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BODY AWARENESS.

When draconian surgical measures suggested to correct my problematic knee struck me as unacceptable, and physiotherapy only made matters worse, I started looking for other options to relieve the pain. Through a combination of massage, simple exercises and a subtle reorientation of body movement, I am now able to walk, bike and even ski with a minimum of discomfort.

It is a commonly accepted fact that changing one's habits can improve one's health and wellbeing, but habits of eating, sleeping, exercise and mental attitude are more commonly thought of than habits of everyday movement. Movement is mostly taken for granted, or considered as immutable a part of our physical makeup as eye colour.

There are several approaches to improving one's health and well-being through developing a keener body awareness and changing deeply entrenched patterns of standing, walking, even breathing, that can produce quite remarkable results. One method is holistic, involving mind and body as a unity to create a heightened self-image in the physical sense that can have a beneficial effect on the health and efficiency of the body. Other methods include The Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais Method, Trager "Mentastics" and Eutony, each with its own principles and distinct differences. To the layperson, they share the common thread of feeling better by moving better. Their prime difference from what is conventionally thought of as "exercise" is that the mind is an integral part of the process. It's as much about awareness of movement as movement itself.

Switzerland has many professionally trained practitioners who conduct classes or work with clients on a one-on-one basis, so it is possible to give one or more a try before deciding what method best suits your needs. It is best to check with your health insurance provider to determine your coverage, as more and more alternative therapies are now included in policies.

STOPPING THE WRONG

The Alexander Technique, developed by F. Matthias Alexander (1869-1955), is the outgrowth of a personal quest to correct a debilitating vocal and breathing disorder that baffled doctors. Through careful self-observation, he discovered that the problem was caused by the way he unconsciously interfered with the balance of his head. He made small adjustments that led to his recovery and went on to recognise universal principles about movement and function that lie at the core of his technique. The subject of many books, including several by Alexander himself, the technique teaches you to apply practical intelligence to "natural" movements and eliminate stereotyped responses that lead to pain or discomfort. One of his basic precepts is: "Stop the wrong. The right thing does itself."

"People seek out the Alexander Technique for a grab bag of reasons," says Karen Sadek, a qualified instructor who gives private lessons in Geneva. The technique is widely practised by actors, singers, dancers and athletes who would like to improve their performance; those looking for relief from pain and those who simply wish to improve the way they "use" themselves. "The basic idea is that rather than doing things by shortening and producing pressure, we would like to learn to do things by lengthening and relieving pressure--in the total sense, involving the whole psycho-physical being," she says. This often brings about the kinaesthetic effect of lightness referred to in writings on the technique.

"In the Alexander Technique, we learn to deal with everything in daily life in a more open way," Sadek says. "How you use your toothbrush is as important as how you use your violin. We are the instruments of everything we do. The point is to learn how to play the instrument." Classic training includes a combination of table work, chair work, walking and other simple everyday movements that enables people to dramatically change ingrained habits with surprisingly little effort. It may sound like exercise but it's "really about thinking," she says.

MAX EFFECT

Eutony is a term composed of two Greek words, eu (good, harmonious) and tonos (muscle tension), which refers to a holistic approach to physical well-being and personal growth through body-awareness developed by Gerda Alexander (1908-1994), (no relation to F. M Alexander). It, too, was born out of personal need. Gerda Alexander had undertaken rhythmic training with Jacques Daleroze hut rheumatic fever left her with a weak heart and limited her ability to continue in this direction. Undeterred, she turned her handicap into a challenge, developing an approach to movement to learn how to use the body more economically and promote the development of personal expression.

Karine Humbert-Droz, a qualified Eutony instructor in Geneva, says that the subtle bodywork involved leads to a better contact with oneself through a heightened sense of body-awareness. Its benefits have been shown to relieve depression, sleep disorders, stress, anxiety and pain in people of all ages, from children through senior citizens. Like the Alexander Technique, it is frequently employed by artists and performers interested in enhancing their creative expression. There is also a therapeutic side to Eutony, and Humbert-Droz works with convalescents in a hospital setting.

