Three Alexander Technique coaching sessions for the price of two…
Three Alexander Technique coaching sessions for the price of two…
There is an old Japanese Zen story in which the master is asked the secret of his enlightenment.
“When I am hungry I eat. When I am tired I sleep.” the master enigmatically replies.
“And?” … … you may be thinking. But think a bit longer. Who in the world of business do you know who can put their feet up when they feel the need? At the very least it requires an office with a lock on the door and perhaps a secretary to hold your calls. There are the lucky few in upper management or those who work from home who can do this. Those who do it swear that it profoundly enhances their alertness, productivity and creativity.
Compare this to the energy cycles of an ordinary office. Bright eyed and bushy tailed one moment. Ten minutes later tempers, with colleagues and customers, are fraying, silly, avoidable, mistakes are made on the computer, coffee cups are spilled over documents on the desk, personal memory banks short circuit for no apparent reason. What causes these phenomena that do so much to interfere with a companies competitiveness?
Everyone is aware of the twenty four hour circadian rhythm of sleeping and waking. There are also other, shorter rhythms, of drowsiness and alertness which last from ninety minutes to two hours, known as “ultradian rhythms”- meaning that they happen many times a day. Most people are vaguely aware of this shorter rhythm- one famous example being the mid-afternoon “graveyard shift” which is dreaded by so many.
Research into the bodies ultradian rhythms started in the 1950’s and soon gained momentum as the American military establishment poured millions of dollars into researching how an enhanced awareness of the peaks and troughs of alertness and fatigue could affect the vital skills of key military and aviation personnel. The researchers found that the ultradian rhythms affected both mental and physical performance- concentration, memory, learning, creativity, physical co-ordination and reflexes and of course energy levels. It was also established that long term interference with these rhythms are associated with a host of stress related conditions including gastric problems, breathing difficulties, skin problems, alterations in heart rate, extreme mood swings all of which lead to mediocre performance.
These rhythms are unconsciously recognised in the way that a standard working day is organised i.e. with tea breaks in the midmorning and the mid-afternoon. This has traditionally given the employee a vitally needed break in which they can refresh and rejuvenate both mind and body. In the UK however many companies have slimmed down the size of their workforce with the result that a single employee may be doing a job that was previously covered by two or even three people. This leads to situations where employees, through a sense of guilt, fear or duty regularly override their natural rhythms- tea breaks and lunch breaks are skipped and with them the opportunity to follow the natural drowsy and rejuvenating aspect of the ultradian cycle.
At this point the famous Zen master of old would probably have lain down for twenty minutes or sat on his meditation cushion, stretched his spine and breathed deeply- and promptly have been fired for neglecting the job. (But then perhaps the Japanese are smarter at running businesses than we are.?)
SYMPATHETIC AND PARA-SYMPATHETIC
The alertness and drowsiness cycle reflects the activities of two branches of our nervous system – the “Sympathetic” branch and the “Parasympathetic” branch.
The sympathetic branch is concerned with arousal, external events and doing. It usually generates sufficient energy for us to move through our activities in a relaxed but vital way. When it is highly activated, however, it causes the heart rate and breathing to speed up, the muscles to contract and the blood pressure to increase. In extreme cases, such as battle ground terror, the bladder and the bowels may empty to prepare the body more effectively for fight and flight. You would be forgiven for thinking that the word “sympathetic” is something of a misnomer for this branch of the nervous system! Perhaps the “sympathetic” part is a reference to the strong survival advantages that it confers when one has to get out of the path of a car travelling at high speed.
While “battle ground” activation is less likely to happen within the working context it is not at all unusual for internal alarm bells to clamour loudly when staff are struggling against time to meet deadlines and targets.
The other branch, the parasympathetic, is concerned with more internal processes such as the heart rate slowing down, with drowsiness, a decrease in alertness, a release of muscular tension, with not-doing. It is associated with dreaminess, fantasy and building castles in the air. People may experience a “melting” feeling and a temporary dissolution of the usual boundaries of the personality when they are in this state. This state, which is wonderful for rest and replenishment, typically lasts about twenty minutes and corresponds with the energy replacement trough in the ultradian rhythms.
