MAN “Doctor, I’ve hurt my arm in several places.”
DOCTOR “Well don’t go there anymore.”
Tommy Cooper, hapless comedian and magician.
We all hurt ourselves. Often a hurt is found repeatedly in the same place. The bad leg or back or . . . insert your favourite pain.
Now in our culture we are taught we are not strong enough, we need to exercise more, there is something wrong with us. We need to work harder. Achieve. Fix your posture or muscle strength and you will take care of the pain.
Let’s look at it differently.
What if everything is working beautifully? What if pain is telling you something? Think about it. What is pain’s purpose? It is there to tell you something is wrong. “Hello owner of this body, this pain I am giving you is because you are doing something that is not working with the design of this body. Please pay attention. Please pay attention.”
So a pain arises. It is small and visits regularly. It becomes familiar. You learn how to manage it, or ignore it, with pain killers or compensation and carry on. Eventually the pain gets bigger and unmanageable. It cannot be ignored. So then you decide to do something about it.
If it was your car, and a noise arose or a light started to shine on your dashboard, would you wait until you were broken down at the side of the road before you ask for help? Or would you investigate it?
What if we listened to the pain. Listened to what it says. What is it there for? What does pain actually want you to recognise? That of course is the reason for pain. It’s not there simply to inconvenience you, it is delivering a message. Often the message is "STOP! Please stop and listen to what's happening." You might muddle on through until you can't anymore, or you might stop and rest. Then you have a chance to take care of yourself.
The messages that want you to keep going are coming from your head. The stresses you are working with don't want you to stop or slow down. But that is your head over ruling your body. And it's not wise. The body is suffering because it's not being listened to. So when we have pain it is the body making the head listen. It is the body having its say. And this information is true and valuable.
"Hello pain. What is it you are telling me?"
"Thank you for listening. We have a little problem here. If we move this way it hurts."
So why move that way? Why don’t we stop moving the way that hurts?
To do that we either need to know the right way to move, or the wrong way to move. If we know the right way to move, do that. If you don’t know the right way, you might know the wrong way. The wrong way is giving you the pain information. So from that we can deduct if I just stop the wrong way, something else may be better. Moving in a new way could be better. It doesn't have to be the right way, if we stop what is causing the pain then movement can become easy again. What is the habit of holding that you can stop?
Don't Hold Back. Explore.
And for your entertainment - https://youtu.be/Ow0lr63y4Mw
Get to Know Your Body Better just for the craic. It will serve you well.
One Size Fits All
Well I can tell you that is not true for me. Once in Thailand “one size fits all” was a lure too far as I dared to try on something exotic and ended up wrestling out of the baby garment in the tiny makeshift dressing room. Thailand is not a place to shop for this statuesque Celt. I’m not their target market. But it’s not just Thailand. Another time in an English dressing room, as I reached my arms above my head I hit the ceiling and the electricity went off. Not entirely my fault, as I did not wire the place, but it did lead to uncomfortable manoeuvres in the dark.
The “one size fits all” may work ok for magic gloves producers, and the mean of a demographic the item is aimed at, but it does not take in our individuality.
Some say Alexander Technique is a “one size fits all” cure all. While I can apply the same principles to many different activities, and it helps me with each one, I would say the application is different in each case. It takes an ‘in the moment’ creativity and interpretation to teach a principle to a student.
For example. If someone has many compensation habits due to accidents over the years, they may or may not understand how much time it takes to make a change. If I spoke Alexander’s Victorian language I may lose them before we begin. So making the information accessible, and keeping them interested and aware while we visit a new experience, is my job.
They have a different goal to the singer who wants to perfect their voice. Different language, approach and entry point. Their interest is unique to them and so we approach the lesson differently.
The tools may be the same and serve both purposes, but I cannot apply what I used with the last person in the same way as the next. This new brain and body interprets differently.
It’s like when I was learning to cook. 44 of us would witness the same demonstration, follow the same recipe and use the same stock of ingredients. Miraculously 44 different loaves of bread would be produced.
