Alexander Technique at the 36th Australian Dental Congress!

 

Great Post from an Australian AT Instructor:

Practicing Dentistry Pain-Free, at the 36th Australian Dental Congress

Dr Aniko Ball is a dentist in Melbourne, Australia. Like many others in the dental profession, she gradually developed pain to an extent that interfered with her ability to do the work.

If you are a dentist, dental hygienist, or dental assistant, you may know what this means. Bending over patients and feeling your neck ache. Your back gets sore. What began as a nagging ache becomes a distracting pain.

What can you do?

Dr. Ball found a way out of pain through the Alexander Technique, and will be speaking on this subject at the 36th Australian Dental Congress.

Alexander Technique is a proven method for postural re-training whose effectiveness is evidence based. Published studies on Alexander Technique include:

– A large-scale study published by the British Medical Journal in 2008 on low back pain and the Alexander Technique. Results: 86% less back pain after 24 lessons in the Alexander Technique, alone. See British Medical Journal BMJ 2008;337:a884

A study with pediatric urology surgeons, who are in static postures while doing minimally invasive surgery. Study results show the positive impact of Alexander lessons on surgical fatigue and pain. Presented at the American Urological Society (AUA).

Also for your reference, here is an article on the Alexander Technique in the Journal for the California Dental Hygienists Assn (CDHA).

It truly is possible to work pain free. Posture and efficient use of the musculo-skeletal system is key to feeling well and functioning at your best.

If you’re in the Bay Area and wonder if this may help you, please contact me for a free telephone consultation. I’m also happy to help you find a practitioner in your locale.

To your health!

Dana

How laying on your back doing nothing may improve your running.

How laying on your back doing nothing may improve your running.

This is a whole blog post about laying on your back doing nothing for 15 minutes a day.

Get your mind out of the gutter. Not THAT kind of laying on your back and doing nothing.

keep-calm-and-semi-supineBy now we all know there is more to training properly for a distance race than just running a lot. Varying your distance, varying your speed, varying your terrain, running in various climates, cross-training, rest, eating right, and so on and so forth. But I’m here today to talk about a form of rest that is conscious, specific, and makes you feel less like a lazy slob using “Netflix all day” as a synonym for “rest day” and more like you actually did something productive toward training for your race.

Semisupine_step_4

This may look simple at first. And it is simple, really. But we don’t do it most of the time. If you’re like me, your comforter is WAY too soft and pillowy and like a sleepy wonderland. Also if you’re like me, you have terrible posture and spend most of your work day with your legs crossed, or if you’re standing around, with your weight shifted to one side, or if you carry things you like to hoist them on one side and rest them on your hip maybe… and things get a little out of whack.

When I was in college, I double-majored in English and theater, because I wanted to be really, really rich, of course. Long story short, after 4 years of tuition, I decided I hated spending the majority of my time around theater people (God bless y’all’s hearts, but you know y’all are a special kind of pill to swallow) and really liked spending the majority of my time around animals. So career switch and voila, I don’t do theater anymore.

Dog, wait, this is so meta.

HOWEVER. You may recognize the above from a yoga or meditation class, even if you aren’t an actor who was trying to teach yourself neutral body. It is the semi-supine position, which I learned through Alexander Technique in my movement classes in college. We learned a lot, through my amazing professors, about how much we take onto our bodies to compensate for things that have hurt us over the years, whether physically or psychologically. Maybe we’re always sucking in our stomachs to look thinner. Maybe we’re always squeezing our tushes in anxiety. Maybe our shoulders are always up around our ears from stress. Maybe someone made fun of us for being super tall in middle school, so we subconsciously hunch to look shorter.

Maybe carrying overloaded backpacks through grade school, slung to one side to look more casual, threw our posture off.

"I like SOOO don't even care OMG"

If you lift, if you run, if you’re a person, you may have noticed that sometimes you have bad posture. Bad posture is a lot of the reason I developed hip bursitis this past fall while training for my marathon. After a certain distance, my core was weak and disengaged, and one side of my body really felt the impact of every step more than the other side, as it was much weaker than the other. I had to go back to basics, what I’d spent the first 5-15 minutes of every Movement class doing.

semi-supine

Good ol’ letting gravity take over my back and letting it flatten out.

“So what, you just lay on your back?”

Mostly. But what I find to be most effective are included in the following easy 5-step guide.

