Tag Archives: Alexander Technique Hove

Semi-Supine Alexander Technique Youtube video- Confidence Tricks 11

The semi-supine active resting position gives optimum support to your whole back – and to your spine in particular.  Alexander Technique teachers recommend it as a daily practice. Do it once a day if possible for up to twenty minutes. As well as easing your posture it is particularly calming and centering. Youtube video clips, picture and written instructions are below…

It only requires a firm and warm surface, such as a blanket on the floor, and a few paperback books to serve as a headrest. It will help you to let go of excessive muscular tension in your body as a whole. It allows your torso to widen and your spine to release into its optimum resting length. It eases and reduces pressure on the inter-vertebral discs by placing the spine in a position of maximum mechanical support.

Most people need somewhere between 1 – 3 inches of books underneath the back of the skull. The head-rest encourages release in the muscles that join the back of the neck to the base of your skull. It should be neither too high (or your chin will compress your throat) nor too low (or your chin will stick up in the air). This gives maximum support to your spine. Your feet are flat on the floor, knees pointing up to the ceiling about shoulder-width apart and your hands can rest gently on your torso. It’s the ideal pre-cursor to some voice-work. No wonder my ex-drama students continue to practice it daily decades after being introduced to it!

Over the next ten minutes or so you will simply develop your relationship to the floor and head rest… Imagine the four ‘corners’ of your back–head, shoulders and tail bone– spreading and lengthening and widening away from each other and on to the floor. Let go of trying and forcing. Let it be effortless. Leave it up to gravity and muscular release. Look at the video several times to get a general idea of how to get into the semi-supine position. The main thing to remember about getting into the semi-supine position is to do it mindfully, quite slowly and with awareness. The same thing goes for returning to your feet again. I’ll go into a bit more detail in future postings.

Confidence Tricks 9 – Presentation Skills, Golf & Singing?

Presentation Skills, Golf and Singing! Confidence Tricks 9


Voice, confidence & presentation coaching with Alan Mars
Voice, confidence & presentation coaching with Alan Mars

The following article is by Richard who works in the banking industry. I’m hoping we are going to receive more contributions from him in 2009…


I have always had a ‘problem’ talking to groups of people. I knew I was effective talking in one to one situations but never had the confidence to speak in Group situations. What would occur is that I would either undertake lots of planning so that I had an ‘overbusy’ script or I would just note down headings. But in each case, when the time actually came to deliver it, I would freeze and I would just want to get through the presentation as quickly as possible-either rushing through the notes or missing out entire areas completely.

 I recently heard an old colleague of mine give a 2hr presentation virtually without a note and shortly afterwards I also listened to another chap by the name of Adrian Gilpin who did much the same thing. They both intrigued me-I kept asking myself, why can they talk in front of a large group of people apparently without notes and I can’t?

 I made a point of bumping into my colleague who I hadn’t seen for 20 years and after congratulating him, I politely enquired how he managed to produce such a talk, effortlessly and so fluently without notes to which he replied ‘he had all the thoughts and knowledge but it was a question of getting them out in the right order’.

 This just stuck in the back of my mind and I really didn’t think much more about it until earlier in the year when I started a new job. Part of the role was talking to groups of people-some I knew, others I didn’t.

 I had undertaken Presentation skills training courses in various guises in the past whereby they had taught the basics of presentation but they never really covered the issue of confidence-the confidence to actually get up and just do it. I always had to be cajoled into it.

 My first presentation was an unmitigated disaster-I had ‘over-prepared’ in terms of notes and ‘under prepared’ in terms of delivery. In every presentation, there is the singer and the song. I had a well written song-but couldn’t sing it. The next couple of presentations were slightly better but I was never comfortable and I really had to push myself to do them. I knew that I had to do something positive about it.

 I did some searching on the web for the Alexander Technique and came across Alan Mars website and got in touch with him. I explained in our first telephone conversation how I would get nervous before a presentation and then ‘bottle’ it and he explained how adrenalin affects the body and he said there were techniques (tools as he called them) that I could use that would help me take control of these situations. This seemed to make sense because I likened it to playing golf. When I first learned to play, I would just walk up to the ball and hit it and sure enough it would go anywhere-probably anywhere but straight! After a period I learned a set up routine and I now have to go through that procedure before hitting every ball…feet, posture, hands and grip etc. Alan recalled a story of a client, a Solicitor, whom he had taught to sing but who also was helped with his golf game by using Alan’s skills. I said I was interested in meeting him and having an initial session but that he would not get me singing!

 At our first meeting Alan did some ‘centering’ with me, he got me reciting a poem, he taught me how to control my breathing and lastly to start using my voice. This last thing is interesting because he had me humming which I would not have done openly before our meeting. What was more unusual was that his colleague turned up towards the end of the session and I was humming in front of her and also reciting a poem. At the end of the session he said I should go carefully as I might be feeling a little ‘high’.

