Air hunger is often linked to anxiety, which is something to be addressed in it's own right, but here I discuss how focusing on the wrong sensations can exacerbate it.
An edited transcript can be found below the video.
I've answered a question on the Quora platform, where people ask the general public about anything and everything, but I keep my eye out for questions on posture and ergonomics. This is the question I responded to:
I've answered another question on the Quora platform, where people ask the general public about anything and everything, but I keep my eye out for questions on posture and ergonomics. This is the question I responded to:
I've answered a question on the Quora platform, where people ask the general public about anything and everything. This is the question I responded to:
I was 14 years old when my parents bought me a nylon string classical guitar to replace the piano lessons I had refused to continue with because I was so nervous during the grade exams. For some inexplicable reason my school wouldn't allow music lessons if you didn't take the exams. The guitar was 2nd hand, cheap, and actually really nice, lovely sound. But I wasn't to discover that for three more years because the sight of all those frets and strings, no fret markers, left me totally confused. The Internet may have officially been born the year before, but it would be fifteen years or so before it caught on in any meaningful way to the public, and with no friends who played it sadly ended up in the attic gathering dust.
Three years later a friend complained to me that the guitar his parents had bought him was too awful to play on. I told I had one in the attic I thought would be better and to come over to check it out. He tuned it, which was a marvel to me in itself, and strummed an open E chord, I was impressed. Asking him to show me how he did that I managed to reproduce the same results. I didn't lend him the guitar, the journey had begun. Luckily my friend seemed to understand, so no bad feelings.
With a year left until I finished Secondary school (equivalent of High School in America) I took classical guitar lessons, which I really enjoyed. At the same time the usual teenage obsession with music was as strong as ever, but now morphing away from the Ska and Mod culture I'd started out with into Classic Rock. It was soon obvious after delving into the likes of The Who, Led Zeppelin, Rush, Queen, ACDC, The Doors, Hendrix and Pink Floyd, I was going to need an electric guitar. And so the obsession deepened, and not just with classic rock, but the history of the guitar. I bought best of compilations from all the greats, Robert Johnson, Django Reindhart, Charlie Christian, T-Bone Walker, Wes Montgomery, Segovia.
Seeing my interest undiminished my parents thankfully didn't put up any resistance into getting my first electric guitar. They had almost no interest in music themselves, something I found odd, but they were happy that I had an interest in something. We were living in Germany at the time, so with the aid of a very helpful sales assistant that lead to the purchase of an inexpensive, but surprisingly good Strat style guitar made by Marathon, a German company.
I have to admit that my self taught electric guitar progress wasn't as good as I'd hoped given I thought I was making reasonable progress with the classical guitar. I put this down to being a lefty playing right handed, holding and using a pick was frustratingly fiddly and clumsy for me, and I couldn't see the additional tension that encouraged in me.
After leaving school and going to college to study electronic engineering and music technology, the opportunity to play in bands finally arrived, but with guitar players being two a penny, and an invitation to start a band on bass, I switched to playing bass. Much better to play bass in a band than guitar in the bedroom, and I had John Paul Jones and Geddy Lee to look up to as musical heroes, and I enjoyed ditching the pick in favour of fingerstlye. In true punk style I joined the band first then went shopping for a bass and got lucky with a fantastic Japanese Fender Jazz Bass for the price you'd spend on a Squire these days.
It was at this point I started to really struggle with the physicality of playing. At the time I put it down solely to the dimensions of the bass guitar, but truth be known, in hindsight, I was a very tense young man, physically and emotionally, and bringing that to the bass guitar would leave my hands and arms aching and in need of rest after rehearsals and gigs. Maybe it was the resilience of youth, but luckily this never lead to long term injury from playing bass. Along the way I also upgraded my Marathon (well, I had to, a friend dropped it and put a crack down the length of the neck) to a Fender Strat Plus Deluxe with financial help from my mother and bar work evenings and weekends. It was a modern guitar to me, and well, Jeff Beck!
During a summer break from college I spent nearly two months obsessively learning and practicing classical guitar, progress was good but something snapped in me, what can I say, rock and blues held a bigger piece of my heart. I put the classical guitar away and never played it again. Years later I sold it to a teenage Alexander Technique student of mine for next to nothing, I knew it was going to a good home.
No interest in blues goes by without an obsession with Stevie Ray Vaughan, and with the bass playing strengthening my hands, and Stevie's use of 13 gauge strings (more on that in a later chapter), 11s in standard tuning became my default gauge. Again, in hindsight I feel this was in part a way to disguise the excess tension I played with.
Just as I was about to graduate from college I had my first long-term playing related injury. I was in the middle of an Albert King two tone style bend when I felt a ping in my fretting hand elbow, and pain! After weeks of rest the problem hadn't resolved. I could play a little but absolutely could not perform any string bends without severe pain in my elbow. The doctor and physio I went to see could find no issue with my elbow, I was at a loss with what to do.
For pragmatic purposes I sold my bass and bought an Epiphone Emperor Regent and started learning some jazz chord melody as that would avoid string bending, but I was limited with only being able to play for up to half an hour before the pain became too much. Added to that, a new career in IT for investment banks and stock brokers kept me busy, and so for the next 4 years my guitar playing slid into the background, sometimes going months without playing at all.
But the career in IT lead to it's own problems, that underlying tension I was still oblivious too was contributing to repetitive strain injury in my right wrist and pain in my upper back. Ironically this lead to my first breakthrough in getting back to the guitar. I'd frequent physios and osteopaths (similar to chiropractors) regularly, and in an early session my neck was manipulated in a way that released pressure on the nerve that was causing my elbow problem. In others words, I never had an elbow problem! This was also my first sense of how inter-related the body is. Obviously I was delighted and wanted to get back to playing guitar. I don't know about anyone else but the guitar isn't just about the music, it's also a kind of security blanket and stress relief, a way to lose yourself away from the stress of daily living.
Unfortunately I soon discovered that any attempt to string bend would bring the symptoms back. I had a piece of the puzzle, that I was consistently doing something to myself when I performed a string bend, but to be honest, I had no idea what that might be. It hadn't even occurred to me to watch myself in the mirror in a way I would later discover FM Alexander did to observe what he was doing that was unhelpful to good coordination.
As chance would have it I heard that guitar teacher Shaun Baxter offered private lessons on guitar ergonomics. If you're not familiar with Shaun his monthly column in UKs Guitar Techniques magazine reached almost legendary status with many of us buying the magazine for his column alone. Shaun spotted the problem straight away, every time I bent a string I'd lift my left shoulder and pull my head down towards my left shoulder creating tension in my neck. This muscular tension was clearly what was impinging on the nerve that fed to my elbow, and I'd later realise the behaviour was in part due to an unconscious belief that playing guitar should be hard. My bending mechanics needed to be addressed too, I wasn't leveraging the muscles of the forearm to rotate the wrist effectively. Shaun probably doesn't remember this one-off lesson, but it was pivotal for me. And in an amusing moment Shaun gave me a withering look when I mentioned how Hendrix performed a certain technique (I forget now, but probably related to string bending or vibrato). In that one look it was made abundantly clear that our guitar heroes often perform well despite their technique, not because of it, and to be careful of what you imitate. Many years later a student of mine mentioned that Shaun, as their guitar teacher, had originally recommended the Alexander Technique to them, but for whatever reason he hadn't mentioned it to me on that day, so I was still none the wiser about it's existence.
I now felt I was back on track and could get back to practicing and playing. I looked around somewhat unsuccessfully to find others to form a band for a few pub gigs, and settled on attending local blues jams instead, perfect for juggling with a full-time IT career. I also started writing songs with a work mate with the view to performing at open mic nights, but unfortunately his work moved him to New York for a few years.
Although my guitar playing seemed to be back on track I was still struggling with repetitive strain issues and back pain from sitting at a computer all day at work. Luckily it didn't seem to effect guitar specific mechanics in terms of discomfort when playing, but I would eventually come to recognise that my technique and performance was being severely hampered by excess tension. The regular trips to various physios, osteopaths and chiropractors continued. And although I'd made the connection that the way I was string bending was the cause of my elbow pain, I still couldn't see what I was doing different to anyone else when sat at a keyboard. On one occasion I called out in an open plan office and asked how many people were suffering pain from computer work, and about 15 people put their hands up, so it seemed I wasn't alone.
Eventually a chance meeting with a ballerina at a friend's party brought the Alexander Technique onto my radar. Why I thought the poor girl needed to hear about my aches and pains I don't know, but she was surprisingly interested and asked if I'd heard of the Alexander Technique, which obviously I hadn't. She seemed quite taken with it and did her best to explain it (anyone who's experienced AT knows how tricky this can be). I was intrigued enough, even if there was an element of clutching at straws at the time, to look it up on whatever the dominant search engine was at the time. I wish I could remember who's website I stumbled across, but the penny finally dropped, there was a logical solution to my problems, I needed to learn to prevent the behaviours that was leading to them, and that also gave me a sense of agency and empowerment.
And so I started Alexander lessons with a local teacher, the advantage of living in London where AT teachers are more common. The results were remarkable, and in the space of about 3 months my work related issues were largely gone. Despite that I continued lessons anyway as I enjoyed them so much, especially with regards to stress management given the nature of my work.
Eventually I let the lessons go, but a seed had been sown. I didn't stop as such, but work demands, long hours, meant I had to keep cancelling lessons, but I continued to work on myself from what I'd learned, and I applied that to my guitar playing the best I could even though there were aspects of guitar technique I still didn't fully understand. I also maintained a sense of machismo that I wanted to fight with the guitar, I didn't want it to be easy. I continued with 11 gauge strings enjoying the extra physicality of my relationship with the guitar.
