Neck and Back Pain

The human body has its own inner wisdom. We can see evidence of this in bodily functions that work without us thinking about them or even having to know anything about them. Blood circulates and food digests while our thoughts are on our day to day activities. Habitually eating unhealthy meals and smoking inhibits our body’s inner wisdom. Our bodies natural postural support mechanisms, leaving accidents and serious medical conditions aside, don’t work as well as they could because we interfere with them. Postural support mechanisms, including anti-gravity mechanisms, are designed to sustain our movements

We do not need to teach our body correct posture. Postural support mechanisms are not as effective as they could be because we interfere with our harmful unconscious muscular habits. For example, when we slump in order to appear cool, push our bodies to perform when it needs a rest or when we pull our shoulders back and down and stretch the neck in the back in order to appear "upright", we are forcing something foreign on our body that it doesn't recognize. We are adding another habit which puts distance between us and the true awareness of the body. Our body is then unaware and unable to give accurate feedback on how we are in space, which makes further movement difficult. This misuse of the body is a major contributor to most neck and back pain.

Frederick Matthias Alexander saw this dilemma in his own use of the self. He called it the body/mind connection in humans. Over many years he rediscovered how not to interfere with the natural postural support mechanisms that we have been born with. He learned to move according to them. He allowed the body to show its wisdom to him. Alexander was asked to teach these observations and guiding skills to others which was later formed into a three year full time education to become an Alexander Technique Teacher.

Nobody is perfect. No body will move perfectly. We have postural support mechanisms to tell us when we are moving inefficiently. Anti-gravity mechanism help us to respond to gravity by going up and off of it. Proprioception tells us where our different body parts are in relation to each other, and if our body is moving with the required muscular effort.

During Alexander technique lessons one's body awareness grows overall. This can help us to guide our movements regardless of what activities we engage in.

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Yoga and Movement Modalities

When our proprioception (the sense of the relative position of neighboring parts of the body and tonicity of musculature) has been blurred due to unconscious muscular habits it is hard to tell truthfully where we are in space, and what quality our muscles are in. We think we are standing freely tall, but instead we are tightly pulling up into "good posture".

Alexander Technique does not teach yoga but its applications will help one use conscious thought to make sure their body is
participating in the movement naturally, and without the unconscious muscular habits that cloud the true awareness of the
movement. This allows the body to release fully and securely into movement while at the same time maintaining natural and
effortless length in the spine. Alexander Technique respects the instinctive organization of the head leading the rest of
the body into length. This is the natural way to move for what ever we are engaged in.

Yoga and other body modality students who take Alexander lessons say they:

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Dynamic Posture and Poise

Every one of us has a natural anti-gravity mechanism that lengthens us up effortlessly away from the ground. We need gravity to move and stay upright. Just observe astronauts in space and how they are not able to straighten themselves due to the absence of gravity. Gravity is our ally not our enemy.

We have other postural mechanisms that operate at the nervous system level. These mechanisms function all the time and respond to the feedback we get from the ground through our feet, by carrying weight or from other numerous everyday activities. The reason for our mal-posture, as well as our lack of balance and coordination, is that we interfere with the natural mechanism of posture and poise with harmful muscular and thought habit patterns. In Alexander Technique terms, we are mis-using ourselves.

By, thought habit patterns, Alexander teachers mean, the way we guide our movements with our thinking. The harmful muscular and 'thought habit patterns' are largely unconscious because we have learned to ignore kinesthetic awareness in order to get daily work and chores done. Harmful habit patterns will in the long run feel like the "right and normal" way to move, even though they might be doing us harm.

Like any senses, kinesthetic sense also gets "bored feeling the same feeling" when it is not heard. Thus kinesthetic sense can get muddled, and because we are not aware of how we are moving, we are more likely to mis-use ourselves even further.

The source of the mis-use can be anywhere. Mainly it exists because we have not released the higher muscular tone that was needed earlier for a certain movement i.e. raking leafs, carrying heavy loads, running etc. It can also exist because of our mental state. When the body is in shock or grieving, the body naturally "protects" itself by going into a shell.

Sometimes we forget how to come back to neutral, or we just ignore our body's kinesthetic sense messages that ask's us to release un-needed muscle tension due to our busy and hectic day to day life. In order to acquire a good psycho-physical use of ourselves (dynamic poise) we must allow ourselves to go to the unknown. All we know is our habits and the feelings we get from them, which are most likely to be inaccurate. If we rely on our current muddled kinesthetic awareness we will only follow our old, harmful and habitual way to move. We need to brake through these habits and follow the natural mechanisms of posture and poise which will once again become the normal way of being.This is the reason why training to be an Alexander Technique Teacher takes three years of full time training.

