Posture and body language are the first thing people notice about us. Confident people use their bodies differently to those who are diffident. A lack of confidence makes us shrink physically into ourselves. Our shoulders narrow, our neck droops forward on our shoulders and our head is retracted down onto our neck. This gives a defeated look and people are less likely to listen to us if we project that bodily message. When my pupil Brian asked for lessons he hoped the Alexander Technique would help his confidence and went on to say he knew he had terrible posture and his girlfriend thought it made him look shy.
On meeting Brian, I could see what his girlfriend meant-he was tall and slender and very collapsed, his upper back was rounded and his lower back pulled in. It made him look a lot older than he was. He had a very slight scoliosis. He’d had an enormous growth spurt as a teenager and became very lanky, uncoordinated with back and leg pain. His mates nicknamed him spider because of his long arms and legs, which he hated. Now in his early 30’s he still had mild back pain, and that lanky look.
Teaching Brian to support his back and neck differently was a challenge. He was so used to the way he carried himself that all his efforts to move differently felt wrong and occasionally painful.
Brian persisted with lessons, was diligent with his semi-supine practice and came in for lesson 10 with a huge smile on his face saying his back felt completely different. He had both lengthened and widened and his shoulders had opened out. He looked much more relaxed and confident. He said he had some Alexander tools to help him in difficult situations, whenever he felt tense or nervous, instead of shrinking into himself-which was his old response, he released the tension in his neck muscles, reminded himself to ‘think up’, checked out what he was doing with his feet and made sure he wasn’t holding his breath.
Brian’s awareness of his body use continued to improve as he had more lessons. He took up the guitar again, something he’d enjoyed but stopped because it gave him back pain. He was more outgoing, confident and willing to try new things. He had started lessons because of back pain and lack of confidence, and now he applied his new knowledge to all sorts of aspects of his life, including a career change. He decided to give up being a banker and train to be an Alexander Teacher, as he commented-you never know what doors open when you start changing your body.
What do you do with a shoulder that seizes up?
Frozen Shoulder is a very painful condition, affecting about 2% of the population, commonly in the 40-60 age group. Your shoulder becomes painful and stiffens up, and mobility is restricted. The pain can be so severe everyday tasks such as combing your hair, or getting dressed become very difficult. The cause of a frozen shoulder is not known, but it can last for up to two years. Although it is a very specific condition, it responds very well to the holistic approach of the Alexander Technique. When Peter rang me to say he’d been diagnosed with a frozen shoulder he was very fed up. His pain had come on gradually and he had ignored it until he couldn’t tie his tie in the morning. He tried heat treatment and was taking anti-inflammatory drugs, which he disliked as they upset his stomach.
Peter came for an introductory lesson. His first surprise came when I showed him how much compensation he was doing throughout his body because his shoulder hurt. He was twisting his neck to one side, pulling the painful shoulder round so his shoulder blade stuck out and curling the fingers of his hand so tightly it was difficult to straighten them. We started his lesson with him lying on my teaching table with extra support under his shoulder. He was surprised when I asked him to think about his back and neck rather than his shoulder, but gradually he began to release the additional tension that had built up in his muscles. Even his legs were tense. Every bit of unnecessary tension makes it more difficult for a particular ‘bit’ of us to fully release. So learning to release your legs and back really does make a difference to shoulder problems.
At the end of the first lesson Peter said he felt calmer and noticed his breathing was easier. His shoulder was still stiff and painful but he felt he had learned something about how his whole body played a part in his tension. Peter had 2 lessons a week for a 6 week period, saying that if he was going to do it he would do it properly. In that time his pain levels decreased enough for him to stop taking his pain killers, he learned to notice when tension was building up in him and how to release it, his mobility improved and he was delighted with how much easier his breathing was.
He continued to have weekly lessons for over a year. His shoulder healed completely and he found all his mobility much improved. He said he wished he’d discovered this self help technique years before as it offered him a positive way to manage his stress levels.