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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


Original Post:

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:



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


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:

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.


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

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.

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

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Lost Posture: Why Some Indigenous Cultures May Not Have Back Pain



Interesting article about posture.

It’s accurate in some ways, but misses the causality of the difference in the spines. It says the reason is that they have strong and we have weak abdominals (core strength). 

However, toddlers and young children can hardly do a sit-up, yet they have fantastic use and beautifully elongated spines. 

And millions of Americans are doing crunches and other core strengthening work everyday and  yet their backs are still truncated and hurting. It’s because of HOW we are using ourselves, both during those exercises and (more importantly) the rest of the day.

 Article below. Listen to the NPR story here:


Back pain is a tricky beast. Most Americans will at some point have a problem with their backs. And for an unlucky third, treatments won’t work, and the problem will become chronic.

Believe it or not, there are a few cultures in the world where back pain hardly exists. One indigenous tribe in central India reported essentially none. And the discs in their backs showedlittle signs of degeneration as people aged.

Many ancient statues, such as this one from Greece, display a J-shaped spine. The statue’s back is nearly flat until the bottom, where it curves so the buttocks are behind the spine.

Courtesy of Esther Gokhale/Gerard Mackworth-Young

An acupuncturist in Palo Alto, Calif., thinks she has figured out why. She has traveled around the world studying cultures with low rates of back pain — how they stand, sit and walk. Now she’s sharing their secrets with back pain sufferers across the U.S.

About two decades ago, Esther Gokhalestarted to struggle with her own back after she had her first child. “I had excruciating pain. I couldn’t sleep at night,” she says. “I was walking around the block every two hours. I was just crippled.”

Gokhale had a herniated disc. Eventually she had surgery to fix it. But a year later, it happened again. “They wanted to do another back surgery. You don’t want to make a habit out of back surgery,” she says.

This time around, Gokhale wanted to find a permanent fix for her back. And she wasn’t convinced Western medicine could do that. So Gokhale started to think outside the box. She had an idea: “Go to populations where they don’t have these huge problems and see what they’re doing.”

EDITOR’S ADD NOTE, Wednesday, June 10:

Esther Gokhale’s Five Tips For Better Posture And Less Back Pain

Try these exercises while you’re working at your desk, sitting at the dinner table or walking around, Esther Gokhale recommends.

1. Do a shoulder roll: Americans tend to scrunch their shoulders forward, so our arms are in front of our bodies. That’s not how people in indigenous cultures carry their arms, Gokhale says. To fix that, gently pull your shoulders up, push them back and then let them drop — like a shoulder roll. Now your arms should dangle by your side, with your thumbs pointing out. “This is the way all your ancestors parked their shoulders,” she says. “This is the natural architecture for our species.”

2. Lengthen your spine: Adding extra length to your spine is easy, Gokhale says. Being careful not to arch your back, take a deep breath in and grow tall. Then maintain that height as you exhale. Repeat: Breathe in, grow even taller and maintain that new height as you exhale. “It takes some effort, but it really strengthens your abdominal muscles,” Gokhale says.

3. Squeeze, squeeze your glute muscles when you walk: In many indigenous cultures, people squeeze their gluteus medius muscles every time they take a step. That’s one reason they have such shapely buttocks muscles that support their lower backs. Gokhale says you can start developing the same type of derrière by tightening the buttocks muscles when you take each step. “The gluteus medius is the one you’re after here. It’s the one high up on your bum,” Gokhale says. “It’s the muscle that keeps you perky, at any age.”

4. Don’t put your chin up: Instead, add length to your neck by taking a lightweight object, like a bean bag or folded washcloth, and balance it on the top of your crown. Try to push your head against the object. “This will lengthen the back of your neck and allow your chin to angle down — not in an exaggerated way, but in a relaxed manner,” Gokhale says.

5. Don’t sit up straight! “That’s just arching your back and getting you into all sorts of trouble,” Gokhale says. Instead do a shoulder roll to open up the chest and take a deep breath to stretch and lengthen the spine.

So Gokhale studied findings from anthropologists, such as Noelle Perez-Christiaens, who analyzed postures of indigenous populations. And she studied physiotherapy methods, such as the Alexander Technique and Feldenkrais Method.

And the original post continues…

Then over the next decade, Gokhale went to cultures around the world that live far away from modern life. She went to the mountains in Ecuador, tiny fishing towns in Portugal and remote villages of West Africa.

“I went to villages where every kid under age 4 was crying because they were frightened to see somebody with white skin — they’d never seen a white person before,” she says.

Gokhale took photos and videos of people who walked with water buckets on their heads, collected firewood or sat on the ground weaving, for hours.

“I have a picture in my book of these two women who spend seven to nine hours everyday, bent over, gathering water chestnuts,” Gokhale says. “They’re quite old. But the truth is they don’t have a back pain.”

She tried to figure out what all these different people had in common. The first thing that popped out was the shape of their spines. “They have this regal posture, and it’s very compelling.”

And it’s quite different than American spines.

If you look at an American’s spine from the side, or profile, it’s shaped like the letter S. It curves at the top and then back again at the bottom.