So similarly in the way each student is unique, each teacher is unique. They bake Alexander’s ingredients with their own style and interpretation. And deliver their message, their teaching, their work in unique ways. 44 different lessons would be created for one individual with their individual needs (list of ingredients). Who is to say which would work better. It is to recognise that ease human brings their own ingredients and together we develop the recipe. The outcome is often surprising. It may be the bread you expected, or it may be cake. The important thing is that each lesson is a new invention interrupting, old moments, leading to new ways of understanding movement.
I find Alexander gatherings fascinating to watch teachers from different backgrounds work with students, work together and share ideas. To witness conversations based in historical interpretations, and hear never ending stories of old masters. Each may have a different way and their own ideas but one thing is in common. Always exploring. Exploring ourselves, students, Alexander’s discoveries, each other’s interpretations, and back to ourselves again where we process and live the findings of our explorations.
It’s a grand life, being an Alexander teacher, exploring life and movement and simplifying. Making life easier. Is it not the reason we humans are here?
Don't Hold Back
If you want to make your life easier sign up for Getting to Know Your Body Better starting May 4th
Thanks to the internet and the artist Corbett for the cartoon
Earth, Science, Us
On Saturday it was World Earth Day. The world marched to support our home, the earth, and science. This is an annual event but this year there was heightened awareness around it as there seems to be a threat. We haven’t been taking great care of our home, the evidence is showing, but many are still ignoring this fact.
Science, after all, simply observes and interprets what the body of the earth is saying. People have always spent their time observing how things work so they can best use natural forces to assist their survival. From figuring out how to make fire and inventing the wheel, which we still use, to how modern technologies can now send pictures instantly around the world and read signals from other planets. All of that came through science; the observation and study of natural laws.
It has always been so.
It is a fact that you are reading this through some technological device invented from what was learned through science, many miles from where I write. That is fact.
The problem is some accept science for what they find useful and ignore it, or blatantly oppose it, when the information does not best suit what they want to do, or how they can make money.
It’s always been so.
Our human bodies give us natural information all the time. These signals we can interpret as pain, hunger, distress, joy, excitement, anger, fear, sadness, happiness, fun. What do we do with these signals?
Many of us are not accustomed to listening to ourselves for guidance. We look externally for distraction and entertainment and then when we do have a problem, we look for further distraction or to the internet, books or experts for advice on how to fix it. We don’t listen to the natural warning signs leading to a problem. We catastrophize and deal with it when it becomes an emergency situations. We all do it. Well I certainly do.
FM Alexander was a scientist. He observed his body and the laws of nature to discover his technique. But he didn't start that way. He was human too. It took an emergency for him to stop and look and listen. Losing his voice threatened his career, necessity being the mother of his, and every other, invention. His study of human and animal movement led him to understand many simple ways in which he was interfering with his voice and movement. As he applied what he learned from nature he took care of his problem and enhanced his whole body performance. Fact. And his discoveries have been helping people for 100 years since. Also fact.
I will be exploring the simple aspects of what he discovered through everyday movement in a four week course in May - Get to Know Your Body Better.
As we learn to use our body better we grow respect for the home we live in. Your body is your first and most important home. It is the home you have most control over and the home you have most reward from. Then you have your environment, the home you live in, the community your home is in, and of course the world.
Technology is now part of all of our homes. Our towns and cities have large projects and infrastructure to enable living in great numbers. Our houses are filled with gadgets and mod cons such as electricity and connections to every place in the world. And our bodies are using medical breakthroughs to live longer, move better and keep us alive. Science has led to great things and continues to.
We are all scientists. The more we listen and observe how me move the more we understand how to. Pain is the emergency that teaches us to stop and listen. Studying and observing ourselves teaches us the joy of moving, and the potential we have as humans. We are part of science, not separate to it. We are the scientist and the experiment. That's life.
As Aldous Huxley said “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” I don't have to like the facts, but acknowledging them is useful.
If the house is on fire but I choose to ignore it I will most likely perish. I might not like the fact the house is on fire but I have to act, to save myself, and possibly more. But how could I ignore something so obvious and dramatically violent suddenly appearing in my environment? If my body is giving me natural signals why would I ignore them? Pain may not be as immediate or obvious as fire but it is an important signal.
