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Yoga and semi-supine

Yoga and semi-supine

Yoga and semi-supine

In yoga it’s called “savasana”. In Alexander Technique it’s called “semi supine” or “constructive rest”. There are many similarities between the savasana pose in yoga and semi-supine.

Savasana has the outward appearance of something easy and yet it is described by some as one of the most difficult poses to master. At the heart of the matter is the meditative state required to completely let go of physical tension and the mental tension that accompanies it, while still remaining present and aware in the moment.

Proponents of the Alexander Technique use a version of this pose to cultivate a neutral state of balance and poise, enjoying a presence in the moment that flows into movement as well.

Active Rest

We call it ‘Active’ or ‘Constructive’ Rest, a daily practice of awareness and self care, which is particularly beneficial for sufferers of back pain.

The semi-supine position favoured in Active Rest maximises sensory feedback through full contact of the head and torso with a firm, flat surface. This feedback helps to build up kinaesthetic awareness of the width, length and depth of the spine as the core structure that is so vital to balance in movement.

You may be familiar with a popular, but often misunderstood, idea that we are about an inch shorter in height in the evening than in the morning. This has some basis in a specific physiological process at work in the spine and which Active Rest can counter to our benefit. The intervertebral discs are a remarkable part of the larger strong and beautifully integrated structure of the spine and have a unique ability to absorb and hold fluid – up to forty times their own volume! During four or five hours of being upright, however, this shock absorbency system is gradually compromised as fluid is pressed out of the discs, resulting in less cushioning between the vertebrae.

Spending fifteen to twenty minutes in Active Rest allows the load to come off the whole spine and gives the discs the time they need to fully rehydrate. This means our spine gains a slight increase in overall length, letting us enjoy our full height and our buoyancy in movement at any time of the day.

 

In both yoga and semi-supine the benefits of a lengthening spine go further. A spine without undue compression is also our pathway into the healthy operation of our Automatic Postural Patterns or APPs. APPs refer to involuntary muscular activity that facilitates voluntary movement. APP’s help to reorganise soft tissue surrounding our bones so that the muscular work of both supporting and moving parts is distributed evenly and appropriately throughout our whole body. Whenever a movement is sensed as light, easy, effortless – that’s when your Automatic Postural Patterns are at play. The desire to trigger the APPs by lengthening the spine in Active Rest explains some of the recommendations for the practice. 

 

 

Firstly, the addition of a head rest of some kind is used to foster an easy relationship of the head with the torso, gently allowing for the natural curve of the cervical spine and avoiding over-straightening the neck. The balancing of the head in relationship to the spine is crucial to ensuring that neck muscles are free to release from attachments on the skull itself right through to their attachments to the collar bones and other parts of the arm structure and ribs. The plumping up of the intervertebral discs, as described above, spaces out the articulations of the ribs with the vertebrae opening the way for full rib excursion, deepening the experience of the breath. The arms themselves are positioned palms down on the abdomen, elbows releasing gently out to the sides. This facilitates an expansion through the upper torso and shoulder girdle from side to side and from front to back. It makes any pulling back of the shoulders (and as a consequence, narrowing of the back) less likely. Resting the palms on the abdomen and the contact of our back with the floor also draws our awareness to the movement of the breath.

 

In Active Rest we ‘listen’ with our feet on the floor, enjoying a dynamic balance between hips, knees and ankles. The soles of our feet, with their large number of sensory nerve endings, play an important role in the operation of APPs. They sense the detail of the surface we are in contact with, as well as telling us about the relationship of our leg joints. This information is then sent to our central nervous system where it becomes integrated with signals coming from the rest of our body and guides the body’s determination of easy balance throughout our system. Remembering to include our ‘listening’ feet is an essential part of achieving healthy functional motor patterns.

 

Active Rest offers the benefits of ease and improved alignment before or after yoga asana practice, and can be used independently as a regular meditation to promote integrated movement and functioning. The combination of both physical and mental rebalancing offered by this pose can enhance the moment-to-moment quality of our everyday movement and our life. There are some differences in approach between savasana in  yoga and the semi-supine but the wisdom is that there are benefits to be had from doing one or both.

