Alexander Technique and Horses part 3

“Muscles are designed to tense and contract a lot more quickly than they are designed to release. This is a very useful mechanism for helping us to get out of trouble in a hurry. Scientists call it the fight/flight response. However both horses and humans often find that these fight/flight responses can get out of hand.”

“The openness of your hands Martha’s neck and shoulder muscles a standard of ease towards which they can move. In order to do this her muscles need a sense of time and space … a moment of stillness and pause. Think of your hands simply melting like warm butter onto Martha’s neck'”

Laura stuck with the process. Martha started to move her heed gently from side to side and up and down a few times and then took several deep, sighing breaths. I noted this with some interest – humans often take a few deep breaths when they are starting to release the constrictions of the day during the course of an Alexander lesson. “I think I feel some release in Martha’s neck” Laura said with a mixture surprise and disbelief in

her voice.

“Yes I think you probably do” I confirmed “Now gently take your hands off Martha ‘s neck” Laura, hooked as she was into the process, looked disappointed but followed my suggestions.

“Pause for a moment. Give yourself the time and space to project your Alexander directions… allowing your neck to be free … your head to balance freely on top of your spine… and your back to lengthen and widen,”

Like many horses Martha had tendency to slightly drop and hollow her back and to trail her back legs.

“How would we deal with this using the Alexander Technique?” Laura was now wondering.

“In much the same way as we would deal with the corresponding tendency in humans. I usually begin by helping a pupil to balance their head and neck more effectively and then start working on their lower back, buttocks and knees.”

By the time Laura had work her way down to Martha’s buttocks and legs Martha’s head and neck had dropped down, her lower lip was trembling and she looked very peaceful and somewhat drowsy.

We realised that it was darker outside and had, without us noticing, become quite dim in the stable. We took Martha for a short walk in the field outside. She was a little bit disorientated for the first few minutes and then seemed to find her feet again.

Alexander Technique for Horses part 2

“Ok, then what happens? What do you do next?” Laura asked with growing curiosity.

“Well you don’t actually do anything as such. You continue to attend to your own all over balance as you place your hands on the horse. The hands are quietly attentive and enquiring. The more open and lengthened and widened your hands are the more sensitive they will be.”

“When you put hands on someone you can’t help affecting the recipient’s muscles. Muscles are attuned to the language of touch. The question is to get the touch happening in the right way so that the effect is positive rather than negative.”

Laura went on to place her hands on several different locations along the column of Martha ‘s neck. She took her time about doing this. Apart from being a mildly pleasant experience for all three of us there was nothing remarkable in what Laura felt with her hands or in Martha ‘s response.

Eventually Laura worked her way down to the base of Martha’s neck just above the shoulder blades. This is an area of profound constriction in many humans and Martha was proving to be no exception to this rule. Laura immediately picked this up.

“What do I do now?” she said excitedly.

“Exactly the same as before… Keep coming back to your own all over balance and to opening out your hands. It helped you to pick up the problem area perhaps it will also help you to release the tension this area.”

“Maybe you should take over now Alan” Laura said with a little concern.

“I don’t think so” I replied. A particularly peaceful atmosphere had descended over Laura, Martha and me. I didn’t think that Martha would appreciate me breaking the spell on account of my superior qualifications!

Alexander Technique for Horses part 1


“You know that Alexander Technique teachers now work with horses?” I said to my friend Laura.

Laura was standing underneath the neck of her horse Martha and making long strokes down in the direction of her shoulder blades.

“No I didn’t know that Alan.”

I knew that Laura would not know this rather esoteric chunk of Alexander/equestrian information. I just wanted to be the centre of attention by sounding, I hoped, rather clever and well informed.

I went on to tell Laura about an article in ‘Direction’ an Alexander Technique journal, which had recently devoted an entire issue to equitation. Most of the articles were about Alexander Technique for the rider but one fascinating article was about Alexander Technique for the horse.