Because of faulty kinesthetic awareness we can't improve posture with exercises alone. We are only exercising our unconscious, harmful, muscular and thought habit patterns. The first step is to become aware of the harmful habits which need to be eliminated, and only then the physical exercises if needed, given by physiotherapist to improve the strength of the body (for example for a sedentary person).

These exercises are done with an awareness of the messages sent by the newly refined kinesthetic sense acquired in the Alexander lessons. In this way, we are aware of how long to continue the exercises and how to do them with the least amount of effort to the muscular/skeletal system, while getting the necessary strengthening needed. This aspect of unconscious harmful habits is so often missed, and with good reason. We cannot change what we are not aware of.

The Alexander Technique offers tools for this dilemma. The Alexander Technique's aim is to remove any interferences so that the natural mechanisms of posture and poise can work freely and undisturbed. As F.M. Alexander said, 'When you stop doing the wrong thing, the right thing does itself.' We do not need to teach the body "the right posture" (Chest up!, Shoulders back!, Knees flexed!) which connotes fixity, but we must allow movements to happen by themselves, just like when we were children, without the interferences that we imposed on ourselves later as adults. So, in order to acquire a better, balanced and more coordinated use of the self, we actually need to do less, or undo the unnecessary residual muscle tension and strain in the body, and the mind that directs it.

One on one Alexander Technique lessons are taken by people from all walks of life. Its applicability is endless due to its restorative properties of the body's natural mechanisms of posture and poise. Going into an activity with natural coordination, balance and freedom of movement, continuously fine-tunes the body's natural mechanisms of posture and poise further (versus badly coordinated movements leading to muddled kinesthetic awareness and consequent pain and strain of the body). When unconscious harmful habits are not keeping us on automatic pilot, we are free to explore and learn in new ways, regardless of what we are engaged in.

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Sedentary Workers

Although ergonomically designed furniture can benefit the sedentary worker enormously, the fact remains that the worker can still use their body poorly in that perfectly designed furniture. Like F.M. Alexander said; "We should not educate furniture. We should educate humans."

Sedentary workers that take Alexander Technique lessons have noticed they:

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Athletes

Athletes tend to "try harder" to achieve results. This is done by tensing the muscles and overusing them too often, to the extreme of injury. In Alexander Technique lessons athletes learn to use just the right amount of muscular effort needed for a particular performance, and the skill of achieving results by the quality of how they use their bodies, not the intensity. This allows the muscles to maintain their elastic and dynamic state so they are ready for a quick change of tonicity and direction of the body's movement i.e. A soccer player stopping quickly to follow the ball into the opposite direction, or continuous movement like running a marathon.

Benefits to Athletes:

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Performers

Performing can be a pain-free, effortless and enjoyable activity. Unfortunately, not every artist performs naturally with beautiful poise and freedom. This is possible. Performers may have equal training and talent but not all will have great performances and successful careers. The performers that understand the use of their selves (physically/mentally) perform better and last longer in their chosen career. Alexander Technique offers the tools to stop the unconscious muscular and habitual thought patterns that undermine a performer's talent and enthusiasm.

Performers who take Alexander Technique lessons report:

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Horse Riders

There is nothing like the connection between man and horse when it freely takes us into their back and goes on a journey with us. This connection is not always so obvious. We like to teach horses how to move but we often don't pay attention to our use of body and how the horse feels us through the saddle. It is harder to get genuine contact with a horse if the rider is pulling up off the seat by tensing their body.

Alexander lessons have helped horse riders greatly by:

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Testimonials

“My Alexander Technique lessons initially helped me reduce the pain I was suffering from back and neck strain which developed from a fitness/weight training program which I had been following under the supervision of a personal trainer. In addition, after several lessons, I discarded my orthotics, which had been prescribed by a podiatrist to alleviate painful plantar fasciitis; at the time he had advised that I would not be able to hike hills in the future, even with the orthotics, without risk of reoccurrence. I have since spent 2 summers hiking mountain trails, some of which are quite steep, and I have been very comfortable, pain free, and feeling energetic enough to very much enjoy the beautiful scenery. As I hike, I apply the directions which Larissa taught me, and am able to be aware of and release unnecessary tension as I go up and down the trails. I do not even experience stiffness or fatigue at the end of the hiking days. I went to purchase new hiking boots, and was curious to see if the trained boot fitter would think that I might require orthotics which I had discarded the previous year. After careful observation, she commented that my walk looked very balanced, comfortable, and well aligned.