But Gokhale didn’t see those two big curves in people who don’t have back pain. “That S shape is actually not natural,” she says. “It’s a J-shaped spine that you want.”

In fact, if you look at drawings from Leonardo da Vinci — or a Gray’s Anatomy book from 1901 — the spine isn’t shaped like a sharp, curvy S. It’s much flatter, all the way down the back. Then at the bottom, it curves to stick the buttocks out. So the spine looks more like the letter J.

Healthy spines in the Western world: The J-shaped spine is often seen in photographs from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Library of Congress

“The J-shaped spine is what you see in Greek statues. It’s what you see in young children. It’s good design,” Gokhale says.

So Gokhale worked to get her spine into the J shape. And gradually her back pain went away.

Then Gokhale realized she could help others. She developed a set of exercises, wrote a book and set up a studio in downtown Palo Alto.

Now her list of clients is impressive. She’s helped YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki and Matt Drudge of theDrudge Report. She has given classes at Google, Facebook and companies across the country. In Silicon Valley, she’s known as the “posture guru.”

Each year, doctors in the Bay Area refer hundreds of patients to Gokhale. One of them is Dr. Neeta Jain, an internist at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. She puts Gokhale’s method in the same category as Pilates and yoga for back pain. And it doesn’t bother her that the method hasn’t been tested in a clinical trial.

“If people are finding things that are helpful, and it’s not causing any harm, then why do we have to wait for a trial?” Jain asked.

But there’s still a big question looming here: Is Gokhale right? Have people in Western cultures somehow forgotten the right way to stand?

Scientists don’t know yet, says Dr. Praveen Mummaneni, a neurosurgeon at the University of California, San Francisco’s Spine Center. Nobody has done a study on traditional cultures to see why some have lower rates of back pain, he says. Nobody has even documented the shape of their spines.

“I’d like to go and take X-rays of indigenous populations and compare it to people in the Western world,” Mummaneni says. “I think that would be helpful.”

But there’s a whole bunch of reasons why Americans’ postures — and the shape of their spines — may be different than those of indigenous populations, he says. For starters, Americans tend to be much heavier.

“If you have a lot of fat built up in the belly, that could pull your weight forward,” Mummaneni says. “That could curve the spine. And people who are thinner probably have less curvature” — and thus a spine shaped more like J than than an S.

Americans are also much less active than people in traditional cultures, Mummaneni says. “I think the sedentary lifestyle promotes a lack of muscle tone and a lack of postural stability because the muscles get weak.”

Everyone knows that weak abdominal muscles can cause back pain. In fact, Mummaneni says, stronger muscles might be the secret to Gokhale’s success.

In other words, it’s not that the J-shaped spine is the ideal one — or the healthiest. It’s what goes into making the J-shaped spine that matters: “You have to use muscle strength to get your spine to look like a J shape,” he says.

So Gokhale has somehow figured out a way to teach people to build up their core muscles without them even knowing it. “Yes, I think that’s correct,” Mummaneni says. “You’re not going to be able to go from the S- to the J-shaped spine without having good core muscle strength. And I think that’s key here.”

So indigenous people around the world don’t have a magic bullet for stopping back pain. They’ve just got beefy abdominal muscles, and their lifestyle helps to keep them that way, even as they age.



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

Alexander Technique Now Available to Help Dentists

Worldwide research shows that 87% of dentists and up to 96% of dental hygienists suffer chronic pain.

Dr Anikó Ball

Dentist-turned-Alexander Technique Instructor Dr. Anikó Ball is bringing the Alexander Technique to Dentistry.

“I remember Monday mornings, at 10 am treating only my second patient, I was already experiencing burning pain in my left shoulder and stiffness in the lower back. I wondered how on earth I was going to get through the day, let alone the rest of the week.”

Check out her website at:

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

Google’s Head of HR Endorses the Alexander Technique!




Lazlo Block, SVP, People Operations at Google,  recommended the Alexander Technique for desk bound back pain in his new book Work Rules.

Laslo Block endorses Alexander Technqiue                                  51mKYHHF4EL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Kudos to my colleague Adrian Farrell for reaching out!







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

Health Experts Recommend Standing Up At Desk, Leaving Office, Never Coming Back

NEWS IN BRIEFHealthFitnessLifestyleISSUE 51•05Feb 6, 2015

ROCHESTER, MN—In an effort to help working individuals improve their fitness and well-being, experts at the Mayo Clinic issued a new set of health guidelines Thursday recommending that Americans stand up at their desk, leave their office, and never return. “Many Americans spend a minimum of eight hours per day sitting in an office, but we observed significant physical and mental health benefits in subjects after just one instance of standing up, walking out the door, and never coming back to their place of work again,” said researcher Claudine Sparks, who explained that those who implemented the practice in their lives reported an improvement in mood and reduced stress that lasted for the remainder of the day, and which appeared to persist even into subsequent weeks. “We encourage Americans to experiment with stretching their legs by strolling across their office and leaving all their responsibilities behind forever just one time to see how much better they feel. People tend to become more productive, motivated, and happy almost immediately. We found that you can also really get the blood flowing by pairing this activity with hurling your staff ID across the parking lot.” Sparks added that Americans could maximize positive effects by using their lunch break to walk until nothing looks familiar anymore and your old life is a distant memory.