Typically the rest part of the cycle either escapes our notice or is ignore. Stimulants such as sugary snacks, coffee or simply gritting the teeth are used to override our needs for rest and replenishment. This puts us into adrenaline overdrive. And adrenaline is a stimulant that can make people feel high even as they are damaging their body- think of the football players who fracture an ankle during a game and feel nothing until afterwards. These addictive behaviours eventually catch up with the worker in question through health problems and/or errors in judgement. One can only speculate that the enormous errors in judgement exhibited recently by some financial traders might be linked to this kind of adrenaline addiction.
RECOGNISING THE REST AND REPLENISHMENT CYCLE
So what are the signs and signals that can alert you to the need for an “energy exchange”? Yawning, drowsiness, mind wandering, fantasy and dreaminess, irritability, muscular tension, muscular slackness and even the need to visit the loo are all signs that you are approaching the energy trough.
In the best of all possible worlds one would then lie down for twenty minutes and focus on the most comfortable part of your body and let the comfort spread. This leads to a sense of spacing out that for many people is accompanied by pleasant dreamlike images- a state that hovers between sleep and wakefulness.
But not everybody works in a sympathetic context where it is possible to take a twenty minute break. Some people will go and lock themselves in the toilet for five minutes at this point and simply let their mind wander pleasantly as they breath deeply and easily. Or, more actively, they may go for walk around the block or walk from one part of the building to another or simply stand up for a stretch and a yawn. In all these cases their is a shift down in gear from a goal getting pace to a less hurried process orientated pace. It is at this point of detaching from the goal orientated tasks that many philosophers and scientists have the “aha!” or “Eureka!” experience when the solution to problems that they have been grappling with become amusingly obvious.
This is a more naturalistic approach to stress management that, with a little practice, anybody can incorporate into the midst of their working life.
There is a tendency within cohesive teams towards entrainment of ultradian cycles. In other words the energy peaks and troughs of well integrated teams will tend to dovetail. Remember the chapter on rapport? Co-inspiratur? Emotional intelligence?
BREAD, WINE AND THOU
“…by eating with another person, both of us reset our rhythms together and fall into mind-body synchrony on a variety of levels. This may be why breaking bread together is inherently such an important sociobiological act, woven deep into our genetic fabric.”
Ernest Lawrence Rossi – “The Twenty Minute Break” pg 87
Rossi continues to outline how, in many world cultures, such an emphasis is placed on shared meals over which business is often conducted. Because shared meals tend to bring the participants mind and body rhythms into synchrony
TIMING CRITICAL APPOINTMENTS TO COINCIDE WITH ULTRADIAN PEAKS
So how would the Zen master/manager organise staff and him/herself so that they were winners in the market place?
The Zen manager knows that they are getting their moneys worth from an employee who takes breaks- individual working rhythms are respected as the foundations of high performance.
Breaks will be taken in team meetings when significant numbers of employees show signs of going into energy troughs. “Spacing out” is encouraged during breaks as a way of generating high quality solutions to company problems.
Important meetings, phone calls, presentations and negotiations will be scheduled, wherever possible, to coincide with the employees high performance energy peaks.
Is this an example of Utopian thinking? I do not think so- the quality of a company can never exceed the quality of its workers and managers.
Winston Churchill, wartime manager of U.K. plc, was a great believer in taking naps in the middle of the day. He claimed that it not only gave him enough energy to do a day and a half’s work but that he could not possibly have fulfilled his responsibilities to the country with it.
Perhaps our true secret weapon was that we had a Zen master at the helm after all.
TIME AND MONEY
“Give me a long enough lever and a place on which to stand and I can move the Earth.”
Glenna Batson is an American Alexander Technique teacher and Physiotherapist. She carried out a research project at the University of South Carolina on how the Alexander Technique could improve balance and prevent falls in the elderly.
The participants in the study ranged from age 60 – 89 and received two weeks of group Alexander Technique instruction. The video clip shows, in a before and after format, the participants going through a selection of balance tests.
Having myself just reached the age of the youngest participant in the study I found the results both interesting and encouraging…
In a previous post I mentioned how I used to get tongue-tied or overly enthusiastic when someone asked the question “What is the Alexander Technique?”
Of course, it’ll always be difficult to describe an activity, any activity, that has such a large sensory component. So I promised to put up some photos, with comments, so you can at least get a fly on the wall perspective of what a typical Alexander Technique lesson might look like.