 The next few days were unbelievable-I practised using my voice at every opportunity and I noticed that people started to listen to me more than they had done previously. I had been working on a new Presentation and I was able to finish off preparing it very quickly and then deliver it without notes-talking without eermms and aarrhs for 15/20 minutes.

 Something else that changed was that I had a sudden surge in confidence. I am an average golfer (handicap 18) and that weekend following the visit to Alan I had put my name down for a club competition and had been paired with the Assistant Pro against the Captain and the Club Pro. Under normal circumstances, I should have been quaking in my boots but I wasn’t-I was quietly confident that as long as I maintained positive state of mind, I could match these players and use my shots wisely.

 Standing on the first, I felt on top of the world as I smashed the ball down the middle of the fairway, then chipped on and 2 putted for a par to take the first hole. This sort of form followed the next few holes and by the 5th the Captain was a bag of nerves and I knew he had blown it mentally. I also knew that the Pro, who had been a Pro all his life was a different kettle of fish and it would take more than this to wear him down. Shortly afterwards, I overheard him mutter ‘he is fallible’ after I mis-hit one of my fairway shots…but that was a rarity.

 It was ‘tit for tat’ and this went on until I won the 15th with a Par to go 1 up on the stroke index 2 hole. We halved the 16th and so should have set ourselves up for the win but a lapse in concentration meant we lost the 17th and then disaster, we also lost the 18th to lose the match by 1 hole.

 Afterwards I could see the relief on the Captains face who was still trying to recover his composure and the Pro was most complimentary about my game and blamed the Assistant Pro for not closing out the game when we had had the opportunity.

 Having discovered my voice from just one session, I am now seriously contemplating asking Alan to teach me to sing.



Alexander Technique & the Choral Singer + choirs

Alexander Technique and the Choral Singer

The Alexander Technique - move through your life with greater easeFreeing your voice - The Alexander Technique applied to the speaking and singing voicePresentation Skills Training - Applied Alexander Technique with Alan Mars

Potted Alexander Technique

F.M. Alexander (1869-1955) was an actor who suffered from recurrent hoarseness and breathing difficulties. Having unsuccessfully tried the medical treatments available at the time, Alexander studied by himself, over a period of seven years, in a three-way system of mirrors to find out what he was doing that caused him to lose his voice.

He noticed a tendency to stiffen his neck and pull his head back and down. This habit initiated a pattern of misdirected effort through his whole body. He eventually developed an approach that involved momentarily pausing and releasing his habitual tension and then ‘directing’ himself into an easier, co-ordinated state.

Alexander went on to teach, using a combination of gentle manual guidance and verbal instruction to give his students a direct experience of using their bodies in a more co-ordinated way.

Alexander and the singer

The singing/Alexander Technique teachers I worked with said nothing about my voice. Instead they said things like, ‘Allow your shoulders to release and widen’;’release the back of your neck’, etc. Over time this gentle approach increased the resonance, range and flexibility of my voice.

most of us accumulate muscular and mental habits which, to some extent, shorten, narrow and twist natural skeletal alignment. These things interfere with easy singing, and changing such habits will, in turn, change your voice.

The way we stand and sit has a profound effect on the way we sing. We become so familiar with our habits which restrict our posture that any attempt to change to a freer state can ‘feel’ wrong and unfamiliar. One of the advantages of doing Alexander Technique with a choir is that any change is reinforced by the immediate feedback of an improved sound.

Take a seat

Is there a conspiracy afoot amongst the designers of institutional furniture to create chairs that are at odds with everything we know about the healthy human structure? The typical rehearsal room posture tends to follow this pattern: the arms feel too heavy to hold up the score, so we rest it on our lap (with one leg crossed over the other) and sag down to peer at it (see below). Then, to turn an already bad situation into a disaster, the choirmaster requires our attention, so we tighten the backs of our necks to look up. At this point we try ‘straightening up’–pulling the shoulders back, raising the breastbone and arching the lower back. This requires considerable effort, creates fatigue and is difficult to sustain over even short periods of time–hardly a conducive state for singing!

Becoming more open

Many people do not open their mouths to sing. They open their heads–by tightening the muscles around the base of the skull, lifting the nose in the air and keeping the jaw fixed (see left). This causes excess pressure to bear down on the larynx, ribs and diaphragm and leads to vocal strain. By releasing the muscles that suspend your jaw you can open your mouth more easily.

Look in a mirror – preferably the three-way sort, like an old dressing table mirror. Let your lips be softly together. Think of releasing your jaw muscles, from your temples along the old-fashioned sideburns area (see right). Without tipping your nose either up or down, let your lower set of teeth drop away from your upper set. Open your lips and vocalise an ‘aahh’.

