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  • 21 Feb 2014 1:19 PM | Anonymous

    Ethan Kind


    Part 1

    An Alexander Technique Approach to Musicians’ Injuries


    Ethan Kind, M.M., certified A.C.A.T., Am.S.A.T.


    When I was aspiring to become a concert guitarist, I developed carpal tunnel syndrome practicing six hours a day, seven days a week. I went to an Alexander Technique teacher who taught me how to play the guitar for the first time in my life without sacrificing my body. It was such an amazing experience, that I later trained to become an Alexander Technique teacher. Because I had learned to play the guitar as a perfectionist, I never ever took I cant do it from myself as an answer, when I couldnt perform something difficult on the guitar. This led to my carpal tunnel injury, because I worked harder and harder to play difficult music, not smarter and smarter.

                Im going to look at the most common physical problems that musicians cause to the different parts of their bodies, and show you how to approach these injuries and pains and strains using the principles of the Alexander Technique.  As an Alexander Technique teacher who loves to work with musicians, Im going to convey to you how I work with musicians in physical trouble. There is truly no substitute for going to a teacher, but it is my intention in this article to get you to rethink your approach to your instruments technique and the posture you bring to your instrument, so that you stop harming your body.

                Injuries are not inevitable to a musical performer, but they are common. When they occur, many performers try to play through the pain or take a break from practicing. Playing through the pain never really works. It may look like it is working if you stop hurting, but if you dont change the habits that got you in trouble in the first place, you will start hurting again. Taking a break from practicing may interrupt the pain - tension cycle, but when you go back to the consistent practicing of difficult literature, you will get back into pain, if your habits are the same.

                            Placing parts of the body in certain positions at an instrument and then playing the instrument is what is considered technique, but this means so many musicians dont really know how to play their instrument with the least amount of effort and by using mechanically advantageous postures, as F. M. Alexander would have called them. In the Alexander Technique we teach you it is how you do something that is critical to whether you get in trouble. Getting it done is addictive. What this means, is if you focus only on what comes out of your instrument and not on taking care of yourself physically as you play, you may sound good and end up injured. By definition an addiction is something that feels good but causes harm. An addictive technique is a technique that assists you in sounding good, but eventually harms your body.

                It is this addiction to a technique that youve used to sound good, but is harming your body, that may make it hard to let go of a way of playing that is hurting you. When you change the way you play your instrument, even a little bit, you may have to experience the discomfort of feeling out of control. The discomfort of feeling out of control, as you learn to stop hurting your body, beats ending your career. If you sound good, and youre hurting yourself, you will sound incredible if you use a technique that isnt wearing out your body.If what you are doing at your instrument is causing you pain, then what you are doing is not good technique. By definition good technique allows you to play with ease, to be able to create the interpretation and tone you want without strain, and to play without sacrificing your body.

                In the next few sections of this article, Im going to look at some of the parts of the body musicians harm the most in their playing. They are the back, the neck, the shoulders, the wrists, and the fingers. Im going to look at these areas of the body on different instruments and talk about what it is that the player is doing to harm herself, and then give a clear solution to the problem.  In the Alexander Technique the solution to what a performer is doing that is damaging the body may be as simple as to stop doing what he is doing.  The teacher can then show the performer what the body wants to do. In other words, if you stop tensing the neck, the neck will want to decompress and lengthen. What does a decompressed and lengthening neck look like? This is what Ill address in this paper, so that when you let go of one set of bad habits, you wont replace them with another set of bad habits.

                This replacing one set of bad habits with another set of bad habits is very common. If you focus on what looks right and may be right, and you do the new technique with tension, you will get yourself back into trouble. This is why ergonomically designed chairs and computers dont keep a lot of people out of physical trouble. You can look good and feel bad, and it is my intention to make sure when you look good you feel good.

    The Back

                Between the shoulder blades and the lower back are the two areas of the back that I am asked most to help as an Alexander Technique teacher. Whether a performer stands or sits, many performers sway their lower back in an attempt to be upright, and end up overarching the lower back and locking it into place. This tilts the front of the pelvis downwards and pushes the belly forwards, which doesnt allow the abdominal muscles to help support the lower back. What usually happens in the upper back is the performer hunkers down to play well and exaggerates the thoracic curve. This takes the head forward and collapses the chest downwards and immobilizes the shoulder blades.

