Thursday, 29 September 2011

Back part 3

Alexander Technique is a gentle technique, but its purpose is, nevertheless, to make life and movement easier. With another 10-day "rest" in the back, it's time to move.

The gentle stretching that the Alexander rest gives has a purpose to restore the back and help it to return to its natural length, our back correspond to the horse's top line and in riding we seek to lenghten the horse´s top line.

How do you know that your back has regained its natural length? The check is done through movements.

Lie down on the floor with your head on the books and knees bent. Lighten your toes slightly from the surface and let one leg slide, on the heel, to stretch the leg. Pay attention to what happens in the rest of the body; does the head's contact with books change, is the lower back lifted, is it starting to tighten across the hip joint, is the breathing affected?

If you notice a change somewhere in the body, pause, inhibit, wait until tensions have released or make a decision. If there are big changes - bring the heel back towards your bum, back/torso and legs need more time to find their proper relationship.

If you can let go of the tensions, let the leg stretch and flex with the foot, ie move the feet in the ankle so the toes are pointing towards the ceiling. At first, it's good to straighten one leg at a time, observe yourself and notice what happens both in the diagonal and the lateral side of your body.

To bring the leg back to the starting position, without being tempted to lift it and thereby tighten the abdominal muscles, I recommend the following: let the leg fall out from the hip, the foot is "rolling" on the heel when the leg turns outward. Place your attention on the heel and let it slide up and in towards your bum, it'll bend the knee. At a certain point it will be natural to turn around the femur in the hip joint so that the knee is turned up toward the ceiling. If this move creates any tension, pause and inhibit before continuing.

When the leg can be straightened out and the rest of the body is left undisturbed, try to straighten both legs simultaneously. When you can lie without books under your head, with your arms at your side without the shoulder blades being pulled at and lifted, when your legs can rest stretched without the torso and lower back being affected then you have regained your natural length in the back.

A word about pain. Alexander rest can be a painful experience if there is huge muscular troubles in the body. There are different types of pain, some is superficial and it's ok to stay as long as the pain is bearable.

But there is pain that is structural and in those cases you should lie down just as long as you are pain free! If it starts to get sore, stop! To get the Alexander rest to work, the situation has to be comfortable and safe. If you get in pain after only 2 minutes, stop. Next time you can lay down for 3 and so on. Respect pain signals and the minutes of relaxation will increase. I know this from experience.

This should maybe have been a part of the first posting...but better late than never. To end the rest and to come up on your feet I want you to roll over to one side. And pause. Then you can decide to come up on all four for a while or come up to a sitting position before you get up on your feet. Avoid doing movements similar to sit ups.

Now that you have 20 Alexander rests in your back, you can at any time, standing or sitting, evoke the feeling of the floor behind your back. That will help you to become aware of what goes on in your body at that moment, if your back/topline is shortened this helps the muscles in the front of the body to let go of the back - you'll spring upwards and backwards, become tall and strong at a fraction of a second.

Congratulations! You are now your best friend!

"If you do not take care of your body, where will you live?"
Peggy Ayala

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Notes from lessons with Craig Stevens, part 2

You can read part 1 of my notes from lessons with Craig Stevens here.

The horse should use his muscles to perform a movement, not his weight. Resistance of weight means the horse's legs are not underneath him. The horse “leans” in one direction. Resistance of force means the horse is tightening his muscles.

Turning by the use of weight

The horse puts weight on the inside shoulder (here the right shoulder) and its head to the outside. The horse turns by “falling”, that is the horse is running to catch up with its own weight.

The horse is out of balance and has a hard time controlling the speed in the turn.

This is not desirable.

Turning by the use of muscles

The horse uses the outside diagonal (here left front and right hind leg) for carrying his own and the rider's weight. The inside front leg is relatively lighter than in the case above, which makes canter departs easier.

This is desirable.

All correct and easily executed movements by the horse are proof of balance. Balance means the horse is using his muscles, not displacement of his weight, to initiate movements.

First give the horse the position and balance it needs for a movement, then let the horse execute the movement without disturbing him.

Precision in timing
Use a direct rein when the front hoof on the same side is on the way down or on the ground. Use an indirect rein when the front hoof on the same side is off the ground.

If you lose the horse's attention, tap with the whip.

Thanks to Mark Stanton of Horsemanship Magazine for proof reading! All remaining errors are my own.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Back part 2

Lena wrote in last weeks posting about the horse's inherent asymmetry and it is something that also applies to us humans.