Sitting bones

Place your hands under your buttocks and find two bony knobbles: these are your sitting bones. What happens to your sitting bones:
a) When you slump? (How does this affect your head, neck and body relationship?)
b) When you pull your shoulders back and chest up, military-style?
With your head leading, rock back and forth on your sitting bones until you find the point where they are pointing down directly into the chair. Think of directing your knees away from your sitting bones and slightly away from each other. How does this affect your body as a whole? Now sing!

Arms and eyes

Imagine that you have puppet strings attached to your elbows, wrists and fingers. The puppeteers raise your arms with minimum effort on your part. Repeat this experiment holding the score. Using only your eyes, alternate between looking at the score and looking at an imaginary conductor (below).

Pixels10.gif (810 bytes)


End gaining

An Alexander Technique expression for using excess effort to achieve a given end. Think of the poor old sopranos and tenors, noses and shoulders up in the air, trying to achieve their high notes.

In the bass and alto sections chins are compressed into throats as thev strive for that low note. These habits may feel right at the time but the end result is rarely satisfying.

Easy does it

There are singers who make the most demanding roles look and sound effortless. Although we may not all become Pavarottis, this quality of ease is learnable: imagine you have an octave mapped out along your spine and head. The lowest note is on your bottom, then your lower abdomen, upper abdomen, breast-bone, neck, base of skull, forehead and finally the crown of your head. Sing up the octave to your crown; and down to your bottom again.

Many singers squeeze up to ‘end gain’ the high notes and pull down along the front for the low notes (right), so try it the other way round – the highest note at your bottom and the lowest at your crown. This can lead to greater ease and appropriate effort in your singing.

A word about breathing

Associated with the habit of stiffening the neck, singers often suck in what feels like a large chestful of air (watch a choir just about to sing). In doing so they become like an over-inflated balloon and the air rapidly rushes away. If you take care of your posture in the ways outlined above, your breathing will tend to take care of itself. During warm-ups allow time for your breath to return unhurriedly between phrases.

Take five

‘Is there a special Alexander way of feeling calmer when you are in a hurry?’ students often ask. ‘Yes,’ comes my reply, ‘leave home five minutes earlier than usual’.

Take five leisurely minutes to warm up before choir practice. Remember a favourite time and place–an experience in which you had plenty of time and space. Relive what you were seeing, hearing and feeling. Stay with this experience for a little while longer. Now vocalise an ‘aahh’ or sing.

During busy rehearsals it may feel as if there is insufficient time to warm up, but being physically relaxed and mentally alert will pay dividends in choral singing. Current research suggests that people learn faster when they are in a calm and collected state, and one way of preparing for rehearsals and performances is to use the Alexander ‘active resting’ position (below). This gives maximum support to your spine– feet flat on the floor, knees pointing up to the ceiling about shoulder-width apart–alleviating pressure on the lower back.

The head-rest (some books will do) encourages release in the muscles that join the back of the neck to the base of your skull. It should be neither too high (or your chin will compress your throat) nor too low (or your chin will stick up in the air). Imagine the four ‘corners’ of your back–head, shoulders and tail bone– spreading and lengthening and widening away from each other and on to the floor. Use the active resting position for ten minutes a day or before rehearsals.


About The Writer

Alan Mars has been a STAT qualified teacher of the Alexander Technique since 1982. He has taught Alexander Technique and voice-work at many leading performing arts institutions including – the Arts Educational Drama School, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the Royal College of Music. Alan has taught Alexander Technique based presentation skills to staff from many top public and private companies including Abbey National; General Electric; Sainsbury’s; Lloyds of London; Comet; the Royal Pharmaceutical Society; BNFL; the Probation Service to name but a few. Alan regularly coaches at senior management level. He is the author of a book on presentation skills “Presenter” published by Hodder & Stoughton.

Alan Mars
Alan Mars, Brighton & Hove Alexander Technique,
26 Ventnor Villas, Brighton & Hove, BN3 3DE
Tel: 01273 747 289 or 07930 323 057
Email: alan.mars@yahoo.co.uk Web: http://www.thetechnique.co.uk/

Related Articles:

Singing, Health & Happiness

The Lychen Choir – a growing collection of community singing with lyrics and MP3 soundfiles

Choral Links and Resources:

British Choirs on the Net



Hear the Choirs Sing

Choral Public Domain Library – one of the world’s largest free sheet music sites.

Musica.Net – Virtual Music Choral Library

Choral evensong on BBC radio 3

Singing, Health & Happiness – Confidence Tricks 6


When we think of the word “health” we may also think of “happiness”. And from happiness it is a short leap of the imagination to song and celebration. And just as happiness can lead to song, so also can singing can chase away the blues at the beginning, middle or the end of the day. It re-establishes a full, easy pattern of breathing and encourages release of the muscular system, with all the attendant benefits of stress alleviation. It is a way of expressing your feelings and of linking up with other people and the world around you.