When I choose to listen to my sore knee or tight neck, I learn something. I might not like the fact that it is there. I might not like listening to it. But by listening to what the natural signals in my body are I now have power to deal with it, instead of avoiding it and playing the compensation game. When we ignore what the body says, it adapts, but not necessarily in a healthy way.
Whether governments choose to support what the scientists say or not, we have to do our part. It's up to each one of us to take care of our selves and our environment, as best we can. It starts here.
If you want to learn more about Getting to Know Your Body Better contact me.
Starts May 4th for 4 weeks 7.30 - 9pm at Oscailt, Dublin 4
Photos with thanks to Mick Koons
I BLAME CHAIRS!
There I said it. I mentioned in my last post that I blame chairs for a lot of the habits of holding our backs we humans have today. It is not our fault. It is the chairs that we have been using since our youth that have influenced the shape of our bodies. A hundred years ago the shape of people was different. Everyone was more physically active because bicycles were more popular than cars, playing was an outdoor pursuit, and time spent sitting was a small percentage of time spent sitting today.
When I think about the negative impact chairs have had on most of our bodies it makes me angry. It feels like a huge conspiracy the world made to trap us into sitting and holding ourselves back. But it was just progress. Automobiles offered a more passive sitting experience to riding a horse or driving a carriage. Many social and technological factors are involved in humans moving less, but let's take the chair.
Can you remember the school chair that came into vogue in the nineteen-sixties and seventies? A revolution for the time with the invention of polypropylene and mouldable, cheap, stackable designs. How wonderfully ergonomic for tidying up spaces. How cool and trendy to move away from traditional flat wooden benches, to something curvy, and new. I can see the attraction at the time.
As you just think of these chairs what feelings come up in you?
Some find them comfortable, but in the surveys I have done more have feelings of discomfort, boredom and being trapped.
Let’s look at the design with human support in mind.
Which seat do you prefer?
The five year old child has been moving since it emerged. The child is suddenly asked to go to school and sit down for long periods in a room full of other five year olds. To the new school goer it is a challenge to be still, stop moving, with all these new people and things to play with. Everything is new.
They sit in the plastic chair that slopes backwards and figure out for themselves, naturally, how to balance their head over their spine and pelvis. They may move the chair forward swinging on the front two legs or they will fold a leg under their pelvis to prop it up and support the spine. Both ways are useful to take the torso and head forward towards their work/play, but neither is sustainable in the classroom. These behaviours are ill-advised by the teacher, and so the instruction to sit “properly” starts. (That's another story I'll save for later.)
And so it begins. Slowly the beautiful movement, agility and freedom we were born with gets trapped into muscle tensions developed from managing ergonomically unhealthy furniture. By teenage years the habits are already strong and we are dependent on the backs of chairs for support, more than the natural support of our own beautifully design spine.
The curved shape of the chair looks attractive but it invites the pelvis to roll back. If the pelvis is rolling back then the spine needs to lean and use the back of the chair. Now the upper spine and head curves forward so that the head is over the pelvis again. But the spine is not stacked to support the weight of the head. The neck and back muscles are holding onto the heavy head and the front muscles are shortening to adapt to the smaller space. (See the pink lines). Muscles of the whole torso are out of balance and working inefficiently. The chair is taking the child/person backwards when the task they wish to be involved in is forward.
When we sit on the sit bones, the pelvis is supporting the spine and the whole torso has room to be alive and available for movement. (See yellow)
Chairs have us Holding ourselves Back by invisibly teaching us to Hold muscle tension in Our Backs just to sit.
(This is one of the reasons I called my website Don't Hold Back.)
These days there is greater interest in creative ways of learning and encouraging children to move more. This is more from the point of view of catering to all types of learning and abilities, integrative learning practices and prevention of obesity, than improving posture. Preventing poor posture can assist all these goals.
Sitting has been labelled the new smoking. Long hours hard at work sitting down has many health risks these days. Movement is medicine, so I heard the for both body and mind health. Standing desks, sitting on balls and walking meetings are new trends in the workplace. Running and mindful meditation are the antidotes when off-duty. All of this is positive self-care. It is important that the average adult who has developed poor postural habits without knowing why or how, begins to realise that dependence on chairs might be a problem.