When you lie on your back with books under your head and on a relatively hard surface, you have every opportunity to familiarize yourself with your own asymmetry. What you should pay attention to is the weight-bearing points that are in contact with the surface; the back of the head on the books and the contact the shoulder- blades, sacrum and soles of your feet have with the surface.

If you have done your homework you've had 10 occasions to check yourself. Does your head tend to fall to one side or the other? Is one shoulder blade against the floor while the other is lifted off the surface? Are your weight more on the tip of the tailbone than on the upper part of the sacrum? Is your lower back arched in such a way that you easily can slide your hand inbetween the back and the floor? Are both the inside and the outside rim of the feet in contact with the floor? Does your feet stay on the floor or do they tend to slide off away from you? Do you have as much weight on the left and right diagonal (scapula - sacrum)?

Now I want to emphasize that perception is more important than perfection! I do not think you can be 100% equilateral, the importance of this work is to become more aware of yourself and your asymmetry. That knowledge allows you to know when you need to be more focused on the Means-Where-By so that you and the horse are properly prepared in riding different excersises.

For the next period of homework, I like to give you some tips and hints to bring the process further forward.

If the head tends to tilt to one side it is often due to the muscles on that side being more contracted. One way to help yourself to keep your head still in a neutral position is to make use of your eyes. Aim at a point midway between the knees up towards the ceiling, keep looking in that direction.

If one shoulder-blade is kept a little above the floor I have a personal favorite. Place your arms straight out sideways from the body (you will be like a cross). Be aware of that the muscles of the arms can be shortened so there may be a reason to have pillows to rest the forearm against in the beginning.

When you want to bring your arms back to rest your hands on your belly or the iliac crest it is important that you do not lift your arms off the floor but allow them to slide on the surface toward the body. Keep track of how the movment affects the shoulder, elbow and wrist, if you notice any muscle tension, pause - become active passive (inhibit) - and continue with the movement when the tension has subsided.

If you easily get your hand under your lower back I urge you not to press down the back towards the floor. It is far better to place the lower legs (calf) on a chair seat or sofa in order to free the torso completely from the weight of the leg and allow the muscles in the leg to disengage.

If your feet tend to slip away or you have an uneven contact between the inside and outside of the foot, focus on your knees, make sure they always have a direction straight up toward the ceiling.

Breath, notice your own breathing, were does the breathing become visible in you? Where is your chest influenced?

“When anything is pointed out, our only idea is to go from wrong to right; in spite of the fact that it has taken us years to get to wrong we try to get right in a moment.” F M Alexander

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Natural crookedness

One main goal in schooling a horse is to teach the horse to become straight, that is move straight on a straight line, turn as easily to the right as to the left etc. All horses are either bent to the left or to the right. I've heard various explanations for this, one being this natural crookedness is formed due to the way the foal is laying in the mare's womb. This could explain why there seem to be just as many horses that are bent to the right as to the left. Whatever the reason, an untouched horse is never straight.

A horse that is bent to the right will:
*) carry its head to the right
*) overload the left shoulder
*) carry the haunches to the right
*) the right hind leg will advance more than the left, but it escapes to the side. It reaches more than pushes
*) the left hind will push, but only engage to a small extent
*) the horse tends to weight the left lateral pair (the convex side) more than the right
*) the right lateral pair is shortened (concave side) and carries less weight

When riding or lunging a horse that is bent to the right, the horse will turn easily to the right with a tendency to enlarge the circle since the outside shoulder carries more weight than the inside one. On the other hand, the horse turns to the left by falling onto the inside (left) shoulder in the direction of the turn, while carrying its head to the outside. Usually the horse canters more easily on the right lead, but with its haunches in.

What you feel when you ride:
*) The horse has a nice contact on the left rein, but refuses to take contact on the right rein
*) Your seat drops more to the right than the left in each stride and your right leg is near the horse while the left leg is pushed away from the left hindquarters.
*) In lateral work it is easier for the horse to move its shoulder to the left and its haunches to the right.

“In all work on the right rein, the horse seems flexible and 'balanced', on the left rein it seems to be stiff and 'out of balance'.“ P. Karl, Twisted truths of modern dressage (2008)

Thanks to Mark Stanton of Horsemanship Magazine for proof reading! All remaining errors are my own.