For many people who would love to sing regularly, however, the opportunity simply eludes them, the last time they may have sung in a group may have been at nursery school! And while it is occasionally possible to hear workers singing on a building site this is more often than not replaced by the ever present radio. Anyone who sings in their office is likely to attract curious glances. Attendance’s at places of worship, where fifty years ago most people could sing at least once a week, have declined sharply.

Despite all of this the U.K. is still a nation of committed singers, boasting more amateur choirs, opera and musical theatre societies than any other country in Europe. Those who want to sing can find the opportunity – even if they are a bit rusty and in need of a touch of polish before throwing themselves into the vocal deep end!

Sound familiar? Take heart- help is just around the corner! Remember this: we are all born singers! Most people assume that the speaking voice comes first and then we build a singing voice on top of it. The reverse is true- singing comes first and then we learn to speak.

A baby lies on her back making a variety of vowel sounds- ohs, oohs, ahs, eehs etc. She plays with the intensity of the sound, a bit softer, a bit louder and sometimes a hell of a lot louder! She explores a variety of different notes and pitches. As the weeks pass by she moves her tongue, lips and jaw in a greater variety of ways and begins to form consonants. At first the sounds are quite random and are only repeated “accidently”. Soon she finds herself repeating more and more of the “accidental” sound patterns and her voice becomes increasingly melodious and under her control.

The pattern of a baby’s vocal development is remarkably similar to the vocal awareness exercises that a singer or actor will go through during training. However you do not have to go to Drama or Music School to develop your voice. Everyone has a “body memory” of that original vocal exploration. All you have to do is tap into it!

Unfortunately for some people the idea of singing is not a cause for celebration. Many people have been given negative messages at an early age, often from teachers and parents, about their apparent inability to sing. This may have happened publicly. The resulting embarrassment virtually guaranteed that the child would no longer be able to sing, thus creating a self fulfilling prophecy. The effect of these negative messages persists into adult life. During family and seasonal celebrations, when others are singing, the wounded singer holds their breath and clamps their teeth or soundlessly mimes the words.

human skeletonhuman skeletonhuman skeleton

Imagine, for a moment, that the singing, speaking human being is like a well constructed musical instrument. From your pelvis, through your ribs, shoulder girdle, larynx (voicebox) through to your skull and jaw your skeleton is a basically tubular or cylindrical shape- all connected together by the column of your spine. This is the central, skeletal core of your vocal instrument onto which the bones of your arms and legs attach.

human musculature
the “skeletal cylinder”

Your skeleton is covered in sheets of muscle which wrap around it spiralically to create a perfectly tailored “elastic suit”.

the”elastic suit”

The “elastic” of your muscles can either contract and shorten or it can release and lengthen. Together these two qualities, contraction and release, enable you to move around easily and efficiently. BUT.. because of habit and the lifestyles that we lead nowadays, most of us are using far too much muscular contraction. Medical authorities, alternative and mainstream, warn us about the dangerous effects of prolonged muscular tension. On a mechanical and postural level this mis-directed muscular tension has a distorting effect, causing, to a greater or lesser degree, a tendency to shorten, narrow and twist natural skeletal alignment.

The elastic suit, such a perfect and roomy fit when we were young children, becomes restrictive of our movement. This all has a correspondingly restrictive effect on the voice: inaudibility, shakiness, inaccurate pitch, harsh and grating tone.



Perhaps the most common cause of vocal difficulty lies in a lack of awareness of how we use our body in daily life. We are experts at screening out sensory information that is not directly connected to achieving our goals. This is a blessing that allows us to achieve our objectives without being swamped by irrelevant sensory information. An activity as simple as making a cup of coffee would become unmanageably difficult without this ability.

It can also become a curse. As we focus more intensely on goal directed behaviour our body can become increasingly filtered out of awareness. Day by day we accumulate small, seemingly insignificant amounts of tension without even noticing it. Just as constantly dripping water can distort the hardest stone, these small accumulations of tension have a detrimental effect on both body structure and voice.


Most people have only the vaguest of ideas about how their body is put together. And many of us simply have wrong ideas about how the body is structured. How many of us, for example, can accurately locate the full length and circumference of the spine; where the head and spine join each other; where the larynx is; where the jaw joint is; and where the ribs and diaphragm join with the spine? All of these parts, to name but a few, are part and parcel of the singers stock in trade. Misleading ideas have a direct bearing on how we use the voice. It is possible to get a sound out of a trumpet by blowing in the wrong end but the process is wasteful of effort and the sound produced is disappointing.

the startle pattern

Many people who are confident in all other respects would do just about anything to avoid singing with or in front of other people. In situations of perceived threat a group of responses called the “fight/flight” syndrome comes into force. Adrenalin is released into the blood stream. Breathing and heart rate speed up. The muscles become more tense. The shoulder and neck muscles are among the first to contract, pulling the head down, tortoise fashion, towards the centre of the body.

