Alexander Technique Education UK




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on the Alexander Technique


Please note that views expressed in these blogs are attributable to the authors and not the corporate body ATEUK.

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  • 12 Jun 2015 2:21 PM | Anonymous

    On 5th May a group of running enthusiasts and a number of less enthusiastic participants (!), attended this running workshop based on Alexander Technique principles. By the end of the day, I think it’s fair to say we were all more pumped about running than we started out!

    Malcolm’s easy style and simple explanations made for a relaxed learning environment where everyone was enjoying having a go.

    Malcolm lead us outside to a wide lawn area where we did some easy warm-ups.

    After these typical warm ups, we did a series of exercises to prepare us for a more efficient running style.

    First, we did bouncing up and down on the spot trying to connect with the elastic nature of muscles, rather than pushing with great effort to go up - a real feeling of economy of movement.

    Then, still staying on the spot, and allowing both feet to the ground, first 3 times on right foot, 3 times on left foot. Then 2 times on right foot, 2 times on left foot, and finally once on right foot, once on left foot. Hey presto - now we only needed the forward momentum! Malcolm showed us how to just lean very slightly forward from the ankles and imagine the heel coming up under the thigh. Off we went. Running suddenly seemed much easier!

    He used a long band around the runner’s hips to demonstrate how to lean into the run from the ankles. We then did this in pairs, with one partner keeping a strong grip of the band and then running a few steps with you. Then the partner lets go of the band and off you go!

    We experimented with starting off running by leaning slightly forward from the ankle but then when you have reached your desired running speed, straightening up.

    Malcolm paid attention to arms, saying they needed to be drawn back in order for them to spring forward each time.

    He got us to swing the arm in straight position so you could feel the pendulum was the shoulder joint. Then he explained why the arm needed to be bent at 45 degrees to shorten the lever.

    Malcolm uses Alexander’s Primary Directions over and over while he runs. We tried it and again, great advice, it did seem to help keep the directions going while running with more freedom.

    Neck to be free, Head forward and up, Back to lengthen, Back to widen, Knees to go forward and away! Boot camp was complete!!

    The round up at the end of the day, using before and after video footage of each runner, is a classic Malcolm technique and really helps each runner make sense of  his/her individual changes over the course of the day – and gives everyone inspiration to see how much can be achieved.

    Having done 4 of these over the years, I am amazed at how much I learn each time. I can really recommend this running workshop to all – especially if you don’t like running – you may find you actually really enjoy it once it becomes so much easier!

    Jane Gregory

  • 07 Dec 2014 3:37 PM | Anonymous

    Wolfgang Weiser ATE UK Workshop

    My abiding memory of the two days I spent at Wolfgang's workshop is the way I felt as I drove home - the most fully embodied and alive I have felt for a long time. Great as it is, that sort of intense feeling can't last so what else did I take from the event? The session where we took turns to lie down and be worked on by 5 others - one taking the head and one on each limb - was a powerful reminder of what it takes to force us to let go of our urge to control. You just can't stay in charge with that sort of energy around you. Moving in threes while playing with the roles of who leads and follows further uncovered our deep-seated control-freakery. By later in the second day the wonderful peacock feathers had us twirling under their spell, experimenting with the balletic freedom of movement that came from letting go and following the extravagant, elegant plume balanced on our hand. It really is possible to think up through a feather!

    Wolfgang Weiser ATE UK Workshop 2

    But what did I learn as a teacher? That even teaching AT it is scarily possible to get into habits. We watch someone walk or sit and know what we are looking for, and probably how we think we can best help them realise the habits they have. All too often, as we did in the lead/follow exercise, we work from a point of control and can't see our own habits in the process. What Wolfgang brought to the fore was the possibility of moving with someone - not controlling but sharing the movement - and in the process sensing how they move, what their mind and body is doing and where the tensions are, whilst hopefully sharing a living example of release in movement. There were some activities we did that I might be wary of using with some pupils - an elderly arthritic new pupil may be put off by being asked to trust me to tip them backwards and forwards, but a lot of the principles could be adapted to suit a variety of people and situations. Foremost though it reinforced the privilege we have in sharing the beauty of use - mind and body working as a harmonious whole.

