Tag Archives: Alexander Technique

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

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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.

How do I care for my back daily?

Afternoon sun shower

(Photo credit: David T Jones)

So let’s get specific. Hopefully the techniques I have described in the rest of the blog are applicable to most people, with each person adapting them as required for themselves. However I wanted to give you an idea of the sort of things I do day-to-day to give some more specific ideas of some sort of routine which you can adapt for yourself.

In the morning, before getting out of bed I stretch/elongate in a balanced way. After a warm shower I will do some spinal rolling (Sarah Key exercise), a small amount of back ironing and if sciatica is a problem, have a check with the tennis ball for any sensitive areas in my back which I know aggravate my sciatica. I then massage on those areas (usually the same side of my spine as the sciatic pain) with the tennis ball. All this takes at the most 5 mins.

In the day, usually by some time in the afternoon I need to spend 10 – 20 mins lying down to take the pressure off the discs in the lower back. I use semi-supine for this (an Alexander Technique position). I also add a bit of back ironing if my lower back is a bit tight. Obviously this depends if I have access to an area to lie down! If I can’t lie down then Sarah Key has a good squatting technique. I will use the Alexander Technique throughout the day as a background to my activities (this means I will try to use my body as effectively as I can to reduce any tension and stress on all areas of it)

Before bed, its more back ironing, tennis ball checking and massage, exercises from Sarah Key (spinal rolling, reverse curl-ups) and if my back is relaxed I will try Sarah’s Back Block routine to try to help feed my discs. If things have flared up then I use semi-supine for 10- 20 mins. Anywhere between a total of 10 and 30 mins of treatment depending on time available and how my back is feeling. Each day will therefore be a little different depending on what activities I have been doing and how my overall well-being is.

In time I hope to be able to add more of Sarah Key’s exercises to help my lower back further and also try some of her exercises for other joints in the body. Sarah Key also gives details in her books of a 30 min daily exercise plan.

Layer onto this some walking, swimming and hopefully in time further sport/exercise and it combines to make life much more comfortable! Try seeing what works for you!