Esther Miltiadous BSc Hons, MSc, MSTAT Alexander Technique for Oakwood and Enfield

Blogs. microphone

Reading Aloud with Confidence and the Alexander Technique - April 2019

Last month I had the pleasure of taking a workshop for the wonderful charity ‘First Story’. Their mission is to change lives through writing. As it says on their website they ‘believe that writing can transform lives, and that there is dignity and power in every young person’s story. First Story brings talented, professional writers into secondary schools serving low-income communities to work with teachers and students to foster creativity and communication skills. By helping students find their voices through intensive, fun programmes, First Story raises aspirations and gives students the skills and confidence to achieve them’.

The author Stephanie Cross, who was running one of the courses, had been taking Alexander Technique lessons and realised its potential to help her students overcome their ‘performance anxiety’ and feel more confident reading their work aloud. The finale of the ‘First Story’ sessions is the students’ book launch. Their work is published as an anthology, (they even design the book cover) what an incredible opportunity. At the launch the students get the chance to read their pieces to an invited audience before becoming like famous authors at a literary festival and signing their books for those that attend.

My session was organised to help students prepare for this event and equip them with some practical tools to help them feel calm and collected, and help them enjoy the process. This felt like a project close to my heart. I am dyslexic and at their age it was my worse nightmare to be asked to read aloud in class. I was better in an assembly or reading something I could pre-prepare as I had my own techniques to make this slightly easier. I would mark in extra places to breathe if needed and practice reading the piece aloud so much, that on the day I was really performing the piece from memory rather than reading it. During my Alexander Technique Teacher training I was able to improve my reading of previously un-seen pieces and feel more confident with this process. This was in part due to sessions and discussions we had on ways of seeing and reading. As a result, for the first time in my life at the age of 38, I realised how differently other people read and what their techniques were, I had no idea! We also spent time as a group reading aloud from F M Alexander’s books, taking turns reading while an Alexander teacher worked with us and gave hands-on guidance. This was a friendly, non-judgemental atmosphere and gave me the room to practice reading aloud, which I find I can now enjoy, Alexander Technique is fantastic.

I wanted to create this same friendly, non-judgemental safe place to explore reading aloud with these students. The session I ran started by giving the pupils an experiential understanding of how all our bodies tend to habitually react under pressure. This is similar to the flight, fright, freeze response or ‘startle’ reflex. We know that if we are stressed the emotional brain (the amygdala) takes over and stops our thinking brain (prefrontal cortex) from working well and generally tenses up our bodies. But if we can notice some of the stresses physical effects (through Alexander embodied awareness tools) we can allow the tension to dissipate, breathe more easily, see the room around us, and our thinking brains can kick back in due to the calming of the nervous system. We then perform better and have greater peace of mind. To explore all this we played a great AT game called ‘drop the sox’ which Judith Kleinman, my teacher and mentor taught me. It is a great way of seeing how we respond to a stimulus, in this case the thought of having to read aloud to an audience is represented by catching a bean bag being dropped. The students enjoyed the game and started to notice what they were thinking and how their bodies were reacting. They fed-back these observations to the rest of the group very articulately. They initially noticed critical/worried thinking, their shoulders scrunching, elbows tightening, heads poking forward, hearts beating faster and sweaty palms. I prompted them to notice other things like their breathing and their tummies. The game then gradually lets them play with the AT concepts of pausing (inhibiting) and thinking (directing their bodies) before and while in activity. I gradually added different things for them to think about and they noticed how they responded. The students also noticed that as they thought different AT thoughts, they used their bodies with more ease and poise and things becomes easier. Even, not always catching the bean bag in the game was ok, it felt less stressful - it was ok to make mistakes!

This experiential learning then helped inform the reading aloud process of those that volunteered to read their pieces aloud to the rest of the group. I gave further guidance with some more questions and Alexander thinking during this time. The session was an experimental and open approach to reading aloud. I was very impressed with the kind and useful way they gave each other feedback. The group was respectful of each other and the whole process felt supportive, friendly and playful. Listening to them read their creative writing compositions was a joy too, it was inspiring to see what they had produced with Stephanie’s guidance.

