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

Blogs. Gymnast

Hypermobility and the Alexander Technique -July 2019 Blog

What is hypermobility? It's when a joint can move beyond the ‘normal’ range of movement (ROM). When we were children, we may have known or been someone who was ‘double jointed’. Someone that could perform great ‘party pieces’, for example, demonstrate weird shaped elbows that seemed to bend the wrong way, be able to get their feet behind their head or push their thumbs down to touch the inside of their wrist. My husband is hypermobile, and until recently his party piece was dropping into the box splits!

Hypermobility can be present in a some joints and can be caused by specific training, for example, dancing and gymnastics, but these activities and disciplines, like yoga, also attract people with Hypermobility Syndrome (HMS) as they naturally more flexible. Hypermobility Syndrome is a specific condition affecting some or all joints and its often associated with other symptoms *. HMS is a spectrum disorder with most people only mildly affected and often asymptomatic, but a small proportion can be more severely affected. (There are also other conditions such as Ehlers-Danlos syndromes (EDS), a group of connective tissue disorders that can be inherited and are varied both in how they affect the body and in their genetic causes. They are generally characterised by joint hypermobility, skin hyperextensibility (skin that can be more stretchy than normal), and tissue fragility. There is substantial symptom overlap between the EDS subtypes and HMS disorders, which often makes diagnosis tricky.)

To stress, the majority of people with HMS are asymptomatic the condition can be an advantage for some. For example, many top athletes and performers are hypermobile including dance professionals as seen on Strictly Come Dancing, Wimbledon tennis campion Novak Djokovic, retired Olympic swimmer, Michael Phelps and even violinist and composer Paganini, who may have had an advantage from having HMS, as he was able to play wider fingerings than normal violinists.

As an Alexander Technique teacher with a background as a personal trainer I can help pupils in two ways:
1) Improve proprioception (awareness of the position and movement of the body) and body awareness.
2) Workshop exercises and activities so they learn to perform them in a safe and effective way.

Poor proprioception may make pupils more vulnerable to injury. It’s useful for anyone to have an accurate sense of where they are in space and how they are moving and using their joints, but its especially so if they have HMS. Understanding what a normal ROM is and generally using the joint within this range has a protective effect. In AT we help improve proprioception through a combination of body mapping and ‘hands-on’ teaching.

As people with HMS have more stretchy connective tissue (e.g. tendons and ligaments), the muscles around joints are having to perform more joint stabilisation, as a result muscles can become very tight. AT is often seen as helping release excess tension, pupils with HMS however, need to balance this release with a sense of ‘connection’ within their body. We only want release of excess tension, but keep appropriate tone to aid joint stability.

When pupils with HMS have active lifestyles, they tend to have stronger muscles and this is helpful when learning the Alexander Technique. There needs to be sufficient muscle strength present, or it can be difficult to sit or stand in a poised way for any length of time without ‘collapsing’ or slouching. Alexander Technique is a useful self-care tool for people with HMS, but strength work or specialist physiotherapy is also important, especially when people have had a sedentary lifestyle. Philip Bull, Consultant Rheumatologist, specialist with HMS and an advocate of Alexander Technique explains in an article “Working with a local Alexander Technique teacher I was able to help more people and found that patients with hypermobility found it particularly helpful; some even life changing. I then concluded that an individual programme combining specialist physiotherapy usually followed by Alexander Technique lessons often worked really well, allowing patients to self-manage their symptoms more easily. This approach became part of my standard practice.
Physiotherapists and the Alexander Technique teachers are quite different in their approach. I often say to my patients that if they think of themselves as a car, then the physiotherapist could be seen as the mechanic, i.e. the person who optimises the joints and builds up core stability. In contrast the Alexander Technique teacher can be likened to the driving instructor, teaching them how to drive their body with more skill.”

Muscle strengthening can be achieved in a number of ways, as Philip Bull states specialist physio maybe helpful, but once a level of stability is obtained pilates, resistance (weight) training, swimming or something similar maybe useful to maintain and develop strength. It’s important however, to (1) perform any exercise well and know you are not using joints outside of their normal ROM. (2) build up very slowly so as not to suddenly put undue strain through any joints.

The most important foundation for successful exercising with HMS is to have good body awareness which AT will teach. I encourage my AT pupils to workshop their pilates, gym or physio exercises with me using their new Alexander embodied awareness and principles, so they feel confident to perform them well when in exercises classes, the gym or at home. I also suggest pupils with HMS make their exercise instructor aware of their condition and preferably work with professionals that are experienced with HMS. I have recently found a pilates instructor Jeannie Di Bon on FaceBook that has EDS and has modified the way she works especially for herself and her hypermobile clients. In her book "Hypermobility without Tears" she writes about the importance of good proprioception, body awareness and breath, all of which are taught and improved by Alexander Technique. I recommend looking her up online as the way she teaches compliments the approach in AT. She also highlights other important differences in approach for people with HMS, such as stretching differently.

When I work with children with HMS, once the basic AT principles have been attended to and greater proprioception and body awareness achieved, I often work with them on simple but important tasks that make everyday life easier. For example; how to wear a school ruck sack well, how to hold a book and use a smart tablet, hand-writing (hypermobile finger joints can make writing hard work, causing excess tension), using scissors and workshop PE exercises and sports. After working on handwriting in a lesson with one of my young pupils with HMS they reported it had really helped at school. Before, writing had made their hand and wrist ache and writing was slow. It was proving tricky to keep up with note taking in class. After our session and some practice writing became easier, faster and their hand no longer ached. All, while sitting with a soft and tall body! - Gratifying feedback.

So if you are hypermobile, the Alexander Technique can prove a useful tool for self-care.

To read more go to where Julie Barber, Alexander Technique Teacher and specialist in working with HMS writes about her experience of getting an HMS diagnosis for her daughter and presents greater detail of the condition.

To find out more about lessons call or email me using the links at the top of the page.

Note: Alexander Technique Teachers are not doctors or therapist and do not engage in medical diagnosis or administer any disease specific remedy.

* other symptoms may include; autonomic dysfunction, proprioceptive impairment, intestinal dysfunction, anxiety and chronic pain.

Blogs. crossfit

Mastering the Art of Working out (or how to avoid injuries with mindful exercising) -June 2019 Blog

I was always mindful of using my best technique while training and exercising, even before I became a personal trainer or Alexander Technique Teacher. I am, however, competitive by nature, with myself and others and often pushed myself to the limit resulting in injury. I was in my early to mid twenty’s when I was training at my hardest, youth was on my side and the idea of sustainable training didn’t seem an issue at that point. I always seemed to bounce back.

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Blogs. Tension Triangle

The Curse of the ‘Tension Triangle’ and How the Alexander Technique can help. May Blog 2019.

Do you carry the weight of the world on your shoulders? Are you shouldering heavy responsibilities? Are your shoulders tense and tight and wound up towards your ears? I am sure we all recognise these sensations and feelings! I know I have felt either dragged down or wound up at various times, and our shoulders are only part of the story. We might be stuck in the ‘tension triangle’ - a band of tension that falls within the top part or our bodies, involving the head, neck, shoulders, jaw and facial muscles, including the brow.

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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’.

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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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