‘HELP! My Car is Killing Me – Review of new ebook

I have just been sent the link to a new Ebook which is about advice to limit back pain when driving. Its currently free for a limited time as I understand it. My review is:

Simple, knowledgeable practical advice – what we all would like in our daily lives when trying to limit back pain. This ebook – ‘HELP! My Car is Killing Me’ gives drivers advice which is easy to understand, easy to put into practice and will help us to limit and deal with any nagging pain which arises from driving. I am sure it will also help people to manage their own pain which can arise in every day situations, not just from driving – something which is a win-win situation for everyone! An essential read for all drivers. Enjoy!


Here is a link to the current FREE eBook:5 copy

“HELP! My Car Is Killing Me; Top Tips For A Healthier Drive”
(copy/paste into your web browser – http://bit.ly/1rKbJiL)


School chair petition

This is a short post about an important petition to request a change to a technical specification that is used in the design of school chairs – ever wondered why children sit on their legs or tip their chairs forward? They have better postural awareness than many adults!

Designers and manufacturers of chairs for educational institutions across 33 European countries. which work to the Standard’s guidelines, will continue to create school chairs with seats that slope backward.

The Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique talk about how these backward sloping chairs are detrimental to our children’s posture, see this link: STAT. Richard Brennan also discusses this problem in his recent book ‘Back in Balance.

Children spend many hours sitting at school desks and doing homework – we should be providing them with the equipment that is designed in the best way to keep them healthy, not set them up for problems in the future.

Please take a look at the petition by pressing on the following link, thank you.

Petition for school chair design



Review of ‘Back in Balance’ by Richard Brennan

1960s School Uniform

1960s School Uniform (Photo credit: theirhistory)

It was with much anticipation that I waited for my copy of Richard Brennan’s new book ‘Back in Balance’. I had been asked to review it and as I have enjoyed and found helpful Richard’s other published books I was more than happy to receive a copy pre-publication to look over. 

Richard takes us into the world of Alexander and his teachings in many ways throughout this book. He talks about the history of Alexander’s teaching, how the Technique grew and became accepted in the medical world, what the Alexander Technique’s main principles are, peoples own experiences when learning the Technique, practical solutions to every day problems and many other topics. Richard writes in a very easy to read way so it was a very enjoyable task.

A couple of things jumped out at me having read the book. Firstly, I believe the book would be an invaluable resource to read at the same time as when someone is having Alexander Technique lessons. It gives another way to help understand the changes that happen when lessons are taking place. For my own learning I find it invaluable to be able to read about something even when I am experiencing it at first hand. ‘Back in Balance’ gives you information to explain the sort of changes you may be undergoing through having a series of lessons as well as enhancing what your Alexander Teacher is able to tell you when the lessons are in progress. Definitely a book for Alexander Teachers to recommend when taking on a new student.

Secondly, Richard talks about children. He discusses how they sit through the day on school chairs not fit for purpose (he also has advice for the adults too!) and how that and other things can effect their posture as they grow and become adults. I’ve dipped my toe in the water through writing my blog looking at whether the Alexander Technique can ever be accepted as a GP recommended treatment. My initial high hopes have been eroded and sadly I think we have a long way to go until the Alexander Technique is a recognised NHS treatment. Having read ‘Back in Balance’ it has made me think that a better way to introduce the general population to the benefits of learning the Technique would be to incorporate it into school children’s PE lessons. It wouldn’t necessarily have to be even recognised as the Alexander Technique. A program devised to teach children the main aspects of the Technique that they can then use in a practical way would be a education worth passing on. We teach children how to use computers, take part in sports, use their brains etc. How about teaching them to use their bodies in the most efficient way to reduce damage now and in the future? It must also be an easier task to introduce children to a new skill rather than to try to change ingrained habits of adults.

I will refer to ‘Back in Balance’ frequently. The stories at the end of the book are also truly inspirational. It took me a while to delve into that last chapter but once I did I was enthralled. The stories gave me renewed hope and certainty for my particular future centred in the Alexander Technique. 

I can only highly commend this book to anyone interested in finding out more about the Alexander Technique or those who are undergoing lessons. For Alexander teachers it gives them a resource to refer their students to and for school curriculum designers it can introduce them to the benefits that would result from bringing this important work of Alexander’s to the people who have a life time to gain from it.