  1. Make sure your feet are about hip-width distance apart and your heels a bit away from your butt, feet flat. The distance from your butt might be different from me, but you’ll know if you’re too close or too far from the shape your torso is in. “Your knees are bent but not strained so your lower back is not arched but is in contact with the floor,” asthis website puts it. The goal is to eventually let gravity bring your lower back to be flat with the floor, not shoving it down there to be flat.
  2. You may want to put a book or two under your head. If your neck feels crunched at all, slide a book under it until your spine feels comfortable.
  3. I usually do this with my hands by my side, palms facing up, but some instructors might tell you to place your hands on your core. Just like, make sure they’re both doing the same thing and that that thing is simple and not distracting.
  4. Try to keep your eyes open. This is waking, conscious rest. You may feel twitches as your body settles. You may notice things about your body as gravity does its thing. Just notice them. Be awake to notice them. You don’t have to analyze them. But notice how much your body does when you think you’re doing nothing.
  5. If your two Bonnie and Clyde weirdo cats discover you in this position and begin to circle and sniff you, resist the temptation to react to them. Try not to pet them, and if they go behind you and you can just feel their presence there, do NOT twist your head around to look. Let your spine be. Your cat is simply there to see if you are dead and he can eat you. Breathe and assure him you are not. Consider getting a dog.

81cfeacf4ad086d7157032b442892f4e1342470118_fullSo why did I bring this up, you ask? I am supposed to do a long run today, but I have a pesky little pinch in my back ever since my shorter run on Friday. It wasn’t there after I did Body Pump. I only started noticing it after my outdoor run. I can’t say what exactly caused it other than bad posture is exasperated by running. And running is improved with good posture. So I took 15 and did semi-supine, reminding myself this used to be something I did daily. Even as I sit here writing this at my desk I keep reminding myself to uncross my feet and place them flat on the floor hip distance apart.

It’s all about #InjuryFree2015 y’all.

Happy semi-supining!

 

————–

Alexander Technique Classes, Lessons, Workshops by Brett Hershey in Los Angeles Burbank at www.alexandertechla.com

Holiday Gift Specials for New Students

Give The Gift of the Alexander Technique to Someone You Love or Yourself!

Printed or printable Gift Certificates available. Gift is transferrable and there’s no expiration date!

1 Lesson $65 ($15 off!)

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Write the name of the recipient in the note and I will email you a .pdf of the gift certificate.

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Happy Holidays!

 

 

 

Debauchery of the Senses

 

 

by Brett Hershey

Could Your Mechanism for Evaluating Yourself be Flawed?

I had a student once who came in for a first lesson because he, in addition to experiencing back pain, was told by his wife that he had bad posture. Together, they had tried to ‘fix’ it, but to no avail.

I asked him to show me (although I could already see what was happening). He lurched up from the chair and planted his feet, sinking forward and down into his pelvis, and slumping his back down and back. To compensate, his head jutted forward.

His posture was similar to that of the woman in the left photo:

Cellphonebeforeafter

When I used my hands to encourage his fuller stature (like the photo on the right), he reported that it felt wrong. In fact, he started waiving his hands as if he were going to lose his balance, and told me that if i removed my hands he would certainly fall forward.

So I took a photo with my phone and showed it to him. As he studied the image, his hand waiving slowed, then stopped. He couldn’t believe what his eyes were telling him because he ‘felt’ so out of balance. It took him several weeks to get used to this organization, before it became normal.

My student was experiencing what F.M. Alexander called ‘Debauchery of the Senses.” It’s when the mechanism for evaluating ourselves is flawed or compromised.

As humans, we are creatures of habit and excellent at normalizing our current situation. So if we slowly collapse or begin constricting on ourselves, the brain will adjust it’s perception, so that the new habit becomes ‘normal.’

For example, this can become just how we sit, despite the heavy toll on our system:

bad-posture1

Unfortunately, while it ‘feels’ normal or natural, it may be far from how the body was designed to function. So without knowing it, we are decreasing movement quality, increasing risk of pain and injury and diminishing our charisma.

When pain does arise, we are often so lost in our habit that we don’t know what it is that we’re doing to cause it. In fact, we often think it’s not us at all. I’ll hear over and over:

“I  have a bad back.”

“My neck is killing me.”

“Golf is not good for my body.”

“I’m just getting old.”

And then we’ll do everything – from pills, to massage to braces to duck tape to tiger balm – but examine what it is we are actually doing. How are we standing? sitting? Washing dishes? Folding laundry?