About this time I was in a road accident, a truck mounted the pavement and hit me in the head with the bar the wing mirror is mounted on. It was like being hit in the head by an elephant wielding a baseball bat. Not only was I knocked out cold, and received a classic boxers cut to my left eyebrow splitting it in two, but it caused some damage to nerves in my neck that fed to my right hand.
The truck didn't even stop! To this day I have to work around this injury with the help of the Alexander Technique, but in an analogy I picked up from guitarist Chris Brooks discussing his own playing injuries, like a singer singing above a cold, I can play and manage this injury. If it's really playing up and fine motor control is being adversely affected, it's usually just a sign I'm too tired so it wouldn't be a constructive practice session anyway.
And then another series of events changed my path. In 2008 the global financial credit crunch caused me to lose my job, and my father became terminally ill. I nursed my father the best I could until he passed 6 months later, only to find there was still no work available, especially as I had very niche IT skills related to finance. It was then that I decided to use my father's inheritance for a complete change in direction in my life, and still being completely enamoured by the Alexander Technique enrolled in the 3 year full-time training course.
Those 3 years were transformative in my own self development, but for the first 2 years I didn't really focus a huge amount on my guitar playing with regards to the Alexander Technique. I still played, and I know the Alexander Technique was helping, but it wasn't a big focus for me at the time. My final year of study coincided with the birth of my first daughter, and an overwhelming sense that the world most definitely didn't need, or want, another Stevie Ray Vaughan wannabe. I started to hate my playing, and so I stopped and focused on my new family, and the training course. This was also inspired by a fellow trainee who played cello, who in a desire to develop a whole new relationship with her instrument through the Alexander Technique decided to stop playing in her final year to lose the sense of familiarity and build back better later.
The guitar bug never really leaves you does it?
After a year or so I picked the guitar back up and was shocked at how much ability I'd lost. With no callouses, and weaker hands, I had to restring with 9 gauge strings. But I also realised something else, my sense of machismo was gone, I simply no longer wanted to fight with the guitar. This was a direct outcome of my Alexander experience, wanting to find more ease in all my activities. And so I've rebuilt my technique on that basis, using my experience of the Alexander Technique as a qualified teacher to observe these qualities in other great players, as well as recognising good technical advice from a range of great YouTubers.
In time I thought it would be fun to create a landing page on my professional website specifically for guitar players, and so I came to help other players, and learn more in the process of doing so, and here we are ...
I've been busy again answering questions on the Quora platform, where people ask the general public about anything and everything. This is the question I responded to:
Is there anything I can wear to correct my bad posture?
Yes and no. But mostly no, overwhelmingly so.
The first thing we have to question, or define, is what posture is in the first place, because if the underlying premise is flawed, so will be the solution.
The common view is that posture is a position, an alignment, and the majority of companies who provide wearable posture solutions appear to hold this view as well, but it's flawed, to the point of actually being an impediment to healthy functioning.
Posture is a balancing act, a movement, and if you try to hold a position against that natural movement you generate excess and unhelpful tension. The skeleton is an inherently unstable structure, and thankfully so, there's a trade off between mobility and stability, and human evolution has opted for wonderful mobility. If you want to be stable, be a tortoise. In order to stop toppling over we have to continually adjust and readjust to refind the support from the ground. You've no doubt seen articles on posture that show a plumb line connecting the ear, shoulder, hip, knee and ankle. The usual premise is that for good posture you're supposed to achieve this plumb line, but you're not. The picture can still be useful though as long as you interpret that picture as being an idealised line around which you wobble. Yes, with skill that movement can be minimal. Compare a well coordinated adult to a toddler who still displays a very pronounced wobble, but the aim isn't to eliminate it. Simply using your arms changes the whole balance mechanism, so you need to keep adjusting your posture.
This is the latest question I've answered on the Quora platform, where people ask the general public about anything and everything:
What are some ways to fix poor posture and back pain without having to see a doctor or chiropractor?
Look into the Alexander Technique.
It can be tricky to learn from a book, although possible if you put the time in and have the self motivation. It's much easier to learn from an accredited teacher, but maybe start with a book, it may be enough, and will at least pique your curiosity and see if it's something you're drawn to.
It's aim is to prevent the habits and behaviours that cause poor posture in the first place. You don't need to do good posture, but prevent poor posture. Trying to do good posture usually results in unsustainable effort and is usually based on a misunderstanding that posture is a position, when in fact, it's a movement, a balancing act as you spontaneously refind the support that the ground is offering you. It's a dynamic and unstable equilibrium. It's the trade off for our exceptional mobility. It's about coordination rather than strength.
The Alexander Technique is usually thought of as one-to-one manual hands-on guidance, often perceived as a therapy. But we're called teachers for a reason, and the history of the Technique shows that even the originator, F.M.Alexander, didn't always teach with manual guidance.
An edited transcript is available under the video.
Have you ever wondered why your stretches aren't as effective as you'd hoped?
I've chosen not to offer you specific stretches to do here as it would miss the point, you may already have some favorites you already use, and there are plenty to be found online, and for the most part they're all absolutely fine. What I want to discuss is the how of stretching, rather than what stretches to do. Stretching is generally avoided in the Alexander Technique, but people are inclined to do them anyway, and it can still help you to do them more constructively.
There's a legitimate question in sports science about the need to stretch, with little evidence to support it. As far back as 1941, Thomas Cureton, sometimes known as “the father of physical fitness”, performed research that lead to the conclusion that increased flexibility did not improve physical performance. Subsequent systematic reviews and meta-analysis continues to confirm this. In 2016 a systematic review performed by an international university research team found 119 performance measures where stretching before activity made performance significantly worse, and 145 measures where the results were ambiguous. Only 6 measures were found to have improved after stretching. A study at Simon Fraser University on 1,398 runners, where half were instructed to stretch before running, and the other half not to, showed that the injury rates for both groups was the same. Another international research team looked at whether stretching after activity aided recovery and found no affect either way, neither positive or negative.[ Research originally curated by Jonathan Jarry M.Sc. for The McGill Office for Science and Society.]
Stretching appears not to improve injury prevention, or performance, and can make performance worse if done before the activity. The general rule in sports is to warm up before playing and “stretch” after (FIFA’s warm up program specifically recommends not stretching), but a stretch’s real value is in bringing awareness to any habitual tension you are holding, and once aware you can work on releasing it. It’s best to think of stretching as an exploration rather than an imposition and a way of improving body awareness.
The overwhelming majority of people I've spoken to have a misconception of what stretching actually entails. Without intending to, it's very common to invoke the stretch reflex (or myotatic reflex as it's medically known), and in doing so prevent the muscle, or muscles, from releasing. The likelihood is that every time you stretch, your are, in fact, tightening.
The problem arises because of a common false assumption; that the purpose of a stretch is to mechanically bully muscle fibers into length. The human organism as a whole interprets this as an attack and protects itself by tightening the muscles being stretched.
A more mindful approach is required.
This is the latest question on posture I've answered on the Quora platform, where people ask the general public about anything and everything:
What is the most efficient way to avoid slouching from the usage of phones?
Use your awareness. Phones are inanimate objects, they don't make you do anything, your behaviour is the key.
Assuming you have adequate eyesight, the reason you slouch towards your phone is that we follow our attention physically, and the more you concentrate on the phone, the more that you will be drawn towards it, the more you will lose sight that you are performing a physical activity and lose the ability to self correct.
It's not a matter of multitasking, but of allowing yourself not to be drawn into the phone, to have agency, and not let yourself be bossed about by inanimate objects. It's a matter of widening your awareness so that it's more inclusive, being present to yourself in physical activity. It's about thinking. By thinking, you can be more efficient. If you're not prepared to think, you can't have agency, you can't be the boss, only the victim.
The way the question is framed is interesting too, "how to avoid", because it correctly implies that you don't need to do, or hold, your posture correctly, just not interfere with it. In Alexander Technique terminology we'd say you want to inhibit your habitual reaction to using a phone. It's about what you don't do! When you're poised, which is as much an attitude, your posture will do itself without interference.
This is the latest question I've answered on the Quora platform, where people ask the general public about anything and everything:
How do I prevent my shoulders from rounding while working with a keyboard and mouse if the recommendation is to use a keyboard and mouse while elbows are at about 90 degrees?
Your arms extend far enough that there's really no physical need to round your shoulders forward to use a keyboard and mouse.
To make this clear, try this experiment. Lie on your back, your shoulder blades will naturally be supported by the floor, and raise your arms towards the ceiling letting the weight of your arms push your shoulder blades into the floor. You can now move your arms about without your shoulders coming off the floor and get a sense of how much space you can interact with without having to round your shoulders forward. You'll soon realise you have more than enough peripersonal space (anywhere you can reach) to get your hands to a keyboard whilst allowing the shoulders to stay back.
I've become somewhat obsessed lately with the idea that our movement and functioning is a byproduct of our environment. It adds context to the Alexandrian principle of non-doing. In this video I discuss that in relation to gravity.
An edited transcript is available under the video.
I've answered another question on posture on the Quora platform, where people ask the general public about anything and everything. This is the question I answered:
What’s your favorite chair to sit on? Why?
A piano stool.
This answer may surprise you as it's not a fancy ergonomic chair, but in my opinion, most people miss the point with ergonomics.
The chair doesn't do the sitting for you, it's an inanimate object, sitting is up to you, not the chair.
