being developed that would profoundly challenge our understanding of how the brain and body interact to control the immune system. It would open up a whole new approach to treating rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases, using the nervous system to modify inflammation. It would even lead to research into how we might use our minds to stave off disease.

A new treatment was being developed that would lead to research into how we might use our minds to stave off disease.

And, like many good ideas, it came from an unexpected source.

The nerve hunter

Kevin Tracey, a neurosurgeon based in New York, is a man haunted by personal events – a man with a mission. “My mother died from a brain tumour when I was five years old. It was very sudden and unexpected,” he says. “And I learned from that experience that the brain – nerves – are responsible for health.”

This drove his decision to become a brain surgeon. Then, during his hospital training, he was looking after a patient with serious burns who suddenly suffered severe inflammation. “She was an 11-month-old baby girl called Janice who died in my arms.” 

These traumatic moments made him a neurosurgeon who thinks a lot about inflammation. He believes it was this perspective that enabled him to interpret the results of an accidental experiment in a new way.


Allen Institute for Brain Science

After months puzzling over this, he finally hit upon the idea that the brain might be using the nervous system – specifically the vagus nerve – to tell the spleen to switch off inflammation everywhere.In the late 1990s, Tracey was experimenting with a rat’s brain. “We’d injected an anti-inflammatory drug into the brain because we were studying the beneficial effect of blocking inflammation during a stroke,” he recalls. “We were surprised to find that when the drug was present in the brain, it also blocked inflammation in the spleen and in other organs in the rest of the body. Yet the amount of drug we’d injected was far too small to have got into the bloodstream and travelled to the rest of the body.” 

It was an extraordinary idea – if Tracey was right, inflammation in body tissues was being directly regulated by the brain.

If Tracey was right, inflammation in body tissues was being directly regulated by the brain.

Communication between the immune system’s specialist cells in our organs and bloodstream and the electrical connections of the nervous system had been considered impossible. Now Tracey was apparently discovering that the two systems were intricately linked.

The first critical test of this exciting hypothesis was to cut the vagus nerve.

When Tracey and his team did, injecting the anti-inflammatory drug into the brain no longer had an effect on the rest of the body. The second test was to stimulate the nerve without any drug in the system.

“Because the vagus nerve, like all nerves, communicates information through electrical signals, it meant that we should be able to replicate the experiment by putting a nerve stimulator on the vagus nerve in the brainstem to block inflammation in the spleen,” he explains. “That’s what we did and that was the breakthrough experiment.”


Jeff Lichtman/Harvard University via WBUR

The vagus nerve starts in the brainstem, just behind the ears.The wandering nerveAn image of a human brain stem illuminated with fluorescent proteins.

It travels down each side of the neck, across the chest and down through the abdomen. ‘Vagus’ is Latin for ‘wandering’ and indeed this bundle of nerve fibres roves through the body, networking the brain with the stomach and digestive tract, the lungs, heart, spleen, intestines, liver and kidneys, not to mention a range of other nerves that are involved in speech, eye contact, facial expressions and even your ability to tune in to other people’s voices.

It is made of thousands and thousands of fibres and 80 per cent of them are sensory, meaning that the vagus nerve reports back to your brain what is going on in your organs.

Operating far below the level of our conscious minds, the vagus nerve is vital for keeping our bodies healthy. It is an essential part of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for calming organs after the stressed ‘fight-or-flight’ adrenaline response to danger. Not all vagus nerves are the same, however: some people have stronger vagus activity, which means their bodies can relax faster after a stress.

The strength of your vagus response is known as your vagal tone and it can be determined by using an electrocardiogram to measure heart rate. Every time you breathe in, your heart beats faster in order to speed the flow of oxygenated blood around your body. Breathe out and your heart rate slows. This variability is one of many things regulated by the vagus nerve, which is active when you breathe out but suppressed when you breathe in, so the bigger your difference in heart rate when breathing in and out, the higher your vagal tone.

Research shows that a high vagal tone makes your body better at regulating blood glucose levels, reducing the likelihood of diabetes, stroke and cardiovascular disease. Low vagal tone, however, has been associated with chronic inflammation.

