The forthcoming issue Vol 3 No. 9 (Active) contains an insightful look at the work of Steven Shaw. This week he sent me an update on two interesting and exciting developments.
It took the world by storm over the past decade and is still spinning largely out of control into every form of fitness communication. The lack of regulation within the pilates industry triggered a mass spawning of hybrid forms (yogalate? Sounds like a milky coffee after a good asana) that delivers the core message of, well, core is king. So for the Alexander teacher who has stood by watching as many an expert birthed themselves through a weekend course and started a printing press in their studio, it's hard not to hold a dim view of the credibility of someone spruiking the benefits of pilates to health, happiness and evolution.
Jane Staggs trained as an Alexander teacher in 1979 and tested pilates more recently as a worthy adjunct to her already successful practice. Her experience of watching past students swept up in the pilates cure-all sales message suggested that perhaps she could be the expert help instead. Listen to an interview with Jane in the members section(click on the link at left to request logins).
Helge Fisher trained with Shoshana Kaminitz in 1991 and co-wrote the book(Body Control: The Pilates Way) that sparked the pilates firestorm in the UK and now an internationally known brand, BodyControl Pilates. Though Helge left the organisation fairly early in the peace, her experiences in bringing the complicated pilates regime to the masses is a fascinating story.
Learn more about the Pilates/Alexander connections in the new ACTIVE issue, as part of a current subscription. Click on Subscription to learn more.
Without exquisite balance the coordination of a golf swing fails the majority of people. Ironically if you ask a professional golfer what they are actually doing when they swing a club you'll get many different answers and very few are directed at freeing the natural swing motion.
Working with an Alexander teacher on improving your general movement and coordination will contribute immensely to the performance of your swing on the course. Just ask Roy Palmer and Martyn Jones, two Alexander teachers who have been refining the delivery of Alexander's principles to golfers with great success and are featured in the forthcoming issue ACTIVE. (only available with a current subscription)
Most amateur observers of professional expertise will only glean idiosyncracies such as grip, stance or head position. It takes the trained eye of an Alexander teacher to help the golfer uncover their interference with the smooth rotation of the torso and most of this interference can be learned off the course.
Both Roy and Martyn prefer to begin within their teaching studio without a swinging weapon as the self-observation necessary for fundamental change can be refined in simple daily movement. It's not until the student has the ability to prevent their usual spinal compressions that their body is capable of freedom in the swing...but how they capture this change in physiology is the art of teaching Alexander's technique.
Without doubt, billions of hard earned are spent on golf each year and most of it is going into a bottomless pit of no improvement in results or enjoyment. There is a goldmine out there behind those bunkers and Roy Palmer and Martyn Jones are tickling the tip of the iceberg with their work.
Live recordings of our conversations are available in the members section. Click on the link at the left of this page to obtain your logins.
ACTIVE Issue [3.9] our forthcoming journal, looks at the science of critical moment focus. Damien Lafont PhD is a tennis coach and physicist who has photographed hundreds of elite tennis players at the moment of impact. His thesis examines the position of eyes, head and neck a split second after the ball has been hit and his findings are fascinating for the Alexander teacher.
Correlated with the consistent success of a professional player is the intricate placement of their eyes(and attention) at the moment of a shot being made and when I stumbled upon Lafont's work I was taken immediately at the implications that his photography had in terms of linking head/neck/spine coordination of the entire organism. In this micro second of high speed imagery we see the mind-body congruence necessary to repeatedly return accurate shots over the net.
How is Lafont's work relevant to an Alexander teacher working with sporting enthusiasts or elite athletes? I brought two Alexander teachers who teach tennis into the discussion: Gary Adelman a professional tennis player from Columbia University and Alexander trained since 1992 (www.tenniswithouttension.com) and Joe Boland a tennis coach and Alexander teacher(1979).
Listen to a live interview with Gary in the private members section of the website. If you don't have a login, request one here...it's free.
Yes I'm still alive... and will be available as a target for any eggs or rotten tomatoes at the forthcoming Congress. It has been a long, long time since DIRECTION produced a new journal and I'm very sorry for the big gap. The new issue "Active" has been promised for many months and I cannot make any more excuses or promises...simply because I can't possibly make anything else up!
The wait is nearly over for this new issue which will be the first of its kind anywhere in the Alexander publishing world. A selection of articles on the application of Alexander to sporting pursuits, health/fitness and movement by Alexander teachers will open the lid on huge areas of modern society in need of constructive conscious control...and compassion.
Since FM Alexander's day many movement regimes have come and gone to the chagrin of many an Alexander teacher. The principles of balanced and conscious coordination are needed even more today as we are bombarded with "Scientifically" validated exercise physiological remedies to the ills of modern lifestyle choices...and oh, a blinding lack of education in self awareness for all-day, every-day needs.