The Alexander Approach

The Alexander Approach

The Alexander approach to human functioning.

“Adaptive variability” versus “static stability”.

Static stability is the state of staying constant, no matter what. Adaptive variability is our ability to adapt and adjust to rapidly changing contexts.

A behaviour that is useful in one context may not translate as a useful behaviour in another.  Many of the new discoveries from neuroscience and systems theory parallel Alexander Technique ideas.

Example: Think of a soldier on a battlefield. Hyper-vigilance is an appropriate and useful behaviour within that context. It maintains a certain high-level fight/flight response that can be called upon at any moment by the soldier. Hyper-vigilance keeps the sympathetic nervous system active releasing cortisol and adrenaline to allow for instant response to danger. It informs the human system that it is in a situation of immanent threat. It has turned off digestion, immune response and the calming influence of the para-sympathetic nervous system, as the context of the battlefield requires life or death decision making.

But now, imagine that same soldier is home from the war, but is still using their learned hyper-vigilance as their triggered response within mundane contexts. He or she cannot sleep, cannot engage with others, is permanently on-guard, maintains a permanent rigidity of muscles, is prone to infections and inflammations and has problems with digestion. The fixed-pattern (static stability) no longer serves that individual-in fact it constrains them.

In our society stability is thought of as a positive trait, but stability is not always the constructive outcome that we imagine. “Variability” is an indicator of a complex system’s ability to adapt to changing circumstances and context. Throughout our life our success is measured by our ability to adapt, learn and evolve to change.  Static stability is the state of staying constant, no matter what. Staying constant, no matter what, can have extremely poor outcomes.

Alexander parallels

The Alexander approach to teaching provides you with the opportunity for choice within your movement and posture.

Alexander addresses your fixed patterns. It helps you to apply adaptive flexibility in the way you move and balance. This can lead to many positive outcomes. Movement and balance influence all the parts of our human body in an interdependent way. Consider your breath is movement, your blood moves, your digestion is a movement, the firing of the nerves is movement. Everything we do is based in movement.

Systems Alexander Technique works with a model of human functioning that is interdependent and complex. Donella Meadows in her book, Thinking in Systems describes complex systems as interdependent elements that flow in relation to each other.

Reductionism, Holism and Emergence

“Reductionism” is a way of looking at human health and wellbeing that is extremely focused. To know the system, you must understand each component in minute detail. By knowing each component part of a system intricately, you come to know the entire system.

This approach has led to some spectacular success and discovery in the field of medicine, science, and philosophy. One of the defining characteristics of this age is the massive improvement in lifestyle that modern science and medicine has afforded the world.

The problem is that reductionist approaches can become blinkered. They can take a silo approach to human health and wellbeing. This can be alienating and, at times, negatively impactful.

The Alexander approach is holistic

The second perspective on human functioning is called “holism”. This perspective suggests that the only way that you can completely understand a system is to look at the working of all the components together. In the 1890’s, FM Alexander observed, what he described as, an integration of thought, emotion, and movement: – a “psycho-physical” unity, when people moved.

Alexander was a gifted and astute observer. He developed and carried out long running experiments to validate his observations and he was able to describe a holistic model of human functioning based on, what he called, “psycho-physical unity”. The model is still as compelling today as it was 130 years ago.

Alexander Technique “emergence”.

Alexander said,

“The phrase ‘All together, one after the other” expresses the idea of combined activity I wish to convey.”[1]

Emergence describes when a complete system is more than the sum of all the component parts. Each component part has an identity, which is different within a system to the identity they have in isolation.

So, if I lift a person’s arm or leg for them and then, I get the person to move their arm or their leg; that limb is going to perform differently. When I lift their leg, their muscles aren’t used so much, the leg works like a mechanical lever. However, when they move their leg, for themselves, it takes on the personality of the individual, their pattern of tension, their fixed set. When the leg moves together with the other leg, it moves differently again. In fact, the leg identifies itself differently, moves and coordinates differently depending on the context. It adapts to its environment, as do all the component parts of the body. Arms, legs and all our component parts do not work in isolation. Their “identity” is different in the system depending on activity and context.

