From the hospital floor

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This is a guest post from Alexander teacher David Orman, who writes about a recent experience in hospital as he used the technique to help him deal with pain and difficulty. I interviewed David about his path to the Alexander Technique and his fibromyalgia in an earlier post.

My story begins almost twenty years ago, when as an eight-year old in the school playground, I made one cheeky insult too many to an older boy, which resulted in him punching me twice square on the nose. The nose had not been broken, but became increasingly misaligned, though I ignored it thinking the damage merely cosmetic.

Skipping forward fifteen years, as I began my Alexander Technique training the teachers pointed out how restricted my nasal breathing was. Eventually I saw a specialist, who recommended an operation to enable me to breathe properly through my nose. The deciding factor was that poor breathing affected my fibromyalgia, the severe chronic pain condition that led me to train as an Alexander Technique teacher in the first place.

I knew a lengthy stay in hospital for a nose operation, and the inactivity that came with it, would be difficult for me in creatively managing the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Complications meant I needed two operations and had to stay on a cramped ward for four days, bleeding and forbidden to leave in case of infection. I realised I had to use the Alexander Technique to cope with the torment that the combination of fibromyalgia and inactivity produces.

I found a full-length mirror in the ward toilet and used the room for some serious self-observation. I practised Alexander procedures, and used the idea of ‘non-doing’ to get comfortable in either the chair or the bed. A bed is not good for the Alexander ‘semi supine’ position, so I worked on getting release by lying down on my side. When my upper back and shoulders released, my fingers would let go too and I was often rewarded with some much needed sleep. Although this helped me manage better, my pain levels escalated – inevitable with fibromyalgia and enforced inactivity.

By the day of my second operation, the pain had become so severe that I was in great distress with a high pulse rate. I was now in a larger ward and used the extra space to lie in semi supine on the floor. The physical and emotional support this gave me was incredible. I reassured the unhappy nurses that I was a qualified Alexander Technique teacher and knew only positives could accrue from lying down like this; proof came as my pulse moved rapidly down.

Sadly, in that ward I had little control over the sufferings of my fellow patients, particularly a roofer who needed several procedures on the ward during the night after a workplace accident. I found it difficult to cope with this, and realised I must overcome my fibromyalgia and teach the technique, so that I can develop an increasing command of myself and my own reactions. The Alexander Technique was enormously helpful in preparing for the operation, and in improvising “in the moment” when the unknown developed. To end on a happy note, when my nose fully heals I can’t wait to know what my breathing and an Alexander ‘whispered ah’ will be like!

David Orman offers lessons in both London and in Kent

“Think More Do Less” book launch

Think More, Do Less by Sean Carey, published by HITE
“If you find something works, then try doing less” said Marjory Barlow

Term 4 (of 9)

A new book on the Alexander Technique is always a cause for celebration.  So it proved last week as the corks popped at the launch from HITE Limited of Think More, Do Less: Improving Your Teaching of the Alexander Technique with Marjory Barlow written by Seán Carey.  Marjory Barlow (1915 – 2006) was FM Alexander’s niece. Not only did she have a close family connection, but she trained with him as a teacher in the 1930s, and subsequently ran a training school with her husband Dr Wilfred Barlow.

Think More Do Less book launch
A mixture of Alexander teachers, trainees and pupils attended the launch

The author, Seán Carey, qualified as an Alexander teacher in 1986 and had individual and group lessons with Marjory over several years in the late 1990s.  This is the fruit of those lessons, capturing what he experienced from her words and her hands, and observing his fellow teachers learning. It is neatly bookended by a foreword from senior teacher Anne Battye (who trained with Marjory and worked as her training course assistant) and Seán’s write-up of his lesson and subsequent interview with Elisabeth Walker. She was a lifelong friend of Marjory’s and the last of the ‘first-generation’ teachers – the interview dates from 2013, shortly before she died.

Anne Battye and Brita Forsstrom
“Suit the action to the words, the words to the action” was one of Marjory’s favourite quotes, according to Anne Battye (left), shown here talking with Brita Forsstrom

 With his social anthropology background, Seán sees a value in recording how people who knew and worked with FM Alexander taught.  Much of the training for Alexander teachers takes place via an oral tradition, or is passed on kinaesthetically through use of the hands. As the generations pass there is little documentation about actual practice, particularly from the earlier teachers.  Think More Do Less describes many of the crucial details involved in standard practical Alexander procedures as taught by Marjory.  “It’s a historical record of how she taught, and how she thought FM (Alexander) taught” he told me, shortly before the book’s publication.