I'm also taking your question very literally, and I differentiate sitting from reclining. Sitting is an activity much like standing, it requires movement to remain balanced, reclining is being at rest. If the chair has a back rest that doesn't let you fully recline onto it, such as most dining room chairs, being in contact with the back rest whilst still upright restricts the movement required for poised balance and encourages rigidity. Holding a fixed position is more tiring than being allowed to subtly move. The advantage of the piano stool is that it has no back rest allowing you to remain free to move in the act of balancing.
I've answered another question on posture on the Quora platform, where people ask the general public about anything and everything. This is the question I answered:
Why is nothing working for my cervical spine pain? I've done physical therapy for 2 years as well as fixing my posture, sleeping position, ice/heat therapy, medicine, and doing exercises every day. I don't know what else to try.
Can I question you on fixing your posture?
What is your definition of good posture, and how did you fix it?
Posture isn't a very good metric of how well you are using yourself, what you're wanting is poise. Posture is merely a shape, which if held with excess effort has no value at all. Poise is a quality that allows for subtle mobility of the spine. A healthy spine isn't “held" in place, but is mobile to allow you to keep spontaneously refinding the support provided by gravity. Gravity is your posture's best friend, it's the only reason you have, or need a posture, and contrary to public opinion, your posture isn't fighting against gravity, but actively using it to it's advantage. As counter-intuitive as it may currently seem, gravity isn't a force that is pulling you down, the ground reaction force is actually pushing you up, and with poise you can “surf" that up-thrust. We've known this for over 100 years since Einstein's Theory of General Relativity.
I've answered another question on posture and ergonomics on the Quora platform, where people ask the general public about anything and everything. This is the question I answered:
Do you find posture chairs for the office effective?
No more than a piano stool.
By "posture chair" I assume you mean ergonomic chair. Despite ergonomics being a multi-billion dollar industry, surprisingly, there's no scientific research to support it.
The main issue is that ergonomics tends to try and solve the problem from a mechanical engineering point of view, rather than a behavioral one. It's possible to be just as stiff in a "correct" posture as in a "bad" one. The solution needs to address the psychology of the situation as much as the mechanics.
Chairs are inanimate objects and cannot take responsibility for your behavior. With expensive ergonomic chairs you may fall into one of two camps; you'll either assume the extra money spent is providing more support causing you to take less responsibility for your own behavior, or you'll justify the cost by being more mindful in your behavior. You can do the latter without spending $1,000 on a chair.
In my opinion, the idea of an ergonomic chair for sitting makes about as much sense as an ergonomic floor to stand on, which is why I started by suggesting a piano stool, it's a flat surface that can take the weight of your torso. In fact, sitting and standing are very similar for the spine and torso, you don't sit down as such, but stand up from the base of your pelvis, the sit-bones, or as I prefer to call them, the "stand-bones". The relationship between the spine and pelvis is unchanged between sitting and standing.
The reality is that I wouldn't expect anyone to sit all day in the office anyway, and this is where I make a differentiation between sitting and reclining. Sitting is an activity not dissimilar to standing, where as reclining is being at rest. The main aim of ergonomic chairs is often to help with reclining rather than sitting, but if you can't sit well, you're unlikely to be able to recline well either, the spine being overly curved forward. The "trick" to reclining is to first find yourself sitting well at the back of the chair by standing on your sit-bones , then hinge the whole spine backwards from the hip joints until you come into contact with the chair's back rest. Keep the sit-bones as the main contact with the seat avoiding rolling the pelvis back on to the coccyx (tail bone), which is the common habit.
Seeing as we're all different shapes and sizes, having an adjustable back rest which supports you comfortably is helpful, and where ergonomics can have a useful place, but that's mostly common sense and doesn't require expensive design concepts. Sometimes a cushion is sufficient to find the required support for the lower back.
To be honest, office chairs have improved a lot over the years and a standard chair is usually good enough. I have a cheap office chair I bought from Amazon for less than $100 about 10 years ago and its totally fine.
In the grand scheme of things, if ergonomic chairs were the answer, no one would have back pain from office work and only ergonomic chairs would be available.
If you're wondering how to better improve your behavior/posture/poise so you can use any chair well, I recommend looking into the Alexander Technique.
I like to answer questions on posture on the Quora platform where people ask the general public about anything and everything. This question appeared in my inbox the other day:
Why can't I sit still, and sit properly?
To answer the first question, and you may instinctively recognise this already, you're not supposed to sit still, being upright is a balancing act, an activity in itself, a movement. Admittedly we can do it so skillfully that it looks still to a onlooker, but being upright is about refinding the support being offered by gravity spontaneously every moment. We're an inherently unstable structure, which is fine because the trade off is greater mobility (if you want stability be a tree), but that also means we have to keep "wobbling" slightly because we never manage to find a fixed level of support from gravity. As an aside, gravity may not work the way you think, Isaac Newtons laws on gravity that most are familiar with are also incorrect and have been superseded by Einstein's General Theory of Relativity. Without going into detail, the main thing to know is that the contact you feel of the ground under your feet, or chair under your backside, is not of you going down, but of that surface accelerating up underneath you, and your posture is your ability to "surf" that up thrust. Counter-intuitive, I know!
You're postural reflexes will do the movement to "surf" the ground for you, just as you will be breathed. You don't need to do good posture any more than a fish needs to do buoyancy, it will do you if you don't interfere. Unfortunately, as you've recognised, we do interfere through unhelpful habits that we accumulate through life.
To answer your second question, it may be that you don't have a clear conception of what sitting is in the first place. Interestingly, far more people ask about sitting than standing, yet they're essentially the same thing for the torso. If you look at the diagram you can see that both the sit-bones and the hip joints are below the sacral-iliac joint, that being where the spine (sacrum) joins to the pelvis. So the relationship between your pelvis and spine is unchanged between standing and sitting. You are more stable in sitting with your legs out of the equation, which means there's less mobility to refind the support of gravity. This, in my opinion, is why we find sitting harder than standing and requires a little more skill. So sitting is basically standing on your bottom. The common mistake is rolling the pelvis under and letting the coccyx bare weight. Use the sit-bones as your new "heals" when sitting.
Many of my students enjoy yoga and I've found it beneficial to their Alexander learning to embrace that. It's been a while since I've personally done yoga, which I did as part of Tai Chi, but finding common ground is much more helpful than only focusing on differences.
If you already apply the Alexander Technique to your yoga, what's your experience? leave a comment in the video.
Slight verbal slip at 5:55, I meant to say we top up our unconscious competence by working on our conscious competence.
A full transcript available under the video.
Not quite the million dollar question, but I do get asked this on a fairly frequent basis, and the answer may help you to stop fretting about it.
There's a transcript of the video below it.
For the first time in over 10 years I've targeted my fellow Alexander teachers and long term students as the audience for this blog/vlog, as opposed to those who are new to the Technique. It's probably a one off digression as I much prefer to help those who are just starting out with the Alexander Technique.
Some of you who know me will have heard me jokingly opine that I sometimes consider our professional society as museum curators. A bit harsh, I know, especially as it's council is run on a volunteer basis, and I am grateful for the time they put in for my colleagues and I. But joking aside, I still think it's an important question we should be asking ourselves, should the Alexander Technique evolve? I hope it's not heretical to just ask!
I've included a transcript of the video below for convenience.
I like to answer questions on posture on the Quora platform where people ask the general public about anything and everything. This question appeared in my inbox the other day:
How can I have good posture? My back always hurts when I try to sit/stand straight.
It has to be one of the most common questions that Alexander Technique teachers hear, so this was my reply:
By recognising that posture isn't a position, but a movement, a balancing act. Replace the word posture with poise and you'll have a better relationship with what you're after. Poise is as much a mental attitude as a physical activity.
One of my pet hates with regards to articles on good posture is the obligatory accompanying photo with a plumb line drawn down the side connecting the ear, shoulder, hip, knees and ankle (so ignore the thumbnail image for this article!). It gives the impression that you’re supposed to achieve this position. You are not, that line is really just the average of all the points you have wobbled about. We can "wobble" with great skill and ease, the movement maybe be barely perceptible at times, but that subtle dance needs to be always available. It’s the attempt to achieve a held position that causes your back to hurt as it takes too much effort, and is ultimately unsustainable, as you’ll well know if you’ve ever tried to hold a “correct” posture.
It's also helpful to recognise that ultimately Isaac Newton was wrong about gravity (although it was a genius first step), it's not a force, and isn't dragging you down. We've known this since 1916 when Albert Einstein first published his Theory of General Relativity.
As counter intuitive as it may seem, the Earth is actually pushing us up, and we “surf" that upwards thrust by adjusting and readjusting to re-find the support it gives us through our skeletal structure. We're naturally an unstable structure (the trade off being we have greater mobility). Go on YouTube and look up “is gravity a force” and take your pick, lots of good short explanations on the reality of gravitation.
We use gravity like a fish uses water, we're completely evolved for it. It's not a matter of doing good posture, as it does you in a similar way that you don't need to think of breathing correctly, you will be breathed. The question is really what are the habits you've built up that interfere with your poise?
I'm naturally biased as a teacher of the Alexander Technique, but I recommend you look into it to help with your posture/poise.
"Be like a fish in water" has become one of my favourite sayings of late. It's not literal, but highlights the idea that functional movement is meaningless without environmental context.
In this video I extemporise around this theme.
There's also an edited transcript below.
Daniel very kindly agreed to share his story of how he came to have Alexander Technique lessons, and how he benefited from them.