As a general rule, Alexander Technique teachers tend to work from the core of the body — neck, head and back – out towards the extremities ie the arms and legs. The major muscles that move the limbs, however, have their origins in the torso. So working with the neck, head back relationship automatically influences the movement of the arms and legs. The converse is also true – working with the arms and legs will reinforce release and expansion through the neck, head and back.
hnique Brighton BN1
“Allow your neck to be free”
“Allow your neck to be free in such a way that your head can go forwards & upwards”
“Allow your neck to be free & your head to go forwards & upwards so that your back can lengthen & widen”
In practice most Alexander Technique teachers do not recite these directions parrot-fashion. The words and language tend to be naturalistic and tailored to fit the individual.
Arms & Legs– Although there are specific directions for the arms & legs often the teacher will ask the pupil to continue focussing on their neck, head and back relationship as they work with the arms and the legs.
It’s difficult to really capture the living, dynamic quality of an Alexander Technique lesson on a photograph. Young children often embody that Alexander quality unconsciously.
It isn’t just about moving in and out of a chair. It’s a convenient way of learning to move easily and efficiently. A convenient method that can be transferred into all sorts of everyday movements and activities. It’s a great method of learning to suspend habitual muscular and even emotional responses.
The next Alexander Technique CPD course for Osteopaths will be on 20th October 2013. This course is also open to physiotherapists, occupational therapists and speech therapists.
The course will run from 11 – 4.30pm in Central Hove, BN3, East Sussex
The cost for the day is £70 or £50 for students.
The course will be run by Harriet Anderson and Alan Mars – both widely experienced Alexander Technique teachers. They have worked in higher educational settings for thirty years running many CPD workshops.
“I have been an osteopath and cranial osteopath in full time practice for 22 years. It has recently been my pleasure to have a number of treatments from Alan. I’ve been very impressed with the quality of his work. His skill and experience are evident in his touch and hands. I’d highly recommend Alan’s Alexander treatments to anyone requiring treatment for problems relating to their spine, pelvis or limbs. I have greatly benefited from his work and continue to do so. Alan’s work is deep, powerful yet gentle and supportive as is his personality and approach.’”
Andrew Bryant – Osteopath
Contact Alan Mars for questions about the next CPD course :
Alan Mars – 07930 323 057
Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Placing a hand underneath the sacrum is a procedure much favoured by CranioSacral osteopaths. Please scroll down to see YouTube video. In this class the process is being explored from a more Alexander Technique perspective. Alan Mars demonstrates the procedure and takes questions and answers before the participants pair up and explore the touch together.
11 – 4.30 pm on 20th October 2013
In a Central Brighton & Hove venue, East Sussex
email@example.com 07930 323 057
This CPD course presents a structured approach coupled with a relaxed and informal atmosphere. Class numbers are small allowing for plenty of individual attention.
explore the principles of the Alexander Technique
experiment with applying the Technique in your daily life
explore applications for your therapeutic practice
experience hands-on work from Alan and Harriet
have time for questions and discussion
We will work together in small groups, pairs and one to one. Participants will receive hand-outs and a certificate of attendance.
Alan and Harriet each have over thirty years of teaching experience in:
Running CPD courses
View their websites here –
Alan Mars, voice coach & Alexander Technique teacher, is now offering online voice coaching via Skype:
Has your voice, and confidence, ever faltered during a presentation, a meeting, an audition or a musical solo? Develop a reliably confident voice through the Alexander Technique, vocal coaching and specially adapted performing-arts techniques. Experience increasing poise – read more here …
I can help you to free your singing voice – to sing with greater ease, clarity, resonance and power. I can help you reduce performance nerves and to – read more here …
If you have a Skype account and a webcam we can get to work in the comfort of your own home or office. Payment is via PayPal. Pricing details for 30 minute, 45 minute or one-hour sessions are at the foot of the page.
If you are based near Brighton and Hove and would prefer to meet person to person to have lessons please email me on firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07930 323 057 to arrange an appointment
Alan Mars has taught voice-work, singing Alexander Technique privately and at many top London drama and music schools including – The Arts Educational Drama School, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the Royal College of Music, since 1982.
He has taught presentation skills within many top British and international companies including – Abbey National, General Electric, Sainsbury’s, Lloyds of London and many others since 1992.
Alan offers individual lessons, group classes and in-house coaching. He is a member of the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique.