How to Feel Better (While Doing Less)
|Author: tricia of Awareness in Balance||Published: 18th July 2012 18:30|
Sounds impossible doesn't it, especially after years of being told “Go for the Burn” to “Have it All”. Life can seem like a race to get through what we have to do, ticking items off the To-Do list ever faster. But how often do we connect this to pains we get in our head, neck or back, or to the gradual stiffening up of joints? A tense, busy lifestyle can all too easily lead to a tense, unresponsive body. Yet there is a way to use less effort to achieve more and feel better.
The Alexander Technique has been around for over a hundred years but despite being practiced by many celebrities, from royals to well-known actors, it is not widely known. It is based on the principle that by fixing on “getting things done” we stop paying attention to how our bodies are doing them. We don't notice habits of tension that build up in how we move, sit and stand. These come to feel normal to us, so we see no reason to change, but we are using effort wastefully, making it harder to do want we need to and may even be slowly damaging ourselves. Events such as accidents or pregnancy add to the load as we adapt to cope but don't always readjust afterwards. This affects all aspects of our life, from sitting at a desk to breathing, from hobbies to work in the house and garden, from music or theatre to sporting performances.
If you want to see what I mean, try any of these:
1 Stand facing a blank space of wall, a few inches away from it. Shut your eyes, bend your elbows and raise each arm to put your hands flat on the wall, on either side of your head. When you are happy that your hands are at the same height (finger tips level with those on the other hand), keep your hands in place but push back slightly and open your eyes so you can see your hands. How level are they really? Most people find that one hand is higher than the other even though they were sure they had them even. Think how it could affect your golf shot if you are not standing straight when you think you are!
2 If you carry a bag regularly on one side, try swapping it to the other hand or shoulder. Take a note of the time. Then look at the time again when you feel you have to swap it back (or find you have already swapped it back without realising). Not long was it?
3 Next time you clean your teeth pause for a moment and think about what muscles you are using. Do you have your knees locked? Is your shoulder raised? How tightly are you gripping your toothbrush? How much effort is really necessary to clean those teeth?
4 When typing on your mobile, iPad or laptop notice how much effort it takes in your neck and shoulders to hold your head up. How close are your shoulders to your ears? How hunched is your back and what is this doing to your chest and breathing? How often are you like this?
Not everyone wants to change, but for those who do, the good news is that lessons in the Alexander Technique help you relearn how to use your body effectively, whatever you are doing. Although this can't undo physical damage, many people find they reduce pain that was triggered by the way they were using their bodies. An NHS trial back in 2008 found that Alexander lessons were the most effective way to relieve lower back pain long-term, and another trial has just started on shoulder and neck pain.
Getting your mind aware of your body so they work together should improve your posture and balance, but pupils have also reported less obvious side-effects – from sleeping and eating better, feeling generally more cheerful, to being more relaxed around their nearest and dearest or enjoying a more positive relationship with their horse.
I sometimes get asked why, when so many of us are overweight anyone would want to reduce the amount of effort they use, but learning the Technique means you have the energy to use positively on whatever activity you enjoy without causing yourself damage.
Lessons are 1-1, so they are built around your needs and interests. This means they are tailored to be enjoyable for you whatever your age or (dis)ability. They usually begin with exploring simple activities such as sitting, standing or something relevant to you, to rediscover how your body moves and stays in balance. The teacher guides you to notice what is happening, to stop old habitual movements and to learn how to release tensions so your body can move freely. From the first lesson you should find things to build into your daily life, but depending on how far you want to take it, lessons can go on to cover balancing, juggling, use of the voice, walking in high heels or just about anything you can think of that is legal and decent! In most lessons we also spend some time practicing a form of gentle but active relaxation that you are encouraged to try regularly at home.
For more information on lessons and other Alexander events in the Maldon/Tiptree area with Tricia Kelly, a fully trained and qualified teacher from the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique, see the Awareness in Balance pages.
But if you are from further away, need lessons near your workplace or have a particular skill you want to explore with a specialist do get in touch anyway - I'll be happy to help you find a suitable teacher.