Body use and alignment help carry luggage with less strain

Luggage, Kings Cross

Maintaining good body use and alignment when you carry luggage takes care and thought. This summer I’ve taken many train journeys, and learning the Alexander Technique has helped me lift and carry my bags more easily. Recently I spent a morning at London’s Kings Cross station to see how other travellers handle their baggage while on the move.

Kings Cross station, London

Luggage in all shapes and sizes

It was like stepping onto a bustling film set as random extras streamed through from all sides.  Taking refuge on the balcony I saw silent dramas playing out below. A musician hauled a bulky instrument on his back, weighed down and weary. Three businessmen discussed office politics, neat overnight bags beside them. A men’s sports team in sponsored tracksuits milled round kitbags, laughing and sharing phones.  “Cycling, skateboarding and roller-skating are not permitted on the station concourse” boomed the loudspeaker. Body use with poise wheeling a bike, Kings Cross station

Straining, twisting and tensing

Many travellers, I could see, were carrying vast amounts of luggage. In fact they struggled to cope, yet somehow expected to manage it all. Some carried bags lightly and evenly balanced. Many more had them hitched on one shoulder, tensing and twisting. There were some with backpacks tucked snugly high up. Others had left the straps loose and the weight low, risking strain as the bags dragged them down.

Support from spine and feet

I noticed my own habitual patterns of body use repeated on the station floor. For many years I stood with the weight dropped into one hip, pressing down more on one side of my body. At the time it seemed comfortable and normal. In reality my spine and feet were not fully supporting me. I was twisting and distorting myself, leading to long-term back pain.

Some passengers stood with feet crossed over at the knee or ankle. But they quickly shifted position as discomfort set in. Several leaned forwards or sideways onto suitcase handles rather than supporting their own weight.Body use at Kings Cross station

Phones a distraction

Almost every hand held a phone as people passed the time online. Some glanced up occasionally to check on their train, others had eyes only for the screen. Then, as I took photos, I heard a thud next to me. A precious backpack had slipped off my neighbour’s shoulders to the ground. He walked away, unaware, still filming on his phone.

Thinking more about body use

Since learning the Alexander Technique I’ve had relief from back pain and can manage travel and luggage better. So now I pack less, allow more time and think differently about how I move. I pay more attention to my length, width and breathing. I understand the cumulative impact on the whole body of compressing or twisting any one part. In addition my feet make more equal contact with the floor, I stop more often and I’m less worried about arriving on time.

Change of focus

Overall my focus has changed so I think more about my own body use, even with a train to catch. This summer I’ve had to contend with disrupted journeys. Lightning took out a signal box, a tractor and tree collided beside the line and timetable changes ushered in mass cancellations. Mostly I’ve still reached my destination. Almost certainly I’ve arrived lighter, calmer and with less strain than before.

Written in Term 8 of my Alexander Teacher training

Suitcases, Kings Cross, London

Kings Cross, London

Kings Cross

Kings Cross station

Kings Cross station, London

Kings Cross

Kings Cross London

Body use while on the phone at Kings Cross Station, London

Body use while on the phone at Kings Cross station, London

Kings Cross

Back Care poster

 

 

 

 

 

Change with the Alexander Technique takes time

I’ve been through a period of profound change while learning the Alexander Technique and training as a teacher. But change takes time. I realised this after meeting  Ötzi the Iceman in two different bodily forms. There I was cycling uphill through vineyards and orchards in northern Italy, finding the mountains oppressive and the sun fierce. In addition my knee ached with every turn of the pedals. Then my mood lifted when I came across Ötzi on  a rest day in the stylish town of Bolzano.Mountain river in the Dolomites

The discovery of Ötzi’s mummified body

Hikers discovered the first Ötzi  – a mummified and shrunken body – in 1991 on a mountain glacier close to the Austrian border nearby. We peered at it through the glass of a special cell in the museum where it rests like a medieval relic, constantly cooled to prevent decay.

2.Finding place © South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology/Aichner
Hikers found Ötzi’s body on this glacier © South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology/Aichner
How Ötzi died

Researchers have slowly pieced together Ötzi’s story. At first they thought his remains belonged to a lost climber. We now know he lived 5000 years ago and died violently one summer up on the glacier. A hand wound showed he’d been in a fight a few days before.

Ötzi reconstruction

Hours before his death he climbed up from the valley into the mountains. His killer followed, shooting him in the back from below with an arrow.  A revenge attack after the earlier fight?  Then came a blow to the head or maybe a fall. Blood loss meant he died quickly. His body lay face down on a large flat stone. It remained preserved in ice until its accidental discovery all those years later.

Facial reconstruction

What we know about Ötzi

We know he was about 45 (an old man for the time), with brown eyes, loose dark wavy hair and a beard. He was not in good shape – his many tattoos were probably an early form of acupuncture for pain relief. He had worn joints, some broken bones and signs of a recent chronic illness. Too much time sitting over an open fire had blackened his lungs.

Tattoos used as an early form of acupuncture for pain relief Ötzi’s second incarnation

At the end of the exhibition we met the second Ötzi. This was a reconstruction by the Dutch twins Kennis and Kennis, who make lifelike and authentic models of ancient humans for museums all over Europe.  He  was upright, three-dimensional, unexpectedly modern, very human and engaging. This was a fitting finale to Ötzi’s absorbing story.