                The other posture I see in musicians is that the performer sits with the whole back slumped forward, which is a c shaped back. This is really tough on the back and neck. In this posture the player has to curve his neck backwards to be able to see the music, the conductor or other performers. If he is sitting, this places him on the back of his sit bones and the musculature of the back has to really work like mad to keep the performer from falling over. It takes more muscle to slump than it does to be fully upright. The reason it feels the opposite to someone who comes to me is that slumping is their habit, and by the time they make it to an Alexander Technique teacher theyve tried sitting up, and it feels like too much work. It is! Most people who try to sit fully upright already believe it is harder than slumping, and so they try to lock the back to sit up.

                When a performer sits or stands with an overarched swayed back, it feels as if they are very upright, but this isnt so. This causes the performer to lose the support of the pelvis under the back, because the back is physically behind the pelvis. The usual compensation for this is to collapse the upper back and the head and neck go forward to unconsciously attempt to find the center of gravity in the torso. So, the lumbar curve and the thoracic and the cervical curve become exaggerated. The whole back and neck end up so s shaped that the function of the spine as a shock absorber is compromised. The s shape of the spine is designed to reduce the jarring effects of movement on the body as we walk or run, but it is also designed to allow for a cushioned flow from the pelvis to the head, as we do something that requires great precision, like playing a musical instrument.

                This concept of the spine acting as cushion, so that the performer has a place for the head and shoulders to balance and float on top of, is crucial to not causing injuries to the back as the dedicated player puts in hours and hours of practice in relatively static postures at the instrument or in singing. Even most singers stand in one place and perform, as opposed to opera where the singer moves about the stage. So many performers immobilize their backs when they play, because they have learned that the technique required to play their instrument is a place to put their arms or head or back, and you hold it there. And especially as a beginner, when a teacher tells you how to do something, you want to come back to your lesson being able to do what youve been taught.

                So, a pianist is told to sit upright and bend his elbows and play the keys with her fingers. This can be done with balance and poise or with massive tension. A beginner usually uses too much tension and is so focused on playing the music, that ultimately this tension becomes a part of her technique. Even when she has mastered the instrument, she may get into physical trouble because her back is held and not released up into a cushioned upright. Stacked cushions pressed downwards return to their full height when you take the pressure off of them, and they balance on top of each other. It is the same with the back. When you immobilize your back by trying to hold a posture, you stop the movement in the back, so you may look good but feel bad. Also, a held back becomes a compressed back, because when muscles are tensed to hold bones in alignment, the bones are forced closer together. In the backs case you are compressing the discs, and not allowing them to act as jelly filled donuts between the vertebrae, if you see good posture as holding a position.

                The body is designed to be in constant flow no matter how little were moving in an activity, like playing a musical instrument. So, how do you sit or stand to play your instrument or sing and not immobilize your back or slump or overarch the lower back, and be fully upright with much less muscular work than youve been doing? It is either all of your tensing to be upright, or the collapsing (slumping) youve unconsciously created to avoid hurting that is injuring your back. Being conscious is the critical idea here to making changes, so that you bring to consciousness what is necessary to stop hurting. So much posture and technique at the instrument is done unconsciously, in an attempt to find balance and stop hurting and sound good. These unconscious refinements are not usually the best. When you are attempting to find a way around what is hurting you, you usually stack bad habits on top of bad habits, rather than letting go of the original bad habits that are injuring the body.

                If you let go of the bad habits that are hurting your back, how do you do this, and what do you replace them with? If you are overarching your lower back, then you are straining to find good posture by pushing your spine through to the front of your body. To solve this problem in sitting find the balance on your sit bones, and let the sit bones be the bottom of the back. If you are balanced on your sit bones, then the pelvis is level, and you arent arching your lower back. From the top of your head to the sit bones, allow the spine to flow upwards and downwards rather than trying to force the spine forwards into upright. When you align the spine by having the head lead the spine upwards into lengthening, you align the vertebrae in a way that uses considerably less muscular work. As long as you push the spine forwards towards the front of the body, you are locking the back up and in reality pulling the back down with tension.

                You rarely see a performing musician whose upper back isnt curved forward and isnt totally immobilized with the shoulder blades also immobilized along with the thoracic vertebrae. This is the most extraordinary place in the back, because if you can let go of hunkering down in the upper back the vertebrae move apart, there is movement between the shoulder blades, and as the curve in the upper back becomes less and less pronounced allowing the back to lengthen upwards, the chest also opens. Since the ribs are attached to the vertebrae, the more open and vertical the back becomes the more open the chest becomes. If you allow the head to lead a lengthening spine, then as youre sitting or standing, it is as if you are hanging upside down on an inversion table. With the vertebrae aligned and allowing the discs to act as cushions between the vertebrae, you allow the back to flow upwards, and you play or sing with an open back and chest and heart.