After an hour we had a break from reading aloud and I guided them through a little movement activity they could use to help release tension before performing. Better still we then had a short biscuit-break, kindly supplied by Stephanie before the last few volunteers read in the same way, with self-observation and accepting useful feedback and suggestions as to how reading aloud might be easier.

I finished by recapping a few key points and giving out handouts with some useful questions and AT tips to help them on the day. I also reminded the students that all these skills and tools are transferable. After all any situation where we feel slightly outside of our comfort zone is just an everyday sort of ‘performance anxiety’. Some of these students had exams in the summer term, interviews to think about and other occasions where the skills they had explored and learnt in this session will come in useful. I felt the Alexander Technique was able to give these pupils skills I would have found useful at their age and made my experience of reading aloud much more comfortable. My relationship with reading aloud has been transformed through the Alexander Technique, I read aloud to the children of Educare Small School every time I teach AT there and now have the skills to read with expression and do ‘voices’. I don’t even mind when I make mistakes (and I realise nor does anyone else!). I love it, storytelling is wonderful and unexpected gift form the Alexander Technique. I wish Stephanie’s students an enjoyable book launch in the summer.

If you have any questions about the Alexander Technique or my work in schools please feel free to contact me using the details at the top of the page.

Blogs. commuting

How the Alexander Technique helped me with my disastrous day commuting! March 2019

Every other Wednesday I go to Educare Small School, Kingston-upon-Thames. I love it, as I have probably mentioned before! It's a wonderful place and teaching AT to 3-11 year olds is one of my favourite things to do. It's just under a two hour commute, but worth every second of travelling. I have worked there for over 6 years and usually the commute is fine. I mentally break it down into sections and its a great opportunity to catch up on some reading. But last month I had a challenging commuter day, both ends of the day the journeys went not as planned and I ended up travelling for more time than I spent at Educare. It was tiring, there was not denying that, but I think my AT skills really saved me from being completely frazzled. I felt able to go straight from my 3 hour adventure to Kingston into teaching, without the need for a strong cup of camomile tea!

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Blogs. mural

Alexander Technique- Tension and Release, but what about Relaxation? February 2019.

Alexander Technique teaches us how to release excess tension so that we can be more balanced, coordinated and poised. But is it a relaxation technique? Well that’s not an easy yes or no answer. It depends what you mean by relaxation and even then it depends what your goals are in the moment (not forgetting the difference between goals and end-gaining, we can have a goal and allow for the process of reaching it to be mindful, whereas end-gaining in contrast is mindless)....

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Blogs. december blog

Alexander Technique and teaching young children -December 2018

I have always loved teaching young children. Before I qualified as an Alexander Teacher I worked as an education volunteer for the National Trust and as a Teaching Assistant in primary school. I love their energy, it’s so much fun, very creative and I get to be a bit silly!

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Alexander Technique in Sport and Fitness - November 2018

The society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique has just produced a short promotional film about Alexander Technique in Sport and it made me think about my experiences.

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Blogs. stressed at work

‘Try Hard’ Mindset or is that mind/body set? October 2018.

We are often told from a young age that we need to try hard and you’ll make it - or, you need to try harder - put some effort in to achieve what you want. Whether that’s being better at spelling, competing at sport, playing an instrument or later in life in our careers. But, is it really good for our mind/body wellbeing to be doing all this trying hard, striving, struggling?

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Blogs. Habitquote

Habits - the good, the bad and the ugly! September 2018

“People do not decide their futures, they decide their habits and their habits decide their futures.” F M Alexander

“Chains of habits are too light to be felt until they are too heavy too be broken.” Warren Buffett (American Business man, investor, speaker and philanthropist.) (I disagree with the second part of this quote, but thats how it often feels!)

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Blogs. Julyblog

Alexander Technique helps improve your posture, does that matter? - 5th July 2018

Alexander Technique teachers often have a problem with the word posture! It might have something to do with the fact that often, when we are talking to someone and they find out what we teach, they straighten up and pull themselves into a military style posture all tight and uncomfortable. They have heard that we are something to do with teaching ‘good posture’ and we, the posture police, are ready to judge them for slouching!

