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Pain Management: How Alexander Technique Lessons can help

Did you know that your thought process can have a positive effect on your physical well-being? This is one of the skills you develop with the Alexander Technique, an educational method with over a hundred-year track record.

The Alexander Technique gives you a way to better understand how your body works. Through a course of one-on-one sessions with a certified Alexander Technique teacher, you will learn to:

  • how to recapture the ease, and freedom of movement that we enjoyed as young children.
  • how to release the stress so that it doesn’t compound your condition.
  • return your body and mind to balance and gain a sense of control over your tension and stress responses.

Basically, The Alexander Technique empowers you to self-manage your conditions. It offers practical, proactive methods for dealing with the acute onset of pain and the challenge of getting through daily activities.

The Alexander Technique helps you find long-term relief without the side effects of drugs or the physical cost of surgery. Since you activate this process on your own, you know how to perpetuate its beneficial effects, long after your sessions are over.

And, once you have greater control over how you feel, your focus naturally swings to other areas of your life – to exercising, playing your favorite sport, going through a workday in greater comfort, or savoring a long walk. Rather than tuning out the constant static of pain, you re-awaken sensation and access a new reservoir of energy and enjoyment.

“The possibilities are numerous once we decide to act, not react”  — George Bernard Shaw.

One of the many famous people who have benefitted from lessons in the Alexander Technique was lucky enough to study F.M. Alexander himself, and started having lessons in his 80’s.

How Music Enhances a Child’s Learning & Development

Do you know learning to make music helps your child develop skills that are quite difficult to acquire from any other activity?

For instance, if a child starts playing a musical instrument before the age of seven their neurons are likely to show a strong connection between the left and right hemispheres of the brain. In simple words, music supports the growth and development of every part of the human brain and also contributes to greatly improved academic skills.

The real advantage is that even if music lessons don’t extend to a higher professional level, your child will have developed a love of music as well as music skills that will enrich their entire adult lives.

  • From learning foreign languages to bringing back memories in Alzheimer’s patients, music improves memory and brain function.
  • Before children can understand words and gestures, they learn to recognize musical notes. Subsequently, the music develops fine motor skills.
  • Whether grown-up or child, music improves spatial reasoning. How? It is because visuospatial ability and music stimulate the same neurons in the brain.
  • When a child takes a music lesson, they learn to process different types of complex sounds which in turn improves their listening and speaking skills.

However, the most important thing of all is that it is never too late to learn how to make music as the Sing-Play approach makes it all so easy.

Alexander Technique Lessons

Alexander Technique Lessons clear up the confusion about how you should hold yourself. Whatever your age or ability, with practice you’ll learn that you don’t need to actively hold yourself up and this will happen naturally if you change the habits that bother you.

Through Alexander Technique Lessons, you’ll learn skills that you can use anytime, anywhere, without having to stop and do exercises. All it takes is a nanosecond to switch off the patterns of tension and activate our postural mechanisms by directing.

By learning the Alexander Technique, students learn to recognize and switch off negative patterns, pulling down (slouching) which also will relieve excessive muscle tension.

Excessive tension in some areas and slouching down in others is often the source of pain and other difficulties.

Reducing or eliminating these harmful patterns will allow the postural muscles to function so we are naturally held up. This will also improve the quality of movement, posture, and breathing in all activities.

As a result, the state will be neither too tense nor too relaxed. Instead, it is balanced, relaxing, energetic, and free of strain.

But what takes place during an Alexander lesson begins with increasing our awareness. An individual cannot learn or solve a problem unless they are mindfully “thinking in activity”. The key for the individual is to learn to “stop, think, and act”.

Sing-Play Way

This is an integrated approach to music-making that fosters personal development as well as skill acquisition. It offers us a lifetime of enjoyment and satisfaction.

Sing-Play develops the ear, so no music notation is taught in the beginning.

We learn how to hear more accurately and be able to replicate what we hear, either vocally, or on our instrument.