    The Neck

                The neck is a major place of pain for many musical performers. We also have in our everyday postures so many bad postural problems with the neck. If you were to watch a hundred people walk by, the odds are youd see a hundred collapsed necks with the head pushed forward. Id like to look at the neck from the perspective of the violist, from the flutists view, from the singers perspective, the trumpet players perspective and from the guitarists perspective.

                The violist turns the head and places the jaw on the instrument to secure the instrument to the body, as she uses the right hand and arm to hold up the other end of the instrument. When most violists turn their heads to rest on the chin rest, they shorten the neck as they turn. They also push the head forward to the instrument to try to get as much jaw on the viola to make sure it is secured by the jaw.  This shortening of the neck and pushing the head forward and clamping the head down onto the instrument is very very hard on the neck. Im going to describe how I would teach the violist to change these harsh habits.

                As the violist is standing, I ask him to allow his neck to release and his neck to lengthen as his head moves up. As his head is leading his gently curving neck to lengthen upwards, I ask him to turn his head with a lengthening neck, but not to push the head forwards.  As the viola is resting on his shoulder, I ask him to allow the head to continue to move upwards as the head pivots downwards, so the jaw can rest on the instrument. If you look at what Ive described here, the neck continues to lengthen and be vertically aligned, even as the head pivots downwards to the instrument. So, you have this lengthening neck and a turned released neck, and the instrument is helping the neck support the head. If you play the viola this way, the neck is doing less work than it typically does.

                Before the flutist brings the instrument up to play, I ask her to face straight ahead and feel what it feels like to simply face the whole body in one direction. Then I ask her to release her neck and spiral it to the left. What Im doing here is demonstrating to the flutist that she doesnt need to turn her torso at all to play the flute.  Now bring the flute to her lower lip/chin and dont push the head forward to the flute. She now gets to feel what it feels like to have only her head and neck turned and not her torso, and to play her instrument with a released lengthening neck. Also, the flute needs to be parallel to the floor, which means the neck and head and torso are not leaning to the right, which creates excess tension when a flutist leans.

                Most flutists lean to the right, when they play their instruments. This is an unconscious decision made over time to find a way for the arms to work less by being lowered. This is a very poor postural solution to making the instrument easier to play. This causes a scoliosis in the torso, which makes the back work hard to keep the player from falling over. In the Alexander Technique there is a basic principle that you turn up the volume in your body to compensate for an asymmetric activity. So the whole torso finds a way be fully upright with more weight on one side without locking or leaning. This actually happens, when its clear that that is your intention.

                When a singer sings, many singers lock their necks and push their heads forward to connect to the audience and to project the voice out into the concert hall. There is a term in the Alexander Technique called inhibition. To inhibit a habit is to stop just before you are to sing, choose to inhibit tensing the neck, and then to sing with a free neck. Another application of this concept of inhibition, letting go of an old habit, is for the singer to stop before he sings, not push the head/neck forward, and then to sing with the head releasing upwards instead of forwards.

                When a trumpet player brings the instrument to his face, in many cases he shortens his neck unconsciously, so he doesnt have to lift the instrument as high. This causes tremendous tension in the neck, and it is usually coupled with tensing the neck to have the lips meet the mouthpiece. So, the trumpet player shortens the neck and pushes his head against the mouthpiece and his neck hurts. To inhibit these two painful habits, the trumpet player needs to keep releasing his neck as he brings the instrument to his mouth. This means as he brings his arms up with the instrument, he inhibits tensing his neck in anticipation of playing. Now, as he brings the instrument to his lips, he inhibits pushing his head forwards, and he lets the arms bring the instrument to his lips. Now two things have to happen if the trumpet player doesnt want to strain his neck or the arm pressing the instrument against his lips. He wants to experiment with the minimum pressure necessary for the mouthpiece to be firmly against his lips. Second he wants to experience how little work the neck has to do to meet the mouthpiece, by not immobilizing and pulling the head down and pushing the head forward. In other words the trumpet player wants to bring the instrument to his head without hunkering down and having the musculature of the neck do more than is necessary to meet the instrument.