In the quote above, Alexander recognised that each component of the body has a unique identity which changes when coordination occurs.

Each component part of the human system of functioning has a structural identity, an action, an interaction, and a feedback message. Our component parts may also have variability, which allows them to adapt to their environment and the unique make-up of the current situation. Taking all this into account, we can see why the total adds up to more than the sum of the parts.

In the Alexander model teachers don’t function as mechanics. They work with individuals, considering their unique physiological expression. This requires a high degree of understanding, observation, and care by the teacher.  The teacher must be immediate and present for each student and their individual needs. An onlooker observing someone having an Alexander lesson, could easily write it off as an unusual type of physical therapy. In fact, for most students the heightened stream of information and awareness from their body, the unusual lightness of movement, the powerful experience of focused attention becomes an experience that is far more than the sum of its parts. Rather, the experience quite often serves as a landmark for extraordinary self-understanding, awareness, and clarity, integrated within movement.

[1] https://upward-thought.com/tag/fm-alexander/

Inspired by podcasts from Stefanie Faye “Mindset NeuroScience”

and this book , “Thinking in Systems” by Donella H Meadows

Links to further reading on Alexander Technique

Is Alexander Technique Quackery?

Is Alexander Technique Quackery?

Is Alexander Technique Quackery?

If you are developing an interest in Alexander Technique, it’s good to gather information and understand what it is and how it may be helpful.

To some people, Alexander Technique is quackery. They think of it as unscientific. They like to demean it and place it into a category of exclusion. Quite often, even though they may be well educated people, they will make this scathing determination without having the least knowledge of Alexander Technique, its history, its practice and its methodology.

Alexander Technique has been taught around the world for over 120 years and has a good reputation for delivering positive outcomes. Is it too good to be true?

How can education be quackery?

The Oxford dictionary says that the term “quackery” relates to medical treatments that make false claims. Alexander Technique is not a treatment, medical or otherwise. It professes no cure. It teaches people to become aware of their movement. How can becoming aware of your movement and posture be quackery?

People expect Alexander Technique to provide cures or treatments. That’s a misunderstanding of Alexander Technique.

To then judge Alexander by those misunderstandings is ridiculous. A dietician cannot make you lose weight. A guitar teacher can’t make you play well. A French teacher can’t make you speak French. Similarly, an Alexander teacher cannot force you learn about your movement and posture and then implement that learning.

If you follow the dietician’s advice you might lose weight. If you want to play guitar, a guitar teacher can be extremely helpful.

How does it work?

An Alexander Technique teacher can assist you to move, balance and coordinate in a better more efficient way. The mechanism used is awareness. Specifically, Alexander Technique brings awareness to the elastic support of muscles, bones and ligaments in movement and posture.  Movements that rigidify muscle can become destructive because they force the body to over-effort to compensate.

Alexander Technique observes that good posture and movement involves an easy elastic muscle tonus.

Learners are shown how to discriminate between constructive balanced movements and destructive overly-tense movements. This discrimination involves recognising detailed information from afferent nerves. These nerves are found in muscle tissue and feed information about muscle contraction to our minds. Normally, not noticed, Alexander Technique trains people to understand the difference between quality of movement using that “tension information”. It’s that simple. It’s also highly effective for people with posture and movement related problems.

Indirect benefits

If you lose weight (well done) there may be a secondary benefit. Risk of diabetes reduce, risk of heart disease, breathing will improve. You may even feel better. These benefits are indirect. They are also cascading in that, if you lose that weight many elements of your life may improve one after the other but all at the same time.

This is the same with Alexander Technique. It teaches you to think about movement and posture in different ways. Alexander technique skill assists you to move with less muscular effort, different weight distribution and greater sensory awareness. This occurs through a process of “reafference” where the regulation and interaction of internal feedback and sensory signals for bodily movements are brought into conscious awareness. People respond to this instruction very positively. This isn’t outlandish mumbo jumbo. In fact, there is a great deal of science (see below) that affirms the Alexander approach and the sensible benefits it suggests might be available. Is Alexander Technique quackery? No it is not!