We learn to trust that if it doesn’t sound right we are correct, as well as how to self-correct.

Sing-Play helps us to feel how music moves in many different ways, depending on the genre. We learn to play the rhythm of the words in songs and how moving as we play helps our music-making.

Sing-Play helps us to connect to the music inside us and bring it out. As we already hear the music it becomes very easy to master the specific technical aspects that each instrument has, so we are making-music that is fluent.

Sing-Play helps develop our memory for new songs and remembering songs from many years ago.

Sing-Play is an organic process, during which we often discover limiting ideas, or memories of what other people have said to us, and teaches us how to release them so that our music-making becomes freer and nurturing.

Special Needs

While the title “Special Needs” does not begin to cover all the many different sorts of labels that currently exist for people, it is a very useful umbrella. Having a music therapy degree as well as thirty years of teaching experience, I have developed many ways to help these people engage in music-making that is deeply rewarding for them.

A major requirement is to suspend all the usual criteria for musical excellence, ie sings on the pitch, remembers the words and rhythm accurately, practices regularly, and is continually getting better.

I believe that we all love music, but many of us have lost that love along the way, often in very sad ways.  People who have “Special Needs” have a very strong and obvious love of music, and the challenge is to find ways in which they can learn to make music themselves.

While listening to music may be fun, it is the act of making music that is the most therapeutic and therefore meaningful. It becomes something that they can do, instead of the opposite. So Christmas day 2020 was profoundly highlighted for me by two of my long time students with Special Needs wanting their music lessons because Friday is one of the two days a week that they do music.

The basis of music learning is singing, moving, and playing the drums, so every music lesson I teach includes all three activities in different proportions. As the student progresses in all of these areas, other types of musical possibilities may open up ie playing the piano.

For students with Special Needs who are able to read, I have developed special song sheets that not only have the words of the song, but also the letter names of the pitches involved in the song over the correct words. This allows the student to learn how to co-ordinate the pitch with the words.

“… music empowers them in a way that nothing else can, because music has no boundaries, has no race, no creed, nothing.” Andrew Lloyd Webber, The Detroit News, Oct 19th, 2017

 

How making music can help people living with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s

Music touches us in profound ways, and while many of us enjoy listening to music, it is the activity of making music that has the most powerful effect on our wellbeing. The Sing-Play approach makes learning how to do this an easy and rewarding experience. We have so much music inside of us just waiting to come out.

Most adults currently living with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s will have grown up in a significantly more active musical environment. Many more people were engaged in music making, in their local communities, through participation in local orchestras, chorus, church choirs, as well as playing in dance bands. Despite having Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, they will possess a huge reservoir of music that they have heard which makes it very easy to develop.

While scientific studies continue to show us how making music has a positive effect on our brains, cognition, co-ordination and emotional well- being, it doesn’t really show us how much enjoyment we get out of making music ourselves. With Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, the sufferer is learning how to navigate a life that now includes diminishing life skills, and an increased need for help. Learning how to activate their creativity and make music themselves becomes a powerfull addition to their lives, both personally and for their families.

AT for Pain Management

Back pain is a common condition managed in primary care and one of the commonest causes of disability in Western societies. Drugs and surgery are the traditional methods to deal with pain.

For over a hundred years lessons in the Alexander Technique have taught students how to activate the principles that govern human functioning. The genius of Alexander’s discoveries, is that we all can learn as adults how to recapture the ease and freedom of movement so beautifully demonstrated by young children.

Lessons in the Alexander Technique are very frequently used for Pain Management. Going beyond regular treatments for physical problems, students gain long term relief from such aliments as:

  • Back and neck problems
  • Repetitive Strain Injuries
  • Scoliosis

It can be used to accelerate recovery from surgery or injuries caused by accidents. Alexander Technique works holistically. It not only helps alleviate physical suffering but can also help to improve overall health, both physically and psychologically.