                When a guitarist plays her instrument, she usually looks at the neck of the guitar, so that she can see what position she is in on the neck.  Many times the guitarist drops the head forward to see the neck, and this really makes the neck and back muscles work hard to support the weight of the head forward. As the guitarist is sitting or standing with the instrument, she wants to let the head release upwards, and then pivot the head to the left with a lengthening free neck. Then, like the violist, pivot the head downwards. Now allow your eyes to see the whole neck from above the instrument, from a head that is on a neck lengthening upwards, on a vertical spine as the eyes look downwards.

                There are two consistent ideas that keep the neck from getting into trouble that Ive addressed on all of these instruments. First is the neck is released and lengthening and second  the neck is aligned upwards, so that the head is not pushed forwards making the neck collapse and the lumbar curve tight and too curved. The neck curves back and gently upwards as the head balances on the atlas of the spine. Whether the head is level facing straight ahead, or turned and level, or turned and pivoting downwards, the neck can be free and the head can be on top of a neck curving back and up vertically on a lengthening spine.


    Ethan Kinds blog will continue next month looking at arms and in part 3 guided whole body release.


    Anonymous. A Course in Miracles.

    Bonpensiere, Luigi. New Pathways to Piano Technique.

    Diamond, Dr. John. The Life Energy in Music, Volumes 1-3.


    BIOGRAPHY


    Ethan Kind, formerly Charles Stein, trained as an Alexander Technique teacher at the American Center for the Alexander Technique in New York and has been teaching since 1992. He also has a M.M. degree in classical guitar and was a concert guitarist for ten years. He has also been an athlete all of his life. Mr. Kinds writing (as Charles Stein and Ethan Kind) has been published in the United States, Great Britain and Australia. Mr. Kind lives in Albuquerque, NM, and can be reached at www.ethankind.com.


    Mr. Kind has 64 ebooks for musicians and other topics, from running to yoga, offered in a  Kindle version on Amazon. To find out more click here. For a pdf version, visit his website at www.ethankind.com.

  • 17 Jan 2014 11:33 AM | Anonymous

    The international congress will be held in Limerick, Ireland and is open to teachers, pupils and all those interested in the Technique. This week long congress enables people to come together for learning sharing and laughter. There are opportunities to join workshops, lectures and exchange work. 

     

    For more information click here

  • 28 Nov 2013 12:35 PM | Anonymous

    For the Alexander Technique doesn’t teach you something new to do. It teaches you how to bring more practical intelligence into what you are already doing; how to eliminate stereotyped responses; how to deal with habit and change. It leaves you free to choose your own goal but gives you a better use of yourself while you work towards it. – Frank Pierce Jones

    If we look at the word ‘Sport’ in the dictionary (OED) we see that it refers to some of the following: - amusement, diversion, fun, pastime, game, hunting, fishing, racing, running, jumping, putting weight, etc. A Meeting of athletes to compete in these.

     So we can see that there are many different activities that can be classified under the word ‘sport’. Most people who become involved in a sport or a game may not believe that they are a competitive sports person, but rather that they are just participating in some activity. However if we look at the following definition for competitive athletes, taken from an American publication: “Competitive Athletics has three main connotations; first is that man struggles personally against another person or persons: second that his struggle is impersonally against an objective, external standard, and third: that he struggles to better himself, i.e., that he competes with himself. All three of these designations function within the context of Games and Sport. This is consistent with Starr’s (1961) definition of competitive athletics as being “a wide range of games and sports, which involve a rivalry or a match with oneself or others”.

    Competitive athletics, thus, become only a small part of the totality of man’s movement. Physical movement is engaged in by man for many reasons other than competition and it is here that the main distinction can be made between the athlete and the participant in physical activity. If the performer is competing in the above sense of the word, then he must perforce be regarded as participating in an athletic context; if he is simply engaging in physical movement for reasons that do not emanate from his competitive needs or desires, then he can be classified as a participant. Football players, mountain climbers, golfers, joggers, and even dancers, are all athletes, regardless of their ability levels, if their movement are primarily directed towards the pursuit of excellence or success.

    Our operational definition of the athlete had now become: “Any person who executes and completes an identifiable, short-term, skilled motor performance while competing against an objective, external standard, against another person or persons, or against oneself.”

