How the Alexander Technique helped me with my disastrous day commuting! March 2019

IMG_0300Every other Wednesday I go to Educare Small School, Kingston-upon-Thames. I love it, as I have probably mentioned before! It’s a wonderful place and teaching AT to 3-11 year olds is one of my favourite things to do. It’s just under a two hour commute, but worth every second of travelling. I have worked there for over 6 years and usually the commute is fine. I mentally break it down into sections and its a great opportunity to catch up on some reading. But last month I had a challenging commuter day, both ends of the day the journeys went not as planned and I ended up travelling for more time than I spent at Educare. It was tiring, there was not denying that, but I think my AT skills really saved me from being completely frazzled. I felt able to go straight from my 3 hour adventure to Kingston into teaching, without the need for a strong cup of camomile tea!

I start my commute with a short walk up a hill to the local tube station. Always a great time to notice what I am doing with my body, how I am walking, mindfulness in motion. I also have to carry an extra bag in one hand, so I can notice my grip, arm, shoulder and swap hands from time to time. I can see my surroundings and pay attention to my body. Sometimes when I feel in a rush, I notice a tightening-up. I can pause, allow my excess muscle tension to release through my Alexander thoughts or intentions (directions) and play with a sense of flow in my movement. I investigate my gait, the way I walk through my feet, think about my hips, knees and ankles being free. I can ask myself ‘am I leaning back and lifting my chest?’ (an old habit) or am I poised and well co-ordinated and able to enjoy the walk? – Ten minutes of mindful attention!

Once on the tube I am very lucky, we live quite close to the end of the line, so I always get a seat for this first part of my journey. I have time to read and another chance to check in with my body; what am I up to while reading? While ‘people watching’ on the tube I notice many are slumped through their bodies, hinged forward from the base of their necks, with very little balance and poise. Alexander Technique can help us be more thoughtful and skilful. First, I think about how I am sitting, feet on the floor, back supported, sitting bones releasing into the seat and head balancing lightly. Then I can think about how best to hold my book. This is when my extra bag is very useful. I place it on my lap, rest the book on top and loosen my grip. I can notice any excess tension in my hands, arms, shoulders and arm pit area- pause and direct (think about releasing) I can tilt my head from the top of my neck and move my eyes to read. lastly, I can allow myself to still stay aware of my surrounding. it may sound a lot, but it takes no more than a few moments every now and then to pause and think.

The next part of my journey I have a swift change of tube line, but then I tend to have to stand as the tube is busier. This give me the opportunity to ‘tube surf’ and practice a mini-monkey to allow easy balance with all the motion of the carriage. I quite enjoy being playful with this process. Even though the tube is often crowded I think about ‘coming into full stature’, expanding into the space around me – seeing, breathing and balancing – and the crowds don’t bother me as much.

It was this part of my journey that went wrong that day. The line I had to change to had massive delays and was suspended on the part of the line in needed for my journey. I have never had to think of a different route before. I asked a helpful member of staff for advice, they said I needed another tube line then a bus. OMG, not only was this a bit of a magical mystery tour, it was clear to me I was going to end up being late. ‘Pause, seeing, breathing, balancing, onwards and upwards!’ A little mantra, it helped. I noticed the slight stress arising in my body, paused to focus on the mantra, then I assessed (1) what I could do (2) what I had influence over (3) what I had no control over. I could email Educare and let them know I was going to be late, so I did they were very understanding. I could influence how I approached this next part of my weird commute even though I had no influence over how long it might take. It would be fine, so I just paid attention to my body and thoughts. I asked for directions and help when I needed to. People were very helpful and friendly and my diverted journey was made quite enjoyable as I chatted to one lovely woman on the bus.

I like to make my commute as active as possible. I walk up and down the escalators and use this and the many stairs as another chance to practice my Alexander thinking and direct movement, another game! (You can see why I am suited to teaching children). How free can I allow my hips, knees and ankles to be as I walk/jog down the escalators. What happens when I think of my head balancing lightly? When I am walking up stairs or escalators can I lead with my head and focus on my knees lifting up to the next step rather than pushing down heavily on my feet. Can I think of a line from the top of my head, through my body and back leg down to my heel? So much to notice, play with, being in the present and enjoying the process. You can’t get bored when you are paying attention!

I eventually got to Educare and back home to my family. I had a wonderful time at Educare. I finished my day reading an Alexander fiction book called ‘The Labyrinth of Gar’ to the older children. its fun reading this book, I get to make up voices for characters and escape into the fantasy world that Sue Merry created. We were singing songs some of the characters sing. My story-telling time is another AT awareness time. Firstly I have to sit on a very low stool to be closer to the children sitting on the floor. A challenge made far less uncomfortable through some AT thinking. Then the reading out loud, I’m dyslexic and reading aloud a piece of writing, previously unseen, used to be my worse nightmare. It would certainly produce ‘startle reflex’, but that has much improved over the years of practicing AT (details another time), but it’s enough to briefly say I can enjoy reading aloud now. Even better, I can actually remember what I have read afterwards. I can say with great certainty the embodied awareness and other skills I have learnt with the Alexander Technique saved the day!

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Author: Esther Miltiadous

Alexander Technique Teacher, North London, U.K.

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