The fact is, the mind cannot be separated from the body, so that what happens in the body affects the mind and vice versa. Even “gym rats” notice that after an intense workout they feel better not just physically, but also mentally. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, prolonged stress from work, home life or other situations can contribute to physical ailments, like high blood pressure and circulation issues, and, in severe cases, put some people at a heightened risk for heart problems.

“Lessons in the Alexander technique offer an individualized approach designed to develop lifelong skills for self-care that help people recognize, understand, and avoid poor habits affecting postural tone and neuromuscular coordination.”

−British Medical Journal

Music Wellness

Music Wellness is an approach to music learning that has evolved over many years of my ongoing interest in different wholistic modalities. It was sparked by the instant improvement in my clarinet playing from just one lesson in the Alexander Technique. This was such a shock, as it was a radically different approach to developing excellence that I was learning at the time from my famous teacher. This led me to becoming a certified teacher of the Alexander Technique and introduced me to a whole new world.

If you think of wellness as developing a lifestyle that you can easily live on a daily basis it covers three broad areas, Body, Mind and Spirit and Music Wellness addresses the Spirit. You learn to make music with the aim of giving it out to others, regardless of whether they are in the room or far away.

While I teach this to all my music students, it was brilliantly demonstrated to me by one of my music students, only four years old. During our last music session, she was singing one of her favorite songs and playing the drums, while I was playing the piano. Then she spontaneously made up a song to all her grandmothers, (they are all in heaven), and another song for all her grandfathers, who are also in heaven. In the process of offering them her songs, she was connecting directly with them – despite the great distance between earth and heaven! – and creating wellness for herself.

Music Wellness means that every time you make music you are helping others, by playing to them and yourself by thinking outwardly. This can be part of your daily life.

Sing-Play Music

This is an approach that has evolved over many years of teaching. I am always trying to improve how I teach and have tried many things. The obvious issue starts with music notation. Those fixed black things on a page that the jazz musicians call the dots, to try and demystify them.

The most basic impulse that we all have is to sing, this is totally different from having a trained voice. If you were given a baby or young child to hold who was crying you would naturally try to bring comfort to the child  by singing to it, and rocking it from side to side. You would not be concerned about getting the words right, or being in tune, your concern would be to sooth the child.

Sing-Play is an approach to music learning that develops the ear over the eye, so that the individual immediately can start converting what they hear into the instrument that they are learning ie a digital pattern. This starts from the simple songs that they learnt at kindergarten, to more complex songs, as they master the technical aspects of the specific instrument that they want to play.

My students are often surprised at how many songs they know, or instrumental fragments, (depending on what sort of music they listen to) and are thrilled to be able to Sing-Play.

I get all my students to sing while they play. They notice immediately that if they Sing-Play, their level of digital accuracy immediately improves. So if it is a song they want to play they will learn the words of the song. They will be also able to play the rhythm of the words on their instruments. This gives them the experience of making music from a deep instinctual part of themselves, as they are free from the tyranny of music notation, right notes, right rhythm, correct pitch and all the other rules and regulations. Learning to play all your favorite songs on your instrument means that you always want to play it because you are making music.

Tailor Made Music Lessons

Each lesson that I teach is individually crafted. It is Tailor Made for that individual student. What works for one person will not necessarily be appropriate for someone else for many reasons that are deeper than individual learning styles. I draw upon my 30 years of teaching experience to tailor a lesson that fits each student, regardless of their abilities or experience. I do not use method books or exercises as I have found that they are very limiting and again will not work for everyone. One size does not fit all.

If you wanted an amazing dress or suit made for you, you would go to a first class tailor or dressmaker, and discuss with them what you would like them to create for you. Instead of measuring up my students with a tape measure, I ask a lot of questions to find out what the student would like to do.

What are types of music do they really like?

Who are their favorite singers and performers?

What sort of instrument do they have?

Do they read music?

Do they sing?

Have they had any lessons before?

If the student is a young child, I will devise movement and rhythm activities that will allow me to evaluate their co-ordination skills, their listening skills, and their capacity to follow directions.

