How To Sit Comfortably

Alexander teacher Ariel Weiss tells interviewer Robert Rickover: “I want to debunk the myth of sitting still. We’re not designed to sit still. People get in trouble when they stiffen themselves and make themselves still when they sit.”

“I ask people to take a break. Set an alarm on your computer. The computer is a place where people [often] sit for long periods of time without any attention to themselves and they become still and stiff.”

Robert: “Just the idea that one should find a right position is counterproductive.”

Ariel: “If I talk about finding movement in sitting, I hope to detour that myth that I am going to show them the right position. There’s free movement and good balance but there’s always movement.”

“I ask people to open up their sensory mechanism. When people sit, they’re often engaged in a task and narrowing the information they’re letting in. When people are at the computer, they are often so focused on the screen in front of them, they’re not letting in other information (perhaps through their auditory or tactile sense).

“I’ll ask my students to notice their feet on the floor. What surfaces of them are contacting the chair that is holding them up. The back of their legs? The bottom of their pelvis? Perhaps their arms are on the arm rest?”

“I would ask them to notice where their weight is being supported and let the chair be a good partner. A lot of time when we sit, people pull down and collapse and put their weight on to their lower backs or bellies, or even more strangely up in their shoulders.”

Robert: “Lifting themselves up.”

Ariel: “Or pulling themselves forward.”

“We want the weight of our skull balancing over the weight of our pelvis. If we’ve pulled our head forward in space, we’re then balancing our head out over the ether. We’ve put our neck muscles to great effort to hold on for dear life. If we pay attention to where our head is, then our neck has more of a break and it is not going to pull on our shoulders and arms as much.”

Robert: “That pattern of putting the head forward in space is exacerbated for many people by video displays and computer screens. There’s a tendency to want to get your eyes closer to what you’re looking at. When you do that, the head is no longer in balance. You have to hold it up. That requires a lot of work.”

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Don’t Crack Your Neck

Many of my students have a habit of cracking their neck. I know this brings momentary release but it damages your neck in the long run. It’s best not to crack your joints.

Report: If you often crack or pop your neck yourself, it probably means that the joints are hypermobile. The ligaments are a bit lax so the joints move a little more than they should. In response, the muscles tighten up to stabilize the joints. This makes your neck feel tight and makes you want to crack it. When you do that, the muscles are momentarily stretched, they relax somewhat, and you feel better for a while. But when you crack your neck you also stretch the loose ligaments further which makes the muscles tighten up again. It’s a vicious cycle.

…1. Joints move. Okay, you knew that already. The point is that your spine is made up of many vertebrae, each of which articulates (forms joints with) the vertebra above and the vertebra below. The joints in the spine do not have as great a range of motion as do the larger and more mobile joints of the shoulders, elbows, hips, and knees, but because there are 24 moveable segments in the spine, the combined motion of these joints allows us to bend forward and touch our toes (some of us, anyway), look over our shoulders to back the car out of the driveway, and perform nearly all of our daily activities. Without spinal motion people would look like the Tin Man before he found his oil can. Joints move.

2. Normal joints have normal motion. This may sound like another no-brainer, but neck-crackers have a problem with normal joint motion. There are four phases of motion: active, passive, paraphysiologic – where the “pop” occurs during manipulation – and sprain – where ligaments are injured.

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A Gentle Wish For A Sunny Day

When I teach my new students to free their necks, they always try to do something and end up with a sore neck.

What the heck does it mean to free the neck? It means to release the neck from needless holding and tension. What does that mean? Well, you know what the opposite feels like. You know what a stiff neck feels like. You know what a tight neck feels like. You know what a compressed neck feels like. Well, a free neck is the opposite of that.

So one path to a free neck is to gently tell yourself, “I am not tensing my neck.” Or, “I am not tightening my neck.” Or, “I am not compressing my neck.”

So how gentle should this direction be? As gentle as wishing that next Sunday will be sunny so you can have a picnic. You’re not going to try to do anything to make next Sunday sunny. It’s just a gentle wish.

The more gently and lightly you give yourself directions, the more effective they will be (Robert Rickover).

How The Alexander Technique Can Enhance Psycho-Therapy

Juliet Carter is a psycho-therapist and Alexander teacher in London.

Britain has several psycho-therapists who are also Alexander teachers. I don’t know of any such combo in the States. The Alexander Technique is better known in Britain and in Israel than it is in the United States (though it has become better known here over the past 15 years).

Juliet tells Robert Rickover: “Alexander Technique is a skill that can be applied to everyday activities. It’s about using less tension in movement.”

“Another group of problems [helped by Alexander Technique] is a heightened arousal to the stress response and ways people cope with that stress, such as by eating or drinking too much. Compulsive behaviors.”