Alexander Technique teachers think that learning Alexander Technique movement skills also has indirect, cascading benefits to health. They do not treat back pain or neck pain or any other ailment. Alexander Technique teaches movement. However, over the years, many people have reported that the more efficient movement that is taught to individuals seems to have an indirect positive influence on many chronic conditions.

An unusual model

FM Alexander (1869-1955) suggested that human functioning was more complex than mechanical models suggested at the time. He observed that many human responses involved the coordination of the parts of the body. He observed that the coordination of the parts led to overall effects that were greater than the sum of those parts. He recognised that human movement was fine and nuanced. He saw that the lifting of an arm was not a mere mechanical event but also served to convey meaning, mood, skill and dexterity all at the same time.

He suggested that there was probably an integrated organisational system of movement that allowed for skillful, lively and easy interplay with the world.

He observed that there was evidence of  an organisational system of movement reflected in the relationship of head balance to spinal tone. He supposed that this relationship could be an important primary element for movement organisation. What if people with difficulty in movement could effect change by working with this relationship.

Research

The indirect influence of improved movement on people’s health and well being has sparked the curiosity of many qualified and interested people. There has been a great deal of research into how and why Alexander Technique movement skills indirectly influence people’s general health.

There are some very interesting studies of Alexander Technique training and its influence on health and well being. click here to see a list of published research

FM Alexander (1869-1955) was keen to explain his method for movement training to medical people. However, he was also very insistent that his technique not be relinquished to the medical profession.

His reason for this antipathy was that he feared that his discoveries about movement would be misunderstood, re-interpreted and consequently, diminished.

Many scholarly articles about Alexander Technique appear to be written by people who have had limited experience of the Alexander Technique. Unfortunately they bring their own filters and bias to their papers.

One such paper published recently started by saying, “The Alexander Technique is a method for the treatment of chronic back pain conditions.”

It isn’t.

Alexander Technique is an educative technique that teaches people to become aware of their movement and posture and to find ways to alter these towards better efficiency. It uses a model that is very similar to modern systems theory and embodied intelligence models. Each model suggests that feedback can be misleading when it is limited or constrained to fixed methods and small samples. Alexander teaches pupils to increase the range and scope of feedback coming from both inside and outside the body.

As already stated, learning about your movement, posture and balance can have secondary indirect benefits-but they are secondary. The focus of Alexander Technique is education about movement, posture and balance. It is not about treatment.

Stupidity

Is Alexander Technique Quackery?  No, definitely not! Some people, who are scathing of Alexander Technique, scream out that, using scientific method (Cochrane method), there is only a moderate amount of proof of the efficacy of Alexander Technique. It’s not quite the same as suggesting quackery, is it?

Articles that suggest skepticism are generally not skeptical, instead they are cynical and have predetermined focus on debunking any process that doesn’t conform to their fixed ideas. These are the same people who debunked Galileo, DaVinci, Newton etc.

Unless you are a large drug company with very large budget, providing proof that meets the Cochrane test is very difficult. Random control double blind trials with very large (thousands) test groups; research less than 5 years old are required. Alexander actually has a number of random controlled double blind studies that were carried out and showed quite positive results but the test groups were only in the hundreds not the thousands.

Other “treatments” (have I made the point that Alexander Technique isn’t a treatment??) that also fail to show efficacy using Cochrane are back surgery, hip and knee replacements, discectomy and a range of other accepted medical practices.

So, do I think that modern surgery is quackery? Of course not. Nor is Alexander Technique.

Does Alexander Technique work?

Does Alexander Technique encourage mindless conditioning, faith in unscientific methods, foolish behaviours, strange rituals? Absolutely not!  In fact, if anything, Alexander Technique teaches people to apply evidence-based thoughtfulness to their movement.  This is why so many professional people, scientists, lawyers, musicians, authors and intellectuals study Alexander Technique and talk positively about its benefits. Learning Alexander Technique is a safe and useful skill that can have multiple benefits for your health and well being.