The light, airy studio in which she holds her classes is conducive to the feeling of inner freedom that comes through the exploration of how the body moves and feels and experimentation with developing new modes of movement. There are no set exercises, rather a variety of guided activities, which one can learn in a class situation or individually. These include stretching to loosen muscles and stimulate circulation, active/passive movements to improve neuromuscular control, stimulating physical perception, exploring the effects of touch, and experimenting with different forms of conscious, improvised movement. Throughout, students are encouraged to identify how they feel and develop tonic responses that help them feel better.

AWARENESS

Awareness is the key word in the exercises developed by Moshe Feldenkrais (1904-1984), who travelled around the world to teach his dynamics of self-image which he defined as having four components: movement, sensation, feeling and thought. His technique is based on the premise that nothing is permanent about our behaviour patterns except our belief that they are so. Prescribed exercises go about modifying movement, which Feldenkrais believed was the best means of self-improvement, through the central nervous system. In this respect, the approach differs dramatically from conventional exercise and physiotherapy which deal at the motor/muscular level.

Feldenkrais exercises are gentle yet precise, always well beneath the pain level and calculated to send subtle messages to the brain to replace old, detrimental movements with new, beneficial ones. He differentiated between consciousness and awareness, defining awareness as involving an element of realisation of what is going on within ourselves while we are conscious.

Elizabeth Ormyron, who teaches the Feldenkrais method in Geneva, asks her clients to become aware of the small changes possible in something as elemental as planting a foot or moving a toe. She says that this sense of awareness can apply to involuntary muscles as well as voluntary muscles where control is easier and more obvious. One of the guiding principles is to make the process pleasurable. Feldenkrais maintained that only those activities that are easy and pleasant will become part of a person's habitual life.

MENTAL GYMNASTICS

According to Ormyron, who is also an accredited practitioner of the Trager approach called Mentastics, developed by Milton Trager (1908-1997), its major difference from the Feldenkrais method is that the sensory input is massive, yet it doesn't diminish the pleasure of the experience. Like the other methods, Trager movements are easy to do and work for people of all ages and abilities--from the competitive athlete to the functionally impaired. They are said to offer a way to age-lessness (not to be confused with youthfulness), and can dramatically impact a wide range of ailments, notably lower back pain and the stiffness that comes with age.

It was Dr. Trager's strong feeling that what restricts movement is mental rather than physical. "Blocks exist in the mind, rather than in the body," he said. Hence the term "Mentastics," a coined expression meaning "mental gymnastics" that describes very gentle mentally directed gymnastics that can free the body of tensions.

The prescribed exercises take advantage of the body's own weight, leading to a relaxed, peaceful state similar to that induced by meditation, a process of becoming one with the energy force said to surround all living things. You are asked, for example, to raise your arm, without tension, and go through the motions of playing a guitar, asking yourself, "What can be lighter? What can be softer?" These questions serve to engage the mind in the movement, as the sensation becomes lighter, softer, freer.

The Feldenkrais and Trager methods involve both table work, where the practitioner initiates and guides new patterns of movement, and verbal coaching. "It is my point of view that the 'patient' can do more for himself through daily awareness exercises than by coming to me once a week," Ormyron says. "Regularity is important in integrating new functional options into life-enhancing habits."

HOW TO FIND OUT MORE

Alexander Technique: Schweizerischer Verband der Lehrerinnen und Lehrer der F.M. Alexander Technik (SVLAT), Postfach, 8032 Z[ddot{u}]rich, 01/201 03 43

Eutony: International Eutony Federation, W[ddot{u}]rzenbachmatte 33,6006 Lucerne, 041/370 28 92

Feldenkrais Method: Swiss Association of Feldenkrais Practitioners, do Verena Gersbach, Bruggenmattweg 80,8906 Bonstetten, 01/700 42 45

Trager Mentastics: Margherita Mioni, Bahnhofstrasse 1,8942 Oberrieden, 01/721 20 87 or Renata Vogelsang, Georg-Kempfstrasse 24,8046 Z[ddot{u}]rich, 0 1/371 56 56
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Publication:Swiss News
Geographic Code:4EXSI
Date:Jun 1, 2000
Words:1569
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