    So there are a great many people who believe they are just participating in an activity, but who are really competing athletes! For example most yoga students in a class are trying to get the posture right according to a certain book or teacher, or improve their performance against themselves. How many times have I heard yoga students exclaim, “Oh, I am getting better at my lotus”, or, “I can now do the headstand”, etc. This is very much the ‘end-gaining’ attitude so common in competitive sport. To be a participating yoga student, however, is not to be striving to improve performances but to adopt a ‘means whereby’ approach, which is not trying to get the posture ’right’, whatever that means, but to keep looking at what you are doing, and endeavoring to see where you may be going wrong! This means that you are shifting the emphasis from the end result to what you have been doing to bring the end result into being. In this process of developing motor skills the main concern must always be to try and maintain your own working integrity. By working integrity we mean all those important functions that are keeping us alive from moment to moment, like breathing, circulation, flow of nervous energy, digestion, etc.

    The Alexander Technique, of course, offers a safe and careful ‘means whereby’ approach, which helps to maintain the working integrity of oneself when you are in the process of participating in any activity. The Technique is a method of mental and physical re-education taught individually, which has the affect of reducing unnecessary tension in all human activities. It teaches those who practise it how to use the body to its best advantage and is widely recognised as an effective means of alleviating and preventing injuries. Because it is concerned with poise and ease of movement, the value of the Technique has long been appreciated by performing artists and those taking part in sports, but there are many other areas where the relevance of the Technique in improving health and reducing stress needs to be carefully assessed.

    Unreliable Sensory Appreciation

    By expanding ones awareness to take in kinesthetic sensory appreciation with an observation of yourself in action, it is possible to begin to bring about a change in your response pattern at that moment of time.                                                                      We all tend to trust our feelings, and at a basic level this is OK. That is, we know when we are standing up, or sitting down, whether we are hot or cold, etc. But if we start to go a little deeper into our make up, then things tend to be less clear. For example, if you normally write with your right hand, put the pen into your other hand and write something; notice how much energy and effort you put into the task. Now put the pen back into your right hand, and write; do you notice that less energy and effort is required than before? Also, have you noticed that when you go to climb a flight of stairs, you always tend to step off with the same foot?  If you try with the other foot it feels wrong! You can try this reversing process with folding your arms, or clasping your hands together, and many other actions. Changing the normal way we do things gives us a great opportunity to find out how we are using ourselves, particularly in the amount of energy and effort we tend to put into any task. This is because our habitual ‘use’ tends to be overdoing, producing excessive use of muscles; some muscles may not even be related to the task, particularly of course in the neck! This is described as getting into ‘postural sets’. (1) 

    When I first became involved in Alexander Technique, I began looking at my habitual patterns of movement in some common activities, mainly to discover how, and if it was possible to change, but also to have a greater understanding of how we learn in the first place.

    One of things I looked at was riding a bike. I noticed that my right leg was dominating the speed of the bike, when I tried to make my left leg govern the speed, I nearly fell off, and my right leg quickly took over! If you ride a bike try it yourself, see how difficult it is to change your habitual use.  

    Another thing to consider is that most sporting activities do not produce symmetrical development, for example racket sports tend to develop more one side of the body, female dancers tend to over develop their legs at the expense of their upper body and arms, and so on. There are of course exceptions; swimming provides more all round development, and because it is non-weight bearing, it is less accident-prone. However, if you are looking for something that combines all of the following; Strength, Stamina, Flexibility, Balance, Co-ordination, Speed, and Courage, then you will find all these in very few activities; the one that quickly comes to mind would be Olympic Gymnastics.

    If you observe the world’s top gymnasts in action, you will see that their manner of ‘use’ is superb, and that they have an extremely good understanding of where they are in space and how they move from one position to another. What F.M. Alexander would have called ‘reliable sensory appreciation’. F.M. Alexander also noticed that circus acrobats (2), tended to have a high standard of health and generally long life, which suggests that they had a good use of themselves; I have personally worked with a number of stage contortionists who have not only possessed exceptional movement capabilities, but have a highly sensitive nervous system, and this helps to brings about a quality of control, and fluidity, into their movements. From an Alexander Technique teaching point of view, this makes them a joy to work with, and not something that is found in the general public at large!

    Another noticeable thing with gymnasts is that although they may not be aware of Alexander Technique, or have had lessons, they demonstrate very clearly basic Alexander Technique Directions (3) during their performances. For example, a gymnast during floor work, when they are about to perform a tumbling run, will stand at the corner of the mat, consciously releasing themselves, allowing their spine to lengthen and back to widen. They instinctively understand that to get the best use of themselves they need to be perfectly poised and balanced. Similarly you will see the same attitude adopted when they are about to do a series of acrobatic activities on the balance beam.

