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Alexander Technique – A session with Claire Coveney, AT Teacher
As Sonographers, we sit and stand routinely throughout our working day, and Alexander Technique focuses on how we react to and with movement, and how that affects your posture and poise subconsciously.
Initially, Claire made us all perform an exercise where we had to walk around the room and say “Good Morning” to our colleagues, noting their reactions and our movements are we did so. We all felt a bit awkward, but what we were looking for was how we and others reacted to movement, and how that affected our functioning.
The instructor did not teach from an anatomical view (it must have been difficult with a group of radiographers and sonographers) as she said we didn’t need to think about the detail in day to day living. She was more interested in the way we think and react. This was illustrated by the group being asked to stand in a circle and catch a ball, whilst trying to be aware of how we reacted physically when our name was called out. Again, this felt like a slightly awkward exercise!
Claire used a model to show how the bottom of the spine joins with the pelvis, and what changes to that relationship when the weight-bearing changes from going through your hips, and ultimately to the ground via your feet, to going through your “sit bones” into your bottom. Good posture is a by-product of not interfering with your innate postural reflexes, the ones you were born with and got you through childhood just fine until the demands of modern life got the better of you.
The head balances on the spine much higher up than many people realise (though in our group most of us were fully aware of our anatomy!), and we were instructed to point our fingers right below our earlobes, in line with the bottom of the nose, that’s the axis around which the head articulates with the spine to allow it to nod forward and back. Shaking the head from side to side happens between the first two vertebra so could be said to be a spine movement rather than a head movement.
There’s a preoccupation with the relationship between the head and neck/spine in the Alexander Technique, and for good reason; your head is heavy, really heavy! The head can weigh up to 5Kg. It’s not something you want to be holding up with the muscles of your neck, upper back and shoulders. Thankfully you don’t need to if it’s balanced on top of your spine well, thinking of your neck as part of your spine as a whole rather than a separate entity. The most likely reaction that you’ll succumb to is that you will tighten your neck muscles, pulling your head backwards off balance from the top of the spine. You won’t even be aware that you are doing it, but there is nothing about bending your hips, knees and ankles to lower yourself in space to the chair that requires your neck muscles.You do not sit with your neck! Once your head is off balance your neck and shoulder muscles have to work hard to support it for prolonged period of time, leading to overall tension and pain.
Basically, your self-awareness will improve with Alexander technique so that we naturally choose, and have the ability, to take better care of ourselves, but there are also some common sense ways to reduce the challenges we face at work.
When looking at the screens allow the images from the screen to come to you rather than poking your chin towards it. You can try this when looking at any screen – mobile phone, tablet or work computer.
Have a look at your equipment set up, your patient and the task at hand. Find the best and easiest set up for you. That might mean asking your patient to move if possible, raising or lowering the couch, adjusting the monitor. Taking a little time to do this will be a great benefit.
All of the postural instruction to reduce the risk of RSI was a little basic, and limited compared to the sessions that we had previously had with a physiotherapist and manual handling.
For me, this was the most beneficial part of the session; it was wonderful just to lie still for a few minutes while Claire talked soothingly about being self- aware and conscious of the sensations around us. She taught us not to react from any physical reactions to the body’s natural response.
The purpose of constructive rest at periods during the working day is to improve the absence of pain, sensations of lightness or flow. With practice, the more the effects linger and provide a baseline of ongoing ease in activity. I am unsure how and when this can possibly be incorporated into a busy working day though.
The concept has led to us to investigate whether it is possible to have regular mindfulness or yoga sessions which would really assist in staff wellbeing. In the meantime, this has illustrated a definite need for regular micro-breaks, taking the transducer off the patient and resting the arm when taking measurements. In between patients we were reminded to take a moment to breathe, soften our spines and unscrunch. Looking away from the screen regularly, standing up, moving around and stretching is important to build into your scanning routine.
It was useful to have a reminder to do all of this and concentrate on ourselves and promote self-awareness, which all too often gets forgotten in the working day.