A new Alexander Technique student asked why I am always "going on about not rushing". I explained a little about how the body tenses in reaction to our anxiety about not being fast enough (mentally wanting to be in the future rather than the only place we can ever physically be, i.e. the present), and how this tension interferes with our co-ordination and our effectiveness.
Then I listened to BBC Radio 5 Live's commentary on the penalty shoot-outs at the end of the Chelsea v Eintracht Frankfurt match on Thursday night.
Sebastien Haller, who went first for Eintracht, displayed "absolute composure, didn't look feared at all, stepped up, took his time" - and sent the goalkeeper the wrong way. Notwithstanding the high stakes - huge crowd, place in the Europa League final - Eden Hazard (shown) looked similarly "cool and confident" as he scored the winning penalty for Chelsea.
Contrast this with Cesar Azpilicueta, who went fourth. "It's a hurried run up...and it's saved! Sometimes you can just tell: it was a very hurried run up by Azpilicueta - he wanted to get it over and done with." "He looked rushed. Take your time!" Q.E.D.
Personal experience leads me to corroborate the benefits of the Alexander Technzique for people with Parkinson's, as reported in my previous post (11/4/19). In February I attended a training course for experienced AT teachers, on teaching the Technique to students with this particular neurological disease. Over two days, we had a number of opportunities to work with people who have Parkinson's (two of whom appear in this photo), in activities such as walking and sitting. The changes were plain to see! My thanks to Loretta Manson, Liz Dodgson, Dai Richards and Regina Stratil, who designed and ran a superb training programme.
Today is World Parkinson's Day. Did you know that the NICE Guidelines include a recommendation to "consider the Alexander Technique for people with Parkinson's Disease who are experiencing balance or motor-function problems"?
This is because of robust research, in particular by Chloe Stallibrass MSTAT, which demonstrated that Alexander Technique lessons led to a significantly increased ability to carry out everyday activities. Participants in the randomised control trial (2002) also reported subjective improvements in balance, posture and walking, as well as improved coping ability and reduced stress.
Today the international Alexander community celebrates the 150th birthday of our founding father, F M Alexander. 'F M' - as he is affectionately known - was born in Wynyard, Tasmania in 1869. His career as an actor, reciting Shakespeare to Australian audiences, was threatened by vocal problems. Repeatedly, he found his voice would grow hoarse mid-performance. The leading doctors of the day were unable to help him, other than by telling him to rest his voice. Alexander deduced that it must be something he was doing that was causing the problem. But what? He resolved to find out for himself. The rest, as they say, is history. To find out what happened next, click here.
Did you see Benedict Cumberbatch play Dominic Cummings (director of the Leave campaign) in 'Brexit: The Uncivil War' last week (Channel 4)? Cummings' wife, Mary Ward, has written (in The Spectator/The Week) about watching the actor prepare for the role. When he came to dinner he tried to understand Cummings' view of Brexit, and also absorbed the details of his body language. Afterwards Ward talked to Cumberbatch about the process of inhabiting a person intellectually and physically: does adopting someone's posture help you think like them? Cumberbatch replied, "That's it, yes. I think posture affects everything from heartbeat to intake of breath to the way you think."
A highlight of my Christmas viewing was '100 Years of King's Carols' (broadcast 21 December on BBC2). The documentary follows the world's most famous choir in the centenary year of the 'Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols' from King's College. Forty-four minutes into the programme, we peek into the vestry and see Cambridge-based Alexander Teacher Polly Waterfield as she works with three of the singers, helping them "find that doorway into being easier with yourself". The voice-over explains that the choir members use the Alexander Technique to maintain comfortable posture, stamina and vocal strength, and that it even helps with performance nerves.
Looking to find out more about the Alexander Technique? Come to my 2-hour 'taster' workshop on Friday 9 November (10.30-12.30)! Enlightenment and enjoyment guaranteed, not to mention coffee and cake. Cost: £35 Maximum of 5 participants.
Take a look at this marvelous portrait, from the National Portrait Gallery's collection. It's of Sir Desmond MacCarthy (1877-1952), literary critic and member of the Bloomsbury Group, painted by the Bloomsbury artist Duncan Grant in 1944.
I love the sitter's easy upright pose - an example to us all, and so different from the 'slump and peer' posture most of us adopt when reading or writing (or texting) these days. Notice how Desmond MacCarthy uses another book to create a makeshift reading slope.