    Body Types and Natural Ability  

    The individual’s ability to achieve success at any activity is most often determined by their body type and somatotype rating, (4) their age, and physical condition at the time they start, and of course by their ambition and determination.

    In the course of teaching yoga over some 40 years, I have made certain observation. The well co-ordinated people I call ‘Genetic Gems’, and the poorly co-ordinated, I call ‘Neuromuscular Nightmares’! Now of course everyone is capable of improving their ability and skill, but it’s not too difficult if you have been watching people attempting to learn a new skill/activities over a lengthy period of time, that you will be able to pick out the ‘Naturals’.

     I’m talking about the ‘natural runner’, ‘natural swimmer’ ‘natural dancer’, etc. The people who pick up the skill without too much effort and they seem to have a natural gift - even if they do not know why they can perform so well and easily! If you look up the word ‘natural’ in the dictionary you find the following; “Normal, conforming to the ordinary course of nature, not exceptional or miraculous or irregular. Existing in or by nature, not artificial, innate, inherent, self-sown, uncultivated, lifelike; unaffected, easy mannered not disfigured or disguised. Not surprising, to be expected, destined to be such by nature”. I have underlined what I consider the important part of this dictionary definition.

    Learning Plateaus, Time scale, and Progress 

     Now the degree of development and advancement in physical skills is most noticeable in the early stages of training. In the many years of observation of my yoga students, I noticed that during the first year of involvement, say attending a class or two a week, and regular daily practice, their range of movement increased, but then they reached a learning plateau. This is not unusual; in fact, it is to be expected.

    Progress will always be limited by an individual’s physical make up, and in yoga practice this is very much governed by so called ‘loose ligaments’.

    In stretching the human body, the maximum range of movement (RoM) of a joint, is generally when bone meets bone, and then comes the effect of ligaments, tendons, muscles, connective tissue, and skin. The break down of RoM is that ligaments contribute 47% of human flexibility, muscles 41%, tendons 10%, skin 2%, so you can see that being born with loose and stretchy ligaments, offers a distinct and tremendous advantage in how far you are able to bend.

    There are a number of methods available to increase an individual’s flexibility, but not sufficient space here to go into lengthy explanations. However, a number can be found in my book ‘Are you a Natural Hatha Yogi?’ (5) Learning plateaus also occur for just about everyone as they develop new skills. After a period of time, everyone’s progress begins to level off; these plateaus may be of a temporary nature, but can also become permanent, resulting in no further advancement for that individual. The reason for this lack of progress could be many and various, for example

    1. Loss of interest.
    2. The effort needed to progress is too much for the individual.
    3. It is taking up too much of their time.  
    4. They sense that they have reached their full potential, and that’s it!

    In learning a new skill or activity, even with the advantage of natural talent, there remains the all-important consideration of the amount of time you have available for the skill. As we all know, world-class performers in sporting activities spend years of dedication and practice before reaching the top. The same applies to musicians, singers, dancers, etc. They all put in many hours of practice every day and most, if not all of them, begin very early in their life. This is certainly true with activities that demand peak physical performance, for example Olympic sport stars who devote themselves completely to their sport, and also those sports people who only have a short period of time at the top level before retirement. They may also have to give up through injury, possible due to the intensity of their training, and performances.

    Psychological Effects

    It is well understood that exercise will produce chemical changes in the brain and that these changes can have an uplifting effect on the person. So much so, that some people can become addicted to exercise systems. They find they have to work out on a regular basis otherwise they feel low and depressed!

    It is also worth remembering that health and fitness are separate issues. A person can be healthy but not fit, we all know of people who live long lives, stay healthy, but are not sportingly fit, and in fact they may even hate playing active games! Then there are very fit people who are extremely active, and yet have died through an organ failure, heart attack, stroke, etc., sometimes when they are actually playing in a team game!

    However, in general it’s better to take part in some form of physical activities during your life, not only because it will most likely make you feel better, but that it could also help to prolong your life span.

    The Importance of Accurate Coaching

    So many people learn to play a sport without good coaching, and this can present a number of problems. The most obvious problem is learning badly because once you keep doing something wrong, it becomes habitual! Now, we have all heard of the saying ‘practice makes perfect’, but the only sure thing you can say about practice, is that ‘practice makes permanent’, so it’s very important to start off right. A good coach will make sure that you continue to do it right, until it becomes more or less an automatic action, and thereby embedded in muscle memory. Good coaching will also help, because it avoids wasting energy on incorrect movements, and this will go along way towards reducing the chance of injury. Another advantage of good coaching is that it will help to develop good form and style, which generally means operating with the minimum amount of energy and effort.