“The problem is not the sensation of nerves in your body, the problem is that you've decided to interpret them as fear, as an indication you can't cope or you're gonna mess up. That's not what it is. It's your personality subtly transforming from the normal, everyday you, into the slightly more special version of you required for this special situation”. - Jon Gomm
Stage fright, like all human reactions (and emotions), is a psycho-physical reaction. I'm paraphrasing, but FM Alexander said of his Technique that it was learning to deal with the stimulus of living, and being on stage is a big stimulus.
A bit of expectation management, the goal here isn't being able to prevent feeling nervous. Being nervous is perfectly normal, and an acceptable response to the situation of playing live. As acoustic maestro Jon Gomm has commented on his own stage fright, he considers his nervousness a sign of his super powers coming on board. A lack of nerves is also commonly associated with a lacklustre performance.
Although stage fright is a strong emotion, it's important to understand that emotions aren't thoughts, and as such, you can't think your way out of them. You've probably experienced this in various ways throughout your life. You can't think your way out of love or fear in the moment. Gestalt Therapy, which is a form of psychotherapy, shares the same understanding of psychophysical unity as the Alexander Technique. Clients are encouraged to fully experience the physicality of their emotional states to help process them better, and that's also good way into dealing with stage fright too.
There’s an ideological culture in the Alexander Technique, that I subscribe to, that we’re not trying to fix, cure, or treat people, only change the way they use themselves. We diagnose “use”, not pathologies. We also tend to take each lesson as if it were the first lesson, a somewhat Zen approach. For this reason it’s uncommon to take extensive notes, although some of my colleagues do. This all makes a formal case study hard to do, but in lieu of that I’ve included two interviews with guitarists who’ve had lessons with me. One from four years ago that I’ve transcribed from my YouTube channel, and another with a current student who kindly agreed to be interviewed.
The shoulders are a common area of habitual tension due to the nature of the startle reflex and associated stress states of the nervous system. The shoulder girdle is a very mobile structure and not well suited to weight bearing. Although the joint that connects it to the torso via the clavicle is at the front top of the rib cage (top of the sternum), the shoulder blade (scapula) itself hangs down the back of the ribcage off the other end of the clavicle. As the arms connect to the shoulder blades, this means that your arms are skeletally part of your back, and it's helpful to think of your arms as being part of your back.
There's a trade off between stability and mobility, and evolutionarily we've gone down the mobility route, which is a good thing for us humans, a tree is stable but ...
A passenger plane has a large wing span making it very stable, but it turns slowly. Military fighter jets looking for greater mobility opted for smaller wings, but during their development they hit a wall where the increased instability meant they became unsafe to fly.
A solution was eventually found with the scaling down of the size of computers so that an on-board computer could manage the fine control to keep the plane stable whilst the pilot only has to deal with the direction they wish to fly in. Contrast the classic WW2 Spitfire which had a wingspan longer than the length of its fuselage, to the modern Euro Fighter whose wing span is shorter than its fuselage. All commercial passenger planes now use the same technology for added safety and to give the pilot a break (auto-pilot).
This on-board computer is known as the Fly-by-Wire system in the aerospace industry (I grew up around planes, my father was in the RAF and chairman of Cosford air museum, hence this analogy), and we have our own equivalent in the cerebellum at the lower back of the brain. Whilst you go about your daily business, for the most part you're not thinking of not falling over, only the movements you wish to make to interface with your outer environment. Actually, if you want to move freely you're much better off thinking in terms of spacial awareness rather than specifics of your anatomy.
Squatting is normal functional movement, if you can't squat you're essentially dis-abled, although less-abled might be more appropriate. Squats are great for opening up the lower back and hips after long periods of sitting, and undoing some of the ills of office work and a sedentary lifestyle.
Some benefits of squatting include:
In some respects this is a follow on from my previous video on sitting down which I recommend you watch as sitting down is essentially the easier first half of the squat. If you can't do the first half freely you're guaranteed to be unable to do the rest freely, and by freely I mean without reaction.
The problem with sitting well starts the moment you consider going to sit, well before your derriere hits the chair. To sit well you need to be able to travel to the chair well. The quality of your destination will be marked by the quality of your journey.
As I mention in the video, I'm not actually interested in you doing something correctly, but freely. Ideally I wished I'd expanded on that a bit in the video (the pitfalls of improvised content), so I'll take the opportunity to do so here. To do something freely means to do something without reaction. The most common place we observe that reaction is in the startle reflex, the pulling of the shoulders up, and the pulling of the neck muscles so the head tilts backwards. There may not be actual movement visible in the head/neck relationship, but there will still be an undue tightening of the muscles. You may also observe that your breath becomes held.
What's important here isn't the physicality though, that's just an outer manifestation that there's been a change in your thinking, and that's the reaction. Essentially, going to sit should be as inconsequential as scratching your nose; Wholly unremarkable. It's about moving yourself through space without upsetting the quality of your nervous system and thinking, and in doing so you'll find the movement itself easier. It's like carrying a full glass of water without disturbing the contents so it doesn't spill, where your very being is the water.
I’d go as far to say as the problem with sitting down starts with the phrase “sitting down”. It’s the “down” part of the phrase that’s the issue, it encourages you to think down in a way that encourages collapse. Better to maintain the upwards direction of the head and spine and fold your legs up underneath your torso as the floor pushes up into your feet. There’s a longer conversation to be had there about the true nature of gravity (long story short, it’s not pulling you down!), but this isn’t the place right now to be getting into Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity.
The action of sitting and standing is so rich in exploration of human behaviour that we use it as a contrivance and metaphor for all movement in teaching the Alexander Technique. It's a "vanilla" flavoured movement we use as a teaching tool and and as a starting point. Individual teachers may have a specialist niche in other movements, such as playing an instrument (I play guitar and often work with fellow guitarists ) or sports activities, but the same behaviours and attitudes can be observed in "vanilla" movements as can be seen in more specific ones.
Given our lifestyles though, it's a very useful functional movement to be able to do freely. It's also good training for squatting freely too. If you can't do the first half of going into a squat freely, you can guarantee you you wont be able to do the second half freely either. It'll be repleat with effort and excess tension, robbing you of the benefits a good squat provides for releasing the lower back muscles and hips.
Now, if you'll forgive my sartorial inelegance, I forgot I was still wearing my tracksuit bottoms when I decided to make this video somewhat impromptu, you'll find all need to know with regards to sitting down with poise and control within it.
I want to be careful to suggest this is not an exercise as such, but a procedure to reduce interference patterns that may be present in your breathing.
You don't need to try to breathe any more than you need to beat your heart. I often say the same about posture, you don't need to do correct posture, you'll be poised, much like you will be breathed.
One of the causes of interference is our stress response, and this procedure will also help to address that.
Interestingly, before FM Alexander developed his work into what we now know as the Alexander Technique (which he simply referred to as The Work), he was known as The Breathing Man. Much of the Alexander Technique was born out of his observations on breathing referring to it as "true primary movement". My colleague Halvard Heggdal wrote a revealing essay on this entitled The Primary Movement. It's probably of more interest for my fellow Alexander teachers, but it's food for thought for all.
Are you getting the most out of your stretching?
If your nervous system isn't in on the game, probably not!
The overwhelming majority of people I've spoken to have a misconception of what stretching actually entails.
Without intending to, it's very common to invoke the stretch reflex (or myotatic reflex as it's also known), and in doing so prevent the muscle, or muscles, from releasing.
A more mindful approach is what's required.
Following on from my previous vlog on gravity I wanted to expand a little further on it as gravity helps to explain one of Alexander's main observations. And I think it's important to point out that his work was born out of observation of human behaviour (actually his own behaviour initially) rather than from theory.
What Alexander noticed was that when his head was allowed to be "forward and up" in relation to the spine, he coordinated better and had less interference from habitual tension.
It's almost a catechism within the Alexander Technique to use the classic phrase "let the neck be free, to let the head go forward and up".
I think it's acceptable to question how one is supposed to let your neck be free in the first place when there's habitual tension that's preventing it. The answer to that is for another discussion but includes inhibition and the ingredient of time.
However, by understanding how we operate within gravity you'll see how "head forward and up" is done for you, increasing your chance of letting it happen by wishing to release into it.
Of course, it's OK to move your head in any orientation the joints allow, what we're talking about here is where is "home". It's debatable how long we spend at "home", the question is do we know where it is, and are we capable of freely returning to it. You could also consider it an aspect of Positions of Mechanical Advantage.
On a more general note, we want to avoid being like a fish out of water in our mental relation to the Earth's surface. When thinking of a fish swimming you automatically think of the fish and the water together almost as a singular entity. But when it comes to ourselves we have a tendency to separate our movement from the support that gravity provides, and even make locomotion possible. Become part of your environment, be a fish in water.
I often say that we use gravity like a fish uses water, we're completely evolved to use it to our advantage. Despite this, it seems the majority of people behave as if it's the enemy working against their posture. Without gravity you'd have no posture to concern yourself with in the first place. Your posture/poise is defined by your relationship with gravity, and by changing how you relate to the idea of gravity you can find more ease in your poise and posture..
Most people think of gravity in the way that Isaac Newton first formulated it when that apple supposedly fell from a tree and hit him on the head (somewhat topically, this occurred in the middle of a pandemic!). It was an excellent theory at the time that allowed many accurate predictions to be made from it, but has been superseded in scientific theory for over 100 years by Albert Einstein's theory of General of Relativity, the public has just failed to catch up. In fairness that's because it's counterintuitive to our perceived experience.