4. The Iceman's reconstruction by Alfons & Adrie Kennis © South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology/Ochsenreiter
Photo © South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology/Ochsenreiter
How I’ve changed from learning the Alexander Technique

Our rest day over, it was time to pedal south. As I looked round at the fertile river valley I saw why Ötzi had caught my imagination.  It was more than just cycling in his deerskin-clad footsteps and living off the land.  I have also inhabited two bodies. The first was uncomfortable, immobile and contracted, how I used to be. The second is taller, full of life and breath, more open and upright and balanced. I also feel more human and ready to move and be in the world.

The second version has only slowly emerged from the first. It’s almost a decade since my initial Alexander Technique lesson started the process of deep psycho-physical change. Both our stories continue to evolve with new insights. Researchers have only recently located Ötzi’s stomach and identified his  last meal . There’s a new film about his life and death. And I too am revising my story after uncovering a degree of hypermobility I wasn’t aware of.

We can change, but it takes time

My knee was still sore as my bike bumped over the wooden slats on the cycle bridge across the rushing water. I was more optimistic, not just because the day’s ride was downhill.  I’ve learned that we’re not fixed and can change. The pace may feel glacial but our stories can develop irrespective of age. We too can thaw out and become more fully human if we allow ourselves the choice and the time.

Written in Terms 7/8 of my training as an Alexander Technique teacher.

Otzi's shoes

Stillness and movement

Stone basin, Kyota Garden
Movement in a thoughtful way

The Kyoto Garden in London’s Holland Park is set aside for quiet and contemplation. Movement there is slow and considered. I went through the gateway one Sunday morning and soon began to see why. As if I had turned off a motorway into a tranquil rest area, the outside noise dropped instantly away. My breathing slowed and I caught, clearly now, the gentle trill of falling water. Waterfall, Kyoto Garden, London

Designed for the 1992 Japan Festival, this is a traditional Japanese ‘stroll garden’ encouraging visitors to move quietly through the landscape, discovering new aspects as they proceed and allowing nature to ‘unscroll’ before them. The key elements are water, rocks, fish, stone ornaments, trees and flowers, all carefully placed to encourage an appreciation of natural beauty and meditation on the wider world, represented here in miniature.Kyoto Garden, London

Everything open, receptive and calm

I followed the arrows clockwise round the pond, several koi carp keeping silent pace as I approached the waterfall.  My fellow visitors stood or padded by, talking in hushed tones. A young man sat cross-legged, headphones in and contemplating the water, moving every few minutes to catch the sun.  A dad in shorts and sunglasses perched on the rocks by the water’s edge, pointing out to the toddler cradled in his arms the multi-coloured shapes gliding below. Even the wildlife here seemed open, receptive and calm.

Koi carp, Kyoto Garden, London

Squirrel, Kyoto Garden, London

Bird bath, Kyoto Garden, London

Peacock, Kyoto Garden

Time to stand still and think

As the path turned towards the waterfall I had to make a choice about where to place my feet.  I stood still for a moment and looked at the smooth surface of the large flat stones ahead. I compared them with the more uneven jumble of smaller ones set alongside. Both paths led to a frothy pool of foam beneath the tumbling water. So this was not about where but how. I was being quietly wrong-footed. The deliberate duplication in garden design was prompting me to stand still and think about my next move.

Stillness and choice

Those large flat stones underfoot would give confidence and I could walk purposefully, looking out and ahead at the next view.  But putting my feet on the smaller ones would mean glancing down, away from the garden, going more slowly  and thoughtfully before reaching the water’s edge. One was not better than the other – the point was to have a deliberate moment of stillness and choice before launching into movement. How I moved and what I experienced would be different depending on my decision.Movement comes out of stillness and choice, Kyoto Garden, London

Waterfall, Kyoto Garden, London

Awareness and heightened senses

The Kyoto Garden encouraged me to be still, though not static. I had to keep moving but be thoughtful about it, senses heightened, aware of myself and what and who was around me. I needed to allow the landscape to unfold, in a quietly active way and be open to surprises.  The narrow path was circular so I could go round as often as I liked seeing it differently each time.  And time itself  became a thread in the natural tapestry as reflections and shadows and people changed over the morning. It felt good to be in an outdoor space that respected and promoted stillness, sensory awareness and conscious movement.

Staying calmly within myself

My own capacity for all these things is growing as I learn to quieten my thoughts and reactions. Then through stillness I have the choice of which path to take. In movement I’m more able to stop at any point and remain integrated and in balance. And as I become more able to stay calmly within myself my field of awareness widens and deepens. In turn movement flows more easily.  The stroll garden reflected me back to myself. So at the change of seasons I’ll return and be still and move through it once again.

Written in Term 7 of my Alexander Technique teacher training

Stone basin, Kyoto Garden, London

Kyoto Garden

Stone, Kyoto Garden

Bamboo fence, Kyoto Garden

Kyoto Garden

Peacock feathers, Kyoto Garden

Peacock feathers, Kyoto Garden

Kyoto Garden, London