The editor of the magazine, Jeremy Chance, was visiting Alexander teacher and rider Sally Tottle. Sally told Jeremy about one of her horses who, after having sustained an injury some time ago now needed much longer to warm up. Jeremy, a non-rider, suggested putting Alexander hands on the horse… The results were impressive. The horse in question had several twenty minutes Alexander sessions. Following each session the horse would seem slightly disorientated for several minutes and then slowly start to move in a freer and more efficient way. The same process was repeated with several other horses who also improved their performance in a steady cumulative way.

Laura listened tolerantly to my ‘learned’ discourse as she continued stroking Martha. “How do Alexander teachers go about putting there hands on anyway she asked?”

Laura had already had several Alexander lessons and knew what it was like from the recipient’s point of view.

“The first thing an Alexander teacher does is to take care of the way that they are using their own self… By freeing their neck … so that their head can balance more freely and efficiently on top of their spine … and thus allowing their whole spine to lengthen and back to widen. By freeing the core of their body in this way the Alexander teacher can use their legs, arms and hands more efficiently. When the teacher is well balanced the quality of the way they touch a human being or horse is automatically more gentle, skilful and effective.”

Although I was talking theoretically Laura was utilising my instructions practically. As she adjusted the way she was standing the quality of her manual and emotional contact with Martha automatically changed. The quality of her touch became somewhat stiller and more sensitive. Martha also became stiller and an attentive look came over her face and eyes.

“Ok, then what happens? What do you do next?” Laura asked with growing curiosity.

Gain Confidence find your Centre of Gravity

Locating attention in the centre of the body is a superb tool for supporting and freeing the voice. It also develops and reinforces feeling of confidence and assured performance behaviour.
Alan Mars teaching vocal development at a European funded conference on lifelong learning. Sponsored by London based Pupil Parent partnership. A voice workshop was selected as a way of stretching the groups comfort zones. Delegates from UK, France, Belgium, Germany and French Guyana

ESPRESSO and the dancing goats!


Dancing goats, religion, culture clash, mass alcoholism…

Sudden clarity, the stock market, the modern social melting pot…

What are we talking about?

The history of one of our most enduringly popular drinks…


Let’s float back through the centuries…

Kaldi, the Ethiopian goatherd notices his goats behaving unusually – livelier and happier. The goats, he discovers, are feasting on a bush covered with reddish coloured beans. Kaldi tries a few of the beans and soon he too is dancing. He takes the mysterious beans up to the monastery. A wise man, one of the monks, makes a tea out of the beans. The “coffee tea” sustains the brethren, wakefully through the many and long hours of devotion and prayer. And the rest, as they say, is history.

European monks, by contrast, were drinking on average 12 pints of beer per day plus wine… and this was below the average of the population! Everyone in Europe, young, old, rich and poor quenched their thirst with beer and wine – drinking the water was potentially fatal.

Throughout the Orient, however, they purified their drinking water by boiling it and infusing it with various herbs. In the non-European world coffee production spreads and grows from strength to strength. In these rich coffee producing countries anyone caught smuggling fertile coffee beans or plants out of the country, especially to Europe, was risking swift decapitation.

Meanwhile in the City of London the clerks would return from their mid morning beer break, with their heads attached but spinning, and the quality of work and commerce would plummet rapidly. Coffee eventually arrives in London. The result of intervening wars, spying, sea journeys and general skulduggery. It was embraced with open arms, especially by the Puritans. Why? Coffee promoted clear memory, clarity of thought and stimulating conversation – quite a contrast to beer.

Coffee shops become social, creative and philosophical hubs. They became centres of commerce with many financial and mercantile companies having their offices in the booths of London coffee shops – Lloyds of London for example.

The coffee shops were the places where the prime movers of the age met to discuss the ideas which, for better or for worse, laid foundations for the philosophies which still inspire or repel us today.


Many people have heard of the Japanese tea ceremony and of the calming meditative effects association with the discipline. But how much consideration have we given to the great tradition of coffee culture?

The early coffee house culture was associated with comfortable surroundings and durable material like glass or china. Unfortunately much of today’s coffee culture is an “on the move” phenomenon associated with the ubiquitous paper cup. Fodder as distinct from food for thought. Without sufficient leisure and reflection there is no fresh thought or creativity. Fortunately a few coffee shops continue to cherish and nurture this socially interactive and mutually stimulating culture of leisure. Tinderbox – what a shining example! Blessed good fortune!