As part of the immune system, inflammation has a useful role helping the body to heal after an injury, for example, but it can damage organs and blood vessels if it persists when it is not needed. One of the vagus nerve’s jobs is to reset the immune system and switch off production of proteins that fuel inflammation. Low vagal tone means this regulation is less effective and inflammation can become excessive, such as in Maria Vrind’s rheumatoid arthritis or in toxic shock syndrome, which Kevin Tracey believes killed little Janice.

Having found evidence of a role for the vagus in a range of chronic inflammatory diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, Tracey and his colleagues wanted to see if it could become a possible route for treatment. The vagus nerve works as a two-way messenger, passing electrochemical signals between the organs and the brain.

The vagus nerve works as a two-way messenger, passing electrochemical signals between the organs and the brain.

In chronic inflammatory disease, Tracey figured, messages from the brain telling the spleen to switch off production of a particular inflammatory protein, tumour necrosis factor (TNF), weren’t being sent. Perhaps the signals could be boosted?

He spent the next decade meticulously mapping all the neural pathways involved in regulating TNF, from the brainstem to the mitochondria inside all our cells.

Eventually, with a robust understanding of how the vagus nerve controlled inflammation, Tracey was ready to test whether it was possible to intervene in human disease.

Stimulating trial

In the summer of 2011, Maria Vrind saw a newspaper advertisement calling for people with severe rheumatoid arthritis to volunteer for a clinical trial. Taking part would involve being fitted with an electrical implant directly connected to the vagus nerve. “I called them immediately,” she says. “I didn’t want to be on anticancer drugs my whole life; it’s bad for your organs and not good long-term.”

Tracey had designed the trial with his collaborator, Paul-Peter Tak, professor of rheumatology at the University of Amsterdam. Tak had long been searching for an alternative to strong drugs that suppress the immune system to treat rheumatoid arthritis. “The body’s immune response only becomes a problem when it attacks your own body rather than alien cells, or when it is chronic,” he reasoned. “So the question becomes: how can we enhance the body’s switch-off mechanism? How can we drive resolution?”

When Tracey called him to suggest stimulating the vagus nerve might be the answer by switching off production of TNF, Tak quickly saw the potential and was enthusiastic to see if it would work. Vagal nerve stimulation had already been approved in humans for epilepsy, so getting approval for an arthritis trial would be relatively straightforward. A more serious potential hurdle was whether people used to taking drugs for their condition would be willing to undergo an operation to implant a device inside their body: “There was a big question mark about whether patients would accept a neuroelectric device like a pacemaker,” Tak says.

He needn’t have worried. More than a thousand people expressed interest in the procedure, far more than were needed for the trial. In November 2011, Vrind was the first of 20 Dutch patients to be operated on.

“They put the pacemaker on the left-hand side of my chest, with wires that go up and attach to the vagus nerve in my throat,” she says. “I waited two weeks while the area healed, and then the doctors switched it on and adjusted the settings for me.”

She was given a magnet to swipe across her throat six times a day, activating the implant and stimulating her vagus nerve for 30 seconds at a time. The hope was that this would reduce the inflammatory response in her spleen. As Vrind and the other trial participants were sent home, it became a waiting game for Tracey, Tak and the team to see if the theory, lab studies and animal trials would bear fruit in real patients. “We hoped that for some, there would be an easing of their symptoms – perhaps their joints would become a little less painful,” Tak says.

At first, Vrind was a bit too eager for a miracle cure. She immediately stopped taking her pills, but her symptoms came back so badly that she was bedridden and in terrible pain. She went back on the drugs and they were gradually reduced over a week instead.

And then the extraordinary happened: Vrind experienced a recovery more remarkable than she or the scientists had dared hope for.

The extraordinary happened: Vrind experienced a recovery more remarkable than she or the scientists had dared hope for.

“Within a few weeks, I was in a great condition,” she says. “I could walk again and cycle, I started ice-skating again and got back to my gymnastics. I feel so much better.”

She is still taking methotrexate, which she will need at a low dose for the rest of her life, but at 68, semi-retired Vrind now plays and teaches seniors’ volleyball a couple of hours a week, cycles for at least an hour every day, does gymnastics, and plays with her eight grandchildren.


David Jones / Flickr

“We have shown very clear trends with stimulation of three minutes a day,” Tak says. “When we discontinued stimulation, you could see disease came back again and levels of TNF in the blood went up. We restarted stimulation, and it normalised again.”Other patients on the trial had similar transformative experiences. The results are still being prepared for publication but Tak says more than half of the patients showed significant improvement and around one-third are in remission – in effect cured of their rheumatoid arthritis. Sixteen of the 20 patients on the trial not only felt better, but measures of inflammation in their blood also went down. Some are now entirely drug-free. Even those who have not experienced clinically significant improvements with the implant insist it helps them; nobody wants it removed.

Tak suspects that patients will continue to need vagal nerve stimulation for life. But unlike the drugs, which work by preventing production of immune cells and proteins such as TNF, vagal nerve stimulation seems to restore the body’s natural balance. It reduces the over-production of TNF that causes chronic inflammation but does not affect healthy immune function, so the body can respond normally to infection.

“I’m really glad I got into the trial,” says Vrind. “It’s been more than three years now since the implant and my symptoms haven’t returned. At first I felt a pain in my head and throat when I used it, but within a couple of days, it stopped. Now I don’t feel anything except a tightness in my throat and my voice trembles while it’s working.

“I have occasional stiffness or a little pain in my knee sometimes but it’s gone in a couple of hours. I don’t have any side-effects from the implant, like I had with the drugs, and the effect is not wearing off, like it did with the drugs.”

Raising the tone

Having an electrical device surgically implanted into your neck for the rest of your life is a serious procedure. But the technique has proved so successful – and so appealing to patients – that other researchers are now looking into using vagal nerve stimulation for a range of other chronic debilitating conditions, including inflammatory bowel disease, asthma, diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome and obesity.

But what about people who just have low vagal tone, whose physical and mental health could benefit from giving it a boost? Low vagal tone is associated with a range of health risks, whereas people with high vagal tone are not just healthier, they’re also socially and psychologically stronger – better able to concentrate and remember things, happier and less likely to be depressed, more empathetic and more likely to have close friendships.

Twin studies show that to a certain extent, vagal tone is genetically predetermined – some people are born luckier than others. But low vagal tone is more prevalent in those with certain lifestyles – people who do little exercise, for example. This led psychologists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to wonder if the relationship between vagal tone and wellbeing could be harnessed without the need for implants.

In 2010, Barbara Fredrickson and Bethany Kok recruited around 70 university staff members for an experiment. Each volunteer was asked to record the strength of emotions they felt every day. Vagal tone was measured at the beginning of the experiment and at the end, nine weeks later. As part of the experiment, half of the participants were taught a meditation technique to promote feelings of goodwill towards themselves and others. 

Those who meditated showed a significant rise in vagal tone, which was associated with reported increases in positive emotions. “That was the first experimental evidence that if you increased positive emotions and that led to increased social closeness, then vagal tone changed,” Kok says.

Now at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, Kok is conducting a much larger trial to see if the results they found can be replicated. If so, vagal tone could one day be used as a diagnostic tool. In a way, it already is. “Hospitals already track heart-rate variability – vagal tone – in patients that have had a heart attack,” she says, “because it is known that having low variability is a risk factor.”

The implications of being able to simply and cheaply improve vagal tone, and so relieve major public health burdens such as cardiovascular conditions and diabetes, are enormous. It has the potential to completely change how we view disease.

It has the potential to completely change how we view disease.

If visiting your GP involved a check on your vagal tone as easily as we test blood pressure, for example, you could be prescribed therapies to improve it. But this is still a long way off: “We don’t even know yet what a healthy vagal tone looks like,” cautions Kok. “We’re just looking at ranges, we don’t have precise measurements like we do for blood pressure.” 

What seems more likely in the shorter term is that devices will be implanted for many diseases that today are treated by drugs: “As the technology improves and these devices get smaller and more precise,” says Kevin Tracey, “I envisage a time where devices to control neural circuits for bioelectronic medicine will be injected – they will be placed either under local anaesthesia or under mild sedation.”

However the technology develops, our understanding of how the body manages disease has changed for ever. “It’s become increasingly clear that we can’t see organ systems in isolation, like we did in the past,” says Paul-Peter Tak. “We just looked at the immune system and therefore we have medicines that target the immune system.

“But it’s very clear that the human is one entity: mind and body are one. It sounds logical but it’s not how we looked at it before. We didn’t have the science to agree with what may seem intuitive. Now we have new data and new insights.”

And Maria Vrind, who despite severe rheumatoid arthritis can now cycle pain-free around Volendam, has a new lease of life: “It’s not a miracle – they told me how it works through electrical impulses – but it feels magical. I don’t want them to remove it ever. I have my life back!”