  • 10 Sep 2014 8:51 PM | Anonymous



    ATE UK Avi Granit Workshop


    At the end of June EACAT was privileged to host a workshop by the renowned Israeli  Alexander Technique teacher Avi  Granit.  Avi studied with Patrick Macdonald in London in the 1980s, completing an extra year after qualifying to further enrich his learning. He has a busy practice in Israel, but makes time to visit the UK to present workshops and give individual lessons. This was the first time he had ever been to Essex and he was accompanied by Jill Payne, an Alexander Teacher from Kent, who has worked extensively with him on his previous visits to England.


    Avi’s audience spanned a wide range of experience, from students in their first year of training to Alexander Teachers of long standing. From the introductions onwards, everyone was equally attentive and involved. Avi has a dynamic teaching style, constantly questioning whether Directions are being given, and if so, whether they are the most appropriate to the situation. His theme for the morning was  ‘ Opposition ‘ and he first gave us a Master Class, using willing volunteers , to show us the concept in action. After this, he allowed time for us all to practice what we had been observing, and he and Jill circulated to give advice and Direction.


    I made brief notes during the morning, but as always with AT you really had to be there!  As he brought a pupil out of a chair, Avi talked about the vital importance of the primary control, and the space that giving the ‘Neck free, head forward and up‘ Direction creates between the head and the body. He reminded us to consider all three dimensions of the body – not just length but width and depth too. Referring to his concept of ‘the three ups’ ( the up of the head, the up of the back and the up of anti-gravity ) he gave us a memorable analogy for the third ‘up’ as being like the bubbles in a bottle of fizzy water. Unscrewing the cap is like freeing the atlanto-occipital joint, allowing the bubbles to rise. Whichever way you tip the bottle the bubbles will continue to rise upwards.


    Avi explained that thinking of parts of the body in opposition to each other was to him a more powerful Direction than simply thinking of them releasing away from each other. To demonstrate this he used hands on the back of a chair and introduced the idea of a hexagonal shape composed of the shoulder girdle as one side, the upper arms as two more, the lower arms and the space between the hands as the final three. By thinking of different sides of the hexagon in opposition to each other we were able to widen and lengthen much more than expected, especially with a partner putting hands on the arms and giving the same Direction. Avi told us that he usually practices this for about fifteen minutes a day and finds it to be endlessly useful to his own development.


    Time just disappeared, and, before anyone was ready, we had reached the end of the morning. Avi finished with his mantra, which translated as ‘ Aim up, stay back in all circumstances’ .


    During the afternoon, Avi gave individual lessons to some of the teachers and students and again they found his teaching fascinating and dynamic. For the rest of term the students at  the school  experimented with and discussed Avi’s ideas and everyone felt they had gained something valuable to add to their practice of AT. Avi hopes to visit the school again next year and I think we would all value the chance to meet this inspirational teacher again.

    By Linsey Wass (Trainee Teacher at the East Anglia Centre for the Alexamder Technique)

  • 20 Jun 2014 11:40 AM | Anonymous

    Part 3

    An Alexander Technique Approach to Musicians’ Injuries

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

    Guided Whole Body Release before Practicing or Performing                                       

    To prevent injury and strain in playing, lead yourself through this guided release of your body before you practice or perform. First, find a comfortable, firm surface to lie on, which might be a yoga pad or carpeted floor. If you have to do these releases on a hard surface, you may still be able to let go of enough tension to feel comfortable. Lie down on your back with your knees up. Your feet should be placed close enough to your hips, and far enough away from each other, to allow your legs to balance themselves, with knees pointing straight up. Place a book under your head so that the forehead and a free jaw are level with each other. Rest your hands on your lower ribs or abdomen -whichever feels more comfortable to you. Let your elbows be fully away from your sides and resting on the floor, your hands not resting on top of each other. This is the 'constructive rest position. It is the most neutral body position for the bones and muscles; it is essentially perfect sitting, lying on your back. In the Alexander Technique, this awareness exercise is usually done with the eyes open, but I also find it helpful to do it with the eyes closed, so that you can be in the world but not of it, as you release deep tensions that you do not want to take to the instrument.


