Does Your Home Health Aide Have Violent Hands?

Loren Shlaes, an Alexander Technique teacher and Occupational Therapist in New York City talks [to Robert Rickover] about ways the Alexander Technique can help Occupational Therapists.”

Loren: “An occupational therapist looks at who you are, what your life is, and all the things you have to do to fulfill all of your roles and responsibilities. If illness and injury comes along and disrupts your ability to do that, how can I help you get back to where you were before or find other things that will give you pleasure and make you feel useful.”

“Before I took Alexander lessons, I was in pain all the time and grumpy as a result. It affected my ability to do my job. After I took lessons, I became aware of how uncomfortable I was in my body. Letting some of that go improved my ability to be an effective therapist.”

“It can be a physical job. I was lifting patients all day. Every time I touched a patient was another opportunity to hurt myself.”

“When I worked with patients in bed, I would be hunched over. I would bend at the waist. And I would come home every day with a terrible back ache.

“After taking lessons, instead of bending over at my waist and hunching in my spine, I would use my legs instead to bend over and my back stopped hurting.”

“The last staff job I had at a big hospital, there would constantly be [employees] on the disabled list. They would be hurting themselves.”

Robert: “For self-protection purposes, the ability you get when you take some Alexander lessons could be very valuable for OTs.”

Loren: “I took a weekend class with Marie Stroud. The minute she put her hands on me, I was transformed.”

“If there are any OTs or PTs listening, [Alexander Technique] is a form of NDT (Neuro-Developmental Treatment). An NDT practiticioner will guide the body using a normal movement pattern.”

“I went to the American Center for the Alexander Technique in Manhattan. My school was 9-12 Monday through Friday.”

“I was working for a hand therapist in Manhattan. I was a little too over-eager to educate my patients about why they were getting their repetitive strain injuries. And she let me go. She got sick of me trying to convince people to go to Alexander and get some postural help. Please don’t sit like that. You’re killing your neck. She couldn’t bear it. So she fired me.”

“If you’re engaged in heavy physical labor all day, you’re going to learn [in Alexander lessons] how to use your body. This will protect you from getting injured.

“Because my own posture and use was so bad, I didn’t feel good in my body a lot of the time. I didn’t have a whole lot of energy. I was using my big muscles to hold myself up instead of my postural muscles. I was over-working my muscles. Once I let that go, I had tons of energy I had never experienced before. That made my work day more pleasant. I noticed I had more energy to play with the children I was treating than colleagues who were 10, 20, 30 years younger than I was. I’m in my 50s but I can still get down on the floor and play with the children.

I’ll get down on a scooter board and play hockey with them.”

Robert: “I would imagine that your Alexander training affects how you contact your patients. I would imagine that the quality of your touch is much more pleasant.”

Loren: “I remember one of my patients telling me how much she hated her home health aide because this woman had very violent hands. I’ve had people tell me over and over, ‘Why is it that when you work on me, you do not hurt me? The other therapists always cause me pain.’

“When you’re touching a patient with a knowing hand, it’s a whole different experience for the patient.”

Robert: “To become an Alexander teacher is a long process. A lot of that is about learning how to use your hands in a way that’s going to be effective in helping your students, but that’s going to apply to any physical contact you make with your hands. When you touch somebody, information about your nervous system is being conveyed to them. If your nervous system is in better shape, they’re going to get something more pleasant than if you’re stiff or holding yourself rigidly.”

“Everything we’re talking about here could apply to any kind of body worker. Massage therapists are often in pain and can learn how to use their bodies more efficiently and get better results with less work.”

Loren: “If you specialize in pain management and ergonomics, it is important to know how critical someone’s posture is to change their repetitive strain problems. One hundred percent of repetitive strain injuries are posture and use related. If you’re changing a person’s work habits or you are good with your hands like I always was. I could work with somebody and take their pain away but I couldn’t teach them how to keep the pain away. If you’re interested in helping someone learn to take care of themselves, [Alexander Technique] is the way to do it.”

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