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Blog

I Don't Want to be Told How to Sit...

Claire Coveney

In a recent conversation with someone I had just met the inevitable question, "What do you do?" came up. 

I have a few answers to this question and I will usually choose my response based on what I think will resonate with that particular person. Of course this will usually involve a bit of guess work if I have just met them, or you could even say a judgement of character. Do I think they are more interested in hearing words like "posture" or "wellbeing" or how The Technique can help with their running or singing or how it can improve their confidence and lessen their anxiety. The Technique is so unique in helping with all of these things.

In this instance the person very refreshingly came straight out with "I don't want to be told how to sit." I smiled as this was so unusual to hear someone just saying what they thought with no concern about how I would react. And it wasn't said at all in a malicious way it was simply a statement.

For me this was fantastic as I now had new information. A person who had an idea about what The Technique was already and an idea about how it wasn't for them.

Of course I work with people sitting as that is often what people would like help with however I don't believe that there is a right way to sit. Sitting isn't a static place it's a balance of continual micro movements that happen as we breathe as our hearts beat as our bodies rebalance to find coordination. The dance of sitting.

So instead I shared with him that I would happily work with him as he danced. We were at a dance workshop after all.

Stress and back pain

Claire Coveney

My pupils often tell me that their back pain (or knee pain, neck pain, shoulder pain), gets worse when they are stressed.

Its the way they tell me that interests me like, often it's a surprise that there is even this connection. It's like they kind of know it but don't know it and don't quite understand it and certainly don't know what to do about it. Which of course is why they have come to see me.

However what they usually want is to just get rid of the pain; and the stress well that's about "my busy job", "my boss", "my kids"...

Of course there are many things that life throws our way. Some things we can change to make our lives easier, others not. You can change your job but it's not so easy to get your kids adopted!!

There is however another option, that the stress is in fact is your response to the situation and you can therefore learn to change it. And if the pain is worse when you are stressed then maybe you will change that too.

So that is what we work with with The Alexander Technique. We learn a tool to help us react in a different way and that is what can change the pain.

 

"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." - Viktor Frankl - Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor.

 

RED January - Day 22 - Nearly there

Claire Coveney

January is seeming sooo....looooonng...

Another run.

Today a very short run as my son is off school sick so my plans have had to change. And I'm so pleased it was only a short run as my legs feel heavy and tired.

Some days are like this. Not every run is fantastic and sometimes it's not enjoyable.

Accepting this and still running is what is great.

 

And to keep me going for the last few days here is a link to my Just Giving page if you want to sponsor me.

RED January - Day 21 - Euwch!!

Claire Coveney

So I've missed a few days of blogs but I've still been out there running every day (or swapping for a HIIT session for the odd day). But here is today's!

________

When the view from your window looks like this and you know that its also going to be cold!

Not appealing is it!!

The first 5 mins the wet rain soaks through my leggings. I feel cold, rain in my face, but I'm out.

Then as my body warms up the rain doesn't feel so cold its just there and I begin to enjoy this feeling. I hit a puddle and feel the wet coming through my shoes. My first reaction is "euwch!" but I stop and become interested in this sensation on my feet. It's wet, cool, my socks feel soggy but it's actually not unpleasant at all.

In fact I begin to feel like a toddler jumping in the puddles. No fear of getting wet and cold as he hasn't experienced that before, he is just interested in the new sensations. The sound of the splashing of the water, the feeling of the water through clothing and shoes, the change in temperature on his skin, the way the water moves as he jumps. It's a new experience something exciting to explore. 

As adults we spend so much time avoiding getting wet as we have learnt that getting wet can be unpleasant. Sitting in damp clothing, feeling cold, drips of cold water down the back of the neck! Definitely "euwch!". But if we can experience it like a toddler how would that be?

For me invigorating and refreshing. But then I make sure I can jump straight in a hot shower when I return.

 

 

RED January - Day 15&16 - Arms

Claire Coveney

In the last couple of days I have been focusing on my arms and shoulders.

With these bitterly cold winds its so easy to tighten around the arms and shoulders which creates tension in the whole run.

Yes arms really are so important in your run. Try running with your arms hanging loose by your side and you will soon find out how difficult running becomes. Its the same if there is excess tension, everything becomes a little fixed and doesn't move as efficiently as it could.

A good indicator of excess tension in the arms I find is if you run like you are thumbing a lift with thumbs sticking upwards. The chances are that there will be tension right through to the shoulder and even across the front of the chest. Which will also be likely to be restricting your breathing.

