Gardening is one of my favourite hobbies. I love being creative, seeing my garden change throughout the year, being physical and getting some time to myself in peace. From an Alexander Techniquepoint of view, it’s also a great way of being mindful in activity, and think about my habits and pausing to think how to look after myself as I’m pottering around digging, pruning, racking and picking out the weeds!
My lovely Mum, another keen gardener (and long time Alexander Technique pupil, it’s my Mum who go me into AT!), recently brought my attention to an interesting article in the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) magazine. The article is entitled ‘Digging Techniques: what you should and shouldn’t do’. They say that ‘The nations 27 million gardeners are at risk if they use bad digging technique’. Yes, yes, yes, this is exactly what we say in Alexander Technique. It’s not what you do but how you are doing it that can create problems.
The researchers at Coventry University used motion capture technology, similar to that used in the movies, to map the movement of gardeners while digging and measure the loads imposed on their bodies; joints, bones and muscles.
The finding of the study confirms what I understand as an Alexander Technique teacher and know through experience (as someone who has suffered with lower back pain and sciatica in the past). Bending through our backs (thinking we have a waist joint) and not using and bending our leg joints enough puts a great strain on our bodies.
The Alexander Technique teaches us the skills to understand how our bodies work best, in a more coordinated, poised and freer way. The way we use our bodies affects the way they function. It’s a bit like having a car and only driving around in first gear, you wouldn’t be surprised if it eventually broke down.
We teach different skills that allow us to do this:-
Body mapping gives us a more visceral and accurate map of our skeleton, joints and muscles and how they move and work.
Mindfulness in activity
We teach pupils about the importance of being mindful of our bodies while we are doing what we a doing. We learn to ‘stay with the means where-by’ as FM Alexander put it. So, rather than being only focused on the end result so that we don’t care or don’t notice how we mindlessly get there (which is often how we injure ourselves). We learn to in be present, noticing our habits good or bad, efficient or inefficient. It gives us the choice to look after ourselves while digging or weeding or mowing the lawn!
We teach something called ‘Monkey’, which FM Alexander called a ‘position of mechanical advantage’. All it is, is a way of bending, picking things up or squatting, something that young children do naturally, but we often forget about. It teaches us exactly the digging technique they found to be advantageous in the RHS article. How to keep our backs long and wide, our necks free and bend through our ankles, knees and hips while staying balanced.
So if you want to monkey around in your garden, and dig in a way that’s safe for your back and neck give Alexander Technique lessons a go, learn ways you can prevent injury and techniques that are applicable to all aspects of our lives, not just gardening.