One last thing…is there any way we can refer to Alexander’s work as something other than the Alexander Technique? This term suggests there is one thing we need to learn rather than the multifaceted approach of Alexander’s work. Conversely, we have Physics, Maths, PE, Games, English, History which are one words to describes whole disciplines….Can we also call Alexander’s immense body of work by one snappy word……….? Alexandernomics?

BACK IN BALANCE Richard Brennan

Checklist’s used in British hospitals and around the world

I saw a fascinating Horizon program on the BBC2 last night. Dr Kevin Fong presented the concept of how checklists were now being utilised in British hospitals and elsewhere to reduce errors, sometimes fatal ones by around 30%. Such a simple idea but so effective. He also showed how lessons learnt from people working under pressure in other fields could be utilised in medicine.

I haven’t posted recently because sometimes its useful to pause and reflect. I am still busy with all things ‘backs and necks’ however and this program reminded me of the checklist I proposed for GP’s when seeing patients being troubled by back and neck issues. Could the same percentage benefit be seen in back care within the NHS if our GP’s used a checklist based around the ideas in ‘Teaching Doctors?’ ?That would be something very exciting to find out!

Loosening the ties….


(Photo credit: TeaWithBuzz)

Chronic Pain can feel like a strait jacket, especially if your body is held to ransom with muscle spasms, muscle tightness and a fragility which means a wrong move or knock can have a massive effect. Not only is your body held to ransom but you are mentally held by the same ties. Care free is a long way off. Life is black and white with occasional flashes of colour.

In the past when I have tried to do exercises, even gentle physio led ones I have come to grief. The last time resulted in a herniated disc (is this because I was shearing the disc through twisting due to it being under such pressure bought on by muscle tension/spasm?). However now I feel I have reduced the muscle spasms and tightness through my vertebral column. So simple but so effective. I can bend and move in ways I could only dream of before with confidence that nothing sinister will happen. The ties are loosening…

I wrote previously I would update the blog on how I personally was doing. I am starting to go through Sarah Key’s extensive body of work on joints in the body. The book title is ‘Keep your Joints Young’ in the UK and I think ‘The Body in Action’ on the other side of the world. In previous posts I have written about doing spinal rolling, reverse curl ups, knees rocking and the back block routine. I am now adding in some other exercises such as child pose, legs passing, segmental pelvic bridging, squatting, floor twists (gingerly!) and really getting in with the tennis ball to get those rusty facet joints moving. I’ve also had fun going through the other joint exercises to see which joints are stiff and which are fine. Toes are looking good…! I gained a lot of information in one morning. Less than a year ago I couldn’t have dreamed of doing any of this.

മലയാളം: വെള്ളിലത്തോഴി എന്ന ശലഭം

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am thankful to have found the things that make a real and lasting difference. Maybe one day I can be free of that jacket and emerge as myself, changed yes but hopefully more butterfly than caterpillar.

Check out my new ‘blogroll’!

General Practitioner Services

(Photo credit: the justified sinner)

I’ve discovered where to put all the useful links to other websites on this blog! Check them out under ‘blogroll’ on the side each page. They include links to NHS trials on back pain, NICE guidelines for back pain (information given to our GP’s to advise them on how to treat us), STAT and Sarah Key website. More to come!

Learning the Alexander Technique and having lessons

I have been contacted by a number of people interested in the Alexander Technique. If it’s your New Year resolution to look into or perhaps start lessons then it may be of use to describe the sort of things I experienced when taking my lessons. Having said that, each person’s experience will be different due to the way in which we all use our bodies differently and any inherent weaknesses we may have, so you are in no means necessarily going to experience similar things, but you may! This is a link to the STAT website (The Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique) which gives further information and a directory of your local area teachers. Also to the right of the page are links on the ‘blogroll’ to NHS trials to do with back or neck pain. There are sometimes trials to do with the Alexander Technique so its worth checking out to see if there are any in your area.

Alexander technique

Alexander technique (Photo credit: alanpfitch)

I was recommended the Alexander Technique by my mother-in-law. Having found a teacher in my local area I spoke with her and was told that she could help me with the horrendous muscle spasms I was having and my back pain in general. At that stage I could only hope as I had tried many other things and was naturally sceptical of any claims for solutions to these problems.

My scepticism carried on for some time despite my wonderful teacher. Could something so gentle and relaxing actually do anything? I did however have the advantage of believing in a mind/body link, i.e. your mind can affect what your body experiences. To me this is fairly obvious. If we feel stressed we may get a headache or stiff shoulders or neck or our tummy may feel upset. We haven’t done anything physical to affect our body, its just how we feel has made an effect on our physical state. The Alexander Technique takes this much further as you would go on to experience should you take lessons.

However, you don’t need to believe it can work for it to work! That’s the beauty of it! I put into practice what I was being taught by my Alexander Technique teacher which meant I could then start to see the benefits and that in turn helped me to take further steps and be reconciled to the effectiveness of the technique.

Within the lessons as my posture changed the weight distribution altered on my feet. At the time I didn’t really understand this. I just felt pain in my feet and was fairly miserable about it…I always seemed to be chasing pain. However with encouragement from my teacher I understood it was temporary and took steps to ease the pain which included using a squash ball to roll under my instep and massage.

Another symptom was pain in my hands. Again, with the focus shifting from holding tension in my back, shoulders, arms etc. the tension found its way to my hands on the final way out of my body. With massage I could manage this pain and it was soon gone. It would be easy to be very worried about some of the areas which experience pain maybe for the first time but if you can view it in a way that your body is realigning itself to a more optimum state it is natural for this to happen. The areas/muscles which have been under used are utilised more and a period of readjustment of these muscles etc. will need to be gotten over. The best advice is not to panic! These physical symptoms actually helped me to believe something was happening and changing within my body!

I write about these things in particular as I haven’t seen much mention of this type of experience anywhere else and I know for me it was an important step to get over. These were the only ‘negative’ experiences of learning the technique and they were temporary and paled in comparison with the benefits I soon gained. My muscle spasms stopped (they had gotten to the stage of hospital admission and paralysis) completely and I learnt how to use my body in a more optimum way to reduce stress and strain on damaged areas. A truly life changing experience which continues on and will stay with me forever.

So in summary, learning the Alexander Technique was relaxing, empowering, interesting and most of all life changing. I can unhesitatingly recommend it and give it a full five stars!

Subtle awareness, is this one of the answers?

Alexander Technique

Alexander Technique (Photo credit: gordonplant)

How have I managed to move forward my recovery from chronic pain in such a dramatic way after two and a half long decades of pain and frustration. I now have the luxury of analysing the last 3 years and also the more recent past of 6 months using a mind which is clearer due to much less pain. Pain exhausts the mind as well as the body. Its only when you have less pain you can realise  how much your brain was otherwise engaged  However it’s rather difficult to explain. This subtlety is  definitely one for experiencing rather than just being made aware of it. Please bear with me whilst I attempt to explain!

I have explained in previous articles and posts how I used therapeutic massage for many years to cope with significant pain and to try to reduce its severity. I then layered on learning the Alexander Technique which stopped the life draining muscle and whole body spasms. I then was able to start moving my body with well targeted Sarah Key exercises without fear of injury. What thread ties these three techniques together? Was the order of the use of these techniques important?

We constantly use our bodies even when we sleep (how many of us wake up with a stiff neck from sleeping in an awkward position?). I have found its only when you become intricately aware of how your body is at any one time that you can then go on to modify and adapt your bodies state. This is done by addressing any problems you may be experiencing or preferably stop any problems in the first place. In other words, if you know what the problem is you can do something about it before it gets too bad! The trick is how do you get this knowledge, how do you know what the problem is or what contributes to the problem?

In all three techniques we have the opportunity to understand the subtleties of our body and how it reacts when used and at rest. The Alexander Technique however stands out more than the others due to its focus on the intricacies of movement. The person being taught the technique learns how to become aware of things which are so subtle that in ordinary day to day life they wouldn’t normally register in their conscious mind. When learning the techniques developed by Frederick Alexander the client’s mind is busy with all it must consider. When the technique becomes more learnt and ingrained then consideration of this subtle awareness takes no more than a blink of an eye or a random thought.

For example when out walking I may think about keeping my arms through to my finger tips relaxed and heavy by my sides, look at how I am holding my head, assess the tension in my legs and lower back, analyse how I am walking and determine how ‘lightly’ I am moving. Three years after learning the Alexander Technique I can do this with a flutter of my eyelids, no longer and no more effort than that.

I also believe that having become more aware of the subtleties of my own condition it enabled me to have the best outcome possible with a technique such as Physiotherapy (Sarah Key’s) due to my awareness of what my body was doing. It enabled me not to overdo specific exercises and to fully feel the effect of each one. This helped me tailor my own regime of exercise, rest and stretches.

You may call it becoming more body aware, self aware etc. There are no doubt other ways of doing this to a lesser or greater degree. I have found the Alexander Technique worked for me, there may be other ways but however it’s done it can bring rewards which stay with you forever.

Any one for tennis?

Shot of a tennis racket and two tennis balls o...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was 7 years ago that I played tennis with my family. We had cycled to the tennis court, played for an hour or so and cycled home again. That night my arm and neck had incredible pain in them and I could hardly move let alone sleep. It was clear something very bad had happened. In the end it was three prolapsed discs, about a year of recovery and a couple of years to get rid of the arm pain completely. The damage to my confidence was not so ‘quick’ to heal.

Sunday was a beautiful day. Cold but sunny. A perfect day for tennis!!! In the quest for normality this was a goal I had set myself. I love tennis. It reminds me of my carefree days as a child hitting a ball to a friend or against a wall. Summers where there were very little worries.

With my mind firmly set on my ability to spot and get out of trouble should it arise we had a lovely afternoon with the children on the tennis court. A walk rather than cycling to the court was the pre-match warm up and a walk home was the warm down. I know from the many previous times where I have embarked on exercise or sport it takes up to three days for the inflammation process to kick in with a vengeance. After the game I used a plai oil/argan oil blend (4 drops plai to 15ml argan) to massage my lower back and neck to hopefully stave off any inflammation (the temptation to use some NSAID’s was great but I knew I wanted to know if I could survive without). I did some back ironing, a small amount of spinal rolling and a little tennis ball massage as well. That evening I watched tv for 30 minutes lying on the floor with my legs up on a bean bag. I hoped and hoped…..

The next day….a comfortable night, thankfully. A slightly stiff neck, sore shoulder and fragile lower back…..that’s all so far! Fingers crossed for day 2 and 3! I’ll continue with the exercises very gently and also using my Alexander Technique knowledge to reduce any tension in the vulnerable areas…..

Could this be the start of the next stage of rehabilitation?…..only time will tell.

Natural anti-inflammatories..?

Anti-inflammatory medication (NSAID) is commonly used along-side pain relief medication and muscle relaxants to help with back and neck problems. For years I have longed for a natural anti-inflammatory. By that I mean a natural alternative to Ibuprofen (commonly called Advil in the US),  Voltaren (diclofenac) or Naproxen which are used for their anti-inflammatory properties. These medications over many years have caused stomach problems (common side effect) and I needed another option to deal with inflammation which didn’t have these side effects.

Pill tablet

Pill tablet (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

A good friend of mine who is a therapist and understands essential oils recommended I look into Plai oil. It’s used commonly in Thailand for massage and thought to have a cooling anti-inflammatory effect. I researched it myself and felt comfortable using it, both neat (on a small area of the body) and in a carrier oil. (I recommend you do your own research and look into what carrier oils work best for you). I am pleased to say it helps. Its exciting to have at last found something which I can use safely instead of the other medications.

For those in similar circumstances with stomach problems from use of NSAID’s I have found after a couple of years using Omeprazole medication I have managed to heal my stomach and am now medication free. I will use plai oil or ibuprofen gel occasionally as needed. There were many days previously when I felt I would never recover from the stomach problems I had. I couldn’t eat spicy or very savoury food. Alcohol was not really possible unless it was a small amount of something like a very sweet wine and so my diet was fairly bland. However things did improve with time. I am now back to a normal diet and manage any pain with the oil or gel as described above.

As always, do your own research and see what works best for you. Its pretty satisfying and dare I say empowering!!!

(Sarah does not have a medical background so it is emphasised that her blog is the result of her experiences and listening to others only. Before doing any of the suggestions contained in her blog, check with your doctor if you have any concerns on how they may affect you)