The Shocking Truth About Ergonomic Chairs

by Adrian Farrell


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 3 main reasons:

1. You will 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 first ever 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.

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?


It may seem a little unfair to single out one particular chair , but I do so partly from my personal experience and partly because it coincidently exhibits a point I’ve made a few times previously.  They’re also extremely common, certainly across the Square Mile (London’s financial district) where I worked for many years as an IT consultant for a number of investment banks.  For  me, the “Aeron” style chair fails simply because the surface on which you sit is  unstable. To repeat my mantra, “if you can stand on it, you can sit on it“, this is clearly not a surface on which you could stably stand, being a stretchy woven fabric. It’s like trying to stand on a trampoline, it provides little more support for your sit bones than a sofa.  Maybe it’s my narrow definition of what sitting is, standing on your sit bones, but I found that the Aeron strongly encourages a collapse into the back rest. That might be fine for resting/reclining, but aren’t these supposed to be work chairs? As a reminder, the roots of your arms are in your back, you don’t want to loose that support when you are typing away at your keyboard, it invariably leads to tense shoulders and potential repetitive strain injury.

For the sake of fairness I’ll mention another ergonomic chair that I’ve had plenty of experience with in the past. Kneel on chairs do encourage an alignment of the spine, but they leave you somewhat immobile, and freedom to move is an essential aspect of using yourself well. I find that after a few minutes I feel locked in place and rigid, and that always leads to tension and feels more tiring in the long run than sitting on a simple flat surface. I also found it reduced the blood flow through my legs, causing discomfort.

Although it should be obvious by now that any flat surface will suffice for standing on your bottom (yes I will keep hammering home my definition of sitting), there is actually one style of ergonomic chair that I do quite like.  Under the assumption that you are not expecting it to take responsibility for you, I find saddle chairs to be very comfortable, and ironically, it’s not a surface you can stand on easily!  It looks like there’s an exception to every rule, but the sit bones are still well supported.

When you consider the cost of ergonomic chairs, and they don’t come cheap, it is far better value, and cheaper than many ergonomic chairs, to learn to how to use a simple chair, freeing you to sit anywhere with ease and poise.

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.

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!


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!)

5 Lesson Series $300 ($75 off!)

10 Lesson Series $550 ($150 off!)

8 Classes $175 ($24 off!)


Easy pay (friends and family) to by:



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

Or you can contact me at or call 310-346-7198 for orders and questions.

Happy Holidays!




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 ; )


The Matrix of Back Pain


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:

_DSC5090    IMG_2502

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.


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.

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:




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?



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.

_DSC5230                  _DSC5139


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.



New Study: Treadmill Desks Boost Productivity


by  Forbes Staff

If you use a treadmill desk, will it make you better at your job? Sales of the $4,500 set-ups are on the rise, but until now there has been scant evidence that they increase productivity. Avner Ben-Ner, a professor at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, has published a yearlong study in the science and medical journal PLOS ONE, showing that the desks boost job performance. Other studies have already established that they’re good for workers’ long-term health. “We know that being cramped and still isn’t good for anybody,” he says.



Too Much Sitting After 60 May Lead to Disability

For each extra sedentary hour per day, researchers found a 50 percent increased risk

WebMD News from HealthDay
By Kathleen Doheny

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 19, 2014 (HealthDay News) — Too much sitting has been linked to increased risk for health problems such as heart failure and earlier death. Now, a new study finds older adults who sit too much are more likely to be disabled — regardless of their exercise habits.

“Sedentary behavior is its own separate risk factor [for disability],” said study researcher Dorothy Dunlop, a professor of medicine at the Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. She evaluated the exercise habits of more than 2,000 men and women, aged 60 and above, and their ability to perform normal everyday activities.



5 Posture Suggestions for Using a Laptop


The laptop is the modern tool of choice for work on the go. While it’s an amazing machine, the proximity of the keyboard to the screen presents a challenge to maintaining good organization through the spine.

Here are some suggestions:

1) Use one book or equivalent to raise the laptop closer to eye level. Every inch counts, especially the longer you sit, and you can still use the keyboard. Perfect for coffee shops:


2) Place Laptop on top of books, shoebox or equivalent to raise the screen closer to eye/head level. Use an external keyboard or mouse. Notice the hands are still a little higher than the elbows. Ideally, the hands and elbows are at the same height:


3) Buy a desk that has levels, so that you can place the laptop closer to eye/head level. Place the keyboard/mouse on the lower level. You can use a firm pillow behind your back for extra support:


4) When sitting on a couch, use a pillow in your lap to bring the laptop up a little higher. If the couch is deep, use a pillow behind your back for support:



5) I find using the laptop in bed a great option. Use several pillows to build a gradual curve. Bending the knees allows the legs to provide support for the torso, neck and back:


Add pillows under the elbows for more support:


If your legs get tired, lay them flat or cross them underneath and use a pillow under the laptop:


Hope that helps. Happy laptopping!