After 30 years of hairdressing I now suffer with back and posture issues, namely caused by prolonged standing, leaning and slouching. The Alexander Technique, has made a noticeable difference to my pain – and posture too! I highly recommend this technique not only for the physical difference it makes but also for the relaxation benefits today. So today I’d like to introduce you to Helen Kearns, teacher of the Alexander Technique.
Hi, my name is Helen Kearns and I teach the Alexander Technique in London. I discovered the Technique when looking for help to manage chronic neck pain following a whiplash injury. After a few lessons I found that not only was my neck improving but I was feeling less stressed, more confident and I had more energy. It didn’t take me long to realise that what I was learning was showing me how I could change and improve all aspects of my life – and so I took the decision to train as an Alexander Technique teacher. The rest, as they say, is history – my neck is pain free and I now have a fantastic quality of life.
What is the Alexander Technique?
The Alexander Technique is an educational method which teaches you how to move your body ergonomically and mindfully with as little tension and effort as possible whatever activity you are doing. So, whether your natural habitat is sitting in front of a computer, taking part in sporting activities, or cooking, it has the potential to improve your performance. Whatever your age, lifestyle or occupation, the Alexander Technique can help you safely learn how to look after your body and mind. The Technique proactively teaches you how to recognise patterns of tension for yourself – by doing this it gives you the opportunity to choose a more ergonomic way of moving, without all the stressful habits that we often unconsciously use. The connection between how you use and move your body and your mental state is becoming more widely acknowledged – here is an article entitled “Sit Up Straight!” The Mental Health Benefits of Good Posture from the Huffington Post. The body awareness that Alexander Technique lessons teaches you, can therefore help you to discover this mental and physical balance in your life.
I like the analogy – that if you put four new tyres on a car and don’t have them balanced or tracked, the chances are you’re likely to get some wear on at least one area of a tyre. While the tyres are all new this wear won’t affect how the car runs, but over time it would become more pronounced and eventually the car’s performance will be affected. This is essentially what we’re doing by asking our bodies to work with unnecessary areas of tension, created by unconscious habits. What the Alexander Technique isn’t, is a quick fix. It’s not popping a pill or having a massage – please don’t get me wrong, both of these are important and have their place. However, to return to the car analogy, if a physiotherapist is the car mechanic putting the body right when it goes wrong, an Alexander Technique teacher would be the driving instructor showing you how to use the body in the first place. In fact, it’s like being given the Owner’s Manual to the human body.
What happens in a lesson?
Every lesson is tailored to individual needs, but you can expect to explore the way you use your body in everyday tasks. This can help you become aware of habitual patterns that cause tension and therefore help you to find a more natural way of moving. You might also lie down on your back on a treatment table, while the teacher gently moves your body to allow it to release unnecessary tension and re-balance.
Many of us have spent years hunched over desks and got into bad habits – can we still improve our postures in middle/later life?
Absolutely! It is never too late to change the habits that we have acquired and find a new, more biomechanical way of using our bodies. I have one student who is 85 years old and has found it helpful with her balance, walking, knee and hip pain and her friends keep asking her why she’s looking so much younger.
What could we do to improve our postures at work and in our everyday life?
We can start to bring awareness to whatever we are doing: One example is to consider how we are balancing when we are standing or sitting – do we sit with our legs always crossed the same way? Do we always put our weight down one side of our body? Can we allow a 50/50 balance between our feet? Once you notice your habits, you can stop doing them and choose a different way to stand, sit and move.
Is there anything we can do to help our backs, necks and posture?
In addition to taking lessons, one extremely effective Alexander Technique self-help method is lying down in semi-supine. Quite simply, this means lying down on your back with some thin paperbacks under your head and your knees bent for 10 -20 minutes. This allows gravity to ease out some of the stress your body has been under during its normal daily existence and you get up feeling refreshed, recharged and usually taller!
(I love semi supine, it very relaxing and it is a great way to unwind after a busy day. I find my shoulders and back relax , and really open out afterwards. Ignore my puppy in his playpen!)
Do you have any suggestions to help us appear more elegant as we walk?
I would suggest that being mentally present in the activity will allow most people to be aware of whether they are letting themselves be expansive, balanced and not contracted. We then look taller and more confident. If you look at the likes of Dame Judy Dench, Madonna and Jennifer Saunders – all of whom have studied the Alexander Technique – you can see this easy elegance in abundance.
If you’d like to find out more, or book a free consultation lesson with me, my website is www.helenkearns.co.uk . The professional society of Alexander Technique teachers – The Alexander Technique also have a website with information on how to find a teacher near you.
Thank you so much Helen for all your help and you will be glad to know I’ve been practising my semi supine every day!
Please let me know if you have tried The Alexander Technique and what you think in the comments below.