That’s why I find mirrors, photos and video so useful in my practice. They show us what’s really happening, what we’re really doing to ourselves.

This can be a blow to the ego at first, that we are responsible for our misuse. But the good news is that then we can actually do something about it rather than live in the delusional and often painful debauchery of the senses.

Walking Like a Girl: Jung’s Theory of Core Wounds and the Alexander Technique

by Brett Hershey

I was recently working with a 63 year-old man in generally good shape, but complaining of stiffness and pain in the upper back, shoulders and neck. He was also experiencing hoarseness in is voice, sometimes losing it all together, which was causing him to miss work.

When I watched him walk, I noticed that he held his shoulders and torso square, preventing them from moving contra-laterally (in opposition to the legs). When I pointed this out, and encouraged him with my hands to let the torso move with each step, he couldn’t believe the difference, how much easier it was to walk. At first he smiled, delighting in the rediscovered freedom.

But then he paused and became emotional.

I asked him what he was experiencing. He answered that he was remembering when he was a teenager, when he was made fun of for “walking like a girl.” To stop the teasing, he stiffened his movement and flexed his arms and shoulders.

Here he was – 50 years later – still trying not to walk like a girl.

Jung said that at points in life we experience such “core wounds.” While the event itself is psycho-physically traumatic, our “reaction formation” to these core wounds  can also have significant (negative) ramifications in our lives. He felt that these reaction formations played a big part in our personality.

I have seen this over and over in my Alexander practice as well as experienced it myself. We form a “reaction formation” to a traumatic incident so that we never have to experience the trauma again. The boy who is beaten up, becomes a bully himself. And, we often forget the incident, but the reaction formation stays subconsciously with us, even becoming who we are.

Most character flaws in movies, like Top Gun’s Maverick (literally his call sign), are a reaction formation to a core wound (his father’s alleged dishonorable death in combat). The story is about  the protagonist overcoming his misbehavior (becoming wingman or team player), which usually includes revisiting the core wound from a fresh/safe/wise perspective.

Psychologists do the same work, tending to work inside out. As Alexander instructors, we tend to work outside in.

I find core wound stories fascinating (my first teacher Ari said we can write a lot of poetry from those places!). However, we can also become stuck in the story and not get out of it. My daughter was born three months premature. She lived in the NICU at the hospital for two months and would often forget to breathe in my arms, turn blue and have to be resuscitated. Fortunately, she is alive and healthy now at eight years-old, but that traumatic experience created an over-protective reaction formation that I still have to ‘inhibit’ at times.

Our main mission in Alexander Technique is to become conscious of the psychophysical reaction formation (usually a combination of tension and collapse), so that we can address, dissolve and no longer allow it to hold us back.

NICU         IMG_1772

By doing so, we live with less pain, greater ease and increased performance.

 

 

Alexander Technique Classes, Lessons, Workshops by Brett Hershey in Los Angeles Burbank at www.alexandertechla.com

Sitting is the New Smoking

 

You’ve probably seen articles like this one recently in the news:

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 3.41.27 PM

 

There’s no doubt that, due to technology and the proliferation of the automobile, we are sitting more than ever before. Increasing number of jobs require us to be in front of a computer and commuting traffic seems to just be getting worse.

And I agree that the human body is made for movement, and therefore prolonged sitting, or immobility is deleterious to our health, as is smoking.

However, what I see missing in this analysis is HOW WE ARE SITTINGSitting is far from a uniform activity. There is a wide range of positions, postures and ways people use chairs. Or in Alexander Technique terms, there’s a wide range of ways people use themselves while sitting. Just take a look around the office, cafeteria or restaurant.

Note the photos below. There’s a big difference between how she’s sitting in the first photo and how she’s sitting in the second, or even the third.

OfficeGoodUse   OfficeKyphosis   OfficeLordosis

To extend the metaphor: there’s a lot more smoking in the second and third than in the first, where she’s balancing her head on top of her spine, and her spine on top of her sits bones.

I am a strong advocated for  taking breaks, standing (and lowering) desks, treadmill desks, nap rooms, working on a laptop in bed, walking meetings, improving diet, fitbreaks, etc. They are generally good for us.

Yet, we also need to pay attention to how we are sitting and doing all these activities.

For example, yoga sounds soothing and perfectly safe, yet I’ve worked with a yoga student who ripped her sternum because a teacher pushed her too much in class. On the other hand, Crossfit seems dangerous, yet I’ve seen some Crossfitters who have never been injured (and their use was impeccable).