I hope this helps you understand how you have become the shape you are, and that you are not to blame for poor posture. On a positive note, understanding how your spine is designed to support your head and other movements, offers natural poise in sitting, standing or whatever activity you choose. You can move more naturally and free yourself up so that you Don’t Hold your Back muscles in tension.
I am not saying never use the back of a chair. Of course we can relax and switch off, put your feet up and watch the telly. But if I am working with a job, something I am interested and engaged in, in front of me, is it wise to be looking for support behind me? Am I being pulled in different directions?
There is a lot of information there to digest. What I have written challenges the way we understand sitting and that is no small thing. We may not have thought about it before but chairs influence our whole life. Please share your thoughts and objections to what I have written. It is important we understand how we are supporting ourselves.
Don't Hold Back.
Love Fiona xxx
If you want to learn how to support yourself through the design of your spine, sign up for Get to Know Your Body Better or ask me about private lessons Fiona@fionacranwell.ie
I have found myself enjoying the late evenings since the clock went forward last weekend, but I am not talking about getting more into the day. That’s what we were working with today. I am literally talking about finding the spring in your step as we let ourselves go forward. Or at least that was what the gentleman I was working with this morning rediscovered.
Many of us hold ourselves back. Yes, me too. That’s why I call my website Don’t Hold Back. It is a constant reminder to me Not to Hold my Back. So often I find people complaining of back pain, holding their backs. It’s what I did too. I blame chairs, but that’s another story.
One of the signs of this is where is the weight on your feet when standing. Your feet are touching the ground so you have a good place to refer. Often, we are standing in our heels as a habit and tightening all the muscles in the back of us, from the floor up; calves, hamstrings, low back, neck.
When we let ourselves find a less rigid way to stand in balance, our weight shifts more over our ankles and whole feet. Can you find your toes connect more to the ground, without grabbing? Now the back muscles and those of the legs can let go or begin to feel safe to do so.
This morning my gentleman literally found the “spring in his step” as he found balance in his forward, and up.
It is very easy to think ankles and feet when we are trying to change the weight we have recognised in our feet, from heels to a better distribution throughout the foot. Then we think down. However up and forward are our pain free destiny.
Try this. Take the information from your feet and then check in all along your body as you take you attention upwards, noticing where tension and holding patterns are. When you get to the head, offer yourself the thought that your neck is free and your head is floating up. Your whole head now, so that the crown leads. Not your chin up so that your eyes look up and your face tilts your head back onto your spine. Let your eyes see a great big horizon as you free your neck and whole spine, as your head floats up,
Play with UP.
And then when you feel ready play with forward. Imagine your face is heavier than the back of your head. Think about your nose being heavy. Just imagine. Don’t drop your face and head down. Just imagine a small weight shift so that your head is now balancing slightly forward of where you are used to. You are playing with thinking up and taking your self a tiny bit forward.
Play with FORWARD. This is of course the direction of your face and movement. It's generally the direction you travel in.
Now check your feet again. Is the weight more distributed through your whole foot? Are the joints of your legs less held – ankles, knees, hips. Do you feel more of the front of your foot and the toes? Are the muscles of your legs softer? Is your back still in the same amount of pain or tension?
These are all very small changes. Very subtle. In the beginning you will notice you do it more than think it so keep refining to lighten your work load. Do less and less muscle work, and more subtle and light swaying.
When you come more forward you will notice the spring in your step as the momentum takes you over your toes. My gentleman exclaimed “Spring Forward!” when I asked him what notes he would like me to make to help him remember the practice. How timely, I thought.
Play with it for yourself. Don’t hold on to the new place you find. Throw it away and play with it again. The main thing is to STOP Holding YOUR Back. Standing is an activity, after all. A gentle lively subtle activity of balancing, rather than holding yourself up and together. Roll onto the front of your feet and Spring Forward.
Let me know how you get on.
Thanks Pat for a lovely light and springy lesson.
If want to put a spring in your step, or you need help stopping holding your back, join the Get to Know Your Body Better class or contact me email@example.com for private lessons.
Thanks to the internet for photos
I am Fiona and I am exploring themes of meeting resistances and allowing ways through. The constant weeding, recognising the stuff that's in the way to live easier.