The person’s face might drain of colour or they may blush. The pupils dilate heightening visual acuity and leading, in some cases, to tunnell vision. For the primitive hunter/gatherer this whole pattern was discharged by actual fight or flight after which everything returned to normal. It is not appropriate, however, to “fight” with your audience or to take “flight” and lock yourself in the lavatory, tempting as both options may seem at the time! Fortunately there are many ways of creatively channelling the energy of the fight/flight pattern to enhance vocal confidence which we will explore in depth in the following chapters.


Consider the image of someone lifting a heavy looking suitcase only to find it empty or lifting a light looking case and finding it full of bricks. If the lifter does not pause momentarily to truly consider the weight of the case, they may sustain an injury. Singing, like lifting the case, is equally a muscular activity. Taking time to pause and consider appropriate effort, during practice or before starting to sing, is one of the single most important elements in freeing the vocal and breathing mechanisms.


How often is grown son or daughter’s voice mistaken for that of their father or mother on the telephone? Why is it that we can recognise certain individuals from a distance? Why do some dogs look like their owners? Young children, especially pre-verbal children, learn a vast amount through imitation and mimicry. The child adopts, to a greater or lesser degree, the postural, movement, breathing and vocal patterns of her carers. Models of vocal excellence are scarce, however, and only the most fortunate of children will find them in their immediate family. This book endeavours to present standards of mind/body and vocal excellence for the aspiring singing student to continuously develop.


When you are exposed to a constant unchanging stimulus you will automatically, assuming it is not too painful, screen it out of conscious awareness. If you live next to a busy road you may have to make a conscious decision in order to actually hear the traffic. The author and Aikido teacher George Leonard talks about this in terms of homeostasis:

“Our body, brain and behaviour have a built in tendency to stay the same within rather narrow limits, and to snap back when changed- and it is a very good thing they do.

… if your body temperature moved up or down by ten percent, you would be in big trouble. The same thing applies to your blood-sugar level and to any number of other functions of your body. This condition of equilibrium, this resistance to change is called homeostasis. It characterises all self-regulating systems, from a bacterium to a frog to a human individual to a family to an organisation to an entire culture- and it applies to psychological states and behaviour as well as to physical functioning.

The problem is, homeostasis works to keep things as they are even if they aren’t very good”
F.M. Alexander, the creator of the Alexander Technique, mentions a case in which he gave a lesson to a young girl who had a severe scoliosis- an asymmetrical sideways bend of the spine. After the lesson she was considerably more balanced and symmetrical in appearance. Rather than being pleased with these changes the young girl complained bitterly about feeling all twisted up! That which was habitually twisted felt normal. And that which was balanced felt twisted and abnormal.

Although this was an extreme case it is still something that we all, to a greater or lesser degree, have to deal with across the range of our activities. Given time the experiments in this book will allow you to “re-tailor” your elastic suit into a more spacious and freer fit. This re-orientation may feel unfamiliar or even wrong in the short term. A basic willingness to familiarise yourself with the unfamiliar will accelerate the ease with which you can reset your homeostats. This will encourage a freer, more confident and dynamic use of your voice and body, regardless of your starting point.


Find a place where you will not be disturbed for fifteen minutes. Tapping into the full potential of your singing voice will require a quality of self acceptance. Any sound that you make is going to be unconditionally acceptable! Here are my three golden rules for singing classes:

Any sound that anyone else makes is unconditionally acceptable.
Any sound that you make is unconditionally acceptable.
Remember rule 1. and rule 2. !
Application of these three rules leads to a reduction in the fear reflexes that interfere with easy singing. And this leads to increasing playfulness, curiousity and, as anyone who looks after young children knows, a continually developing sense of discovery…

Vocalising and moving from restriction.

Take a couple of minutes to remember a time when you were feeling a bit pressured and restricted. Use all of your senses to recall and relive this memory as fully as possible… what you were seeing and hearing around you and what you were feeling.

Now look around the room. Does it look any less bright or friendly than before? Walk around the room now. Do you feel taller or shorter? Do you feel wider or narrower? Are you breathing freely or are you holding your breath? Is your walking lighter or heavier? Smoother or jerkier? Easier or tenser? Indicate with your hands how wide or narrow your “personal space” seem to be.

Vocalise an “aahh” sound. How easy or difficult was it to vocalise?