“Psycho-therapy and Alexander Technique are two disciplines in their own right that are hugely valuable independently.

They can work well beside each other.

“The Technique is good for issues related to addiction, to compulsive behavior, whether that is with food or drinking or smoking or any compulsive behavior used to manage feelings and cope with stress. The Technique is a gentle way of letting go of some of that restlessness, agitation and difficulty behind some of those behaviors.”

Robert: “F.M. Alexander came to the realization that mind and body are not just connected but two aspects of the same thing. If you’re working on an emotional issue with a psycho-therapy, there’s going to be a physical component.”

Juliet: “One of the things that people struggle with in therapy is recognizing and managing their feelings. By slowing down and reconnecting to the body, Alexander Technique is a way that process gently happens.”

Robert: “If someone is tight and tense, it is going to be difficult for them to take in the basic ideas of therapy.”

Juliet: “If someone’s stress response is very active, and they’re in a hyper-aroused state, and many people are in that state without recognizing it, it is difficult to think and process clearly and to feel what the body is telling you, whether those are practical signals that you are hungry, thirsty, tired, or whether they are emotional signals. The Technique quietens down the system so that it is easier to notice what is going on, to pause, and to make different choices.”

Robert: “F.M. Alexander used the word ‘inhibition’ before Freud. He didn’t become as famous as Freud. When people think of ‘inhibition’, they think of Freud’s version.”

Juliet: “‘Inhibition’ in the Alexander Technique is stopping your habitual reaction to a trigger and making a more conscious choice. In the English language generally and in Freud’s sense, being inhibited means that something is being held back.”

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How the Alexander Technique can help Children with Developmental Issues

Mike Cross is an Alexander teacher in England. He writes:

The essentials of Alexander work are the same for children and adults alike:

– learning to say “No”

– consciously sending messages from the brain to parts of the body

– going into movement.

FM Alexander was born in 1869; he was born two months premature and was not expected to live. He was beset from birth onwards with respiratory difficulites, which the technique he evolved later solved, indirectly. This personal history caused Alexander to be far ahead of his time in his understanding the obstacles to healthy development and growth of a human being. His understanding is reflected in the hierarchy of the traditional Alexander directions for (1) neck, (2) head, (3) torso, and (4) limbs.

As a child develops, he or she can gradually learn how to say “No” to the sending of unwanted messages — all in the context of playing games and having fun — and to send new messages for the neck to be free, the head to go forward and up, the back to lengthen and widen, and the knees to go forwards and away…!

Alexander work can be particularly beneficial for children who were born prematurely (see; for children with symptoms of dyslexia & dyspraxia caused by immature Primitive Reflexes; and for children who are poor at Listening.

Mike Cross tells Robert Rickover: “Alexander Technique is not as useful for children as it is for adults. If you have children with coordination problems, dyslexia, dyspraxia, I’d recommend Alexander work to help you understand the cause of the problem and how important coordination is.”

“For children, we use movement. For adults, the Alexander work is about saying no to certain ideas and stimuli and thinking of your directions to use yourself in a new way, and then going into movement. With children, the movement is all important. It’s difficult to get them to say no and think in such a considered way, but by doing certain movements, that can help their coordination and development.”

“The really important movement that many children don’t do is crawling on their hands and knees.”

“Children don’t spend enough time on their tummy because of the fear of cot deaths (SIDS).”

Robert: “The pediatric society here has told parents to not let kids sleep on their stomachs because of the danger of SIDS.”

Mike: “The advice not to put babies on their tummies is rubbish. Babies should spend lots of time on their tummies making the movements necessary for the brain to get control of certain primitive reflexes.”

“If children don’t make the movements they need to make, these primitive reflexes get stuck in the system. That’s the root causes for dyslexia, dyspraxia, hyperactivity.”

“Children who struggle to write may be quite smart but as soon as they have a pen in their hand, they can’t think. The cause of that is immature asymetrical tonic neck reflex.

“When a baby turns his head in the womb, its arms will go into a fencer position. It’s a fencer reflex or an asymetrical tonic neck reflex. As long as that reflex is in the system, as soon as the child turns his neck to one side, the arm on that side will want to extend.

“When it comes to writing, then, the child will consciously want his arm to flex but his arm will subconsciously want to extend. So a conflict is set up in the child’s system between its conscious intention and the reflex.”

“Most Alexander teachers would not understand the problem as I am describing.”

“Alexander lessons will help you not to end-gain — to not go directly for the target you have in mind before you understand the problem in the broader sense.”

Mike Cross writes:

Primitive reflexes are crude automatic responses that a baby has at birth to help it survive. They are the building blocks of all human behaviour.