    Here again, this is where having a course of Alexander Technique lessons can produce a tremendous advantage, by being able to maintain the working integrity of yourself in the course of playing a sport, or just taking part in any physical activity. However, I do feel the need to emphasise, and most strongly, that a sufficient number of Alexander Technique lessons is required, so that each individual, if they wish, can bring about the necessary changes in their manner of use, which would enable them to inhibit their old ways of performing, and subsequently to incorporate F.M. Alexander’s ‘conscious guidance and control’ into their activities. Unfortunately too many people have criticized the Alexander Technique after only having a limited number of lessons, and subsequently failing to grasp the basic principles behind the Technique.

    A ‘Means Whereby’ Approach

    I personally have given a number of workshops to tennis, and badminton players, and explained to them where it’s possible for them to find time during a game to bring their attention back to their individual manner of use. The two obvious ones are when they are about to serve, and when they are about to receive service. This is where they have the time to pause, and to give Alexander’s ‘directions’ to themselves, so enhancing their physical ‘good use’. This can be of equal, or maybe even more importance because they can use this time to adopt a more effective mental strategy for the play in progress. This principle can of course be incorporated into so many other activities in life.

    During F.M. Alexander’s life, he was able to influence a number of sporting people, and this is fully described in his books, particularly in ‘Use of the Self’, in chapter 3 on ‘the golfer who cannot keep his eyes on the ball’. (6). Here he explains the problems that confront someone in a sporting activity, and during the course of this chapter he covers all the important principles of his Technique. I would recommend reading this chapter several times over, because it contains the essence of his discoveries.

    One of the most important things he discovered was that in the process between stimulus and response, you have the ability to make space between the two. Now, the one thing that anyone participating in any sport will come across, sooner or later, is a stimulus that can upset their tranquility, equilibrium, and poise.

    This can be caused by a variety of circumstances such as an action, or comment from your opponent, a wrong umpiring decision, a bad shot, or your reaction to pressure, etc. So your ability to inhibit your first reaction to any given stimulus will help you make sufficient space, before any response is made, and this will give you the opportunity to avoid unsuitable, habitual responses, and to make a different response, or if necessary, to make no response at all!

    This ability to change your response to a stimulus gives you a tremendous advantage in a competitive game, (also in the game of life!). For example in tennis, when confronted with the obvious return, say a cross court shot, you can instead go down the line, wrong footing your opponent! Being able to change the direction of your return, also keeps your mind active, and that means you are staying fully in the game. Most games are more mental than physical, and staying on top mentally for hours on end, is very demanding and nervously exhausting. The thing that overcomes this is of course, winning!

    It is quite easy to pick out the winner after a competitive contest. The classic one I always think of is the University boat race each year. Here are two crews who have rowed the same distance, expanded the equivalent amount of energy, yet the winners are easy to spot - they are the ones sitting up in the boat waving to the crowd, while the losers are draped over the oars, absolutely shattered. Winning makes all the difference because you just don’t feel so tired! Anyone who has played a sport will tell you that that is true!     

    “Movement is what our lives are all about, You’ve got to mobilise weight and control it and regulate it, and you do that by and through energy. So, learning to use yourself properly is learning to regulate direction and control the flow of energy.” – Walter Carrington

    Page 150 - Freedom to Change by Frank P. Jones - Mouritz 1997

    Page 171 – VII Notes and Instances, Man’s Supreme Inheritance by F. Matthias Alexander – Mouritz 1996

    Pages 174/175 – VII Notes and Instances, Man’s Supreme Inheritance by F. Matthias Alexander – Mouritz 1996

    The Atlas of Man and Varieties in Human Physique, by W. H. Sheldon – Harper - New York 1940

    Are you a Natural Hatha Yogi?, by Ken Thompson - Wide Eyed Frog Pub. – 2002

    Chapter 3 The Golfer Who Cannot Keep His Eyes on the Ball - The Use of the Self (It’s Conscious Direction in Relation to Diagnosis Functioning and the Control of Reaction) by F. M. Alexander - Victor Gollancz – London 1985

    The quote at the start of this article is from ‘Freedom to Change’ by Frank P. Jones, Page 2 Mouritz 1997.

    The quote at the end is from ‘Thinking Aloud’ by Walter Carrington, Page 24 Mornum Time Press 1994

    Sport Mind Map

  • 27 Sep 2013 12:42 PM | Anonymous

    Can we really blame the computer?