Vocalising and moving from ease.

Move around the room and stretch to dissipate the effects of the last experiment.

Use all of your senses, seeing, hearing and feeling, to remember a time when you felt on top of the world. Stay fully in this place for a while longer and allow yourself to take two or three easy deep breaths with the emphasis on the outbreath. Let this feeling spread through your entire body.

Look around the room again. Is it any brighter or friendlier now? Walk around. Do you feel shorter or taller? Narrower or wider? Are you breathing freely? How large is your “personal space” now? Is your walking heavier or lighter?

Vocalise an “aahh” sound. Notice in what way your voice feels and sounds different from the first experiment.

Which state, cramped or expanded, would you prefer to be in when singing?

Congratulations! You have just taken the first step in liberating your body and freeing your voice. “Embodying” a pleasant experience while vocalising a vowel sound, simple as it sounds, can make a real difference to your voice:

In a series of experiments in the early nineteen forties, the surgeon William Faulkner established that when his patients thought of something unpleasant the movement of their diaphragm became restricted, shallow and irregular. These breathing changes were accompanied by a corresponding tightening of the oesophagus. And this in turn was accompanied by negative changes in the quality and characteristics of the patients voice.

When, on the other hand, his patients thought of something pleasant the movement of their diaphragm became expansive and regular and the levels of tension in the throat reduced. All of this was accompanied by positive changes in the characteristics of the patients voice.3.

By vocalising vowel sounds in this positive spirit you will find yourself in good company:

“When I started serious study, I spent the first six months vocalizing only with the vowel sounds. Day after day I would be singing ay, eee, oh, eye, ooo… my teacher, Arrigo Pola, believed it was essential. And he convinced me. Over the years I have become even more convinced of the importance of this.”
Luciano Pavarotti- My World. Page 282


Do some vocalised ahs. Play around with the volume – a bit softer, a bit louder. Play with the pitch – higher and lower.

Experiment with combinations of volume and pitch – high and soft; high and loud; low and loud; low and soft.

Slide from quiet to loud to quiet again on a single note. Repeat the same with a variety of vowel sounds.

Avoid straining your elastic suit as you do this. Continually return to a sense of ease in your vocalising. Allow your breath to return effortlessly and naturally between sounds avoiding any exxagerated sucking and sniffing of the air.

Vocalise an ah sound and then gently bring your lips, but not your teeth, together to make a humming sound. You may notice a subtle tingling or buzzing sensation spreading across your lips and face. This feeling may spread to other parts of your body – throat, chest, fingertips etc. This tingling is associated with muscular release and increased peripheral blood flow. Now sing a song. Sing several songs!

1. Faulkner, William B. Jnr., “The Effect of the Emotions Upon Diaphragmattic Function: Observations in Five Patients”, Psychosomatic Medicine, 3, No. 2 (April 1942).


Remembering your Words – Confidence Tricks 5


Memory and Centering


“If only I could remember my words then I would be composed” is a complaint that many of us could identify with.


My friend and mentor, Robin Prior, has suggested that the following is a more constructive approach “If only I could be more composed then I would remember my words.


Have you had the experience of struggling to convey your thoughts on a subject that you know thoroughly? This could range from a total blanking of your mind to finding that you are simply not articulating your thoughts with the accustomed ease.


Adrenaline, the fight/flight hormone, tends to dampen our usual thinking and memory processes. Its job, after all, is to drive us to take physical action. Have you noticed how fast you can move when a speeding car is accelerating toward you? Logical, serial thinking is too slow in this context. It could, literally, be the death of you.


So the most important factor is to moderate your adrenaline flow and turns fear into a buzz, into a pleasant excitement. How? Please see the previous posts, Confidence Tricks 1 – 4.


You do, of course, need to practise what you want to say. It’s important to remember that memory isn’t just psychological – it’s physiological also. So, if you are going to be addressing an audience of 200 it won’t help you if you practice your speech slumped in an easy chair with your feet up in the mantelpiece! At the very least you’ll need to practice your speech whilst standing upright. Preferably standing upright centred, with your weight nicely distributed and a good wide sense of space.


It’s nice, but not essential, if you can practice in the actual venue. If you can’t get into the venue you can always visualise, pretend, that you are practising in it.*


In summary – you link your words and thoughts with a balanced and centred physiology. You link your words and thoughts with the appropriate presentation environment – either physically or in your imagination.


This simple approach can really quieten down your cognitive processes and clear your mind for action. Not only will you be able to articulate your thoughts fluidly you may also find that you are thinking more creatively. You might… surprise yourself… and find that… you know more… than you even suspected… you knew.


* I’ll say more about visualisation and mental rehearsal in a future post.

Confidence Tricks 4

All Eyes on Me?