Although the aim of this discussion isn't to understand General Relativity in any detail, (and if you're going to dismiss Albert Einstein, which you are at liberty to do, can I at least ask to see your calculations?), can we use a thought experiment based on it to improve how you find support and ease for your posture/poise and use gravity to your advantage?
This will lead you to realise that whenever you go to sit down or squat, you let the earth come up underneath you in a controlled manner, and that you are essentially weightless but fully supported. The experience you have in an elevator as it first ascends is of additional support being provided, and it’s up to you to channel that support though your postural reflexes.
Watch this video to explore the thought experiment and then spend a few minutes each day considering/experiencing it:
I want to dispel a myth about the Alexander Technique that it's about how to move correctly. This has been greatly encouraged by misunderstanding what we call Positions of Mechanical Advantage, and its best known example colloquially known as The Monkey.
Many people on seeing pictures of The Monkey as a way lowering yourself in space for any reason, such as picking something up or washing your hands in a low basin, assume this is the correct way to move and will attempt to adopt the same shape without consideration for the underlying quality of the movement.
Personally, I'm not remotely interested in the correctness of a movement (I'd argue there's no such thing as a wrong movement), but the quality of freedom within it. And that's what a Mechanical Advantage provides, a greater chance of finding some freedom because the activity is physically easier, but not a guarantee! In traditional Alexander terminology we could say that The Monkey is a lower physical stimulus making it easier to inhibit a reaction and therefore avoid unnecessary tension.
Although there are no guarantees as such, the closest you can get comes from the quality of your awareness in activity.
Although the Alexander Technique is about changing habits, we have to recognise that habits themselves are still incredibly useful. It's really a matter of having choice over our habits, adopting and keeping those that are beneficial, and minimising those that are less helpful. I say minimise rather than discard as we have to be realistic and not overly ideological, you don't want to end up in a judgmental fight with yourself as old habits make themselves known occasionally.
One of the problems with habituated misuse of yourself is that it leads to what F.M.Alexander called Debauched Kinaesthesia, a wonderfully Edwardian turn of phrase, or Faulty Sensory Appreciation, as it's more commonly called in the Technique. This simply states that as you filter everything through your current habits, you may not be doing what you think you're doing. This in itself can make changing habits a tricky business.As will the fact that our unhelpful habits, being the familiar, encourage a Stockholm Syndrome type relationship with them!
Directions and directing are one of the core principles of the Alexander Technique.
F.M.Alexander's classic formulation to remind him to keep his head balanced freely on top of his spine was:
"Let the neck be free, to let the head go forward and up, to let the back lengthen and widen"
To be honest, I personally never found it helpful due to the nature of my habits when I first started my own Alexander journey. That's not say it's not useful for others, but I've become very judicious in using it in my teaching.
In time I came to evolve a different view on Directing that was still inspired by something Alexander said:
"When an investigation comes to be made, it will be found that every single thing we are doing in the work is being done in Nature where the conditions are right, the difference being that we are learning to do it consciously."
I simply wondered how other animal species direct themselves in their environment. It turned out I wasn't the first AT teacher to to come to the conclusion that Directing is not best served by introspecting; David Gorman has been working this way well before I was aware of him. So if I am a heretic, at least I'm not alone.
It should also be noted that, Alexander changed his mind on offering his students his original formulation for Directing in his later years owing to his concerns about what students tend to "do" with them. They are after all a reminder of what not to do!
When it comes to moving well it's not so much about what you do, but what you prevent from happening. As F.M Alexander put it, "If you stop the wrong thing, the right thing does itself”
It's an idea that goes back many centuries, embedded into the teachings of Taoism. It's what Aldous Huxley called a Perennial Truth. Coincidentally Huxley was a big supporter of Alexanders work having taken private lessons with him and immortalised him as the doctor in his book Eyeless in Gaza. But I digress ...
After millions of years of evolution a good deal of your movement potential is baked in, needing only freedom to experiment with movement in your early years to release it. This is obviously an idealised position that doesn't take into account congenital considerations or subsequent injury or disease, but even there it's possible to maximise what availability is present by preventing undue reaction/tension.
But it's not just about movement, it also speaks to your stress response and your ability to manage stress. And not wishing to sound too pedantic, stress is verb, not a noun!
You'd be forgiven for thinking Alexander Technique teachers are a little obsessed with the relationship between the head and the neck. F.M.Alexander considered it so important that he termed it the "Primary Control". And there is good reason for it when you consider the shear weight of the head on top of the spine, and the nature of the startle reflex; it's the first port of call when improving poise/posture.
This has become a bit of a mantra for me. I really do think it's vitally important to be able to make a distinction between poise and posture. Although the dictionary definition of posture is acceptable to me, the way people actually relate to the word, how they filter it when they hear it, is generally unhelpful. The moment someone makes an effort to physically improve their posture they do so in an unsustainable way. By understanding poise the physical effort is reduced and sustainability is increased.
This has to be one of the most pernicious pieces of postural advice out there, it's unhelpful and needs to be burst once and for all. Given how ineffective it is it's amazing that it's been so durable.
It also raises the question of how effective imagery is in general as you never know how someone is going to filter it. What they're going to do with it. F.M.Alexander was against the use of imagery for this reason. Not being one to tell people what they should do in general, even though I don't offer imagery in my teaching, I don't discourage those who feel comfortable using it. But I do highlight the potential pitfalls and to be mindful of them. An image is only as good as it's ability to positively improve behaviour, it has no inherent value.
I challenge you, have you ever maintained this advice for even half a minute?
So the next time someone offers you this image, imagine me next to you with a pin!
This has to be one of the most repeated pieces of advice with regards to posture, and one of my biggest bugbears. Essentially it's unhelpful and doesn't work, and you'll know it doesn't if you've ever tried it. Seriously, why go to all that physical effort to solve a problem of too much physical effort?!
This is a follow on from my vlog entitled Change Your Thinking, THEN Your Posture. Part two if you like.
In a previous vlog I mentioned how F.M.Alexander saw his work as dealing with the stimulus of living, and that was discussing our reaction to an external stimulus. But we also have an internal experience/life that we can react to. Our emotional state is also a stimulus..
As you physically follow your awareness, it should be no surprise that you collapse when you concentrate on your inner experience. It's possible to build a new relationship with that so that your experience is more inclusive.
I'm guessing most people think of the Alexander Technique as a form of Body Work. But what F.M.Alexander wrote about more than anything else was thinking! The way you think influences your posture more than anything else (injuries and congenital considerations aside).
Now, obviously there are physical aspects to consider when it comes to posture, but I purposely wanted to stay away from that in this video as it tends to produce a mindset that encourages more interference of your poise.
Once you've watched the video and have a sense of the mindset we're after, you could add a little more detail in understanding the way your head balances on your spine, which you can read about here, but don't let that knowledge change the quality of your thinking!
The million dollar question! It might seem like a strange question seeing how well known the Alexander Technique is for improving posture, but most Alexander teachers are slightly uneasy about this even if they don't say so publicly. Although it's better to be known for something rather than nothing, I can't help feel we could improve our message by promoting what the Alexander Technique is really about and why it's so fundamentally different to other modalities.
Don't worry, it will still improve your posture as well.
Why not give the Alexander Technique a try with a half price consultation?
Here I explain why if you've been in long term pain the Alexander Technique may be the logical solution you've been looking for.
Although I implied it in the video, I want to also explicitly state here that the raison d'être for the Alexander Technique is to reverse and prevent unhelpful patterns of movement/behaviour.
Given how posture is pretty much synonymous with the Alexander Technique in the public perception you're probably surprised at my claim that it's overrated. F.M.Alexander said of his own work that it was "dealing with the stimulus of living", and that's a whole other area to get into, but you can see he thought of his work in much broader terms.
This is my first video in what I hope will become a series where I answer all your posture questions.
This one came from Andrew (Kiwi Yogi):
"What is good use while driving a car? I'm curious about the relationship between the neck and the back. Not many people sit upright in their car - so the weight of the head goes...where?
What advice would you have for people who spend a lot of time driving?"
Have you ever felt the need to find a way to manage back pain, to play your instrument better, to increase your confidence, to recover faster from a serious accident, to take control of certain aspects of your life, or to ease some of the difficulties of old age?
Can it be that there is a skill that can be learned which provides a 'yes' answer to all of these? According those that that have tried the Alexander Technique, the answer is, there is.
The key concepts of the Alexander Technique are: the recognition of the force of habit, inhibition and non-doing, unreliable sensory appreciation, sending directions and the primary control of the use of the self.
I've always found it remarkable how common it is for people to behave as if gravity is the enemy, and yet we're entirely evolved to interact with it as part of the way we function, no less so than with the air we breathe. Russian scientist and academic P. Anokhin phrased it thus:
“The most essential characteristics of all biological systems are defined by the Universal Law of Gravity”.
We wouldn't get very far without it, well, we wouldn't exist without it, but our entire ability to move about would be impossible. And your posture (I prefer poise) is a dynamic relationship between you (the psychophysical you, not just your body) and your interaction within gravity's field.
We know how important gravity is to our health from the problems astronauts experience from spending extended periods of time up in the International Space Station (does anyone else think the Russian use of cosmonaut is so much cooler?!). Here's a few of the issues "weightlessness" causes:
It's ironic really that a supposed loss of gravity causes back pain, use gravity well to overcome it! I say "supposed" loss of gravity as it's not actually true that astronauts experience "weightlessness". The gravity on the International Space Station is only a tenth less than it is on the surface of the earth, it's just that the crew are in permanent free-fall as they fall/orbit around the earth. Really no different than jumping out your upstairs window (don't try this at home!), you don't suddenly become weighted the moment you hit the ground! The list of ailments that astronauts suffer from is really caused from a combination of a lack of interaction with the earths surface, and not being orientated in an upright manner for long periods which affects how blood flows and pools.