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Blogs. knee xray

Prehabilitation and Rehabilitation and the Alexander Technique - 7th June 2018

Alexander Technique is becoming contagious in my family! Firstly my mother raised my interest in Alexander Technique after having lessons and this was the reason I gave it a go, now it’s my Dad’s turn. He has seen the changes Mum and I have made over the years, observed the benefits we have experienced (some of which are explained in my May blog listed below), but never quite understood what AT was. Dad thought it was a bit like physiotherapy and although he listened when I explained, somewhere along the way the full nature of the beast never really made a connection. Not feeling the needed to convert everyone I knew into AT lovers I left it that!

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Blogs. Back pain

Sciatica, a pain in the butt…and one of the reasons I came to the Alexander Technique - 9th May 2018

Sciatica can be a real pain in the butt, and down the leg or legs, and into the feet, its awful, I know from experience. In my late 20’s I was a personal fitness trainer. I had always been sporty a competitive swimmer, part of the school teams for athletics, netball and basketball, I trained with weights, was strong and flexible. Ever since my teens, however, I had also suffered with reoccurring bouts of lower back pain. Not too frequently, but when it arrived it was very uncomfortable, I took anti-inflammatories and had physiotherapy and it then seemed to subside again until the next time!

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Blogs. stress

Learn to Destress and Unwind with the Alexander Technique - 7th April 2018

We have probably all been slightly stressed from time to time. We can put ourselves under pressure or feel pressurised by external situations; jobs, household stuff, exam pressure or illness, to name just a few possibilities. This low to moderate level stress can leave us feeling tired, tight (especially our neck, shoulders and back), not quite our usual selves and reduces our emotional resilience. We may have even experienced deeper episodes of stress or a feeling of anxiety in particular situations. This is all normal and part of the human condition. (I have experienced both stress and anxiety at different times, in my mid twenties I had a period where I suffered with panic attacks and later in my early thirties the lose of someone close to me had a deeper impact.) Our bodies are well designed to cope with short periods of stress or anxiety, but problems tend to occur if we get stuck in a habitually stressed and anxious state. Something we often don’t recognise, it creeps up on us!

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Blogs. Monkeying around

Monkeying Around in the Garden - 2nd March 2018

Gardening is one of my favourite hobbies. I love being creative, seeing my garden change throughout the year, being physical and getting some time to myself in peace. From an Alexander Technique point of view, it’s also a great way of being mindful in activity, and think about my habits and pausing to think how to look after myself as I’m pottering around digging, pruning, racking and picking out the weeds!

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Blogs. Nervous/excited

Excited or Nervous? Maybe both - How the Alexander Technique helped me with an interview! - 29th January 2018

Last week I was given a very exciting opportunity, Robert Rickover, an American Alexander Technique teacher, invited me to take part in two interviews for his Alexander Technique podcasts called 'Body Learning'. I subscribe to these podcasts and there are some great interviews about all different aspects of the technique and how, where and with whom, it is taught. He invited me to talk about my work with the children at Educare Small School (3-11 years old), in Kingston and about my thoughts on teaching children AT in general.

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Blogs. Pause

The Wisdom of Pausing - 5th January 2018

Pausing is the second key that unlocks the door to change. (The first being awareness of habit, as mentioned in my first blog).

The Alexander Technique offers many unique skills and principles that enable change, but the concept of pausing in order to respond rather than react to a stimulus seems to be a universal wisdom.

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Blogs. Time for change

3 Important Qualities that Allow Change - 7th December 2017

(or how to get the most from your lessons)

The first step to being able to use the Alexander Technique is to become aware and mindful of our habits. The useful ones (that allow us to live in a poised and balanced way) and those habits that hinder our good co-ordination. This awareness plus the skills that Alexander Technique teaches allows us to change; so that we can use ourselves in the way we were designed to and make life easier.

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A Short Introduction to the Work I am Part of at Educare Small School, Kingston.

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