    Let your neck release and your head be fully supported by the book. Let your shoulder blades fall to the floor; do not immobilize them against the back. Let your hips be fully supported by the floor. Let your feet be supported by the floor, with your ankles totally released. Let your feet be totally released; be aware that they're not supporting any significant weight. Think of your knees releasing to the ceiling, as if strings were gently supporting each leg. Let your calves release to your heels. Let your thigh muscles flow to your knees. Let your hamstrings release to the back of your knees. Let your whole back be supported by the floor but do not try to flatten your back just let the curves soften as it releases deeper and deeper into the floor. Let the floor support your elbows; this allows the floor to support your arms. Let your hands be soft and rest on your torso and let your wrists be unlocked. Let the chest muscles release and the shoulders fall fully open into the floor. Let the muscles around your eyes and mouth release, allowing your face to soften. Let your jaw release, your teeth not touching, your lips touching gently. Let your upper arms flow to your elbows. Let your lower arms flow into your hands.


    Let your neck release and your head move away from your sit bones. Let your shoulders flow away from each other. Now let your upper arms flow towards your shoulders. Let your forearms flow through open wrists into soft hands, with the fingers leading the arms into lengthening. Let your upper legs release out of the pelvis. Let your lower legs release away from the knees. Feel how far the head is from the shoulders. Feel how far the head is from the hips. Feel how far the head is from the knees. Feel how far the head is from the feet. Feel how effortless it is to sense your body, as you let your head be far away from all of these places.


    Notice the rise and fall of the chest on the breath. Do not control your breathing; let the body breathe itself. Let the exhale be a letting go, not a pushing out of the breath. Let the body decide when it needs to inhale, and when it needs to exhale. Feel the rise and fall of the chest on the inhale and exhale. Feel the rise and fall of the abdomen on the breath. Feel the expansion and release of the sides of the chest on the breath. Feel the expansion and release of the lower ribs on the breath. Feel the expansion and release of the sides of the abdomen on the breath. Feel the upper back go backwards into the floor on the breath. Feel the mid-back go backwards into the floor on the breath. Feel the lower back go backwards into the floor on the breath. Feel the rise and fall of the shoulders on the breath. Be aware that the pelvic floor goes downward on the breath. Feel the hands and forearms rise on the inhale and lower on the exhale as the upper arms rotate gently in the shoulder sockets. Feel the whole torso expanding in all directions on the inhale, like a balloon being blown up. As you observe your breath, notice that it settles into a peaceful, rhythmic breathing pattern.

    Open your eyes if they are closed, and let yourself come into the room. Feel yourself fully present in the room without interfering with the ease in your body or the ease in your breathing. When you are ready, gently role over onto your side and slowly push yourself up with an easy arm. You can now take all of this ease into warming up on your instrument. As you warm up, stay with what is happening in your body what you are asking it to do or not to do and as you play your instrument, remain totally in the present. Gradually allow your energy to rise. Experience the joy of coming to your instrument without habits, tensions or fears that would turn doing what you love into a chore.


    Anonymous. A Course in Miracles.

    Bonpensiere, Luigi. New Pathways to Piano Technique.