    We are millions.  With our screens on a desk or lap, or in hand, we sit for long periods enduring degrees of discomfort ranging from a mild urge to shift our bottoms to extreme pain in neck, back or arms.  As we transitioned from pen and pad, through typewriter and copystand, to the keyboard and monitor, attention centred initially on screen positioning. Some arbitrary notions that resulted, such as the elevation of the monitor above the head, or having it distanced precisely at arm’s length from the face, were interesting for their quaint reversion to Medieval standard measures (as when a foot measure was roughly the length of a man’s) but which failed to help with the aches and pains.  Later, attention shifted to the seating, attracting state of the art science garnered from various fields, and collectively known as ergonomics

     

    We have trawled through the saddle seat and the kneeling chair, the pelvic girdle and the bouncing ball, culminating in the complex office chair with its manifold possibilities for questionable ‘adjustment to the human form’, none of them ridding us of sitting-induced back pain. I often wonder how many of these experts sit comfortably on their own appliances?  You can hardly call them chairs any longer.  They have transmuted into symbols of serious business, work; in the same way that the necktie tells us the wearer is skilled and delivers information.  Designing a badly-shaped chair to fit a poorly–shaped body compounds the problems of both. When a well-shaped person sits on a badly-shaped chair – one that has been constructed in conformation with normal bad posture - the tougher material wins, as the biological is more readily corrupted.

     

    We have tried posture correction, massage and idiosyncratic exercise to no long-term avail, while the latest school of thought seems to have given up on sitting altogether, advocating standing instead.  Dotted amongst the slumped beavers we now see one or two people standing, looking like meerkats on watch. 

     

    Yes, sitting can be harmful, but so can standing if you’re doing it badly.  From amidst the multiple applications to this universal area of human suffering, F M Alexander alone has crucially linked both environment and posture in looking at both what we are sitting ON and HOW we are sitting on it.

     

    Whether it’s good or bad for us, standing also depends on HOW we are doing so, whether we are using gravity to our advantage or otherwise. The common stance where the trunk is collapsed – ‘relaxed’ - thrusting the pelvis forwards and driving unsprung weight onto mal-aligned joints, is what Alexander called ‘pulling down’.  When we pull ourselves down, the body’s natural opened out shaping is spoiled, causing compensatory muscle tension in stressful holding patterns.

    When we work out at the gym deploying these same ‘core muscles’ we compound the harm.

     

    Good deportment in both standing and sitting is a matter of deploying the inbuilt physiological mechanisms for optimizing reflex muscle response that hold the trunk upright and expanded - in F M Alexander’s words ‘lengthened and widened’ - and in standing, getting the trunk to extend from the legs.  In sitting, the pelvis needs to be upright, balanced on the ischial tuberosities,  to give the base of the spine where it’s attached to the sacrum, the best orientation for balancing the head freely on the lengthened out spine.  Look at an infant sitting on a firm flat surface and you see all there is to know about perfect poise.  Put the same child on a canted seat and watch how a normal adult sitting shape appears as the child’s pelvis is tipped backwards bringing the lumbar spine with it and necessitating a tightening and pulling down in front.  In this situation, the body is forced to counterbalance the backwards pull by overworking the flexors in order to hold itself upright on the chair.  Don’t we all instantly recognize the discomfort of the plastic moulded chair?

     

    The logical answer therefore would appear to be simply to hold yourself upright on a flat seat.  True, but like most things in life, the business is more complex – and it took the genius of F M Alexander to work out why direct instructions to ‘sit up’, ‘hold your core’ etc. don’t work in a body whose shape has deteriorated.  From where we are in adult life with assorted bodily damage, simply switching to suitable furniture will not do much for us without thorough re-education as well. Sit a poorly-shaped person on a good chair and he will be in there with a chance, as a good chair gives appropriate support.  But the sitter also needs to re-learn HOW to sit well on it.

     

    Thanks to F M Alexander’s genius we do have a method for addressing this universal need.  The Alexander Technique is an educative process rather than a treatment, requiring good guidance and time to grow understanding through experience.  With an Alexander Technique teacher, you learn improved use of the self, incorporating a refinement of proprioception and appropriate relation to the environment in which the individual deploys his restored sense of balance and movement.

     

    Christine Ackers is the founder of ATE Inc. and has been teaching the Alexander Technique for 45 years.  She trained with Dilys and Walter Carrington and runs her own teacher training course in Sydney, Australia. 

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