As you sip your favoured tipple from the simple, aesthetically pleasing, porcelain cup pause and take a look around this hallowed shrine to coffee. It is a perfect location for that most compelling of pass-times – people watching.

A complete mix socially and in age. An equally comfortable place for both women and men. Business meetings. Friends and lovers. Writers with their laptops. Film makers discussing story lines and scripts. Cross planetary emails fly from Ipads. And of course people, just like you, engaged in solitary reflection.

How much wealth – financially, emotionally and spiritually – is being generated around you right now?


Coffee preparation has gone through many incarnations from a tea infusion, to pot boiling, to percolating, to filtering and finally to what many would consider the pinnacle of the art- the espresso machine. Many people think espresso means fast as in express. Espresso, however translates as es-presso literally – pressed out. A relatively slow process to be done with great love and care.

Let us hear from a Master of Coffee, Phillip McClemments manager of the Islington Tinderbox, on the art of making the perfect espresso.

“Espresso is the basis of all the coffee drinks that we know and love – from your breakfast lattes to your special sweet treat Mocha’s. The preparation of the espresso machine is of almost equal importance to the quality of the coffee itself. For example – the water must be able to flow freely through clean tubing, a good barista will clean the espresso machines tubing three times a day.

Timing the water flow through the coffee is incredibly important. About twenty five seconds for the perfect espresso – regardless of whether it is a single, double or triple espresso. It’s a question of getting the “crema” right – the bubbles that form on the surface of the espresso. Less than twenty-five seconds and the crema, is fragmented and the bubbles are too large. What you have is basically dirty water – it has the right colour but your coffee has no flavour. More than twenty-five seconds and the crema becomes muddy, overly dense and your coffee is bitter.

Once you’ve got that right you have the foundation for everything – lattes, cappucinos, Americanos, Mocha’s you name it. Each and every cup of coffee is important. Each one needs the same amount of care.”

And that is just about it apart from one final thought. Some thought for your food and some food for thought:

“If I wear Armani underwear it does not become part of me. If I drink coffee it does become part of me. Coffee is more important”

Italian food writer

Alan Mars is the author of “Presenter – Being Your Best and Beyond” (Hodder) which he wrote in the Tinderbox!

In addition to being a writer he is also a Presentation Skills coach and a teacher of the Alexander Technique. 

07930 323 057

Healthy Teacher – inset courses & individual coaching

Harriet Anderson and Alan Mars offer a range of “in school” / Inset courses, f or schools and individual coaching for teachers called Healthy Teacher:

Alan Mars & Harriet Anderson

* Vocal coaching
* Stress management
* Confident performance
* Alexander Technique


The courses are available in various lengths from 90 minute tasters to a full day. In September 2011 Healthy Teacher will also be offering modular courses from their studio in Brighton and Hove. Individual coaching sessions are available by appointment in Brighton and Hove, in-school or online via Skype. Please visit the site at this link Healthy Teacher.

The diaphragm- Youtube clip for singers, speakers, actors

The diaphragm- a Youtube video clip

Most singers, actors and public speakers talk about the importance of the diaphram in healthy, effective voice production. In my experience however, 99% of the same singers, actors and speakers have an extremely inaccurate idea of the anatomical location and dimensions of the diaphragm. Getting an accurate external representation of the diaphragm can be of enormous benefit to the singer, speaker and actor. Internalising this accurate representation of the diaphragm will affect the power, range and colour of their voice.

So here is a short YouTube clip that many of my students have found particularly helpful. It’s and animated view of the diaphragm at work from above, below and the side. Watch several times and… as you do… you can realise that this is really what is going on inside… of you! Happy singing and speaking.

The diaphragm- a Youtube video clip for singers, speakers, actors & people who breathe!

Teachers, Speakers and the Alexander Technique podcast

Teachers, speakers & the Alexander Technique

Dr. Harriet Anderson is an Alexander Technique teacher in Vienna, Austria. Dr. Anderson also teaches presentation skills and British & American studies  at the University of Vienna. In this podcast, Teachers, Speakers & the Alexander Technique , Dr Anderson talks about the performance aspect of teaching and how the Alexander Technique can help a teacher – or anyone who speaks to an audience – be more effective.

