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Alexander in the office

Peter Nobesí talk on Alexander Technique in the office, Friends Meeting House, London, February 3rd 2009


by Antonella Cavallone


Peterís talk begins with an introduction of himself as an Alexander Technique (AT) teacher and an ergonomics consultant. He tells us that the ergonomic side is easy as it only took him doing a week-long course to qualify.


Peter asks all the participants one by one what their interest is for coming to the talk tonight and uses the answers to structure his talk. The points that come out are:


We are not designed to sit for 8hrs. This is in response to a participantís wish to know what he was doing wrong for being in such discomfort at the desk.


Topics that arise include:


  • How one loses oneself focusing on the task at hand, especially while working at the computer.
  • Multitasking.
  • Meeting deadlines.


Peter tells the group heíll come back to these issues but that first he would like to tell us what he does when he takes the AT into the workplace. First of all he looks at peopleís backrests and notices that virtually nobody has them at the right place to support the lumbar spine -he adjusts them.


He explains that by law the employer is required to provide seats of adjustable height. Look at the line of the arms to make sure that the elbows are down and horizontal for an efficient use of the arms. Monitors are to be placed in front of the worker to avoid twisting around, the top level with the eyes and at armís length in distance. The keyboard must be independent of the screen so as to allow maximum mobility and so one can move it aside if needs be.


He then has some tips for the worker on how to organise the content of the desk into primary, secondary, and tertiary range:


  • Primary, that is within very easy reach comprises everything one uses all the time this to avoid continuous, awkward, overstretching movements.
  • Secondary range comprises everything one uses moderately often.
  • Tertiary range comprises everything one uses once in a while.


Peter suggests that for the use/reach of objects in the secondary and tertiary range one should either get up and walk or use castors to move around.


After this introduction he asks the audience to get up and experiment with the use of the arms. Members are given soft balls and paired together. The aim is to raise a ball up in the air while passing it to the person in front of you and to keep doing these changing sides. The audience is asked to alternatively think of either the arm floating on air or not and to pay attention to the difference that thought can make on the way we move. The quality of thought affects the body.


One of the participants remarks on how she found it difficult to focus attention. Peter then asks her to volunteer for another game where the audience is to experiment with attention. Members are paired again and given a soft ball to be thrown and caught alternatively. Members are then stopped and asked to reflect on how much tension was being generated by thinking of not being good at either catching or throwing, or both. Peter then asks not to focus attention on the ball but to look at the person in front and to notice how much easier becomes when instead of focusing, awareness of the situation is expanded.


Peter then explains that in his experience there are three types of pupils that AT teachers encounter -the thinker, the doer, and the slob. He gives humorous examples of each type and finishes with stating that in his opinion the slob is the most difficult to teach.  It is very challenging to energise someone that is low and uninterested and he gives the example of an office with a few depressed people where the atmosphere brings everybody else down.


Peter concludes by explaining that basically the technique helps us to re-learn what nature gave us. He give the example of the cat asleep on the sofa becoming alert the moment a tin is opened in the kitchen. The cat is primarily an auditory creature but humans are primarily visual. This knowledge is relevant in understanding the importance of the eyes in relation to movement.


A volunteer is asked to walk around being consciously guided by his eyes and with the AT teacherís hand on the pupilís neck for AT direction.


The talk finishes with Q&A and more discussion on the controversial point of not teaching the verbal directions to pupils. Peter claims he does not.


© Antonella Cavallone, February 2009




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