Read the original article on Mosaic. Copyright 2015. Follow Mosaic on Twitter.

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Teen Girl Feeling Intense Neck Pain. Her Parents Were Horrified After the Doctors Diagnosed Her

The Alexander Technique is an excellent solution to and the best prevention of Text Neck!:

Original Article:

Kids theses days! Some of them are spending up to 5,000 hours a year reading texts and browsing online, all while hunched over looking down at their cell phones and laptops. On average, a person spends around 2-4 hours a day crooked over looking down at their personal devices, and young adults spend even more time than that, logging hours at a time in one sitting. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a computer, tablet, or cell phone screen, because they all require the user to angle their head down, bending their necks in the process. This relatively new behavior is leading them to develop what is now called “text neck,” an uncomfortable and chronic pain in the neck area. Text neck occurs when the proper and normal curve in the cervical spine becomes reduced and in some cases it may even move forward. Ideally a person wants to have a 40 degree curve in their spine, but x-rays of text neck sufferers show curves so drastic that they actually have reversed and bend forward in the opposite direction. This type of reversed spinal curvature used to take years to develop and was only seen in older and elderly adults.

More and more sufferers of text neck are showing up at doctors offices nationwide seeking relief for their aches and pains. They are also increasingly younger and setting themselves up for a variety of possible problems that go beyond general neck pain, including shoulder tension, migraines, and even numbness and tingling sensations down their arms.

In order to correct the problem sufferers require physical therapy, trips to the chiropractor, and lifestyle changes. To reverse damage, professionals use head weights, shoulder exercises, resistance bands, and adjustments to recondition and strengthen the patient’s shoulder, neck, and back muscles. For people reading this and others who may be concerned about text neck, there are less drastic things that can be incorporated into your everyday routine to avoid it. Firstly, it’s important to sit up straight and stop looking down at phones and devices. Instead, hold your phone up higher so that it’s right in front of your face and eyes. There is even an app available that blinks a red light warning you to raise it higher, in order to help people remember to elevate their phones. Also stand up more often throughout the day and stretch, roll your shoulders, and move around. Just by being aware and conscious of what you are doing, and for how long, can help you avoid tech neck and all the uncomfortable aches and pains that come with it.


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Understanding Fascia: What It Is + Why You Should Care

MelissaPutt by Melissa Putt March 25, 2015 9:32 AM

Original Post:

Think of fascia as the most sensitive, highly interconnected system in the entire body — it’s the life force next to blood. Without fascia, toned and structured muscle would turn to hamburger meat, organs would spread like wildfire and bones would crumble, as fascia is the single element that organizes and suspends these parts of the body. It’s the most highly innervated tissue, sensitive to every hormone in your system, recoiling with every bump and bruise sustained.

Our understanding of fascia in modern science will revolutionize how we exercise, how surgeons operate, how athletes train and how we address pain management. Fascia is the frontier of body knowledge, and the better you understand what it is and how it works, the more in tune with your body you’ll be. Here’s what you should know about fascia.

So, what is fascia?

Fascia is the system of connective tissue fibers that lay just under the surface of our skin. Under a microscope, fascia is highly organized in a mesh formulation of tubules filled with water, and its job is to attach, stabilize, enclose and separate muscles and internal organs.

What does fascia do?

Fascia is wrapped throughout the body on “lines of pull.” It connects toes to brow in one uninterrupted sheet of fascia, and fingers to chest and neck. The heart fascia is connected at the collarbone, which connects to the arm and fingers. It coils around the bones, muscle fibers, muscle bundles, organs, arteries, veins and nerves, applying tension and compression to the body material it surrounds.

This is what you feel as a stretch or when you have physical pain. It’s the tension of the fascia around the area of sensation that causes feelings of tightness. Tendons and ligaments are layers of fascia that are meant to absorb shock and distribute the impact. If tendons are tight, dehydrated and shortened, they can’t absorb impact and will fray, causing pain.

Fasica also has an organ suspension function. Have you ever wondered how your liver, stomach and intestines stay put? Your organs are not suspended without any connection to the outside body. Each organ is wrapped in a hammock of fascia that’s connected to the spine, ribs, or pelvis. These fascial connections connect with the muscle fascia that affects your movement. Your breath, exercise and sitting posture will all affect the health of organs, as they’re connected fascially to the muscles being used for daily activities.