This guest blog from Daniel tells how he went from taking lessons with me to embarking on a full Alexander Technique teacher training course. Naturally I recommended my old teacher training school and it's wonderful to hear how much he's getting out of it and how much it echoes my own experience of training to be a teacher.
Squatting is normal functional movement, but for lifestyle and cultural reasons there are few opportunities to do so on a regular basis for many of us, and yet young children do it instinctively. In fact, when I looked for a professional royalty free photo to go with this piece I couldn't find any of adults that weren't associated with gym exercise rather than everyday living. Across Asia, Africa and the Middle East it's still very much an everyday activity, and long may it continue to be so. You may have found that you're uncomfortable squatting or you've lost your ability to do so altogether, effectively becoming dis-abled in this movement. Use it or lose it! Squatting is great for opening up the hips and lower back, I particularly recommend it for lower back pain sufferers. In fact, I used it regularly myself when I had an accident acutely affecting my lower back. It also helps with keeping the bowels moving.
F.M.Alexander (he of the Technique) didn't write about squatting in any of his books, but there is anecdotal evidence that he liked to practice doing it regularly with clients thinking they'd walked into an empty room until he popped up from behind his desk. He was also keen to get his pupils to do it and encouraged it on his teacher training courses. There's brief footage of him demonstrating it when he was about eighty years old too.
It can be hard to learn how to squat again as you react to perceived balance and flexibility issues with unintended tension. My favourite way to regain the ability to squat is to use water as a support. It's an idea that came to me whilst on holiday back when my own ability to squat wasn't all it could be. You'll need a pool with steps or that shelves gradually. You simply let the water naturally buoy you up and work your way into shallower water. Let yourself release into the pose the moment you start to notice that it's a challenge. Ideally you want to be able to keep the heels down in contact with the floor. The shallower the water the the deeper your squat will be. It's best to take it easy and really relax into it. An added bonus is that there's usually small currents in the water, don't fight them, let them encourage you to find the dynamic fluidity within yourself instead of trying to fix yourself in place. Also, everyone is built differently, so don't feel that you have to have your feet facing straight forward, I can't squat like that and have my feet pointing out at an angle. If you don't have a pool available it can be helpful to practice with the heals raised and supported (a couple of equal sized books will suffice) as it's common for the Achilles tendon to be tight to begin with. You can then slowly work on reducing the height your heels are from the ground. You'll notice in the photo that Ali (my guide whilst visiting Wadi Rum in Jordan back in 2009) has his heels slightly raised as the ground slopes downwards and rocks under foot. You can try this too wherever you find a slope. The steeper the slope the easier it will be to squat.
So first up, happy New Year ... and what an embarrassing start to it for an Alexander Technique teacher it has been ... I put my lower back out larking about with a friend's son on New Years Eve! He was much heavier than I realised and as I lifted him high over my head I went too far and started going backwards with the momentum and over extended my back. Just one of those silly things. I know I teach embodied mindfulness, but I have to be realistic and accept we all lose ourselves in the moment from time to time. That's life! And the human condition to a greater or lesser degree. Hopefully I'm learning to reduce that through the Alexander Technique, in fact, I'm confident that I am, but still ...
It was agony! And debilitating, had to walk very slowly and carefully. We were at a children's theatre at the time and I managed to sit through the performance without exacerbating things thanks to the simple idea of thinking of sitting as standing on my bottom. Saved me from curving my spine and putting extra pressure on it. I also found I was able to lower myself to the chair in the first place without trouble, but with great care, as that's all in the ankles, knees and hip joints. But I'd still frozen up by the end of the performance, took a couple of minutes of moving about gently to feel confident of walking any distance. This was good food for thought, it really made me consider the manner of my use rather than just the conditions (quality) of use (I'll leave you to ponder that). I might be a more relaxed proponent of the Alexander Technique than some and so tend towards the latter. But not on this day!
We had a table booked at a restaurant after the theatre, thankfully only round the corner, but I still decided to find a chemist and get some Ibruprofen and a heat pack. I wanted all the help I could to get me through the day. It took all my skill to walk a few minutes to the chemist and back with poise, but other than a couple of spasms that caused me to stop for a moment to regain my composure, I made it back to the restaurant without major mishap. Where I immediately ordered a beer. Well it was New Years Eve! And after a second beer and a bit of walking around the restaurant with my two-year old I was beginning to feel a bit more confident. Now, I'm not recommending alcohol in these situations, but this was my observation at the time: you probably know that alcohol is a muscle relaxant, and obviously a mental one too, so what I found was that I was less reactive to the fear and worry that I might cause myself further pain by moving. Dutch courage!
I see this all the time in my teaching, the unproven expectation of pain is enough to set off all the protective mechanisms that are displayed by tensing (especially the neck muscles that then pull the head off balance upsetting the whole postural reflex), and this is the very thing that then sets off the pain! Ultimately, we heal, and we heal faster if we don't interfere with ourselves, the desire to overly protect an injury can become a habit that actually interferes with the healing process and can even cause secondary issues by creating new habits of tension.
The expectation of pain is a strong stimulus to react, I found I could just about keep my composure getting to the restaurant, but those two beers made it much easier. Having said that, had I drunk anymore and started to lose any coordination it would have been a very slippery slope. I also surprised myself by being able to go into a full squat, which really helped to open up and release my lower back. Again, squatting, like sitting is a matter of ankles, knees and hip joints and need not put pressure on the lower back, quite the opposite in fact.
The journey home included a half mile walk and despite walking around like the proverbial old man a few hours earlier the walk loosened me up nicely. So lesson one, keep moving. Also, as I would professionally expect, any attempt to protect my back with "good posture" only exacerbated it due to the muscular tension from "trying". But keeping it free by not reacting to it and keeping my head freely balanced had me walking at my usual pace. It took skill though, a slight deviation in "alignment" could be quite painful. But the skill of poise beats "correct posture" every time.
Once home though it was great to finally be able to lie down in Constructive Rest/semi-supine on the floor for half an hour or so. It's a great way to take the pressure off and let the back and neck muscles fully relax. We were spending New Years Eve at home, so it was easy to take the rest of the afternoon and evening easy and just rest up. Although I was worried I would freeze up over night in bed and I wouldn't be able to get up in the morning.
Which I did! But nowhere nearly as bad as I was expecting, and after a lovely hot soak in the bath I was able to move about freely again. Still needed to be careful though, but at least I had the skills to do so. Took it easy in the morning then went to the cinema (Rogue One, if you're curious) which included a ten minute walk. Although very sore with the potential to be painful if I wasn't careful I got through the day without mishap and rejuvenated myself in the evening with some more Constructive Rest and squatting for short periods.
Come Monday morning I was feeling much improved and knew there was light at the end of the tunnel. We took our kids (two and five years old) to the playground but didn't feel confident to push them on the swings or roundabout, or help lift them down when they got stuck up climbing frames. It was a lot of standing about though and by the end of the day I felt I'd over done it a little bit. But that's not necessarily a bad thing, I'm a great believer that we heal to function and not to form. This is why doctors now encourage people to move as soon as possible after an injury, lying around only encourages healing enough to lie around! Use it or lose it, as they say. So by giving my healing mechanism a good signal that I need more from it to help me function fully it knew to crack on with the job.
The ability to travel from standing to squatting and stop at any point in between has been a real bonus for whenever I need to bend down/over for any reason. We call these positions of mechanical advantage (manner!) in the Alexander Technique, or more colloquially, a Monkey (F.M.Alexander, the originator of the Technique, wasn't fond of this term, but it stuck as it's snappier than the alternative). Whether to wash my hands, I'm tallish and sinks are always low to me, pick something up, or even going from standing to sitting and vice a versa, remembering the movement is in the legs rather than the torso kept me functioning.
By Tuesday and Wednesday I was able to look after the kids all day without trouble, still a bit tender, but could carry my youngest without fear. I shied away from horse play with my eldest and a couple of her friends, I wasn't out of the woods just yet.
Come Thursday I was back to teaching, and thanks to my work encouraging me to be really on top of my game in the way I use myself I totally forgot about the injury. After work I went and collected my eldest from her after-school play date. Normally I give her a shoulder ride on the way home but decided to take her scooter and tow her back. This wasn't just common sense, I didn't quite have the confidence for it either.
Friday morning, six days after the accident, still a little sore but functionally sound. I imagine I'll be more considerate of the manner of my use at all times for a while longer.
Saturday, one week after the accident, I managed to vacuum the house from top to bottom, including the stairs, with no trouble. There's a slight hint of discomfort, I can tell there's history there, but I don't feel any need to be careful about it beyond generally being mindful of my use as a matter of self-responsibility. All in all I'm really happy with my recovery. I know from experience that this is the sort of thing that's caused clients to struggle for months, and even years, before coming to me for help.
Let go, what's the worst that can happen?
I'm forever saying this as I help clients to let go of their habitual patterns of tension. And it's not entirely a rhetorical question. The worst that can happen in that moment is that it may expose your vulnerability. Your emotions are completely wrapped up in your physicality, and vice versa. It's all one and the same.