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


    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

    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

  • 02 May 2014 1:04 PM | Anonymous

    Part 2

    An Alexander Technique Approach to Musicians’ Injuries

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

    The Shoulders

                So many of the physical problems of the arms, neck and hands can be traced back to the shoulders. Ideally the shoulder girdle floats on top of the ribcage. The shoulder girdle consists of the shoulder blade and collar bone and the musculature that stabilizes or mobilizes the shoulder girdle. My experience with performing musicians is that the vast majority of performers immobilize their shoulders to some extent in playing their instrument. What this means is that instead of letting the shoulder girdle constantly change position on the ribcage with ease, in many cases the shoulders are frozen to near immobility, or they are muscled into movement from held positions. Lets look at what the violinist, the clarinetist, the pianist and the flutist do to their shoulders in playing their instruments.

                The violin rests on the players shoulder, and the instrument is partially supported by the left arm. The bow is held up by the right arm. This means that both shoulders are actively involved in supporting and playing the instrument. The left shoulder is relatively quiet compared to the bow arm, because the neck of the violin is so short. Place your left arm in the violin playing position and hold it there with excess tension. Now consciously see how much less work you can do in the shoulder and be aware of the left shoulder floating on the ribcage with a free shoulder blade. There is never ever any reason to immobilize the shoulder blades. This means that when the arm moves, the shoulder blades are allowed to change positions as constantly and freely as the arms.

                Now lift your right arm into the bowing position, and if youre not a violinist, think about having to support your right arm nonstop as you play the violin for hours. This thought probably makes you tighten your right shoulder to support your arm. Now, be aware that for the violinist to make music, the right arm is in nonstop movement. When the bow aint moving, then nothing comes out. This is so obvious, but in a way it isnt. The reason it is very important to bring this thought to consciousness, is because if you are going to support an arm that is in constant flow, you have to find a way to do so without interfering with the freedom of the arm to move continuously. If you have a sense of the arm feeling light, as if it is being held up for you, and simultaneously of the shoulder girdle floating on the ribcage, rather than pressed against the ribs, then you can move the bow with a floating arm, rather than muscle the arm and the bow across the strings. 

                The clarinetist supports the instrument in front of the torso with the right arm and thumb, and both shoulders support arms, hands and fingers that play the keys. Most clarinetists slump forward to hold the instrument, collapsing the upper back under the shoulder girdle, as the head goes forward and down to meet the mouthpiece. So, if the clarinetist is fully upright with the head leading upwards and the instrument is brought to his head, then the shoulders have a platform to support them. When the clarinetist slumps forward, the ribcage collapses down and forward and the trapezius muscles have to work extra hard to support the shoulder girdle.

                With the fully upright torso, the shoulders can be light on the ribcage, and the clarinetist can become aware that the instrument is not heavy and need not force the right shoulder to be raised or depressed downwards to support the clarinet. Visually when the clarinetists shoulders are balanced, then they look the same side to side. They arent. The right shoulder has more going on in it, since it is supporting the clarinets weight. But the right shoulder can be more energized and dynamic and use more muscle to support the instrument, without becoming held and static. Then, the clarinetist can experience the right arm and shoulder and hand as alive and light and free as the left shoulder.

                Pianists are a very interesting group when it comes to shoulders. A great many pianists believe they have to hold their elbows out from the sides, and they believe they generate volume and power on the instrument from the shoulders. Both are not necessarily true. My experience with pianists is that you dont have to hold your arms away from your sides, because the shoulders dont play the instrument. The shoulders only function at the piano is to float on the shoulder girdle and to move the arms, which means to place the hands and fingers over the notes that are to be played. It is the triceps that drive the hands and fingers into the keys to play crashing chords. Many pianists experience these crashing chords as coming from the shoulders, but what they are experiencing are the shoulders tensing up as the triceps drives the lower arm and hand and fingers into the keys.

                Let me restate the shoulders main function at the piano. It is to move the arm to place the hands and fingers precisely over the notes to be played, and if you allow the shoulders to be light and free with the upper arms suspended lightly over the sides, not held away from the sides of the torso for the purpose of volume, they will place the fingers with amazing precision. This is a huge shift for many pianists not to think of the shoulders as large muscles that make a lot of noise, and to begin thinking of the shoulders and the muscles of the chest and back assisting the hands in playing the right notes. A great many pianists experience accuracy on the piano as the hands playing accurately, without any experiential sense that it is the refined elegant and precise movement of the shoulders that create precision on the instrument.