How does a student/teacher of Alexander navigate this minefield of sales pitches without alienating themselves completely from the very people who need the help?
ACTIVE Issue explores the huge areas of physical pursuit in Golf, Tennis, Pilates, Running, Swimming and Cycling. Working with the mainstream is much more intelligent than posturing on the sidelines as the work passes by. Stay tuned as I dust off this blog and bring more interesting clips from the people who have helped me create this exciting addition to the DIRECTION catalogue.
If you are wondering whether your subscription is still current...please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I will be sending out address checks soon.
I rarely allocate time for Facebook... simply because it's too easy to get off track and just float away with gossip and who's doing what. However, every now and then I'm just at the right place to stumble across an important update.
Jessica Wolf(The Art of Breathing), a long time friend and mentor in the field of breathing recently completed a kickstarter.com campaign to produce a fully animated working model of the entire torso. This is a stunning production... no expense spared. Watch a 30 second clip via vimeo below.
To purchase the whole 20 minute final product simply visit Amazon Here.
Watching how the ribs expand, the diaphragm flows up and down plus seeing the internal massage of the organs is a surreal experience. Each layer of musculature is gradually added onto the bony foundation so that the viewer can get an idea how it all works in concert. There's even a beautiful rotation of the entire model so that you can watch the underneath view of the diaphragm as it moves!
There is nothing currently available to match this visual description of breathing and it is with a touch of pride I will admit that an Alexander technique teacher has gone to the trouble of making it possible. If every anatomical teaching module within educational institutions around the world don't purchase this beautiful work for their students, they'd be mad. I will be recommending it as essential for any person wanting to see inside the body of an ideal breather... far from the average human in the western world.
FM Alexander's reputation as the breathing man has been resurrected in immense style and clarity. Congratulations Jessica and thankyou on behalf of the Alexander technique community.
If you teach breathing or would like to know the inside workings of natural breathing, you simply must get your own copy.
Thankyou for your generous responses... and they're still arriving daily into my inbox. Malcolm's happy... his running article is now liberated, I'm happy... just hearing from so many lovely people does that, but also I've compiled the three best ideas of the lot.
1. Digital Production to Web
Although producing our magazine to digital was knocked back a few years ago in our survey, it seems that the iPad and Kindle has helped simplify (and beautify) the concept of reading on a screen. Within the next two months Direction Journal will be available on a digital platform as well as paper. Don't worry... paper will always be available too.
2. Student Subscriptions (for students enrolled in an Alexander teacher training course)
Available now $49 Simply provide the contact details of your course director at the checkout.
3. Library Subscription Bonus
The new Library Subscription Bonus gives you 75% off your subscription. If you have baulked at paying $97 for 4 magazines delivered to you in the past, then here is a chance to get a very big discount. Once the library signs up, pay only $24 for your subscription. If you would like us to contact them directly, simply send us the librarian contact details.
Plus one reminder... our Affiliate Program
Launched... some time ago, but hardly mentioned since, the affiliate program rewards you for recommending Direction to others. The commissions are generous and are paid on the initial sale plus any other person referred by your initial contact. We also customise a landing page so people who arrive upon your recommendation feel welcome. There are various ways to earn a commission and you are supplied with a special link to distribute wherever you want. Images and banners are also available for your website, blog, facebook page, twitter... you name it.
There are other ideas such as selling advertising space and linking up with societies, but these are a harder option. I haven't yet found a way to achieve either.
In any case, the Direction community is alive and well. I'm sure a little more conversation on these topics will bring further inspiration. And the new issue is back on track!
After much deliberation and certainly no shortage of cajoling from Malcolm Balk I have decided to release the Running article from the forthcoming Active Issue[3.9] prior to publication. Due to my inability to publish the entire issue in the immediate future, Balk asked if I might let one cat out of the bag early. His.
However, this peek inside the new issue comes with a condition.
As the entire world will be able to read an article from a journal that only subscribers normally would, I have created a small hurdle to ensure you are seriously interested. Here's hoping I don't upset the subscribers too much.
Below is the first half of the article.
The second half can be obtained after contributing to the following topic:
Name 3 new initiatives Direction Journal could use to generate income.
Write your answers in the comments section below this post, make sure you include your email address so that I can send you the rest of the article. Or, if you don't want your email made public contact me here.
BALK, BAREFOOT AND BEYOND
by Paul Cook
A revolution is underway in running. Passionate debate fueled by clever marketing and injured runners looking for answers has this billion-dollar industry in turmoil. Malcolm Balk is unflustered. As a running teacher who focuses on the coordination of the whole human form, shoes rate low in his process of getting runners back on the track and enjoying the game more. In this article we bring the current scientific examination of shoe design, load and impact studies into a discussion on the art of running and ask the question: does cold, hard science really have the answer for injury prevention in runners?
From Hip to Knee
For two years Sally endured hip pain in her running. No amount of physiotherapy or weight-bearing exercise changed her situation. Eventually a scan solved the riddle destroying the prior diagnosis of a “torn hip”. A stress fracture in the head of her femur was found to be the culprit sidelining her immediately. But there was no mystery or necessity for this outcome according to Malcolm Balk a running and Alexander technique teacher in Montreal.
Completing five marathons before 30 and sporting the usual annual injury count, Balk knows the runner’s habit well. It wasn’t until looking back after ten years injury-free that he realized his Alexander training had influenced his mentality indirectly and saved him from the plight of millions of runners. Reportedly 37-56% of runners suffer an injury annually  and everything from taping joints to orthotics and expensive shoes are prescribed as the solution. In Sally’s case, being advised to tape a knee that was “bothering her” by a physiotherapist allowed her to continue running, but it seems logical to blame this advice as a contributing factor to the hip injury. According to Balk, runners get signals from their body early, but most often they ignore the signs until a major injury stops them completely. Sally’s story is no different as Balk recounts,
She said, “Well, you know, it’s funny. Just before I got injured, my knee was bothering me.” This is not a high-level athlete, but she’s a competitive person. She’s in management and she’s driven a bit, and she said, “So, what I did was I taped my knee before every practice. Even some physios showed me how to tape it.” I said, “Well, did that change the way that you run a little bit?” She said, “Well, I didn’t really notice.” But she says all of a sudden, out of the blue, boom! “I’ve got this hip pain.” I said, “Well, there’s the example. You had the knowledge. You just didn’t act on it.”
When Sally and other recreational runners visit a physiotherapist with pain, why would they question the advice to support their joints so that they can continue doing what they love? Drawing on his years of running experience and training as an Alexander teacher, Balk approaches these problems from a different angle.
Running at Any Cost
Listening to your body and becoming sensitive to the signs is not something new to an Alexander teacher. For runners wanting to “get back on the track” as soon as possible sold on the technology of shoe design that allegedly supports various forms of foot structure and running technique, there’s little surprise that injuries are the single most discussed topic amongst recreational runners.
In one sentence Balk sums up the mindset needed for longevity, “If you listen to the whispers, you may not have to hear the screams.” He posits that runners can achieve their goals 99% of the time if they run without pain. He’s not talking about the pain that every person has felt in the first few minutes of a workout that is your body adjusting to the exertion, he means the “injury-type pain”, the nagging discomfort that doesn’t go away that every runner knows. As he explains,
There other kinds of pain that are just persistent. They’re like a steady “listen to me, listen to me, listen to me” and a lot of time, runners ignore those. All of a sudden, boom! Now, you’ve got Achilles tendinitis and you’re out. Now, you’ve got plantar fasciitis and you’re out. Now, you’ve got a stress fracture and you’re gone.
The single most important factor a runner needs to consider is that when they’re not training, they’re getting worse and according to Balk,
…if you backed off you might have been able to not go over that tipping point. So, even if you train a little less hard, but you’re more persistent and consistent with it…actually you’ll get there sooner than the person who has to keep taking time out because of injury.
Another client with a niggling groin injury that he had noticed for six weeks looked to Balk for direction. At 61, his normal routine was to run at a heart rate of 140. Balk suggested he reduce this and see what difference it made. The results were telling,
I said, “Okay, you’re going to run 70% of your heart rate or less.” Anyway, we ran 18 kilometers, including some accelerations in the last 15 minutes. And he came and he said, “I didn’t have one problem today with my groin and I think it’s because I didn’t go out as fast as I usually do.”
But for people who don’t have the ears to listen so-to-speak, what do they do? Perhaps they drop into their physio for the bad news or some advice. Perhaps they pay a visit to their local shoe shop, hoping that some new technology under the hoof might help. It is here that the story becomes even more complicated, not to mention clouded by marketing and recent passion for the natural running argument. Otherwise known as barefoot running, the past five years has seen many questions being asked of the billion dollar shoe industry—their science and perhaps their negligence of the human foot.