I like to think of these physical tensions as emotional shields, and they should be respected as such. They make you feel safer, even if you're not consciously aware of it happening. It's totally pointless to suggest you improve your posture by pulling your shoulders back, or standing up straight, if you don’t also recognise that your emotions are encouraging you to curl up into a protective ball. And that's ignoring that it's bad advice to "stand up straight" anyway as it just causes more tension. It's also important to realise that although your emotions and moods may "encourage" you to tighten, they don't actually cause you to do so in the long term. In those moments, you effectively start to react to your Self, which may become a vicious circle, but by practising embodied mindfulness with the Alexander Technique this can be reduced. And in preventing an excessive physical reaction and maintaining your poise you'll find that you're left to experience the emotion more fully, which may not be pleasant, but by being with it at least allows it to be better processed. Naturally some situations do elicit a very strong emotional and physical reaction (a psycho-physical reaction in Alexander Technique jargon), and that's fine too, what's important is to avoid habituating that response into a longer term experience.
Why are some people so resistant to taking responsibility for their own health?
The expectation is for someone else to "fix" them. So much of what ails us is down to the way we use ourselves; locked in tension and poor posture can affect breathing, digestion, stress response, musculoskeletal pain, as well as performance in sports and hobbies. In addition poor `use` can exacerbate other medical issues and get in the way of the natural healing process. Only you can change the way you use yourself, but as an Alexander Technique (AT) teacher I can guide you as you get in the driving seat.
We're being inundated with articles these days on the benefits of correct posture and how to achieve it, but nothing makes you tense up more than trying to adopt a “correct” posture and trying to be "right". Throw away the idea of an idealised posture that you need to maintain, it's not the solution for avoiding or overcoming your aches and pains. Natural posture is a loose and dynamic activity. It has been said that your best posture is your next posture, so don't hold on to it. In fact, do away with the word posture altogether and replace it with the word poise, it will get you in a better frame of mind to find the quality you’re after. Posture is a shape, poise is a quality, a state of mind.
After millions of years of evolution you can rest assured that your postural reflexes work well enough if you don’t interfere with them. You could say good posture is simply a lack of bad posture. Although good and bad are such judgemental words. You either have poise or you don’t.
The skeleton is an inherently unstable structure, our bones are not like a block of bricks stacked one atop another that hold us up. Left on it's own the skeleton simply collapses, it's our postural muscles that keep us up, not the skeleton. It's a bit like a tent (bare with me), it's not the tent poles that keep the tent up but the guy ropes. Well, they work together obviously but you get the point. And if you fancy having a deeper academic look into that idea have a look at tensegrity (a portmanteau of 'tension + integrity' created by renowned inventor Buckminster Fuller), which NASA are now studying to help with robotics.
Standing is basically a balancing act, and anything that’s balancing needs to be able to readjust, to move. So standing is a movement activity. As is sitting for that matter. If there's no movement it's at rest rather than being balanced, and this is only possible when lying, reclining or collapsing. Standing is no less dynamic than walking, running or jumping, it's just more subtle. When going from standing to walking, for example, you go from movement to movement.
It's probably at least a generation since we culturally believed in Descartes' duality of body and mind. Now it's the accepted norm that the mind and body are connected. But don't two things that are connected need to be separate entities? Saying the mind and body are connected is still hanging on to dualism. It's like saying someone is a little bit pregnant, or dead! You either are or you're not. They're either separate or they're not. To escape dualism the mind and body need to be seen as a functional and indivisible whole, a "mindbody" if you like, or even more simply, your Self.
This is the supposition on which F.M.Alexander (the originator of the Alexander Technique) based his work over 100 years ago now. He didn't coin the idea, there was even an educational establishment set up in New York, by the then well-known Thomas sisters, called "the Conservatory of Psycho-Physical Culture, Elocution and Dramatic Art" at the turn of the last century. Alexander was probably well aware of this as he had a passion for the theatre, and he certainly observed it to be true from tireless experimentation on himself and his pupils and frequently wrote about psychophysical unity.
Myths, by their very nature, are very hard to dispel once they've taken hold. Despite the core stability myth being exposed nearly ten years ago, and journalist Peta Bee writing about it in The Times in 2010, from conversations I have with people I'd say its hold is as strong as ever.
The myth is that by having a stronger "core" (a poorly defined term anyway) you will have better posture, less back pain, and will perform better in your sporting activities. There's an elephant in the room regarding this too and I'll come back to it later.
From personal experience I have never met anyone with a core so weak that they can't achieve good posture and less back pain without having to strengthen it. If you can walk into my Alexander Technique studio, your core is strong enough. And if it is technically a little “weak”, well-coordinated functional movement (the ability to perform normal daily tasks efficiently) will soon give it the tone it needs. Muscle tone, not strength; there's a world of difference! Balanced poise doesn't require "strength", and "stability" invariably translates into rigidity at the expense of mobility.
What isn’t weak are the habits that pull you away from your natural poise and freedom of movement. Millions of years of evolution have given you postural reflexes that work just fine if you don't interfere with them. You don't need to "do" good posture, simply stop doing bad posture. Stop thinking of posture as a correct position and instead as a dynamic and fluid balancing act.
So that elephant I mentioned: it (he) has a name, Joseph Pilates. If you haven't read his book Your Health, you'll probably find it quite amusing by modern marketing standards. He states quite clearly that what is required is "the simultaneous drawing in of the stomach and throwing out of the chest". The photos of Pilates demonstrating the “correct” way to stand look extremely tiring, I can't imagine anyone could keep that up for long. And it's clearly an affectation, it’s not natural at all. Why after millions of years of evolution would you need to do this? Why don't we instinctively do this as children? Ever see indigenous communities do this? They're not typically known for the postural abnormalities so prevalent in "civilised" culture. To be honest I found Pilates contradicts himself quite a bit in Your Health. I'd often find myself nodding in agreement with his principles only to not see it evidenced in practice. I guess it's very much a book of its time.
Guest blog by Alun Thomas, Professional Violinist and Senior Alexander Technique teacher at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance
Stress – the virtuous verb, don’t give it a bad noun!
I’ve recently had an interesting exchange (ok, near fall-out, with my friend Adrian Farrell) about the meaning and use of the word ‘stress’. As usual, he’d written a great blog about how we use ourselves at computers and sometimes hurt ourselves in the process. I questioned his casual use of the word ‘stress’ as if it were a noun (guilty as charged, even though I do know better, Adrian) - an (unwanted) thing in itself, to which we react, rather than a physiological response that can be side-stepped, attenuated or controlled.
Computers are sources of irritation and strife for some, provoking symptoms we all might recognize as stressful; but I also know people for whom using them is a joy, an endorphin hit, and escape from the negative effects of ‘stress’, if I’m permitted the colloquialism. Stress, it seems, is a slippery concept, meaning (as in Alice’s Wonderland adventures) anything you’d like….
On the other hand, if we afford ‘stress’ reflexive verb status, implying some ‘self’ control, then we’ll all have a better time, even if occasionally our hearts beat a little faster and hands sweat a little more: the narrative song lines of the trysting lover’s heart not quite the cardiac chaos of an angry boss - context being everything.
There is no unitary thing called ‘stress’ – no-thing in particular, or even constellation of things; stress is our response, a well-known lexicon sometimes, at others, shades of grey, intimate and difficult to track.
Alexander Technique shows that it’s our smart, conscious capacity that allows us to prevent and re-route tricky responses before they manifest and it’s this that clinches the deal for me, in redefining stress.
Summoning up challenging ideas (think: job, money, boss, tricky colleague, meeting, commute……) you may notice, encourages mild to moderate bodily responses. An increased heart rate maybe, or slight tensing of your neck or legs, a shortening of the breath and tightening of the diaphragm; perhaps your attention is drawn downwards - introspection stopping your ‘out-ness’ into the world?
These feelings are reflexive, consensual, we do them to ourselves as we join up the dots of fear. We are not a mind on legs, but, truly, ‘a body that’s in the mind and a mind that’s in the body’, to quote Spinoza.
We all know what it’s like to feel the downside of our physiology on a low-tide day: jangled, pained, rushed, fazed out, rattled or even numb, to describe just some of these states, but stress, after all, and like all communication, is the result YOU get.
If I stop thinking in a way that tightens my body into an ever smaller space, but open my body out, considering new options or viewpoints, then I’m more likely to engineer positive, energizing, and helpful physiology, enhancing my performances, productivity and…..fun!
I might, then, become the captain of my own ship. Or, if that sounds way too grand, look at it like this: if you’ve ever worn a wetsuit, you’ll know what a relief it is to take it off………
Can you make a fresh decision today, to cue some smart ‘Alexander thinking’? Unclench your neck, find your full free height, allow the ground to support you and open your awareness to the world around you, and stop unwanted reactions before they have had any time to wipe their feet on your conscious attention.
You’ll find that you really can change your mind about stress, and turn that naughty noun, into a reflexive, virtuous verb……
Co-authored with Andy Smith, Alexander Technique teacher and sports journalist
There's a great saying amongst the fitness community that running is not bad for you – but running badly is.
According to Sport England, more than 2 million people in the UK don their trainers and head out for a run every week, yet research shows that 79% of runners get injured at least once a year – that's more than 1.5 million people in this country who have to stop or cut down the amount of running they do.
But rather than head straight for the physio or osteopath to receive treatment, how many runners have considered that many of these injuries can be avoided by changing their technique? How many have thought about how their bodies work as they stride along? And how many are aware of where their feet are landing in relation to their bodies, or what their arms are doing?
By taking some key Alexander Technique principles into your running, it's possible to improve balance, coordination and freedom of movement – all invaluable things for anybody who exercises. And by increasing efficiency in your technique you can also reduce your risk of injury and boost your chance of running faster and more easily than you have ever run before.
