A helping hand

Me jogging on Portobello beach

We all need a bit of help from others now and then – someone to lend us a hand.

I’m doing Couch to 5K, and am currently in Week 6 of this 9-week NHS-created running programme. As an active, yet totally unfit 60 year-old, it’s really satisfying that I’m now able to jog for 25 minutes without getting out of breath, or having to stop. I actually completed Couch to 5k once before but didn’t keep the running up afterwards. The thing is that I’ve never been very sporty and I used to really hate and resent being made to run when I was at school. A few years ago, I was amazed to discover that it is actually possible for me to enjoy running – but clearly not enough to change my long-held belief that running is not ‘my thing’. Now, however, I have a new incentive to give it another go, after finding out that I have low bone density that is verging on osteoporosis. So running is one way for me to increase weight bearing and impact activity.

Despite this new incentive, however, I think it’s very unlikely that I would have taken up, let alone persevered with running if I’d had to do it entirely on my own.

The brilliance of Couch to 5K is that it’s a carefully worked out programme that thousands of people have successfully completed. This gives you the confidence that when the narrator on the app says that you can do something, you know that you will be able to, however unlikely it might sound before you start. Couch to 5K is a great example of what becomes possible with the right guidance and support. It’s certainly giving me a real helping hand in getting running.

Giving a helping hand is what an Alexander teacher does. We, quite literally, use our hands to help people. Touch is a subtle but powerful means of communication and we use it to enable people to experience either movement, or a way of being, or of responding, that is different to what they are currently able to achieve on their own. This new experience, together with the thinking skills that we teach people, enables them over time to make the changes they want for, and by, themselves.

Once you have some Alexander experience through lessons or training, any new activity provides you with a great opportunity to apply your Alexander thinking and skills to. Not only does this help you learn the new activity and carry it out with greater ease but it can also make the activity more interesting. Although I used to hate running, now I’m finding it is such an interesting thing to do, because I am exploring it through the Alexander Technique. So now I have another very helpful incentive to complete Couch to 5K.

So each time I go running, I’m playing with different Alexander ideas and discovering which ones seem helpful today. Here are some of favourite Alexander thoughts that I’ve recently been trying out while running, and finding that they often make it all seem easier (note: these are all purely thoughts/ideas and never things to try and ‘do’ or make happen):

  • Am I seeing in 3-dimensions, breathing and ‘thinking up’?
  • Imagining:
    • I’m on a moving walkway and the world is flowing past me
    • I have little puppet strings on my heels which effortlessly bring them up towards my sitting bones
    • I’m on my witch’s broom that is transporting me along, with my witch’s hat pointing to the sky
    • my tail grows to become a long sea-horse tail that is gently brushing the ground and then thinking up from here to the top of my spine
    • my kite-shaped trapezius muscle starts to float me back and up, so my feet are barely touching the ground
  • Noticing the contact of the ball of the foot with the ground and how the support from the ground can send the whole of me ‘upwards’
  • Observing how much easier it is when my feet are underneath and behind my torso, rather than trying to stride out in front.
  • Asking myself, ‘what am I doing now that I don’t need to be doing?’ and waiting to see what might come into my awareness, e.g. starting to arch my lower back
  • And finally, I’m always coming back to noticing the breath – observing my ribs expanding to allow the air to flow in for the inbreath (widening of the back/torso), and then following the up-flow of the outbreath as it travels up and out. Never needing to ‘take a breath’ but allowing the breathing to do itself.

I wonder if I’ll keep up the running when I complete Couch to 5K this time? That’s certainly my intention, so let’s see!