Often these reflexes are retained in immature form into childhood and adult life, in which case they are the root cause of problems as diverse as:

– irrational anxiety & phobias
– mood swings and emotional gusts
– motion sickness
– inability to write and think at the same time
– inability to sit still
– difficulty with eye-tracking
– lack of left-right coordination
– distractability
– poor listening skills

At the Middle Way we focus in particular on four reflexes. Each of these reflexes relates (synergistically or antagonistically) to the others, and all four work together to influence muscle tone and head/neck balance.

The baby panic reflex is seen when a new-born is dropped and its hands fly out. Called the Moro Reflex after the scientist who identified it, it is a response to a stimulus perceived as fearful or threatening.

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Alexander Technique And Beauty

Alexander teachers would benefit from publishing more before and after pictures.

I like what Amira Alvarez does here.

I was shocked by the before and after picture of Lulie Westfeld in her book on her Alexander journey. These kind of photos are powerful.

Most people I know would like to look more attractive and Alexander Technique helps that.

I don’t think Alexander teachers should get nervous talking about beauty and sex and attraction and status and the stuff of real life and how Alexander helps with it. Alexander teachers strike me as trying too hard to be professional (a response to the insecure nature of the profession) and hence flee from anything that might offend.

I became interested in the Alexander Technique from one sentence in a book by Neil Strauss on meeting women — “The Rules of the Game.” It made sense to me that if I was more poised and had better posture, I would be more attractive to women.

For almost every single guy I know well, almost everything they do is to become more attractive to the opposite sex. Few things will be more effective in this regard than Alexander work.

Sometimes beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but most of the time beauty is objective. We are evolutionarily programmed to respond to certain proportions.

Think about the way Alexander Technique can help redistribute unsightly fat bulges so that people look more proportionate.

In my humble understanding, the Alexander Technique has a lot to say about facial tension. I often tell my students to think about the face widening. As with other widening instructions, these are just directions to the self to stop unnecessarily compressing and scrunching and pulling down and in.

I sometimes bring my hands to the face of the student lying down and let them rest lightly on their cheeks or forehead to promote this release of unnecessary tension.

I try to get my students to notice unnecessary tension around the eyes and the lips.

With the reduction of this tension, the students tends to become more serene, more present, and to display a more resonant voice. And yes, they often look better. More tranquil and yet more alive.

In my third year of training, I spent a couple of weeks of my teacher turns concentrating on developing my voice. I was shocked to see how much my voice improved when I let go of tension around my eyes and lips. A resonant voice is more attractive.

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What Happens If You Decide To Not Rush?

I’ve rushed around most of my life trying to get a lot of stuff done.

This has not been an efficient way to live. I’ve often had to repeat my shoddy work and often felt like a chicken running around with his head cut off.

I had bosses who complained that I would get tunnel vision and ignore everything except the task at hand.

David Gorman discusses this tense way of living in an interview with Robert Rickover. (Also check out David’s interview at

David: It occurred to me that what was going on in the teaching room [with some students] was not that important but it was what was going on at work.

People were getting ahead of themselves and this rushing around caused needless tension and inefficient movement.

Robert: “Many people are not present with themselves.”

“If a person is not present, then telling them to talk to their necks and to not tense it might not be effective because a whole period of time has gone by and they’re not present and the damage has been done.”

David: “Maybe it is the whole way the person is going about to do things and the tension is the coordination of them rushing like that.”

“So I’d then spend the lesson helping someone to go out there an experiment with going to work one day and deciding not to rush. You might get less done. See if that is what is causing your tension. People could do it if we set it up as an experiment, as something to try for one day. People who managed it came back and said, I did not get tense. I was more present. I did a better job because I was not juggling three things at once.”

“This was the start of the Learning Methods. I saw it was not a set of unconscious habit patterns of functioning but more a use of themselves, what the self was up to, not what the body was up to. The body functioning, the tension, is the coordination of the human being rushing. That rushing is just one pattern.”

“I work with a lot of performers. There’s another huge habit pattern — it is extremely important to get everything right. Consequently, there’s a lot of fear of not being perfect. So they’re putting undue attention on getting all the notes right and then they wonder why they get so tense and caught up.”

“Why would you have a neck that wasn’t free? Could it be because of these ideas?”

Most of Robert’s interviews are over in 25 minutes but this one lasts over an hour.

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Peyton Manning Needs Alexander Technique

Most people when they stand with their feet together will lean back and compress their lower back. That’s going to cause them back pain and possible injury.

Look at Peyton Manning here.

Notice how leaning back and compressing, he’s given himself a paunchy stomach. Not attractive!

Be hot! Don’t be a shmo. Use Alexander Technique.

Now we hear Peyton has had an extra neck procedure.

There are more joints in the neck than anywhere in the body. A joint means a bone connecting with another bone. When the neck is tight or compressed, the body is going to be tight and compressed. You can’t be stiff in your neck and free in your body.