How does fascia work?

Fascia is sensitive to all movement. There’s no such thing as isolation exercises or having a “leg-day workout” — all movement affects the entire body because of the links to the body-wide fascial network. Working at your desk with hands pulled forward on the keyboard pulls the fascia in the low back and hips, and if you cross your legs, your knees and bladder.

Counting repetitions in your workout does affect the cells of the muscle, but ultimately muscle potential is limited by the quality of the fascia that surrounds it. Movement is supposed to be absorbed by fascia, not muscle. Watch a cat jump; that’s not a muscular movement. It’s the fascia recoiling and creating a spring tension to propel the cat upward.

Humans are the same to some degree. Our body mechanics are meant to be spring loaded for joints of the spine, hips, knees, ankles and ribs, so they can absorb impact and distribute the strain throughout the body. Proper exercise should follow the lines of fascial pull in order to distribute the impact. When you’re tight and restricted, the fascia is stuck and doesn’t glide smoothly over the muscles and bones. In order for your body to work like a well-oiled machine, you must focus on the fascia. Fitness ability is dependent on healthy fascia.

Why is fascia so crucial?

Joint health, injury-free sports, organ health and fluid movement are all dependent upon a healthy integrated fascial system. This promotes the notion that you need to take care of every part of your body in the same manner — without neglecting any one part. Total body health translates to total internal health and pain-free living.

Photo Credit: Stocksy


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The Real Reason Why People MUST Squat Differently

Original Post:

by Ryan DeBell | Follow on Twitter  

There is absolutely no one size fits all squat position. If you don’t believe me, you are in for a treat.

The following is a guest post from Ryan DeBell. It originally appeared on his site, the Movement Fix, and is republished here with permission.

This article will help show you why athlete comfort should dictate squat stance width, why some people’s (not EVERYONE) feet point out (no matter how much “mobility” work they do), why some people have a really hard time squatting deep, and why some people are amazing at pistols while others can’t do them at all.

This article will answer the question: why do people have to squat differently?

Basic Anatomy

The hip joint is basically made up of a “socket” on the pelvis (called the acetabulum) and a “ball” at the top of your thigh bone (femur), which we call the femoral head. Around the hip joint are a lot of muscles, a joint capsule, and connective tissue. There are many other anatomical considerations when considering a squat, but let’s focus on the hip.

Anatomical Variations

When someone has difficulty squatting, or their feet turn out, or they like a wide stance, we all want to jump on the bandwagon and say “your hips are tight, you need to mobilize them”. If we say that without considering anatomical variations of the hip joint, we can be misled.

Let’s take a look at this first picture. Here we have two femurs from two different people. One points more upwards, the other points more downwards. Do you think these people will squat the same when they have that much bony difference?


Two different femurs. One points left, the other up. You think that these two people should squat the same?

If you aren’t convinced yet, take picture 2. Clearly one of the “balls” in the ball and socket joint is extended longer off the femur than the other. This will absolutely change the mechanics of squatting between these two people. No amount of soft tissue treatment will change that.


The “ball” of the ball and socket joint on the left is clearly longer than the one on the right.

Now look at picture number 3 below. Look at how different the angle is that the ball is pointing between these two femurs. Guess what? One of these people will have a bony block when they try to squat narrow while the other can squat narrow like a champ.

Alternatively, one will squat wide and the other will have pain with wide squatting. But doesn’t the difference in the shape of the “ball” make that seem obvious? Maybe your piriformis isn’t the limitation after all.


One of these people will never be able to squat narrow while the other will be able to do it with no issues, can you guess which is which?

Things get even more interesting when you start looking at the socket. Take a look at picture number 4. On the left, you can see into the socket. This person will likely be able to squat with a narrow stance vs. the person on the right who literally run into themselves when squatting with a narrow stance.


Same size pelvis, huge different in the space in the joint.

Now look at picture 5. Again we see the difference in how much of the hip socket we can see. There is no way these two people will squat the same. The bony anatomy literally won’t let them.


It’s not a “tightness” or soft tissue issue. There’s literally bone in the way. Nothing you can do other than change your form.

Picture 6 is a view looking at the hip socket from the side. One is pointing straight out, the other is pointing down and in the front. My guess is one of these people will be better at pistols and one will be worse.


One hip’s pointing straight out, the other to the side.