I had also earlier been diagnosed with a form of neuropathy, with reduced nerve and muscle function in my left arm, probably due to strain from the way I was playing my bagpipes. Over time, I have changed long standing bad habits of the way I play my instrument and now feel playing is almost effortless. My finger technique has improved, thus allowing me to play faster, lighter, and with more enjoyment and flow in my music. My ability to tune my instrument has also improved as my sensory awareness has improved.

There are many more subtle benefits I continue to notice, and these add to daily enjoyment. General use such as lifting objects, bending down, shoveling the sidewalk etc are all more easily accomplished.

Larissa, whom I came to when I was in pain, has been a compassionate, kind, patient, supportive and encouraging teacher. Her dedication to helping me and to applying the technique in her own life has helped me understand and apply these new concepts. Changing habits, particularly long standing habits can be rather unsettling and frustrating, but Larissa' s warm, accepting approach has helped me overcome obstacles of impatience. She initially cautioned, "It may not be a quick solution, but it will be a lasting one." I must say, with the education she provided, even though I am no longer taking lessons, I have gained an understanding of how to more comfortably use myself in any activity and am continuously enjoying the benefits of Larissa's guidance in educating me about the Alexander Technique. I am very grateful to her for her helpful instruction.

I would also add that having taken over 10 years of university courses, this has been, for me, one of the most beneficial courses in my education.”

Betty Anne Muckle BA, BEd, MA (economics)

 

“Practicing the Alexander Technique has had a positive impact on many parts of my life. It has given me tools to stay pain free after
a serious back injury. It has improved my ability to communicate clearly with my horse when I ride as well as increased
co-ordination and strength in all physical activity that I do.

Rather than becoming reactive in times of stress, the Alexander Technique has given me tools that help me remain calm and
released so that I can handle that stress in a proactive manner.

Larissa is a talented teacher who has helped me discover new ways to apply the Alexander Technique in my life. She teaches with great clarity which helps to simplify the learning.

Practicing the Alexander Technique has improved my general sense of well being and happiness.”

Sue Falkner-March, Centered Riding Instructor

 

“I have had the pleasure of working with Larissa for the past couple of years. She is deeply committed to the Alexander technique and it comes through in every lesson. Because of the work, I experience all the others areas of my life in a more present and conscious way. I spent many years fighting my body, and through the work, I have developed an appreciation and enjoyment of the experience of being in my body.”

Jill Forsyth

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Larissa’s Bio

Larissa K. Mäkilä, native to Finland, studied the required three year, full-time education at The Alexander Technique College of Sussex, United Kingdom with John Nicholls and Carolynn Nicholls. After successfully completing her studies she acquired the STAT member certificate in 2002. STAT – The Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique, which ensures high standards for the Alexander Technique training schools and practices. STAT also organizes the continued professional development for its members. Larissa is also a member of Canstat (Canadian Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique) and Finstat (Finnish Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique), both affiliated with STAT.

Larissa teaches private Alexander Technique lessons from a North East location and she is a permanent instructor at the Rocky Mountain College. She is also a frequent contract instructor at the University of Calgary and Rosebud School of the Arts. Her students come from all walks of life; stay-at-home moms, musicians, other performance artists, athletes, business people, seniors, heavy manual workers, receptionists, scholars, Parkinson’s patients and people debilitated with breathing, neck and back problems. Larissa’s expertise has taken her from Montana to Thunder Bay to teach Alexander workshops. She was also an assistant teacher at Kempton Drama School in United Kingdom upon graduation. Larissa attended The Alexander Technique College of Sussex after graduating as a volunteering teacher to further improve her teaching. There she observed the senior Alexander teachers as well as strengthened her hands on skills by teaching the trainees herself.

Larissa is dedicated to bringing out and furthering natural freedom of movement with elastic strength within herself and her pupils so that moving will come better with age- much like a good wine. Her intention is to help people come more into their own unique and authentic way of moving instead of setting deeper into harmful, habitual ways of moving. Alexander Technique is an ideal tool for this since its purpose is to remove any interferences and harmful muscular habits. The removal of these hindrances is necessary so that a person's original and natural movements can emerge regardless of whatever a person is doing at any given moment.

Larissa takes part on a yearly basis in Alexander Technique professional development courses to further improve her teaching and to aid her own personal growth.

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