Arms therefore need to be able to move freely as you run, particularly at the arm/shoulder joint and really be part of your whole running body. Include them in your awareness and see what you notice.

 

 

RED January - Day 13 - A change of scene

Claire Coveney

It was a long day of tax returns today with a promise to myself of a run at the end. When it got to that time however it was dark and I really didn't fancy going out. After running every day for 12 days my body was craving something different. So I listened.

So instead of going out I stayed in and did a HIIT session instead. It felt good to be moving my body in a different way, working muscles that don't get used so much in running and some that do.

I love running but running is generally coordinated through a certain range of movements and I believe it is good to move in different ways. So I enjoyed just that and felt stronger for it.

RED January - Day 12 - I Have Time

Claire Coveney

Now the thing with running every day is fitting it in. There is always plenty of other things to do in a day take the kids to school, work, pick the kids up from school, make dinner, the list could continue.. and fitting in a run takes time.

Todays run was one of those days when there was a lot of other stuff to do. So after dropping the kids to school I set off busily thinking "I don't have time".

The thing is that its not just a thought, my body responds to this thought and in my case (and from experience I know that pretty much everyone else), I respond with unnecessary tension.

Now there is a very simple thing I can do when I notice this thought. I tell myself "I have time". After all in this situation I have chosen to go for a run when I could have simply chosen not to go, so I just as well be doing the thing that I am choosing to do. And this new thought gives me a sense of release and freedom. Allowing me to move more easily and run well. Allowing me to be more present with this thing I have chosen to do right now.

Try it and let me know what you discover.

RED January - Day 10&11 - Can't Be Bothered

Claire Coveney

Actually not can't be bothered to run more can't be bothered to write about it.

In fact the running seems fairly easy, even if I sometimes need persuading! However the writing often can take me longer than the run. It's also in the past so I am writing about something that has happened, time has moved on and I somehow cant be bothered to think about what has happened back then.

My son does this if I ask him about his day at school. His usual response to what he did will be "Stuff!". He doesn't see the point in talking about it, a lot of stuff happened and he's moved on.

But there's something useful in the process of recalling what has happened which allows me to remember it more clearly and can also help unravel some of what has happened, but like with asking my son about his school day I need to be more specific. "What was for lunch today?", "What made you laugh?". With running, "What was happening with my arms?", "What was I thinking as I ran?". And in the process of doing this I remember it more for next time so I can learn from my experiences.

 

RED January - Day 9 - Ankles

Claire Coveney

Ankle flexibility is vital in running. When I talk about ankles and the joints of the ankles I mean both at the leg-foot joint and also within the foot joints below the leg-foot joint. You can look this up if you want to know more about the anatomy and physiology. These are not anatomical terms but I hope make sense for this description.

This joint needs to move in running not only in the front to back plane but also in other directions as we negotiate bumps, lumps and stones which you will know only too well if you run off road.

The movement at the ankle also gives important feedback to the brain to allow us to rebalance.

If you stand and allow yourself to sway slowly to one side and then the other you will notice that your head will tend to move in the opposite direction to bring you on balance. You can choose to override this of course and let the whole body including the head move to one side but you will notice you need more muscular effort to do this. Try it.

So if we are held at the ankle joint we are not allowing the freedom of movement that is needed to run.

So check in with you ankles to see if they are free to move as you run as I did today.

Ankles don't move in isolation so more on this to follow. If you are interested you can sign up to receive my newsletter for more info.

 

RED January - Day 6&7

Claire Coveney

While I have been keeping up with the running I'm still catching up with the writing. Something had to give to fit everything in.

Yesterday I got up bright and early to run as I was heading to Oxford to attend a workshop. It was based on The Alexander Technique and Contact Improvisation dance so I knew I would get plenty of moving in, but getting outdoors feels an important part of RED January for me. The fresh (ish. I live in the city), air and daylight are so easy to miss out on in the winter months.

It was just getting light and really cold. The cold air hit my face with a sensation of sting but invigoration. I felt more alert from the sensation but also a retreating into myself as if to somehow maintain my body temperature.

While I know that my body will respond to the cold physiologically. I also know that extra tightening doesn't help this process to work. ie. tense shoulders don't help in keeping us warm even if many of us do it! Slowing down of our nervous systems, vasoconstriction (blood moves away from the extremeties to ensure our vital organs temperatures are maintained) and shivering all do. Our bodies will do their job, we don't need to interfere.

So letting go and trusting that my body would warm up off I went. And how worthwhile it was. The moon was beautiful, the sky a crisp blue and the frost adding a sprinkling of white sparkle to the world.

