At the age of about forty-five, I began to experience severe pain in both of my knees. After examination, I was told that I had damaged the cartilage in the knees. This damage had initially been caused by the use of a kicking strap on a sailing dinghy and made worse by many years of beagling, which involves running or trotting over ground that is very often rough, and causes the foot and knee to be out of alignment. I was advised to have physiotherapy and to wear a skiing support to reduce the strain on the knee. I did this for a couple of years, but the pain became an increasing problem. A scan revealed that I had arthritis in my right knee and torn cartilages in both my knees.
Over the following two years, I had four arthroscopies on my knees followed up by more physiotherapy. I was told to stop beagling or risk ending up in a wheelchair. I didn’t take this advice, despite the pain becoming an increasingly severe problem and starting to have secondary consequences. Because of the knee problem, and without my realising it, I had started to change the way I walked and this caused problems with my back so that this also became painful. I found out that a slow walk through an art gallery or museum became very difficult to handle, and if I sat in a car for over two hours, it might take me five minutes to ease myself out of the car. I was also using a painkilling gel to make the situation more bearable.
It was at this stage, aged fifty-eight, that a friend of my wife suggested the Alexander Technique. At first I was very sceptical, but I had also reached the stage where I was ready to try virtually any means to solve the problem. I was given the name of a teacher who had trained as a doctor and also in the Alexander Technique. In an initial examination she explained, among other things, what the Technique involves and gave me a couple of books about the Technique. She also said that, although she had had considerable success teaching people with lower
back pains, this would be the first time that she had had to deal with knee problems. I read the two books and decided to go ahead with a series of lessons; in part this was because I didn’t have many options left, but also because the risks attached to trying out the Technique are so low. No medicaments, no surgery and moderate costs. Following her advice, I booked for a fairly intensive series of two or three lessons a week at the beginning, with the intention of reducing this once I had made a beginning. Much to my surprise and enormous pleasure I started feeling the benefits of using the Technique after a very short time.
A few weeks after my first lesson, I had gone out beagling, but only walking, not running or trotting. I was not wearing my knee ski support and had not taken any pain killers. Some hounds had separated from the main pack and the Master asked a friend to go and bring them back. As the friend ran past me, he called out and asked me to accompany him in order to help. I took a deep breath, thought to myself that I would take the risk, directing as instructed, and ran after him. I was amazed that I could run without any pain whatsoever, either immediately or later on especially in bed at night. My back pain had also almost completely disappeared although it remained a small problem for a while. If the pain recurred, I would almost immediately find somewhere Where I could lie down to apply the Technique; friends and colleagues quickly became accustomed to seeing me doing this. It is now many years since I last had back pain.
I am now seventy-three years old and still go out beagling two or three days a week (more often three than two). But I stick to the rule of always applying my directions before starting to run. These days, my running speed is probably not much faster than the fast walking pace of many of my younger companions. But I happily accept that as a consequence of the age difference. The point is that, twenty-six years after I was told to stop beagling or risk ending up in a Wheelchair, I am still running without pain and without painkillers. I find it essential to do my lying down very regularly and continue to have lessons about once a month. I am still making progress and my long-established stoop (postural thoracic kyphosis) is beginning to straighten out. Sometimes people say that, surely by now I have learnt how to use the Technique. Perhaps so. But I remember that George Bernard Shaw, who was introduced to the Technique in his eighties, was asked the same question, he said that he could not afford to take the risk of not continuing with his lessons. I feel the same way.