                It is playing of the flute in my opinion that creates the most difficulty for the shoulders. The instrument is supported asymmetrically at head level, and the arms never move. It is essentially a static position for the arms and shoulders, and it is within this static position that the Alexander Technique teacher wants to show the flutist how play without creating rigid shoulders arms and hands. So bring your arms up into the playing position of the flute and imagine holding them there for hours. This thought probably had you tighten every muscle in your shoulders and arms. Now lower your arms and imagine there are strings tied to your arms, like a marionette, and let your arms be lifted up for you, and imagine and experience them being held up for you. If the flutist continues to return to this thought and the physical experience of suspension every time he plays the flute, he will create a technique where the thought creates an internal experience of supporting the flute with free arms and light mobile shoulders that arent held rigid.

                In all of the instruments I looked at, there is a constant theme of asking the performer to be light and mobile in the shoulders, whether the shoulders are moved a lot or not at all. The shoulders of performers are called upon to support weight, even if it is their own weight, and to be simultaneously available for movement. It is these two seemingly conflicting functions that can be brought together without physical problems, if the performer realizes that an arm supported never needs to be held immobile.

    The Wrists

                What originally sent me to an Alexander Technique teacher was a wrist problem - carpal tunnel syndrome. I had been trying to play the guitar with extreme accuracy and extreme cleanness. This meant that I was trying to press the strings so hard, so that every note rang true without any buzzes. I pressed the strings so hard to achieve this, that I was harming my wrist. Ultimately what I learned from the Alexander Technique teacher was to use the minimum pressure to get the job done. So, I took a scale, and finger by finger I practiced using just enough pressure to get a clean note. This wasnt all I had to change. I changed my whole posture at the instrument, so that I was in complete balance in my body at the guitar, and my shoulders were supported by my torso, so that my freed up arms were able to back up my hands and wrists.

                When you play an instrument with extreme tension, youre forcing the bones in the wrists against each other and they begin wearing each other out.  This gets further exacerbated when the wrists are continually changing shape, like the bow arm of a cellist. Over time, if a performer is hurting in her wrists, she will unconsciously reduce the movement in the wrist and brace for constant pain. You will really cause physical and musical problems on your instrument, if you try to avoid hurting your wrist by compromising your technique.

                When a cellist bows the instrument, as the arm moves the bow from one end of the bow to the other end, the hands relationship to the arm continuously changes. The freer the wrist is, the smoother the bow is moved across the string. If the shoulder joint, the elbow and the wrist are all allowed to be free, then the bow is moved with ease and elegance. If there is any holding in any of these joints, then the cellist has to do a whole lot of compensating in the other joints to get the sound she wants. In fact, protecting the wrist from pain on a cello could cause the player to do all kinds of odd compensating movements in the torso to get the job done. I like to think of the wrist moving the hand and leading the arm and sending the bow across the strings. If you think about how I expressed this, you can get a feel for the constantly changing shape of the wrist leading the bow and arm across the strings, as the arm changes shape in all of its joints continuously also.

                What do you do about the static wrists that dont change shape on an instrument, like the flute? You do not immobilize the wrists to hold the instrument. As you hold the flute to the mouth, you do not have to immobilize the wrists or the elbows or the shoulders. What does it mean to not immobilize a part of your body supporting an instrument?  The easiest demonstration would be to hold a ball in your hand and squeeze it, and as you are squeezing it, move your hand, which of course means changing the hands relationship to the arm through movement in the wrist. Now, as you squeeze the ball, how free can you be in the wrist, as you move the hand? The musculature of the forearm moves the hand, but you dont have to contract the forearm muscles before you move the hand. Now, as youre holding the ball with the arm horizontal and the hand aligned with the arm, you can support the ball with a free wrist, but with enough forearm support, so that the hand doesnt drop.