Something to remember next time I try to persuade myself out of an early morning run.

 

 

RED January - Day 4 - Forward and Up

Claire Coveney

Today I got out for a slightly longer run. I had been sitting most of the day so really wanted to move.

Knowing that I had been sitting most of the day I ensured that I warmed up well. I usually do this indoors, I am a wimp in the cold, so that when I go out of the door I can be ready to run.

Recently I have been to see an osteopath, as for many years I have been aware that my pelvis has been twisted. It has never been a problem and using The Alexander Technique has meant that I am able to look after myself well within that. However a while ago I pulled a hamstring and it wasn't getting better so off I went to get some help. And it has certainly untied the twist in my pelvis which is great. However, as it was a longstanding twist it's now taking a while for my body to work in a different way, and for me to be aware so that I don't put the problem back in place again.

So on my run today I was aware of a little niggle at the back of my leg. It was getting better as I warmed up more so I continued. I continued allowing my pelvis to move forward in space so it was connected to my head and my feet and not allowing myself to "break" in the middle which is very common in runners and I can tend to do. 

I then had a thought about gravity and remembered how my whole body can have a kind of spring-like quality to it so that gravity isn't pulling me down into the ground but is allowing me to spring seemingly effortlessly forward and up into my run.

This was great as I suddenly realised that in my attempts to "look after" my injury I had been instead using extra effort to somehow protect it. And instead of protecting it I had in fact been interfering with my running and was therefore not helping my injury at all by pulling myself down into my pelvis.

Suddenly my run became more effortless and enjoyable. The niggle was still there but less so and I could feel that I was working in a more coordinated way. So much better.

RED January - Day 2 - Enjoying Short and Slow

Claire Coveney

Today was always going to be a short slow run. With no childcare I took my daughter with me on her bike and ran alongside. So short slow and with lots of stops.

I think it’s great to practice running at different speeds. I find running slower than my habitual speed really means I can focus on my form. Running faster than my usual speed challenges me to find ease in the speed. I would encourage you to try both.

Today on my slow run I was able to really recognise my pattern to let my pelvis twist as I land on my left leg. A pattern I have been aware of for some time but somehow became clearer when I slowed down. And as I was going slower it seemed easier to let the necessary changes happen through my whole body so that this happened less. 

As its still a strong habitual pattern in me I wasn't able to change it every time. My old twisted pattern still crept in, but a small step in a different direction. Of course I might find that I need to change direction many times and this may not be the "right" direction but the discovery is what keeps running interesting and alive for me.

RED January - Day 1 - New Years Day

Claire Coveney

My first run of Run Every Day January.

I like running but I don't usually go out every day and particularly in the winter months I can make excuses for myself, it's too cold, I'm a bit tired, maybe I'm getting a cold?.. It seems so much easier to curl up and hibernate.

Yet I know that moving is an amazing thing, particularly if its outdoors and even more so if it is done in a mindful way. I know that if I get out there I will feel so much better for it. The ultimate demonstration of mind body connection. But like most of us I might sometimes need a little persuasion. So that is why I signed up for RED January as a little challenge for myself. To write about my running as part of the process seems a useful way to share how I use the skills that I have learnt through applying The Alexander Technique to my running. Maybe you will find them useful too.

If you are interested you can sign up to receive my newsletter for more info.

So Day 1 after a late night, not enough sleep and an extra glass of something fizzy I went out. Would I have usually? Maybe yes, maybe no! Do I feel better for it? Absolutely. I hope that other Redders will feel better too.

Creatures of Habit

Claire Coveney

We are creatures of habit. We want to know how things are going to be and how we relate to them. A great idea as it can make us feel safe, helps us know where we are, to feel supported. 

When I get up in the morning I have a pretty regular pattern of things I tend to do, open the curtains, unload the dishwasher, feed the cat, put the kettle on, get the kids breakfast... I like this order it means I can ensure things happen and everything goes smoothly so that we all get out of the house to get to school and to work on time. There's a lot to do and it's busy.

But what if things go wrong? What happens if something changes? The dishwasher hasn't been put on, the cat has brought in a mouse (an unfortunately regular event in our house!), we've run out of milk ... ahh!! 

It's so easy in these situations to get stressed, angry, tense, agitated. We worry that we will be late, we rush, racing ahead to the next moment...

That's where the power to pause comes in so that we can look at what is happening now, rationally and reasonably. Accept what is happening in our situation both externally and within us. It then gives a choice about how we react. Maybe I have to wash a few dishes, perhaps try my tea black for a change; and the mouse!! Well I have time to work that one out!
 