Harriet’s website is

Dr Harriet Anderson

Whether we like it or not, we are all performers. Everyday life is full of small stage entrances and exits. And whether we like it or not, every time we enter the classroom, we are putting on a performance. Which does not mean that we are entertainers or in any way play-acting. But it does suggest that it might be worthwhile considering how we could become better performers. Read more here…

A teenager describes the Alexander Technique in 40 seconds

A teenager describes the Alexander Technique in 40 seconds…

body learning alexander technique podcast website
body learning alexander technique podcast website

This interview is taken from the website of Robert Rickover. Robert and I trained as Alexander teachers at the same school roughly 30 years ago.  The young woman in question, Virginia Osterman, explains any facets of the Alexander Technique economically and in plain language in a manner that I, frankly, envy. Perhaps I’ll memorise it and use it for those social occassions when a quick and easy explanation would be so handy!

A teenager describes Alexander Technique

A teenager describes the Alexander Technique in 40 seconds…

scientists with boring speaking voices. quentin cooper material world

I was driving along the M25. For those of you who don’t know – the M25 is a motorway that encircles Greater London. It is essentially a huge, very busy and, in my humble opinion, extremely boring roundabout.
I’m quite keen, in the interests of self preservation, to stay awake. So I turn

quentin cooper material world
“I'm a passionate believer that science is a perspective rather than a subject and that with the right approach everyone can engage with it at some level.” Quentin Cooper

on the radio. Radio 4 is my usual choice. What’s on the radio? “Material World”, presented by Quentin Cooper. A science programme. I like to hear about developments and various controversies in the world of science – despite never being any good at science subjects in school. I enjoy buying science magazines occasionally – I like the colourful pictures and the colourful text. So, as far as Material World is concerned, I’m a keen customer.

Do I become increasingly alert and awake? Am I drawn, fascinated, into the colour and fascinating subject material? I am not! My eyelids are becoming heavier and my head is drooping toward the steering wheel.

Why? Well, the presenter, Quentin Cooper is always upbeat in his way of speaking. He gives the subject matter, whatever it may be, the verbal and vocal enthusiasm it truly deserves… Sadly most of the interviewees speak within a very narrow band of auditory frequencies. Monotone in common parlance. It sounds as if the scientists vocal “loudspeakers” are turned in toward their body, rather than outwards towards a public that is thirsty for the latest news. This is not true of all the interviewees of course – but one can’t help thinking that the exception tends to prove the rule.

So, regretfully, I turn off Material World, roll the window down a little more and put on some rousing music… Ah! that’s better… and safer.

About 20 minutes later I turn on Radio 4 again for some verbal, intellectual, stimulation again. It’s a general arts programme, Open Book, presented by Mariella Frostrup. Most of the interviewees come from the worlds oftheatre, film, literature and the visual arts. As a group they speak louder than the scientists. Crisper articulation. More musicality, ups and downs, in the spoken phrase. They vibrate the air around them with their speech. They give a good clear signal to the studio microphones. I can hear effortlessly. I wake up. I drive more safely.

The irony is – Mariella Frostrup’s guests were talking about book contracts. Not the most scintillating subject in the world – but I remembered it. What were Quentin Cooper’s guests discussing? Mmm. Nope… still can’t
recall. I’m sure it was intrinsically more interesting but it’s gone. In fact, I don’t even think it lodged in the first place.

Scientists! Your speaking voice is like a door. Use it well and you can open up that doorway so that people can step through it share your enchantment with the subject. Use it badly and you can slam that door shut in the face of a friendly visitor.

The human voice is, amongst other things, a muscular mechanism. And like other muscular mechanisms it is amenable to training that increases strength and flexibility. That increased muscularity and flexibility in your voice will translate into increased comprehension and understanding on the part of your listeners.

Make it easier on your listeners and don’t leave all the work to Quentin!

Brighton & Hove Alexander Technique, Voice Coaching, Confidence Coaching & Presentation Skills. Online coaching via Skype

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