                This is how you would support the flute, as you prepare to play it. If a flutist has the instrument in position to play, and I push the flute down, then it should move with ease. Another way to say this is the flutist should think of the arms and hands as always available for movement, when the instrument is in playing position. So, the player has enough support and tone in the hands and arms and wrists to place the instrument against the lip and chin, with just enough support to get the job done. Ive used the trick of telling the flutist to play as if the instrument is super glued to the bottom of the lip, and this really shows the player he doesnt have to press the flute as much against the face as he thought he needed to.

                Can the wrists be in what is generally considered an awkward position on an instrument, and the performer not cause problems in the wrist? The problem I had as a guitarist was with the left wrist, which wasnt a hand position issue, but me trying to drive my fingers through the back of the instrument to get a clean sound.  I did not have a problem with my right wrist, which plays the strings. Even though I played with a high arched wrist to create the sound I wanted on the instrument. This high arched wrist allowed me to strike the strings perpendicularly, so I could get the clean precise sound I wanted.

                From an ergonomic perspective, this may not be the ideal thing to do, but I never had any problems with my right wrist for the following reasons. First I did not immobilize my wrist. Second, I didnt continuously change the shape of my wrist to get the consistent sound out of each finger I wanted. I found that wrist position that allowed all of my fingers to have a rich tone, but I didnt holdthe position. I allowed my hand to drop with dynamic into the right place. This meant I did the minimum necessary to sustain a high wrist, so if someone had wanted to move my hand, they could have.

                Id like to talk some more about this idea of a dynamic supported wrist that allows the hand to be moved easily by the player or someone else, to demonstrate that the wrist is not held rigidly. When a music teacher tells a student to hold an arm a certain way or the hands a certain way, the student invariably does this in such a tense way, that the teacher cant move the hand or arm for the student. But what if the teacher said, Im going to place your arm for you in a general position, and I want you to let me be able to move the arm for you? This is the Alexander Technique approach to musical technique.

                This means the teacher is from the very beginning demonstrating to the student that technique is built on movement and flow, and not on rigid positions held onto to play and create accuracy. The sound that comes out of an instrument from the player who is in a body that flows from head to toe is very different from the player who holds onto a technique. Now, there are some amazing players out there with held technique, but there is a wondrous sound and feeling and interpretation that comes from a player who trusts her body to be accurate, rather than holds the body to be accurate. It is extraordinary to hear a performer who plays or sings with the whole body in flow, which means no muscles locked or held.

    The Fingers

                Except for singing, all of the instruments in the classical music world use fingers in playing their instruments. Even the timpanist holds the mallets or the trombone player holds the slide with his fingers. What is it that causes most of the problems in the fingers in the musical performing world? So many musicians hold a ton of tension in their fingers, as they play the piano or hold the timpani mallets or hold the double bass bow. Why is this? Im going to look at body awareness in general and the tension in the bodies of performers.

                As youre reading this, do a whole body inventory of tension and posture from head to toe. Notice if youre sitting comfortably. Notice if there is unnecessary tension in parts of your body as you read this. Odds are youre not doing the minimum necessary in your body to read this. Why would you need a tight jaw or tight thighs to read what Ive written? You dont, but this is the excess work we do in our bodies so much of the time. F. M. Alexanders genius was that he recognized that we got our bodies in trouble by what we did to ourselves 24/7. We spend possibly all of our time doing what we do in poor posture and with too much muscle. And in fact, if your posture is poor, and/or youre off balance as you do something, you will use too much muscle to maintain balance and too much muscle to get the job done.

                This is what so many musicians do on their instruments. When you bring a slumped or overarched torso and locked legs to an instrument, you transfer this tension into your arms, your fingers etc. A very simple exercise: pick up your instrument, go to your instrument or prepare to sing, and do a whole body inventory. Notice what you are doing head to toe. Another way of saying this is to project ahead two hours, if you were to be in this place of being prepared to play and not playing. Where would you begin to feel tension and/or hurt?  This clearly shows you where you are doing too much work in your body. This is 100% unnecessary, but it is the norm.

                There is no perfect posture or perfect balance or perfect amount of minimum work to do in the body as you play your instrument. What there is is your developed or required consciousness connection to the voluntary musculature of the body that allows you to choose the alignment and technique and amount of work you want to do to get the job done (the instrument played). You feel the tension in your legs, and you ask and allow it to release. You feel yourself slumped over, and you ask and allow the head to lead the spine upwards into lengthening. You feel the tension in the fingers and you ask and allow them to release. We know when we ask an arm to bend, it bends. Alexanders genius was that he recognized if we asked the musculature of the fingers to release, even without any external movement, they would release. Then when you did move these released fingers, you would experience no resistance in your fingers, and youd feel the space and ease between the joints.

                Even if you didnt initially feel the fingers letting go after you ordered them to, Alexander asked the student to trust the process. By renewing the orders to the fingers to release, these repeated thoughts would have a greater and greater release effect on the fingers the more they were repeated. This is how Alexander reconnected the mind to the body and gave the person back control over his body. But this is control at a very subtle level. It is pretty easy to move a part of your body or to hold a position with no conscious concern for how much muscle youre using. For example you press the strings of a double bass over and over with no concern for how much tension youre holding in your fingers and how hard youre pressing the strings, and over time you get really good at playing your instrument. Then one day you begin to notice that your fingers are hurting, lets say you analyze your technique, and find youre doing everything right at the instrument. What do you do at this point? Then it has to be an internal issue, a tension issue, a doing too much work issue.

                I ask the double bass player to play a scale slowly, and to really experience what he is feeling in his hand and fingers and arm and shoulder and neck and as he presses and holds down each note with his left hand. Because this instrument does take more strength than any other stringed instrument to hold a string down, then he may begin to realize how he locks up the whole arm and hand and fingers to press the string against the neck of the bass. I then ask him to experiment with the minimum amount of strength necessary to press the string. I may ask him to imagine someone pushing his fingers into the string for him. This can really help him experience how much excess work he is doing.

                Here is a very important thing to demonstrate to any musician who has to hold a string down. It takes strength to hold a string down.  A stringed instrument player has to maintain pressure on a string for it to sound. There are two things that need to happen if the player is not to strain and damage the fingers over time. The first is the player needs to begin pressing the string and find the minimum pressure to get the job done. If he plays a scale very slowly, he can place all of his awareness on doing the minimum with each finger. This is a technique change to consistently press the string just enough to get the job done. Second, is what I call lengthening the finger into the string. This is truly a physical change throughout the whole finger in how the finger meets and presses the string.

                As the double bass player is about to press the string, he thinks and sends the finger into the string. What this means is that doesnt tense the finger before he presses the string, he thinks of the finger lengthening into the string. Here is a simple demonstration of this. As youre sitting at a table, tense your middle finger, and then press it into the table, and feel how the joints of the finger are already locked up in preparation of pressing the table. Now release the finger and then begin pressing into the table and simultaneously lengthening the finger as it pushes into the table. This is a very different experience of the finger, than if you lock up the finger before you put pressure on it.

                This is a perfect example of how we cause problems in joints by anticipating what we need to do to get the job done, if we tighten up before we play the instrument. It is an extraordinary kindness to your body and yourself, if you dont tense your musculature before you play or sing.

     Its time that every performer realize that all injuries are healable, if you dont continue to try and play through them, and that all injuries are preventable, if you find a way to play the most difficult music with the least amount of effort.

    The final post of Ethan Kinds blog next month will conclude with a guided whole body release for performers.


    Anonymous. A Course in Miracles.

    Bonpensiere, Luigi. New Pathways to Piano Technique.

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


    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

    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

  • 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.


    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

    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

  • 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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