In The Alexander Technique we practice this pause in everyday movements and activities, we practice being in this moment so that in the more difficult situations that life presents us we can hopefully make a better choice and find a new way.

Run Well Mama

Claire Coveney

I am a Mum so I am of course drawn to the many websites, Facebook groups and resources out there about Mums running.

And what an amazing thing they are, so supportive and a great way to connect with other women, other Mums who want to get out there and run. Whether to shed some baby weight, escape from the kids, have some "Me" time or generally get fitter and healthier. Wow running is amazing for so many things...

But there are also in these groups so many comments about little, niggles, aches, pains or something just not feeling quite right.

Most runners in this instance will look at new shoes, gait analysis (which usually looks at how the foot lands in order to recommend a certain type of shoe), try to fix the problem in isolation (thinking its just my knee instead of looking at the whole coordination of running), or even just plug in some music and push on through.

But who has ever thought about the balance of their head on their body? Your head weighs around 5kg or more, so it's relationship to the rest of you is pretty important. FM Alexander the founder of The Alexander Technique found this relationship to be vital in how we carry out our daily activities. For many of us however we interfere with this relationship, squashing out heads down on our bodies and interfering with our coordination. We may not even know that we are doing this. But imagine the freedom, ease and lightness you could achieve from letting go of this to find a better coordination. It really is like taking off the brakes in your run.

So even if you are just starting out running with a couch to 5k or are running longer distances then why not learn to run well and find ease and coordination in your run.

So don't just run, run well Mama.

If you want to join my mailing list to find out more click here.

What is perfect posture?

Claire Coveney

We all want it it seems. Not to slump or have round shoulders. To be able to stand up "straight". Interestingly people used to say to me in my pre-Alexander days 'you have great posture'. From the outside I looked pretty straight I guess but I was held and stiff. My breathing was shallow and I was uncomfortable sitting or standing for longer than 5 mins.

This is me sitting now, right at this moment. I am using The Alexander Technique to allow my head to be easily balanced on my spine. allowing myself to be supported by the chair and thinking of not interfering with my natural coordination. Its not perfect. There will be more and more of me that can let go of old habits. But its way better than my old rigid self. I can breathe more freely, move more freely and sit or stand for long periods easily and it feels so much better. I feel so much better.

So forget perfect posture, it usually involves way too much efforting. Instead learn how to find ease, balance and poise in whatever you do. Learn posture using The Alexander Technique.

Perfect Day for a Rainy Blog

Claire Coveney

It's pretty rainy out there today. A proper wet, puddly, soggy kind of a day.

What happens to people when it rains though?

It looks like they want to pull their head so far down inside their jacket like a tortoise retreating into its shell. This seems to be the case even with a hood up or under an umbrella. As if being lower to the ground somehow avoids getting wet.

Sometimes a makeshift cover will appear from a piece of clothing or a bag in which the person will scrunch themselves down to get under (even though they could choose to lift it higher to fit themselves under).

Then there’s the running as if to dodge the raindrops. 

I like this quote from Tsunetomo Yamamoto, The Hagakure: A code to the way of the samurai

“There is something to be learned from a rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden shower, you try not to get wet and run quickly along the road. But doing such things as passing under the eaves of houses, you still get wet. When you are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you will still get the same soaking. This understanding extends to everything.”

 

 

Running with Peaches

Claire Coveney

I am always interested to watch the quality of a runners arms. I find it can give so much away about a persons running but arms are so rarely considered an important part of running.

Two of the most common things I see are thumbs sticking up as if thumbing a ride.  This to me is an indication of tension right through the arms, shoulders and chest.

The other thing I see is abandoned arms that are just not really involved in the running and a bit too floppy. Try running with your arms by your sides and you will see how tricky this can be.

Arms need to be part of the whole movement of running. Not overly tense or held but freely moving as part of the whole coordinated movement of running.

So whats with the peaches?

Well next time you are running begin by just noticing whats happening in your arms. Are they tense and held tight to your torso? Are they not really part of your running, just floppy and not really involved.

Then just imagine you have 4 soft juicy peaches, one under each armpit and one in each hand. You are going to need to allow some space between your torso and upper arm so that you have room for the peaches, maybe this allows you some more freedom at that upper arm joint.

And you don't want to squash them in your hands. So you need just enough tone so that you don't drop them but not so much they will squash. Don't worry too much about the position if you prefer your hands to be be more open that's fine, it's more about the idea.

And that's it that's all the tone you need.