So how are we supposed to sit? Before taking Alexander lessons, many of my students would catch themselves slouching or hunching as they sit. They then would lurch up into a braced military pose, which lasted about five minutes. Defeated, they then collapse back down.

So again, how are we supposed to sit? How are we supposed to do anything?

That’s what Alexander Technique lessons are for: to remind us how we are designed to sit, stand and move – in any human activity –  in accordance with our architecture, so that we’re taxing our body and mind as little as possible.

Try one ; )

 

Alexander Technique for Actors: Ongoing Classes Monday and Tuesday Nights

 Improve Your Posture. Unleash Your Potential.

with Certified Alexander Instructor Brett Hershey

An actor’s posture and ease is crucial in the audition room. Brett’s no-nonsense approach will help actors enter the room ready to do their best work.  – Elizabeth Barnes, Casting Director (The Lottery, Revenge, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, United States of Tara)

Most actors don’t realize that what is holding them back more than anything else is how they are using, carrying, moving themselves. I’ve worked with and taught casting directors, and they’ll tell you that most of the casting is done when the actor walks in the room. Your body IS your instrument and the more excess tension and collapse you are carrying, the less likely you are to get cast. Period.  – Brett Hershey

 

LOCATION:     Om Studio Burbank, 91505 (studio near Hollywood Way & Magnolia Blvd.)

DAY/TIME:     MONDAYS 7:30p – 9p   Ongoing  *NEW – Starts September 22nd

                      TUESDAYS 5p – 6:30p   Ongoing 

COST:             New Students   $30 Drop in.

                                                  $199 for 8 Classes. USE ANYTIME, ANY CLASS.

                        Returning Students $25 drop in.      

                                                      $89 for 4 Classes. USE ANYTIME, ANY CLASS.

• LIMITED ENROLLMENT. Ample individual attention.

• MAKE-UP CLASSES/sessions available.

• EVERYONE gets to work each class.

• ON CAMERA before and afters.

• Heavily DISCOUNTED PRIVATE LESSONS AND COACHING available while enrolled.

 

EASY ONLINE REGISTRATION:

Reserve your spot by paying full amount via PayPal. Minimum enrollment is needed for each class. If class is cancelled, full amount will be refunded.

Pay to: brett@alexandertechla.com

Please use FRIENDS & FAMILY and write in note for which class(es) you are registering.

You will receive via email a receipt from PayPal and a confirmation from Brett with studio address.

 

P1260181       _DSC5193

Increase your presence, power, charisma and range as an actor. Maximize your genetic range as a human being. Use your body to create organic characters. Learn how to tune-up your instrument and psycho-physical connection for audition and performance. Transform stage fright into stage readiness.

Class will focus on the fundamentals of Alexander Technique and how they apply to the craft of acting. Students are encouraged to bring in anything (monologue, scene, character, movement, business, etc.) they want to work on and examine from the Alexander perspective.

 

Photos by Letanguerrant photography

We’re All Human (Even Lionel Messi)

Whew! The World Cup is (finally) over. I’m a passionate Argentina fan (after the USA, of course), and so it was an exciting, yet ultimately disappointing World Cup. I’m a bit relieved – my adrenals couldn’t handle another game. Watching soccer matches is like getting sucked into Russian novels – long, deep and anguishing.

We clearly witnessed some super-human feats, yet I was reminded by how human we are in watching Lionel Messi. Arguably the current best player in the world (he has a reported $50 million contract with Barcelona), Lionel is undeniably great.

However, from an Alexander Technique perspective, his posture or ‘use’ could be improved. You can see this clearly in the moment after defeat in the top photo. This may seem unfair to pick out such a devastating  moment, but here he is off the pitch relaxing with his wife:

Lionel-Messi-with-Girlfriend-2012-05Lionel Messi Girlfriend Pregnancy Pic 2012 03

He tends to collapse through the neck and back, rounding the shoulders, taking his head back and down his neck. This not only lowers his stature, but can negatively impact coordination as well. Obviously, Messi is super coordinated, but he still has good and bad days. Here he is with ‘use’ much improved:

 

He looks unstressed, even happy. Perhaps it’s after he scored a goal for Barcelona.

What I noticed, as the World Cup tournament progressed, is that his head jutted increasingly forward from his body and down the back of his spine,.  I can’t imagine the pressure of playing in front of a billion people, but it was like you could see the weight of national and personal expectation bearing down on his neck and shoulders. Sadly, as the stakes increased,  his performance seemed to decline.

