Pay Attention to Your Body

I asked my friend Clare Maxwell, a vet­er­an Alexan­der teacher, to con­tribute some­thing about her work to Your Body of Knowl­edge.  She’s been gra­cious enough to allow me to share it with you.

It’s yet anoth­er reminder of the impor­tance of move­ment and body aware­ness.  Often, it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.  And though we all know how ben­e­fi­cial exer­cise can be, doing exer­cis­es the wrong way, with too much ten­sion, can back­fire.

Most of all, the arti­cle illus­trates the cru­cial health ben­e­fits of fine-tun­ing your brain’s con­trol over body func­tion.

Alexander Method Success Story

Mike is an amaz­ing guy who loves to trav­el and build beau­ti­ful things out of wood. He is a User Expe­ri­ence Design­er (for com­put­er or sys­tem users) in NYC and spends many hours a day using a com­put­er. I met him three years ago when he first came for lessons to see if he could help him­self recov­er from a diag­no­sis of Carpal Tun­nel Syn­drome.

At that time, Mike was angry about how his life was becom­ing lim­it­ed by pain. He had a fierce deter­mi­na­tion to get bet­ter even though he is not by nature a phys­i­cal­ly dis­ci­plined per­son. He is more of a love to skate and have fun sort of per­son.

His acupunc­tur­ist referred him to me. He was see­ing her for help with the pain and numb­ness in his hands. She had been able to help him with the pain, but she saw pos­tur­al and move­ment issues that she felt might have been the orig­i­nal cause of his prob­lem. Mike was also doing yoga and stretch­es giv­en to him by a phys­i­cal ther­a­pist, but was begin­ning to be fright­ened about the con­tin­u­ing loss of sen­sa­tion in his hands. Try­ing the Alexan­der method was a last ditch attempt to see what could be done before hav­ing surgery, which his hand sur­geon actu­al­ly did not rec­om­mend.

Mike told me dur­ing his first les­son that his hands were start­ing to go numb for long peri­ods of time. He didn’t know whether this was because of carpal tun­nel syn­drome or an old neck injury that was affect­ing the nerves of his arms.

His frus­tra­tion began to fade as he learned about the design and func­tion­ing of his own body on a prac­ti­cal lev­el. The lis­ten­ing hands that are used in an Alexan­der les­son began to give him a new frame­work for his own move­ment pat­terns. His kines­thet­ic expe­ri­ence expand­ed to include his whole body, instead of just the prob­lem areas. He got imme­di­ate though tem­po­rary relief from the numb­ness and pain. He would come in with pain at a lev­el 6 (10 being the worst he had ever known) and leave with pain at a lev­el 0.

There was a lot Mike didn’t know about how his body works despite many doc­tor vis­its and much phys­i­cal ther­a­py. There was even more that he didn’t know about how he was actu­al­ly mov­ing because it had become habit­u­al and many pat­terns were below the lev­el of his aware­ness. He couldn’t afford to come every week, so he came every oth­er week, which meant that progress was slow.

He would often ask me how to “do it on his own” and I told him in the begin­ning that he just need­ed to let me help him, that because of the strength of some of his uncon­scious move­ment pat­terns, “doing it on his own” might actu­al­ly be mak­ing things worse. Grad­u­al­ly, as he learned how to move with­out the char­ac­ter­is­tic slump and down­ward pull in his spine that he was so used to, I gave him sim­ple things to do while refus­ing to short­en his spine: lying on his back and mov­ing his legs and arms eas­i­ly, or doing the stretch­es that his phys­i­cal ther­a­pist had giv­en him.

Our work expand­ed to include an aware­ness of the exces­sive use of force while stretch­ing his hands that had become so famil­iar. That habit­u­al sen­sa­tion of “stretch” is actu­al­ly dam­ag­ing to our joints and trau­mat­ic to our mus­cles and con­nec­tive tis­sue. As he found more relief from the pain, Mike learned about those under­ly­ing struc­tures that were being com­pressed and jammed, but not felt – because the pain was over-rid­ing oth­er sen­sa­tions.

He learned that he didn’t have to work hard to get bet­ter. He just had to work dif­fer­ent­ly.

Peri­od­i­cal­ly dur­ing the first year of our work togeth­er Mike would also check in with his doc­tor to make sure that the carpal tun­nel, the pas­sage­way for the nerves that sup­ply sen­sa­tion and motor con­trol to the hands, had not become nar­row­er or inflamed. Two years after we first start­ed work­ing togeth­er the numb­ness was gone, but Mike would still expe­ri­ence pain dur­ing times of stress or high demand at work. It became clear that unless he gave his body time to heal, fur­ther progress would not be made. Mike made the dif­fi­cult but coura­geous choice to work part time – three days a week instead of five – in order to give his hands time to heal. He kept com­ing for his lessons even so.

Three years lat­er, the pain in Mike’s hands is gone, he has found a bet­ter less stress­ful job, and he works as many hours as he needs to. He has clear­ly changed more than “just” his body – through the process of re-claim­ing his phys­i­cal­i­ty, he has cho­sen also to change exter­nal con­di­tions in his life. We con­tin­ue to dis­cov­er new con­nec­tions in his think­ing and mov­ing that help him use his arms more eas­i­ly and freely, and he is devel­op­ing more strength, length, and width in his back to sup­port the free­dom in his arms and legs.

He is still inter­est­ed in the Alexan­der Tech­nique because it con­tin­ues to make him feel bet­ter, but the orig­i­nal prob­lem that brought him to my stu­dio has been resolved. He has shaped changed from being in a per­pet­u­al curved slouch to hav­ing a longer, beau­ti­ful­ly curvy spine, a much wider range of move­ment, and has gained about an inch in height from the expan­sion that has occurred. That extra inch has giv­en his nerves the space they need­ed to heal.

Clare Maxwell, dancer/choreographer/educator, has a pri­vate Alexan­der Tech­nique teach­ing prac­tice and is on the fac­ul­ty of the William Esper Act­ing Stu­dio and Move­ment Research in NYC.

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Deepen Your Body of Knowledge

Clare Maxwell and the Alexan­der Method

Most peo­ple with “carpal tun­nel syn­drome” are mis­di­ag­nosed

Carpal tun­nel syn­drome exer­cis­es

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About Ronald Lavine, D.C.

Dr. Lavine has more than thirty years' experience helping patients alleviate pain and restore health using diverse, scientifically-based manual therapy and therapeutic exercise and alignment methods.

His website, askdrlavine.com, provides more information about his approach.

Please contact him at drlavine@yourbodyofknowledge.com or at 212-400-9663.

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6 Responses to Pay Attention to Your Body

  1. Pingback: Alexander Technique Exercises To Help Posture and Breathing

  2. Pingback: Janis Brenner and Dancer Injuries

  3. Pingback: Self Care Secrets for Muscle and Joint Pain

  4. Pingback: Simple Test for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

  5. James Crow says:

    Hi,
    That’s great to hear anoth­er suc­cess sto­ry about RSI and Alexan­der Tech­nique. I got rid of my own RSI using Alex­axn­der, and like you say it does take some time. The process is sub­tle and its real­ly by learn­ing the mind­ful move­ment that comes with AT that progress can be made — so I was pleased to find your blog Ron and linked to here from my page about RSI and Alexan­der Tech­nique here: http://alexanderplus.com/rsi
    I think I’ll take a moment to sit down and read your post on Con­scious Fit­ness 😉

  6. Pingback: RSI Help with the Alexander Technique | Alexander Technique Manchester, Wilmslow, Stockport and Macclesfield Cheshire

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