Speaking in public? All the attention moving in your direction? Feeling over-scrutinised? Uncomfortable?


1. Use the William Shakespeare Zen koan. Say these words silently or aloud…


“All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players”


Point, literally or metaphorically, to the whole world around you. Point to all the men and women around you. Realise that they are all actors. All players.


Tell yourself that you are the audience. An audience of one. You’ve paid your money, you have your ticket and you are positively expected to be curious. So centre yourself and feel comfortable about gently observing, about positively scrutinising men and women, the players in front of you here and now.


2. Recite again…


“All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players”


This time include yourself. You also are one of the men and women. You are one of the players.


Understand, feel or simply believe that there is no audience. Only a cast of millions improvising perfectly. No separation.


Try it. It’s a wonderful, if slightly scary, perspective. 





Confidence Tricks 3. Agents Showcase – The Big Audition

The cast of final term drama students are reciting in unison. At least that is the idea. The sound is flat and ragged. Stressed or disengaged expressions are plain to see on the performers faces. Strain and slump in the postures. Tomorrow is an important evening for everyone’s future. An audience of theatrical agents. Careers could be made… or fizzle out before they start. You can almost see the thought bubbles – “Why do final rehearsals so often end up like this?”

What is happening here? Anxiety? Yes, in varying degrees from person to person. Tiredness and a feeling of not being quite equal to the task? The final term has been a long haul. Conflict of priorities? Time devoted to the ensemble piece is time subtracted from the all important solo slot. Despite the fact that the ensemble pieces are like the rich dark velvet that shows off the individual pieces of jewellery to best effect.

What to do? A good old fashioned motivational speech and then push on? It can work wonders… but not today, not now. The director decides – now is the time for pausing. For regrouping and redirecting the considerable individual and collective resources of the cast.

“Alright everyone! Take five!” A collective sigh of relief. Pursuit of other, small but important, goals ensues. A visit to the ladies or gents. A quick call on the mobile. Smokers huddle at the main entrance. Catch up on some gossip. Some are resting in the Alexander semi-supine position. Some sits and thinks. And some just sits.

We all have an actual need for distraction. A need to place attention elsewhere periodically. Too much work and not enough play etc.

“O.K. everyone, let’s get going again!”

Do they dive straight into the unison speech? No.

For the next ten minutes the students separate out into pairs. One of the students, the tester, starts to gently push the other student, the testee, who becomes wobbly and loses balance. After a short pause the testee places their hand briefly over their lower abdomen and then, returning their hand to their side, stands in a neutral posture. The tester begins to gently push again. This time the testee is stable and not only confidently balanced but looking calmer and more collected.

After swapping roles and repeating the same procedure the attitude in the cast is calmer, more powerful and motivation is high. Unison descends on the cast – the collective voice, like peeling bells, is now bright, clear and resonant.

The performance the following evening, both the ensemble and the individual pieces, is a resounding success. Students get agents and take the next step of their career.



These Foots Were Made for Walkin’

I’ve just realised that most of my Alexander Technique blog musings have been done whilst walking. I absolutely love walking. I did a Google search for quotes about walking. There’s lots! And by some really smart folks too. I find myself in exalted company!

Here are a few quotes and links that I really liked:


All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking. – Friedrich Nietzsche

Take a two-mile walk every morning before breakfast. – Harry Truman (Advice on how to live to be 80.)

Above all do not lose your desire to walk. Everyday I walk myself into state of well being and walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts and I know of no thought so burdensome hat one cannot walk away from it… if one keeps on walking everything will be alright. – Soren Kierkegaard

I can only meditate when I am walking. When I stop, I cease to think; my mind works only with my legs.” – Jean Jacques Rousseau, Confessions

Meandering leads to perfection. Lao Tzu

I like long walks, especially when they are taken by people who annoy me. – Fred Allen

He who limps is still walking. – Stanislaw J. Lec

My father considered a walk among the mountains as the equivalent of churchgoing. – Aldous Huxley

Of all exercises walking is the best. – Thomas Jefferson

A fact bobbed up from my memory, that the ancient Egyptians prescribed walking through a garden as a cure for the mad. It was a mind-altering drug we took daily. – Paul Fleischman, Seedfolks

Walking is the great adventure, the first meditation, a practice of heartiness and soul primary to humankind. Walking is the exact balance between spirit and humility. – Gary Snyder, The Practice of the Wild

Our true home is in the present moment. To live in the present moment is a miracle. The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green Earth in the present moment… – Thich Nhat Hanh

Before supper take a little walk, after supper do the same. – Erasmus

A vigorous five-mile walk will do more good for an unhappy but otherwise healthy adult than all the medicine and psychology in the world. – Paul Dudley White

The sum of the whole is this: walk and be happy; walk and be healthy. The best way to lengthen out our days is to walk steadily and with a purpose. – Charles Dickens