Messi of Argentina argues during a 2014 World Cup qualifying soccer match against Colombia in Buenos Aires

To be fair,  Messi risen in the face of other pressure moments, but this one proved too much as he sailed his final kick well over the goal in the final seconds.  I’m reminded of other great athletes, such as Michael Jordan, who seemed to expand their bodies, ‘star-fishing’ out, and performing even better in response to such pressure:

Michael-jordan-dunk

I would never venture to give Lionel Messi advise about soccer, but I believe he could have benefitted  (and still could) from Alexander Technique lessons. And I would bet they would  help his performance on the pitch, especially in pressure situations, as well as prevent injuries in the future.

I posted something to the same effect on FB, and a colleague said Argentina’s loss was more about luck; they had their chances and if one had gone in, I wouldn’t have made the observation about Messi.

He’s right about luck, but I disagree that wouldn’t have noticed or posted. I was noting his use throughout each game, and was concerned. If Argentina had won the final game, I would have  wondered how much better could Messi have been if his head, neck and back were in better coordination.

Messi still had a great World Cup. He was fantastic by all normal measurements and I’m still a huge fan. I think he’s such a better role model than Maradona for the youth of Argentina. I just wish I could have put my hands on him and wonder what would have been the effect.

I was recently reminded that we’re all human. We all can succumb to the stressful situations in which we find ourselves . Recently I was reminded of this. Here’s how I show my use to my students:

_DSC5090

 

But here I am, caught straining through my neck and back trying to get a photo of my daughter after her camp play before she left the stage:

allhuman

 

I did get the photo. Wish there was a $50 million contract waiting for me after ; )

Tai Chi Class – Burbank

 

Wednesdays 8:35a – 9:20a ($7)

R.L. Stevenson Elementary (across from East gate)

Come learn the moving meditation of Tai Chi Chuan in a relaxed, friendly, fun environment. I teach Yang style long form from the Alexander Technique perspective, emphasizing good posture and health.

The class will be ongoing. Join us anytime.

Tai Chi and the Alexander Technique

I’m often asked what types of exercise are “good” when learning Alexander Technique. It’s a little difficult to answer, because Alexander Technique is a ‘pre-technique’ that can be applied to any activity – from walking to acting to skydiving.

However, it is sometimes easier to apply the technique when we slow down movement and/or reduce stimuli. Tai Chi does both, and for this reason, I find this moving meditation a great way to ‘practice’ Alexander Technique.

While Tai Chi consists of actual fighting moves, it also teaches the building block of human movement: transferring weight from one leg to the other:

_DSC5069 copy                 Tai chi lunge2

 

This mind-body practice had also been proven to have value in treating and preventing many health problems.

Location:

507 N. California St. Burbank, CA 91505 (approximate)

Screen Shot 2014-06-30 at 6.01.13 PM

Alexander Technique: Unfinished Sculpturing

by Brett Hershey

Along the hall of the Academia in Florence leading to the famous “David,” there are six  “Slaves” that Michelangelo left behind unfinished. While the perfection of the “David” is breathtaking, I drifted back to the imperfection of the “Slaves.”

accademia

The figures are half-free, half-trapped in their giant slabs of marble. Apparently, the project lost funding (long before Kickstarter!) and was abandoned by Michaelangelo. Captured in their struggle, they offer a clear, existential metaphor.

A metaphor to which new, as well as life-long students of the Alexander Technique, can relate. Alexander Technique releases us from our habits of excess tension and collapse, freeing us from the stone, as it were. It allows a renewed ease, poise and coordination. Especially in the hands of skilled instructor, one can experience wonderful, even addictive, moments of blissful release.

slave11

However, it also can make us painfully aware of the parts of ourselves that are not yet free, or that have slipped back into the rock. Instead of the exquisite sensation of liberation, we are now (maybe for the first time) conscious of our excess tension and collapse, which can feel awful, hellish, even existentially damning.

This is, of course, the human predicament: caught between the harsh dualities of this incarnation. And as a wise teacher once said, we are either freeing ourselves into life or retreating back to our prison.

Most of us our born free, and there are some who manage to stay free. But it’s a tough planet and most of us tend to succumb to the encroaching stone. We can try to ignore or numb the pain, but often these measure don’t last. The suffering gets louder, or to carry the metaphor, harder.