All that's needed is a willingness to try something new and an interest in how you run. And – as we can both vouch from our own experience – this change of attitude, coupled with some simple ideas about your form, can transform your runs from uninspiring slogs to experiences of genuine enjoyment. Bring an intelligence to your running and you'll never mindlessly pound the pavement again. And the real beauty is, anybody can do it.
"I see at last that if I don't breathe, I breathe. . . " [ Quote by pupil to F.M. Alexander ]
The idea of a breathing exercise is a bit of a contradiction as the only thing you can do to your breath is interfere with it! Any effort to breathe correctly will be null and void, taking you away from the very thing you're wanting, natural, unrestricted and easy breathing utilizing the whole torso.
So what we're looking for is a way to trick you into undoing the things that get in the way of your breathing.
When you think of breathing it's probably the in breath that you give more attention to. You'll also, no doubt, think that you you're breathing with your chest, I mean, who doesn't? it's where the lungs are (mostly). Your lungs may be in your chest, but it's not your lungs you actively breathe with, they're not muscles. The active part of the breathing apparatus comes from your diaphragm below your lungs, and the rib cage. The most expansive movement of the rib cage is also further below, around the diaphragm.
It has been shown that attempting to breathe with your upper chest (also known as apical breathing) and lower neck muscles, can lead to structural changes that can affect your spinal column, pelvic positioning and soft tissue attachments. This can lead to neck, shoulder and chest tightness causing headaches, shoulder problems and back pain.
Interestingly, the diaphragm only deals with one half of your breathing, the in breath, it has no involvement in breathing out , and this is where the problem arises. When you're stressed you keep tension in the diaphragm which effectively means you won't fully release your breath. Your breath will be shallower meaning less oxygen will be getting to your brain and your body.
Also, as the diaphragm contracts it pulls downwards into your intestines, which is why your belly bulges when you breathe in. So any effort to contract your tummy muscles to engage your core muscles (which is a poorly defined term, I really must write on the myth of core strength at a later date [Update: the core stability myth]) has the adverse affect of interfering with your breath.
So enough with the anatomy, let's get on with the exercise, which isn't so much an exercise, but a trick to reset your breathing by letting go of the diaphragm and getting the rib cage moving more freely. It's all explained in the video below.
UPDATE: since recording the video I've added a little more detail to the exercise. Once you've let go of the tension at the end of the out breath, allow yourself to be breathed in and don't second guess when the breath will turn itself back around into an out breath. Let the breathing mechanism do that for you. Once you find yourself being breathed out again, then you can join in intentionally to expel all the air you can.
Another advantage of long out breaths is that they encourage the parasympathetic nervous system, that is, your resting state. It's a great way to calm yourself down and reduce your stress response.
So, having got over my professional pedantry in the previous blog, this next exercise is so ubiquitous that people actually think that the Alexander Technique is about learning to sit and stand well. Let me say this just once, the Alexander Technique is NOT about teaching you to sit and stand well. Now I've got that off my chest I'll explain why we use this exercise so much. To be honest, it makes life easier for the teacher. We need to find some movement that everyone can perform that doesn't require specific training to do. To be sure, there are Alexander teachers that market niche towards Violin players, runners, swimmers, yoga, horse riding and other activities, but obviously not everyone performs those activities, so we need something common to everyone, vanilla Alexander if you like. As it happens it's a useful contrivance as we do sit and stand routinely through out our day, especially in an office environment, and how you arrive at the chair will affect how you go on and sit on it.
What we're looking for is how you react to, and in, movement, and how that affects your functioning.
And why would your reaction affect your functioning? Consider this, you don't do good posture, you only do bad posture. Good posture is a by-product of not interfering with your innate postural reflexes, the ones you were born with and got you through childhood just fine until the demands of modern life got the better of you.
The universal habitual reaction that you'll more than likely succumb to is that you will tighten your neck muscles, pulling your head backwards off balance from the top of the spine. You won't even be aware that you are doing it, but there is nothing about bending your hips, knees and ankles to lower yourself in space to the chair that requires your neck muscles. You do not sit with your neck! And as mentioned in previous blogs, once your head is off balance your neck and shoulder muscles have to work hard to support it for prolonged period of time. It's also a sign that your nervous system is generally more agitated than it needs to be, leading to over all tension.
If a picture says more than a thousand words, then a video ... so have a look at the video I created for this exercise:
Whilst researching keywords to help my website rank well in search engines, I discovered that one of the most searched for phrases is "Alexander Technique exercises". This must be very frustrating for those who are doing the searching, as any Alexander Teacher will tell you, there's no such thing as an Alexander Technique exercise! The word exercise implies something you do, and the problem is that you'll filter any instruction through your current filter of the way you habitually move. To do something new, you effectively have to stop doing! The Alexander Technique applies to any activity, whether it's sitting, standing, running, doing yoga, playing a musical instrument, you name it and Alexander can be applied to it. It's more about the way that you do it, the quality you bring to it, rather than the activity itself. That said, if we swap the word "exercise" for "exploration" then we're on the right path and I can let my professional pedantry remain intact.
I view the Alexander Technique as exploring how we respond to stimuli and the quality we bring to our actions. And if the stimulus is too big for us, learning how to reduce it. That may be from finding a more mechanically advantageous way of performing a physical task to learning to mentally stop and and reassess how you are going to respond. A far cry from the Posture Police that I'm usually labelled with, not that your posture wont benefit from this way of thinking.
Now, that's all well and good, but does that mean you should try and Alexander your way through every waking moment? Thankfully no, that would be unrealistic and frankly unappealing. Yes your awareness of yourself will improve with Alexander lessons so that you naturally choose, and have the ability, to take better care of yourself, but there are also some common sense ways to reduce the challenges you face at work.
Cynical click-bait headline aside, I'll cut to the chase, they don't work. There, I said it.
We started this series of blogs at the top and we're working our way down to the bottom, literally, that thing you sit on.
I don't like to teach from an overly anatomical view, too much detail to think about in day to day living. I'm much more interested in the way we think and react, rather than what we think about,
but this is something really useful for you to consider.
Look at how the bottom of the spine joins with the pelvis. What changes to that relationship when the weight bearing changes from going through your hips, and ultimately to the ground via your feet, to going through your sit bones into your chair? Not much! You'll notice that both the hip joints and the sit bones are below the sacral-iliac joint, that is, where the base of the spine, the sacrum, fuses with the pelvis.
This is one of those lucky occasions (for me) when a blog wrote itself. I thought I'd share with you an (unedited) email exchange I had with a fellow who had seen my YouTube video. That video was all about sitting comfortably in an office environment, however, he was
interested in any advice I could offer on relaxing at home in front of the television, and why not, it's something we all enjoy doing from time to time. The nice thing was that he decided to
follow up by finding an Alexander teacher in his city, Buenos Aires, maybe a little too far to come and visit me.
After reading Part 1 you'd be forgiven for thinking that the Alexander Technique is about body mechanics. The way you use yourself certainly includes body mechanics, but you are much more than just your body, there's a whole mental/emotional component that makes up who you are and how you use yourself. It is common these days to talk of the mind-body connection, but the Alexander Technique likes to take this another step further and even consider that there is no connection, as that would imply a separation of the two requiring a bridge between them. A more holistic view is that the mind and body are one and the same, acting as a functional whole, that you are totally indivisible as a person, what Alexander liked to call psychophysical unity .
So, despite popular conceptions of the Alexander Technique, we teachers really are not the posture police, as what goes on in the mind is equally important, and posture really could be said to be a reflection of the mind. Mindfulness is all the rage these days and it wouldn't be a stretch to think of this work as being embodied mindfulness.
Good posture isn't something you do, it's the by product of not pulling yourself out of natural balance/alignment. It is bad posture that is caused by doing. But why do we pull ourselves away from poise and ease?
I like to work from a stimulus and response model, where a stimulus can come from within (ideas, beliefs, emotions) or externally. You can often tell someone's mood by their body language, but for now I want to draw attention to the way we deal with external stimuli.
Hopefully I convinced you in my last blog that the Alexander Technique is the logical solution to the aches and pains you experience during your working day. Over the next series of blogs I want to share with you some insights on how you can improve your situation.
There's a preoccupation with the relationship between the head and neck/spine in the Alexander Technique, and for good reason, your head is heavy, really heavy! The head can weigh up to 11lbs or 5Kg, think 5 bags of sugar or a bowling ball. It's not something you want to be holding up with the muscles of your neck, upper back and shoulders. Thankfully you don't need to if it's balanced on top of your spine well, thinking of your neck as part of your spine as a whole rather than a separate entity.
The head balances on the spine much higher up than many people realise, if you point your fingers right below your earlobes, in line with the bottom of the nose, that's the axis around which the head articulates with the spine to allow it to nod forward and back. Shaking the head from side to side happens between the first two vertebra so could be said to be a spine movement rather than a head movement.
So you've tried traditional therapies, but after some temporary relief the pain always returns. And it's not like you don't know what causes you so much discomfort, it's the hours sat at the computer every day at work, but a career change hardly seems like a practical solution. It's bad enough that it affects your work life, but when pain also starts to affect your hobbies you know it's time to take action.
Everyone knows how to sit, right? Right?! It's not like you haven't been doing it all your life. Yet you have a suspicion that you could do it better, if only it wasn't so much effort. Your employers provided you with a DSE workstation assessment, an ergonomic chair, keyboard and mouse as well as silicon filled supports to rest your wrists on, all to no avail. Maybe if you had a more expensive ergonomic chair, all would be well.