Don’t be a stiff-necked people. Listen to the Bible and get some Alexander lessons.

According to CNNSI: “Manning’s older brother, Cooper, 38, had his college football career ended before it began when he was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal that required surgery to relieve pressure on the spinal cord. In Peyton Manning’s case, any evidence of stenosis is thought to be on the moderate side, league sources said, but the likelihood of further complications increase with each new surgery he undergoes.”

According to Dr. Loren Fishman, Medical Director of Manhattan Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in New York City, Author, “Cure Back Pain with Yoga”: “Spinal Stenosis: This is where the canal inside the spine gets too narrow, compressing nerves. You may need an MRI to be sure of the diagnosis. Posture is the best conservative solution — Alexander Technique is probably the single best treatment, though PT is helpful too. Stenosis may worsen inexorably over time, and then it’s one condition where surgery may be the best option.”

David Gorman’s Learning Methods hosts an excellent interview with David Gorman. Robert Rickover recorded this interview.

I spoke to David for almost two hours this morning via Skype.

Here are some highlights:

David: “F.M. Alexander had problems. When he was a kid, he had problems with breathing. Then he had problems with his voice. He tended to have a framework on solving problems. A.R. Alexander didn’t have particular problems. He seemed happy and healthy and OK with his use and functioning. His emphasis with the work was on your thinking and the way you meet the moment, as witnessed by the work of Marjorie Barstow, Frank Pierce Jones, and the people who worked more with A.R. than F.M.”

“It’s unlikely that Alexander [Technique] will ever turn into a drop-in class of 20 people where you go through a set of postures.”

“People don’t realize that there’s no such thing as a stressful job. There’s an attitude they have towards their job that is stressing them. Often people are in a job where there are other people around them who aren’t stressed at all. And they don’t put two-and-two together and go, ‘This can’t be a stressful job if this other person isn’t stressed.’ They don’t think to ask the other person how they see the job to see what they’re not getting stressed by it.

“They’re not used to looking at their own thinking and going, what am I up to and how do I see it? Instead they just go, I’m all stressed and tense. How do I get rid of it? They will often go to any number of different body works but they won’t have changed a thing about how they meet the job. They’ve just gotten good at getting rid of the tension. They haven’t changed. They’ve got a coping mechanism.”

David has a good ebook on fitness: “Obviously if someone is not working on changing their habits, all they end up achieving by exercising their habit is to reinforce the vicious circle whereby they get stronger at their habit. In other words, if they’re pulling down and tightening in ordinary activities, they’ll just pull down and tighten that much more when they exercise. And even if they do achieve a higher level of cardio-vascular fitness and they’ve gotten stronger at contracting, bracing and tightening with weights or fitness machines—the type of activity that makes somebody hard and firm – then they will actually need that cardio-vascular stamina in order for the heart to be able to push the blood through those tightened and braced muscles. In fact, it’s very revealing that often when someone like that manages to achieve the sort of global release in a lesson that takes a lot of pressure off both the contents of the torso and the musculature, their blood pressure can drop so radically that they’ll see black spots in front of their eyes, feel light-headed and maybe even pass out. They’re no longer so hard and tight and hence the blood can flow through rather than being forced through the veins and arteries that had previously been squeezed in the muscles.”

The Secret To The Alexander Technique

After an unsuccessful introductory lesson the other day, I spoke to a veteran Alexander teacher.

I complained that I was unable to teach “direction.”

What the heck is “direction” in the Alexander language? It is messages that you send to yourself to lengthen and widen (which are really just messages to yourself to stop contracting and tightening). Notice what happens to my head and neck when I stop directing my head to release forward and up. My head slumps back down towards my body, compressing my neck and tilting back and down.

This teacher told me that many Alexander teachers do not understand direction, so why should I expect a newcomer to grasp it?

So how then to wake up a person’s kinaesthesia?

He suggested I have the student pay attention to the sounds around him.

I’ve started to teach that and I’ve noticed a person’s kinaesthetic sense immediately perks up when he pays attention to his senses such as sound or sight or touch. All good things happen. The neck frees up and the head releases forward and up and the back lengthens to widen.

When I walk around, I find myself going up when I listen to the separate sounds around me.

Have you heard the expression, “Her ears perked up?” Well, not only the ears perk up when a person pays attention to the sounds around her.

This rocks. It’s far easier and more effective than teaching observation, inhibition and direction (the Alexander staples). I can introduce them down the road.

PS. I find some people respond much better to visual cues such as to see everything in front of you and simultaneously to see what is out the corner of your left eye and your right eye. In a room, for instance, see the left wall and the right wall simultaneously as well as everything in between with soft eyes. Many people come right up when they do this. Other people are like me and respond better to auditory cues. When they listen for every separate sound around them, they perk up.

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