It’s disheartening to find our bodies poorly organized, entrenched in tension and collapse. Despair, even panic can set in when we are unable to do anything about it. Fortunately, F.M. Alexander discovered a way out, that works, time and time again. His technique, like an owner’s manual, shows how to carve ourselves from the stone.

the journey’s rigor depends on the strength of the habits, the will and creativity of the individual as well as the quality of the guides available. It’s not always easy, but I know of nothing so effective at improving the use of ourselves.

Michaelangelo

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

IMG_8889

And This One?

IMG_8903

And This One?

 IMG_8882

And These?

    IMG_8873     IMG_8869     IMG_8907

Some things are so clear in hindsight. Yet, from the inside or when you’re going through it, it’s hard to see. When I had debilitating back pain in my mid-20s, I didn’t know why.

My Alexander Teacher said that most of us are born with good posture, but acquire negative postural habits, starting in elementary school, but especially around junior high high school.

I scratched my head, trying to figure out what my ‘habits’ were that were causing me so much discomfort, pain, decreased movement quality. I had some injuries, but I worked out, ate fairly well, thought I took care of myself.

And then, not long after, I was going through some photo albums, including the above images. And the proverbial lightbulb went off: in photo after photo, starting in high school, I was standing on my left leg. And often not just standing, but collapsing down into it.

For whatever reason, this is how I stood most of the day, 7 days a week for years.

Aware of the habit, I was able to start changing it, which took some vigilance and felt disconcerting; that pose was my go to position. I felt that I was “cool” standing like that. Did I pick it up from guys in movies or print ads? Older ‘cool’ guys in school? Not sure, but it did some serious damage to my back.

Here I am in junior high, before the habit:

IMG_8914

15 years later and even after becoming an Alexander teacher, I can still feel the echo of this collapse that runs from the left side of my face down to my left toes. Habits are strong, but the sooner we become aware of them, the sooner we can start to dissolve them and return to how were designed

I just wish I had found the Alexander Technique earlier and avoided a decade or two of bad posture.

 

Lumo Lift: Could it put Alexander Technique Instructors out of Business?

By Brett Hershey

Photos by Stephane Hamel, Letanguerrant photography

A friend sent me a link to Lumo Lift, the update to the posture correction system Lumo Back, that now can be worn like a lapel pin. It also connects to your phone and tracks exercise, movement, steps, etc.

At first I was a bit startled, since I’ve been contemplating an App for the Alexander Technique and this seems to be close to my vision. I was also impressed with the Kickstarter beginnings and appealing marketing campaign.

Furthermore, it claimed to do what many of my students have half-jokingly asked of me: follow them around all day and correct their posture. How? It vibrates when you slouch.

I then had a twinge of fear, wondering if Lumo Lift could be the Steam Engine to us John Henry Alexander instructors.  Gulp, will we be replaced by a high-tech lapel pin?

 

sensors-withclasps

 

But upon further thought, I realized the limits of  Lumo Lift. It may remind us when we are slouching, but it doesn’t tell us how we are slouching or how not to slouch. And what if we’re not slouching but over-tensing?

Most students that come to me know they are slouching, say, in front of their computers. They then try to hold themselves up like in an exaggerated military line-up, using excess tension, often over-arching the back, which would clearly satisfy the Lumo Lift. This usually lasts  30 seconds to 5 minutes before they tire and collapse back into the slouch.

Unfortunately (or fortunately for my colleagues and me), the Lumo lift reminds us when we slouch, but what does it do for the holding/over-tensing ourselves up? 

Despite being born with the ability to elongate the spine along the curves and balance the head on top of it, most of us have forgotten how this happens. And so we are left with two undesirable choices: collapsing down or rigidly hold ourselves up.

Slouch                             Perch

 

As Alexander Technique instructors, our specialty is showing people how they are actually, specifically, habitually interfering (i.e. slouching, over-tensing, or a combination of both) with their natural good use, and how they can actually, specifically return to it.

Balance

So maybe some day they’ll be a device or an App to replace what it is we do so well, but in the meantime, the Lumo Lift can certainly be a good reminder apply the Alexander Technique to refresh our directions, but far from a substitute.

There’s nothing like the real thing.

 

The Matrix of Back Pain

MatrixBackPain

by Brett Hershey

Recent photos by Stephane Hamel, Letanguerrant photography

 

I was an all-state lacrosse player in high school. An all-American squash player in college. I won my age group in several triathlons.