Part of each Tailor Made Music Lesson is listening carefully to the wishes of my students. This means that I can come up with several suggestions on types of songs, music they might listen to and actively involve the student in the decision process. This is an ongoing collaborative process which is crucial to the success of the lessons. They students naturally want to play, or sing and put their energy into practicing, as they have made the choices on what to learn.

Outreach

Outreach as the name implies, is reaching out to help others using your creativity – to lift their spirits.

Any of the creative arts can be used as a vehicle for this, music, dance, theater, photography, writing, art, poetry.

Embedded in this approach is the intent, that by reaching out to help others, you help them to want to reach out and help others. So what gets activated is a whole room of people reaching out to each other.

Music is a profound communication, and like a mother singing a lullaby to soothe her baby, using music to enhance some ones’ life is one of the greatest gifts that you can give. This is what is called outreach.

This idea of playing for someone else is a fundamental part of my approach to teaching music. The other person does not need to be present at the lesson. It is the idea of giving out with your music.

My students immediately notice the difference in what they are doing when they think of playing for someone else, versus trying to get the notes right. They then notice that it is much easier to sing/play their instruments and they enjoy what they are doing more. Therefore they want to make music more often.

I run several outreach programs at local senior and assisted living facilities, where I encourage my students to come so that they can experience how their music making has a dynamic effect on the residents. It will awaken a profound joy, a sense of well-being for others that will have you wanting to come back week after week. And like magic, week after week, your music – and your well being – will grow.

Chair Exercises Can Help Those with Stability Issues

(Photo: Karen Maserjian Shan/ For the Poughkeepsie Journal)

(Photo: Karen Maserjian Shan/ For the Poughkeepsie Journal)

Article originally posted 5/27/16 on www.poughkeepsiejournal.com

Sometimes Barbara Schutzman exercises while standing. Other times she does her workout from a chair, like during Mary Beth Perfas’ Sit & Stay Fit class at Northern Dutchess Hospital Women’s View Center at the Healthy Annex in Rhinebeck.

“The fact that she’s able to address almost the entire body based on using a chair is wonderful,” said Schutzman, 75, of Rhinebeck. “It’s quite a workout.”

Exercise and physical activity, reports the National Institutes of Health’s MedlinePlus, are good for seniors and nearly everyone else, including endurance routines for better breathing and heart rate, strength exercises for stronger muscles, flexibility programs to stay limber and balance training to help prevent falls.

And yet, while fall-related injuries send more than 2 million seniors to the emergency room each year, it’s a fear of falling that causes many seniors and others with physical limitations or balance issues to avoid exercising, even while it can improve balance and overall fitness. One way to minimize worry while working out is by doing so while sitting in a chair or holding on to one.

“There are a lot of chair exercises and this is perfect because some of (my students) have limited mobility,” said Perfas, who developed her Sit & Stay Fit class with chair-based exercises as a less intense option for seniors and others.

Best, said Perfas, is exercising in chairs without arms to allow for a full range of fitness routines, including those for arms, legs, feet and ankles, the neck, shoulders and the back. Perfas sets her hour-long sessions to music and directs her class to do as she does by lifting their chests, scooping out their arms, turning their torso and more, allowing each person to go at his or her pace whiling encouraging them to challenge themselves.

“They need a little support,” she said, of her students. “It makes them feel good to know (the chair) is right there, in case they fall.”

Schutzman said Perfas’ workout is less taxing because it’s done while seated or holding on to a chair, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t sweat-inducing.

“It’s a class like this that keeps you agile,” she said.

Judith Muir, an Alexander Technique movement specialist and teacher based in Verbank, said chair exercises can help people with stability issues and physical limitations due to age or disabilities, regain their balance and improve their mobility and flexibility.

“We all know that keeping a person mobile, especially a senior, is the most important thing in terms of other more complicated health issues,” she said.

Often, seniors that are unsteady on their feet are afraid of falling or getting hurt when moving, so they limit their activities, decreasing their quality of life. As well, seniors often are told to sit by their loved ones and caregivers due to concerns about their getting into accidents or falling. Yet the more a person moves around, the steadier he or she is likely to be.

