Using The Memory Of Pain As A Reminding Factor.

By Alan Bignell

Debilitating back problems are one of the most common reasons people first come to the Bloomsbury Alexander Centre. 

For some people, the Technique can help resolve their problem. For others it’s more a case of managing a condition so they can continue to enjoy a full, active life. 

One of my pupils, let’s call him Richard, belongs to the second category. A man in his mid-sixties, he came to me several years ago suffering from chronic lower back pain. 

Weekly lessons brought a gradual improvement but the underlying weakness in his back remained. 

Nevertheless, although there were occasional minor setbacks, he was able to continue his very full life of charity activities and other interests.

The Alexander work we did together over the years kept him on the straight and narrow so to speak. It also provided an early warning if he began reverting to the bad postural habits that may have contributed to or aggravated his problem in the first place.

All was going well until the lock down forced us to bring a sudden halt to our work together. 

Three weeks after the lock down began, I received an email from Richard telling me his back had gone again when he was getting up from sitting on the loo. The pain was so excruciating he said, he could barely make it out of the bathroom. 

The pain gradually eased and I wondered how I could help him as both of us, along with the rest of the country, were self isolating. 

I decided to send him a short recording talking him through the steps we always followed during lessons when standing up from a chair. There was one addition though. The memory of the pain he had suffered in the bathroom. I suggested that every time he was about to get up from a sitting position (not just from the loo) he should momentarily recall that pain. This pause would break the cycle of his body immediately reacting in a potentially damaging way to his back.

This momentary ‘stop’ is analogous to what we call inhibition in Alexander terms and would give Richard the ‘opening’ to remember the Alexander directions.

Following those I suggested he hinge gently forward from his hips letting his heels melt into the floor. This would allow his head to lead his body up to the standing position without putting any pressure on his back.

It’s been ten days since I sent the recording and up to now there’s been no repeat of the bathroom incident. 

That said, I will feel a lot happier when we can return to proper one to one lessons once the Centre reopens. That moment can’t come soon enough for both of us.  

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