Yet, I remember knowing something was wrong with my body, but I just couldn’t put my finger on it. I could sense the imbalance in my back, unequal weight distribution in my legs. I felt better in motion, yet was uncomfortable sitting or standing for moderate amounts of time. I would fidget, shifting around in attempt to find a better position to hold my body.

I felt like Neo in the Matrix. Everything appeared fine, but I lived with this deep, nagging sense that something was off.

I lived with this growing unease in my body, until I  ‘pulled’ or ‘sprained’ my back several times. These sudden, painful episodes were debilitating. I would have to lie in bed for half a day and then move gingerly for a few days after. The acute pain would go away, but the increased tension and fear didn’t.

Here’s a painful look back:

Brettolduse     Brettolduse2

A friend told me “You just need to relax.” I certainly wanted to, but I didn’t how to do that. I tried massage, chiropractic care, acupuncture, etc. which provided short-term relief, but the discomfort and pain would return within days, if not hours.  As my suffering  increased, finding a cure became a quest.

When I met my first Alexander Technique instructor (Ari Gil) in San Diego, it was like Neo facing the choice between taking the blue pill or red pill. The blue pill was continuing with treating symptoms , thus remaining in the “illusion of ignorance.” While starting the Alexander Technique journey was facing the “truth of reality.”

I found it challenging and humbling, because it elucidated all my negative habitual ways of not only standing and moving, but also of thinking and essentially ‘being.’ I felt like I was basically failing as a human being (I couldn’t  stand for 5 mins or take a 2 hour car trip, etc. without major suffering). Alexander Technique was like the owner’s manual for the human body and mind that I should have read growing up. At 26, I had to undo fifteen to twenty years of bad, mostly subconscious, habits. I was embarking on a long process.

Furthermore, Ari pointed out that it was largely my fault. He asked why I had come to see him and I said that my back was killing me. He said, “I bet your back isn’t killing you, but rather, that you are killing your back.” It was like hitting your thumb with a hammer with no one around to scapegoat.

And I was a slow learner. I didn’t ‘get it’ right away. Fortunately, however, I experienced instant relief during Ari’s “table work” as well as when I learned how to do Constructive Rest on my own. Able to actually do something about it, the anxiety of my back pain began to subside.

As the lessons continued, I learned how to take the relaxation, or good use of myself that I experienced in the table turn, recreate it in my own constructive rest, and then apply it to increasingly complicated human activities, such as sitting, standing, walking, sports, dance, etc.

I should note that it’s impossible to condense the hands-on Alexander experience into a few written words, but there were basically 4 steps:

1) Body Mapping – understanding how the body is designed to function by learning where the joints were actually located in the body, how they worked and required good relationship between the parts, especially that the head needs to be released off the top of the spine.  I was shocked at how many misconceptions I had!

2) Awareness 0f how I was habitually misusing myself, or ostensibly by not using the joints  as designed, as well as where I was carrying excess tension and collapse. This is how the body is designed to work; this is how you are using it. See why you are in so much pain?

3) Inhibition – Either stopping the activity that was causing the misuse, or if possible, stopping/diminishing the misuses as I was doing an activity. In the latter’s case, Ari’s hands would follow me and often  prevent me from misusing myself.

4) Direction – I would then think of  how I wanted to organize my body, and from where I wanted to move (the joints). Again, Ari’s hands would gently show me this organization. We would then attempt the activity again, carrying in this new organization.

Although there wasn’t one epic epiphany like Neo had in the Wachawski Brothers’ blockbuster, I was able to increasingly see the matrix of my back pain through a series of a-ha moments, at first facilitated by Ari and other teachers, and then more and more on my own . After six months of study, I knew how to ‘cure’ my back pain; it was only a question of vigilance and time to shine the light of Alexander Technique on my psychophysical habits.

I thought I would only take lessons until my back pain subsided. Yet, once it did, I continued lessons with Ari as I became fascinated with how Alexander Technique not only decreased discomfort, pain, suffering, but It increased movement or performance quality of any human activity, from brushing teeth to portraying Richard III. The more I dissolved the excess tension and sure-up collapse, the better I moved. I  In other words, life became easier.

Some recent pics:

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I embarked on becoming a teacher so that I could go deeper and deeper into F.M. Alexander’s incredible discoveries. At first it was narcissistic, but when I saw the same transformative effect on others, I knew I had found my calling.

