Council Worker, Speech Therapist

Sean Richardson 

 

I am a forty-year-old city council worker and newly qualified speech and language therapist. About ten years ago, I had this vague nascence of awareness of the fact that I experienced stress, and that it was reflected in my body. I was aware that I was probably more stressed than I needed to be for the circumstances I was in. I read something about the Alexander Technique in a magazine or somewhere, which explained that it was looking at the conjunction of mind and body (if, indeed, you can make that separation to start with). I was aware of over-breathing a tendency to breathe shallowly. I came more from a general understanding of the fact that there was some sort of link between psychological and physical states, and I wanted to learn how to control those a little better. 

 

Earlier, I had had some pain at the top of my back and my GP had advised the Alexander Technique, but I hadn’t got the money to pay for it at the time. I also sprained my back doing press-ups. I was doing a delivery job and was in and out of the car twenty-five times a day, and would sometimes strain my back. 

 

I struggled with the idea of ‘non-doing’. Using the Alexander Technique always does rne noticeable good, whenever I practise the lying down. I’m constantly scanning at the same time as attending to whatever I’m listening to, e.g. music. I always notice when I get up a lightness in my body and a sort of fluidity in my movements. I’m ‘resetting’ on a regular basis, at least have times a week. 

 

I can’t really say that I regularly use it carrying out all activities. My attention is drawn too much by the task. I’m able to notice occasionally, when I’m in a social situation specifically, that I’m tightening my jaw and the shallow breathing starts. In fact, it’s not just the jaw, the whole € of my body tightens up, and I would be really trying to force my conversation out when I’m with pretty much anyone I don’t know very well. I try and control that but I still have a lot of difficulty. It still feels to me like becoming aware and giving the directions takes up too much of my brain’s processing power! 

 

When it comes to doing sort of general physical activities, I ’m afraid I don’t really use it that much, but I’m wondering whether to a certain extent, I probably adapted to the level of ability that I’ve got. 80 it always feels like I could be doing more, but, during that last ten years, I’ve probably progressed quite a long way anyway so I don’t want to make it sound like I don’t use it at all because I think I probably do. 

 

I thought about coming back for a few more lessons, perhaps about five years ago, but I made a rash decision to go back to university; so really I’ve had to draw in my horns financially 

 

I have very little back pain or neck problems these days. I still have a little bit of a back problem at the very bottom right hand side from something that happened during the time that I had lessons. I went over to India; I did a meditation course and damaged my sciatic nerve. I went to an osteopath and three years ago went to a McTimoney chiropractor. I can’t say either really noticeably helped, but strangely, things have gradually got better. It was never severe pain, it was discomfort, more a sort of pins and needles, electric shock-type thing down the back of the leg. Sitting cross-legged for more than about a minute was out, because that would cause problems. About three years ago I went to a wedding at a Sikh Gurdwara where you have to sit cross-legged for quite a long time. What I noticed was that by sitting there for awhile cross-legged, then standing up, and then moving it around, things sort of opened up on their own; so I went back to sitting cross-legged occasionally and working it up. Now I’m in the position where I’m not getting too much bother from it at all. 

 

Over the course of the last few years several people have remarked positively on my posture. I had the reputation for being the most upright-seated person in the office. Everyone used to joke about how I wasn’t doing any work but at least I looked good. One bloke that I worked with recently was always going on about it, and I remember seeing him in town and he said ‘I knew it was you from a distance, I recognised the posture’. 

 

I used to be something of a sloucher. I met an ex-girlfriend. I was eighteen when I was going out with her. I was about three stone lighter with long hair, but she said I seemed taller, and I wasn’t slumped over. That might be partly to do with becoming more self-confident anyway, but I’m convinced that the Technique has had more than fifty percent input into that. I just wasn’t aware, as most people aren’t, of what I  was doing with myself. And it has made me a lot more aware of my psychophysical state. I think I was someone who was always given to being quite introspective, but it has helped make my awareness more acute. 

 

I do use it, not as much as I would like, but I do use it, in social settings. I go to the gym and I think it is essential that I don’t hurt myself working out. I don’t do anything that I know is going to put strain on in the wrong way, so all in all, I think it has had some major benefits, physical and emotional. 

 

I can’t think of anything bad about the Alexander Technique. It might be said that it’s made me more neurotic, less spontaneous in a sense, but I don’t personally agree, because I reckon what other people call ‘spontaneity’ is just their automatic habitual reaction and not very spontaneous at all. 

 

When I used to run, I would get knee pains. I now run an average of four times a week, and I get no aches and pains because I do use the Technique. 

 

It is certainly fair to say that tendrils of Alexander Technique unfolded to all parts in my life, like with the running. It’s made me very aware that even when I’m completely on my own, there’s still these constantly flowing currents of attention, to see how they are linked with what I’m thinking about at the time. 

 

My dissertation for my speech therapy course was about stuttering, and I have noticed that after running, my own fluency would actually be improved for a while, from running while using the Alexander Technique, so I was sort-of interested in the psychophysical aspects and I did read some papers that related to the Alexander Technique and stuttering. I think you can say that physically it’s benefited me, psychologically it’s benefited me and intellectually as well, as I’ve used some of the insights that I have gained to apply to the dissertation that I wrote, and to talk about the mind/ body continuum.