Alexander technique teachers are trained for three years minimum where they learn functional anatomy, physiology and highly detailed awareness of movement, balance, posture and coordination.  These highly trained individuals, work by a code of conduct, carry out yearly continuing professional development and provide professional training to their clients.

You can rest assured that, by learning Alexander Technique, you will get a new perspective on your movement, posture, coordination and balance. It is hoped that you will also benefit from the secondary cascading benefits of Alexander Technique training but that process is indirect and consequential.

I invite anyone to come to an Introductory presentation on the Alexander Technique. I hold those regularly here at Leura. You will be surprised and delighted that this educative technique can assist you to improve.

Is Alexander Technique quackery?

Alexander Technique lessons are affordable, immediately useful and informative.

Come to the  beautiful Leura in the Blue Mountains to have lessons with Michael or Jane Shellshear.

 

 

Given how Alexander Technique makes for more ease and efficiency, it is no surprise that many household names are amongst the celebrities who have trained in Alexander Technique.

Amongst them are:

John Cleese, Hugh Jackman, Greg Chapel, Roald Dahl, Kenneth Branagh, Linford Christie, Dame Judi Dench, James Galway, Jeremy Irons, Barry Humphries, Prunella Scales, Jennifer Saunders, Julia Sawalha, Roger Woodward, Robin Williams, Sir Paul McCartney, Christopher Reeve, Paul Newman Sting, James Galway Kevin Kline Daley Thompson William Hurt Yehudi Menuhin

John Dewey, Aldous Huxley, George Bernard Shaw, Raymond Dart, George E. Coghill, Charles Sherrington, and Nikolaas Tinbergen.

Some quotes:

97% of people with back pain could benefit by learning the Alexander Technique – it is only a very small minority of back pain sufferers that require medical intervention such as surgery.

Jack Stern, spinal neurosurgeon

I find The Alexander Technique very helpful in my work. Things happen without you trying. They get to be light and relaxed. You must get an Alexander teacher to show it to you.

John Cleese, actor

The Alexander Technique will benefit anyone whether they are an elite athlete or whether they just wish to live life without the aches and pains that many people suffer and accept as part of life. It is a pity that these techniques are not shown to us all at an early age for I have no doubt that this would alleviate many of the causes of ill health in our communities.

Greg Chappell Australian test cricketer

The Alexander Technique works… I recommend it enthusiastically to anyone who has neck pains or back pain.

Roald Dahl, writer

Mr Alexander has done a service to the subject [of the study of reflex and voluntary movement] by insistently treating each act as involving the whole integrated individual, the whole psychophysical man. To take a step is an affair, not of this or that limb solely, but of the total neuromuscular activity of the moment, not least of the head and neck.

Sir Charles Sherrington, neurophysiologist

Alexander students rid themselves of bad postural habits and are helped to reach with their bodies and minds, an enviable degree of freedom of expression.

Michael Langham, Director. The Juilliard School, New York USA

The Alexander Technique can be sustaining; it is something that if learned well, can be carried along with you for the rest of your life. It gives you confidence to be who you are when you are up in front of an audience.

Patrick Addams, Managing director. Royal Academy of Music

Of all the disciplines that form the actor training program, none is more vital, enriching, and transformative than the Alexander Technique.

Harold Stone, Associate Director, Theatre Department. The Juilliard School, New York USA

We already notice, with growing amazement, very striking improvements in such diverse things as high blood pressure, breathing, depth of sleep, overall cheerfulness and mental alertness, resilience against outside pressures, and in such a refined skill as playing a musical instrument.

Professor Nicholas Tinbergen. Nobel Prize winner for medicine and physiology

Alexander established not only the beginnings of a far-reaching science of the involuntary movements that we call reflexes, but a technique of correction and self-control which forms a substantial addition to our very slender resources in personal education.

George Bernard Shaw, writer. Nobel Prize winner for literature

It gives us all the things we have been looking for in a system of physical education: relief from strain due to maladjustment, and consequent improvement in physical and mental health, increased consciousness of the physical means employed to gain the ends proposed by the will and, along with this, a general heightening of consciousness on all levels… We cannot ask more from any system of physical education; nor, if we seriously desire to alter human beings in a desirable direction, can we ask any less.

