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.
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.
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.
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