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Alexander Technique is by no means a quick fix. It’s a journey that requires vigilance of self-inquiry. Yet, when we begin to understand the matrix of how we function, a new way of pain-free, exquisite movement opens that was once unavailable.

Golf & the Alexander Technique

by Golfdashblog.com

Can the Alexander technique vastly improve your golf by helping you to “do-less” by freeing yourself of tension and non-productive movement patterns your golf swing?1 These are a few things we’ll be exploring in the article below.
So what exactly is the Alexander Technique? The Alexander Technique is a 100 year-old method founded by F.M. Alexander (1869-1955), for understanding how to use your body and mind. It is not an exercise program. It’s a unique way of thinking and challenging the habitual ways you use your body.

The main premise is that…

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The Fictitious, Pernicious Waist Joint

HumanSpinejpg  by Brett Hershey

Was it a fashion designer? A physical therapist with cataracts? Or perhaps an imprecise nebulist who uttered the expression “Bend at the waist” for the first time?

Whomever the culprit, his command seeped into the collective (sub)consciousness and made many a back unhappy. The problem is that – and peruse the image above-  there is no joint in the ‘waist’ area.  In fact, there are no joints anywhere between the atlantic-occipital joint (just inside the head, about at you ears) and your sacrum/pelvis. It’s a fluid continuum of vertebrae that are designed to curve, undulate, spiral, but NOT significantly bend nor fold.

Many of us have it in our brain’s body map that the pelvis is separate from the back. We pick up things – from  cell phones to couches – by folding at the fictitious waist joint. The spine will reluctantly obey the order, but we are asking it to do something it’s not made to do.

Check out the definition of “waist” below. I was pleasantly surprised to find its  root is from a word that ostensibly means “where the body grows.”  Much more helpful to think of it as an area that we elongate rather than a place we fold: 

Waist (n.) Look up waist at Dictionary.comlate 14c., “middle part of the body,” also “part of a garment fitted for the waist, portion of a garment that covers the waist” (but, due to fashion styles, often above or below it), probably from Old English *wæst “growth,” hence, “where the body grows.”

Note in the diagram below that the waist and  pelvis are very much a part of our back. You can see that we are clearly designed to fold under the pelvis at the hip joints:

 

HipJoints

 

So let the major bending  and folding take place in the real  joints rather than the back. That is how we are designed. If you do so, can greatly decrease discomfort or injury, as well as greatly increasing movement quality. Leave the waist for the fashion designers.

Are you a Martyr or a Magician?

 

Massagebaduse

by Brett Hershey

So often we hurt ourselves either trying to help others or to ‘get things done.’ This is the Martyr archetype, in which we cast aside care for ourselves to help others or achieve our own goals.

Of course, there are those  situations where this is unavoidable, such as pushing a child out of the way of a speeding car or donating a kidney. These are rare. Most of the time, we could actually get things done, help others AND take care of ourselves.

I would venture to say that we can not only take care of ourselves, but even grow STRONGER. This is the Magician archetype. Growing more powerful as we help ourselves and others.

Perhaps it sounds narcissistic, but why should we constrict or collapse ourselves as we complete our tasks throughout the day? Why should our bodies hurt after cleaning the house or writing a report? Often times we (myself included) get so caught up or fixated in what we are doing, that we fail to see how we are using ourselves.

As an Alexander Instructor, I’ve got to first pay attention to my use. This is for my welfare, but it’s also the primary energy I am transmitting to my students. Have you ever had someone give you a shoulder massage, but instead of feeling it good, it’s uncomfortable? It’s probably because they are carrying a good amount of tension/collapse and they are transmitting that to you.

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And while it’s especially clear in my profession, the same is  true for yours. As Buddha said, we all have our 10,000 things to do and those tasks effect the people around us. I am continually astounded by what happens when my students examine how they are doing things  and improve their ‘psychophysical use’ (posture).

There’s a cost to what F.M Alexander called ‘endgaining’. I’ve worked with a number of massage therapists, like the one above, who damage their backs while trying to relax others. “It’s just a hazard of the trade”,  I’ve heard. This is not true, because I’ve seen massage therapists with some amazing use; and they feel better after giving a massage then when they started.

A helpful parable here is the Tortoise and the Hare: if we rush through and fixate on the end, we often burn ourselves out.  So instead, let’s take a little time to focus on how we are doing our tasks (Alexander call it ‘the means whereby’); it could mean a big archetypical shift from martyr to magician.