Aldous Huxley, writer

The Alexander Technique has helped me to undo knots, unblock energy and deal with almost paralysing stage fright. 

William Hurt, actor 

Does Alexander Technique help back pain?

Does Alexander Technique help back pain?

Does Alexander Technique help with back pain?

Yes, Alexander Technique does help with back pain. It is incredibly useful. Many people are able to manage their back pain and lead normal lives. It can help you. The great news is that in most cases, the high quality sensory learning that you complete in an Alexander lesson will give you the skills that you need to overcome back pain. Here’s what you need to know.

What you need to know about back pain

A large percentage of back pain is caused by destructive movement, poor posture and incorrect body mechanics (ie bending at the wrong spots in your body). It’s classed as chronic pain and can last for a few days, weeks, months or sometimes years.

Get your back pain checked out by a medical practitioner. Sometimes back pain can be an indicator of a serious underlying issue. Imaging will give you a good idea of what’s going on and then you can get on with getting over your back pain.

It’s very common for back pain sufferers to be told that there is no visible damage on their x-rays. Although this is good news, it’s also frustrating because the options for understanding and overcoming the back pain become muddied. Pain can come from muscles or nerves, it can be localised or shooting It can range from burning, dull ache to very sharp and electric pain. It is hard for people who aren’t experiencing your pain to understand what you are going through and how it is impacting all areas of your life.

How does Alexander Technique help?

Alexander Technique considers back pain as the result of a whole body habit of posture and movement. To a highly trained eye, the way that you stand, balance and move can provide indicators of conditions that either lead to back pain or exacerbate an already existing issue. Often back pain will involve bracing of the legs, torso and neck. In an Alexander lesson, your teacher will show you ways to circumvent destructive habits that can lead to problem pain. Alexander Technique is primarily a teaching situation, not a treatment. What you learn can resource you to know how to take pressure off your injury site, avoid back pain danger in different situations and relieve pain through simple to follow procedures.

So many people bend at their waist. There’s no bending joint there! It will hurt you if you keep bending at the waist. This is especially so if you add lefting, carrying, pushing or pulling to the mix.  Your Alexander Technique teacher shows you how to bend down to the ground without creating dangerous conditions that contribute to back pain. However, this is not a run-of- the-mill manual handling training. Alexander Technique is practical sensory based learning that demonstrates some of the scope that your body has to move freely and efficiently without pain, strain or danger.

Rescue position for immediate relief from pain

Your Alexander Technique teacher can show you a “rescue position” that you can use daily or even a few times a day.  It works quickly to help you regain a significant reduction in pain.

Alexander technique is an educational technique that you learn. It has a strong basis in science and anatomy but it teaches whole bodymind unity rather than compartmentalising  how humans work.

This means that if you have a bad back, your Alexander teacher will look at the entire range of your movement, posture and balance not just at the area that is in pain.

The Alexander teacher shows you things that you can do to change your movement.

The Alexander approach is very unique. It considers how your patterns of movement  influence and undermine your actual movement. Then, it teaches you techniques to change the underlying patterns.

Research

Alexander Technique has been taught for over 120 years with consistent anecdotal evidence of its positive impact for learners.

Over the last 70 or more years there have been numerous studies undertaken on Alexander Technique’s effectiveness in assisting people. Research is ongoing as there is no clearly understood mechanism to explain why AT is so successful. In some areas science is just now able to offer explanations for the efficacy of Alexander Technique learning.

Have a look at these studies for a scientist’s view of Alexander Technique

How does AT work-a new model 2020 paper just published. click here

Effectiveness of Alexander Technique for Chronic back pain sufferers click here

 

Does Alexander Technique help back pain?

Blue Mountains Back Pain Management

Alexander Technique is a useful skill to learn to help in the management of back and/or neck pain. It’s a modest fee and some of your time to change your life. What are you waiting for?

If you live in the Blue Mountains, you don’t have to travel far to see experienced teachers. We’re in Leura. We have years of Alexander practice. We can help.

 

Call on 0448 406881 or click on the button below to  book a time

Try these helpful Alexander Technique links