.It is solved by walking. – A Latin proverb

Our way is not soft grass, it’s a mountain path with lots of rocks. But it goes upward, forward, toward the sun. – Ruth Westheimer

You have to stay in shape. My grandmother, she started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She’s ninety-seven today and we don’t know where the hell she is.” – Ellen Degeneres

When you have worn out your shoes, the strength of the shoe leather as passed into the fiber of your body. I measure your health by the number of shoes and hats and clothes you have worn out.- Ralph Waldo Emerson

If you are seeking creative ideas, go out walking. Angels whisper to a man when he goes for a walk. – Raymond Inmon

The Yellow’s on the Broom

We can become so habituated to living in restrictive little tunnels of space and time. Think, for example, of the morning’s headlong rush to work. Sometimes, however, it’s just that little bit easier to step out of the restriction.

The South of England has been saturated in sunshine during the past week. A cold, glorious February. Driving through our beautiful hills, the South Downs, I noticed that the Gorse bushes were in their yellow glory. The rolling Downs were expansive and ecstatic.

It reminded me of a beautiful song by Adam McNaughton about the Scottish travelling folk called “the Yellow’s on the Broom” .

The narrator in the song recounts the travelling folks miseries when they forced to live a Scaldie’s (settled house-dweller) life during the winter months. The narrator looks forward keenly to the springtime when the “gan aboot folk” can take the road once more and live in the “worlds room”. For the narrator the world’s room is synonymous with liberation, belonging and being in charge of ones fate.

Try it sometime. Instead of living in a fragmented, compartmentalised world just wake up to the one infinite room that we all inhabit. Just for a moment… expand into the space around you. It can be a bit scary. but it can also be exciting.

You can download a short mp3 clip of Adam MacNaughton singing the “Yellow on the Broom” by following this link to Coda Music.

And here are the lyrics as I recall them:


I ken ye dinna like it lass, tae winter here in toon.
The scaldies (settled/town folk) aye miscry us and try to put us doon
And it’s hard to raise three bairns in a single flea-box room
But I’ll tak ye on the road again, when yellow’s on the broom.

CHORUS: When yellow’s on the broom x 2
I’ll tak ye on the road again (last line of verse)
When yellow’s on the broom.

The scaldies cry us “tinker dirt” and sconce oor bairns in school
But who cares what a scaldy thinks, for a scaldy’s but a fool.
They never heard the yorlin’s lark nor see the flax in bloom
For they’re aye cooped up in hooses, when yellow’s on the broom.

Nae sales for pegs or baskets noo, so just tae stay alive
We’ve had tae tak on scaldy jobs from eight o’clock til five.
But we call nae man oor master for we own the worlds room
And we’ll bid farewell tae Brechin when yellow’s on the broom.

I’m weary for the springtime when we tak the road ance mair
Tae the plantin’ and the pearlin’ and the berry fields o’ Blair
We’ll meet up wi’ oor kinfolk frae a’ the country roon
When the gan aboot folks tak the road, when yellow’s on the broom.


This is a tale of how two Alexander Technique teachers’ were humiliated by a Viennese granny.
They do really do Christmas cheer well in Vienna. All the atmosphere and none of the stress of the UK. They even lay-on snow! Most years anyway…

My partner and I took a walk in Cobenzl, the Vienna woods, of a Sunday afternoon. A bit of a thaw had set in. The paths were perilously icey with only the edges still a little bit snowy. My partner had recently sustained a knee injury in Scottish country dancing ( that’s another story! ) and was doubly cautious. We crept stiffly along the side of the path staring fixedly at the ground two feet in front of us… when a Viennese granny powered past us at a high rate of knots, smiling broadly and drinking in the glorious surroundings with her eyes!

“How embarrassing” said my partner…“Yes, love, but you’ve got to consider that she’s got two specialised walkers’ sticks”And then a couple of runners, about our own age, overtook us, apparently oblivious to the danger underfoot!We crept on.

Not to be defeated, I asserted “But these Viennese know how to select the right type of ice gripping footwear.” A family, with three kids, ranging from nine to thirteen years, all wearing standard, international brand, trainers swept past us, deep in happy conversation… I decided to keep my mouth shut.

My partner, a Viennese resident, said “The Austrians just do snow so much better than we Brits. They all ice-skate and toboggan from infancy. They go on obligatory skiing courses in secondary school. And they all learn to waltz in sixth form. Here in the forest at least they are the Alexander experts.”

We didn’t adapt to ice anything like as easily as we adapted to water in Venice. But we still applied the Alexander Technique. When we walked we just walked. And when wanted to look we stopped. “Inhibited” to use the Alexander jargon. And marveled at the snowy, Christmas card, forest around us.