“You’re working in a supported environment in which (people) can comfortably explore what they are capable of doing and then they’re not intimidated,” Muir said of exercises done where a person sits in a chair or stands by it for support. “They’re surrounded by people that have different degrees of movement.”

Sturdy, straight-back chairs with padded seats and backs work best, Muir said. Chair arms can serve as grab bars but limit a sitter’s ability to rotate for some exercises.

Muir starts group classes with seated warm-ups, such as side-to-side rotations, and downward head rolls to stretch the spine.

“It’s a very simple thing to do and you’ve got the support of the chair,” she said. “If anyone’s worried about falling, it’s going to be minimized.”

Seated arm exercises include those where people raise their arms up over their heads and out to their sides, with the idea of fully stretching the spine, all with coordinated breathing. Such exercises can help increase breathing capacity, balance and mobility.

Leg work also can be done while sitting, including kicking legs outward and using one’s arms to bring a knee up to the chest, as people are able. Other exercises involve standing behind a chair and, while holding its back for support, twisting, turning or swinging out one leg at a time.

“Anything to do with stretching and breathing is not only going to help with balance, it’s also going to help with blood flow,” said Muir.

Some exercises can be done with mild weights or resistance bands to increase their effectiveness and, as people improve, the movements can be done in longer sets. As well, Muir said people should double-up on exercises for their ‘bad side.’ For instance, a person whose left hip is tighter than his right one, would exercise the left side first, then the right side and then, again, the left side.

“The fact that you can move more than you thought you could, builds confidence,” Muir said.

Ideally, she said, seniors, especially, should exercise daily but it takes a lot of motivation for most people to do so at home, on their own. Worse, the less a person moves around, the greater his tendency will become to do even less. Going to group exercise helps keep people motivated in a supported, social atmosphere.

“It’s good to get them to sing,” Muir said, of her exercise classes. “It helps with breathing and generally improves the mood.”

Certified yoga instructor Dana Lucas conducts intermittent sessions of chair yoga classes at the Millbrook Library in Millbrook, where participants use a chair and/or a wall for support as needed.

“Typically, what people think is it’s a senior class,” Lucas said. “That’s not my experience. People come when they’re new to yoga and not sure (of it), when they’ve been away from yoga for a while. Maybe, coming back from an injury. Sometimes it’s people who have an illness or diagnosis. Their physical bodies are more limited. They don’t feel like they’re steady on their feet.”

Opening the body through yoga, said Lucas, relaxes the central nervous system, allowing for better circulation and breathing. During her hour-long class, Lucas offers pose variations and options to suit each individual’s abilities, with the exercises incorporating breathing techniques. The workouts are aimed at increasing people’s flexibility and space in their body to counter things like compression in the spine, which can be caused by slumped sitting or stooping.

“It’s my job to offer everybody something so they’re benefiting and getting something out of it,” she said.

Khan Maserjian Shan is a freelance writer: mkshan@optonline.net

 

Exercise tips

Standing on one foot can help people improve their balance. Try this exercise, which can be done while waiting for the bus or standing in line at the grocery store.

  1. Stand on one foot behind a sturdy chair, grasping the chair back for balance.
  2. Hold position for up to ten seconds.
  3. Repeat 10-15 times with one leg, then the other.
  4. Repeat the sequence 10-15 times.

Source: National Institutes of Aging, Go4Life: https://go4life.nia.nih.gov/exercises/stand-one-foot

 

For more chair-based exercises, visit the National Institutes of Aging, Go4Life at: https://go4life.nia.nih.gov/exercises/strength

  • Sit & Keep Fit: http://www.healthquest.org/rhinebeck/events/sit-stay-fit-class-4378.aspx
  • Judith Muir: http://judithmuir.com/
  • Dana Lucas Yoga: http://www.facebook.com/Dana-Lucas-Yoga-1625164911087756/