So how do you figure out what squat stance is best without expensive lab or medical equipment?

Watch the video below to see how to quickly test the hip on your client. It’s not perfect, but most trainers don’t have the medical equipment required to get a scan of the joint and it’s unnecessary anyway.

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Athlete’s won’t squat the same, and they SHOULDN’T! I hope I shed some light on the WHY. Athlete comfort will dictate their squat stance that puts their hip in a better bony position. There are narrow squatters and there are wide squatters. That may have nothing to do with tight muscles or “tight” joint capsules and have more to do with bony hip anatomy.

Very few people are at the end range of their hip motion, so hip mobility drills are definitely a good idea.

People will express their hip mobility in different planes, and that is not a bad thing.


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The Shocking Truth About Ergonomic Chairs


headshot Adrian Farrell 

Alexander Technique Teacher with a corporate background

Cynical click-bait headline aside, I’ll cut to the chase, they don’t work. There, I said it.

But let’s look at why that is, there are three main reasons:

1) You’ll think that it’s supposed to take responsibility for you. This is a commonly held view, and it seems the more expensive the chair is, the more likely you will fall into this trap. Harking back to my previous blog, you have to remember that a chair is an inanimate object, it is incapable of “doing” anything, let alone taking responsibility for you. For sure, a good ergonomic chair will provide what we call in the Alexander Technique a “mechanical advantage“, but it wont be providing any guarantees. You need to provide your own guarantees.

2) There’s a strong chance that you will adjust it to your current conception of comfort or habitual use, i.e. to support your current levels of collapse and effectively ingraining them further.

3) This is probably the most pernicious of the three, you’ll bring your old habits to it. Even if the chair is set up perfectly to offer you the greatest mechanical advantage, the habitual way you use yourself will fight against this advantage. Have you ever felt that a well set up ergonomic chair leaves you feeling more tired than a regular chair?


                            Image used with permission Baloo, Rex May

Frankly, a piano stool is as ergonomic as a chair needs to be. You don’t see piano players on stage, or at home, with fancy ergonomic chairs. In fact, I’m sat on a piano stool as I’m writing this! Yes a piano player tends to be more dynamic in their movement, but it’s their mental engagement rather than the physicality you could learn a little something from.

If you redefine sitting as standing on your bottom then you can see why a firm flat surface is all that is required, and I promise to write more on the specifics of sitting in a later blog post.

When you consider the cost of ergonomic chairs, and they don’t come cheap, it seems strange to me to want to spend all that money when an Alexander Technique teacher can teach you to sit well in any chair, freeing you to sit anywhere with ease and poise, for less! But that’s just me. I guess it’s usually employers who are forking out for expensive furniture, but given my points above, if you are an employer, it might be more cost effective to educate your staff rather than the furniture.

I was talking to a client the other day who has back pain issues, and she was telling me a story of how when a friend had offered her a chair and asked which one she’d like. She replied “It’s not the chair, but how you sit in it”. Couldn’t have put it better myself!

Getting slightly away from my above points, have you noticed that schools don’t have ergonomic chairs? Well, this is actually a very sorry state of affairs, because children are not at “work” they’re not covered by Occupational Health and Safety rules. School chairs are frequently designed to slope backwards so that they stack more easily. What’s so bad about this? If the surface you’re sat on slopes backwards, your pelvis will naturally want to tilt back, causing your lower back to round resulting in slouching. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination. It’s actually an anti-ergonomic chair! So much so that teachers, who are at work, are advised not to sit on them by Occupational Health and Safety.

Alexander Technique teacher Richard Brennan has started a petition to ban backwards sloping chairs, please sign it if you are concerned about your child’s welfare. With more and more careers being sedentary our kids need all the help they can get before they reach the workplace with all the demands on the body that creates.

“No, what we need to do is not to educate our school furniture, but to educate our children. Give a child the ability to adapt himself within reasonable limits to his environment, and he will not suffer discomfort, nor develop bad physical habits, whatever chair or form you give him to sit upon” – F.M. Alexander, Man’s Supreme Inheritance.

This blog was originally posted here, where I also talk about my personal experience of some well known ergonomic chairs, and surprisingly, find one I actually like!

The Alexander Technique has been clinically proven for back pain via an NHS funded, gold standard randomised trial. It was performed by Southampton University and their results were published in the British Medical Journal.

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