Sean Carey
Seán Carey

It was clear to Seán that Marjory expected the lesson to be about learning, not just having a pleasant time. As a pupil you had to be an active and thinking participant, not expecting her to do the work for you. “She wouldn’t let you get away with very much.  You had to learn to direct. Standing in front of her teaching chair, she matched the verbal directions she gave you for the head-neck-back relationship with her hands. Because of that your stature increased. However, you were responsible for bending your knees, without losing your internal length.”

She always began with the pupil in the chair, then worked with them lying down on the couch or table (the opposite way round from her husband). She would start with the head and neck, moving to the limbs and back to the head and neck again. This conveyed an immediate physical awareness of the importance of the head and neck in enabling freedom of movement in the rest of the body.

Seán is unequivocal about the value of listening to our first-generation Alexander forebears. “It would be foolish not to take note of what she did and learn from the source. Learning to teach the Alexander Technique is like climbing Mount Everest” he concluded. “You definitely want to talk to people who’ve been to the top before you start, and you also want a good sherpa to get you to the summit and back down again. Marjory Barlow is like Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay combined”.

Think More Do Less is written for current and trainee teachers, and for people who have had a lot of Alexander lessons. It already sits proudly on my Alexander bookshelf and I can see myself using it for guidance as I continue my journey from Alexander base camp towards the summit.


David Orman, Alexander Technique teacher

David Orman, MSTAT, Alexander Technique teacher in 2017 after graduating
David Orman MSTAT,  in 2017 after graduating (photo: City Alexander Technique School)

David Orman qualified as an Alexander Technique teacher in March 2017 from the school where I am training.  He told me his story.

“I was 17 or 18 and I could feel myself changing for the worse.  I had pain and many unpleasant sensations in my whole body.  I also had some emotional changes and I was irritable a lot of the time. Pain was an everyday experience, it was very severe “.  Eventually he received a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, though he had none of the fatigue usually associated with the condition.  He rejected pain medication, not wanting a life on painkillers, and sought out other options – chiropractic, osteopathy and pain specialists.  “They all described me as ‘mysterious’, especially for someone of my age.  There was no way they could help” he said.

One chiropractor recommended the Alexander Technique, and after a couple of lessons he felt he was on the right track so continued for a couple of years. “I had a sense of lightness in myself, and a reduction in pain”. By now, aged 21, he had quit university and was unable to work because of the pain, though he could feel some things improving, such as sitting. “For years I had been very reluctant to sit down, I was in so much pain. This was a very isolated time – I had no job, no social contact except with my family.  I’d left school and university, I was in pain and isolated”. He read The Use of the Self by FM Alexander, and began to realise that by training to be a teacher he could apply the principles Alexander had discovered to himself and his own body use, and it could benefit him as well as his pupils.

He committed to the course, and to three years commuting from Kent to London.  “I enjoyed the social aspect, it was a positive experience and it felt like a little family. In the first term I felt quite light-hearted.  I was being trained by skilled teachers, I had social contact four days a week, and I was sure the exposure would help me. But as the year went on, my thinking changed. I began to see it as a mission that had to benefit me.  I had to get the pain to go in order to justify my training.  I had to use that emotional drive and motivation to look at the Alexander Technique in a wide way so it would benefit me”.

Closer to graduating, he recognised the responsibility of being a teacher, and part of a profession, and realised he had to find a way of making it work.  This was despite pain that continued when he put hands on people in teaching. “I expect that to go on for a few years.  I don’t feel it’s plain sailing, and I will have to factor that into my teaching”.  Looking back, he sees his training as a time of self-exploration.  “You get a lot of help from the teachers, but if you want to maximise the experience you have to be prepared to look at yourself”.

He wants to work with people involved with sport, and anyone with chronic pain, in Kent or in London.  “I’m clear in my thinking about my own pain, I understand emotional responses to chronic pain, I can provide a practical way to carry on living and get round the pain.” He recommends people try an Alexander lesson and see what happens.  “The worst that can happen is that it doesn’t appeal.  You won’t come to harm from it, so it’s worth seeing if it’s for you”.

David Orman’s website

David Orman in 2014 as he started his Alexander Technique teacher training (photo: Kamal Thapen)
David Orman in 2014 as he started his Alexander Technique teacher training (photo: City Alexander Technique School)