Proving the Unproveable
Biomechanical science has been funded with an open cheque-book by shoe manufacturers over the past few decades in an effort to understand the dynamics of gait, and therefore gain an advantage in the marketplace. A randomized control trial published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in June 2010, co-authored by Nike’s head of biomechanical research, Gordon Valiant, uncovered the fallacy of much information in the shoe industry. Apart from the unforgiving conclusion to the study that stated “prescribing in-shoe pronation control systems on the basis of foot type is overly simplistic and potentially injurious”,  the general advice from lead author Michael Ryan was,
If a salesperson says you need robust motion-control shoes, ask to try on a few pairs of neutral or stability shoes, too. Go outside and run around the block in each pair. If you feel any pain or discomfort, that’s your first veto. Hand back those shoes. Try several more pairs. There really are only a few pairs that will fit and feel right for any individual runner. My best advice is, turn on your sensors and listen to your body, not to what the salespeople might tell you. 
Best selling author of Born to Run—harbinger of the barefoot movement—Chris McDougall makes no secret of his disrespect for the shoe manufacturing machine and his July 2010 blog post entitled, “Breaking news from Nike: We’ve been talking a lot of crap, and selling it” twists the knife a bit further.
Putting conspiracy theories aside for the sake of science, there is a revolution afoot and within an industry that generates such huge dollar sums it seems that the motivation to get to the truth is being fueled by a passionate band of runners that are helping to redesign the humble shoe. While the majority of our past as humans was spent unshod, in the past century our appetite for devices that “interface” between foot and ground continues to grow.
Despite the investment being made by the shoe industry, one biomechanical scientist says that the entire paradigm is faulty. Benno M. Nigg has been employed by many large shoe manufacturers in his 40-year career but it’s his recent self-published book Biomechanics of Sport Shoes that blows all the myth and marketing apart. Wherever the runner lands—heel or forefoot, wears inserts or specially prescribed shoes for their particular gait pattern or runs barefoot there are no correlations to injury.  According to Nigg the assumption that padding is beneficial between feet and earth for runners is simply that, an assumption.
Without evidence that higher impact forces cause greater injury rates, studies such as those published by the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness in 2009 of eight experienced barefoot runners appear aimless. Their findings that “compared to the standard shod condition when running barefoot, the athletes landed in more plantarflexion at the ankle. This caused reduced impact forces and changes in stride kinematics.” 
Will this hot new debate kill the standard sport shoe? Pete Larson, industry writer probably puts it best,
Your body evolved to run long distances, and it evolved to do so barefoot. The realist in me knows that most people will likely never run barefoot, so if that's not your thing, look for as little shoe as you can handle and still run comfortably. Your body will let you know if it's happy, be mindful and listen. 
Nike while sitting on the cutting edge, curiously, are drawing blood from their very own health claims. For now, the rush is on to be the better progenitor of foot health solutions and there is little more than anecdotal evidence to support even the latest fad of running with a thin layer of Kevlar under your feet. The best advice resides in a borrowed coinage; if the shoe fits wear it.
From rocker soles to Vibram Five Fingers[R] runners are now faced with an even more diverse choice at the shoe store if 10 brands and 25 derivative pairs of conventional runners wasn’t enough already. So where does the confusion leave a runner who notices that their body just isn’t performing the way they want it to on the track?
The Balk Ease Solution
Balk talks in terms of ease. It seems the world’s most respected biomedical scientist agrees. Nigg’s reply to questions about his suggested new paradigms are succinct, “There is no study that documents that impact forces are the reason for short and/or long term injuries/problems.” On the efficacy of shoe and orthotic technology he is even more direct, “we know that the running program and the time for recovery are much more important.”
If particular shoe prescriptions have no effect on pain or injury prevention outcomes then Balk is not only in the sweet spot of providing an answer and immune from the shoe debate. He’s also able to avoid all manner of controversy that rages within the barefoot revolution and therefore stands to capitalize. His teaching stands on the foundation of decades of injury-free running and a hefty contribution from two-time Olympic coach, Nicholas Romanov, the inventor of Pose Method. He recalls his first introduction,
The second half of this article can be obtained with a subscription to Direction or with your help. See instructions above.
The articles for the new Active issue on topics; Tennis, Running, Swimming, Pilates and Golf will be worth the wait.
"A Direction Journal stays in print for many years" I was once reminded. Years of use for students and Alexander teachers alike. When I set out interviewing the most knowledgeable Alexander teachers in their respective fields my excitement grew quickly. Let's change the conversation in the sporting world to include knowledge that Alexander teachers have been using to enhance performance for many decades!
Results are what the end-driven sporting fraternity want. Let's not waste time explaining how the Alexander technique works... a topic that bogs even the best versed teachers down in words that are misinterpreted by the receiver.
"Let me show you" is the reply that's needed when faced with the invitation "what's Alexander technique got to do with my golf swing?"
The articles in this new issue empower Alexander teachers to reach those who want help but don't know where to look.
An extract or two will appear here over the coming weeks to prove there is actually an Active issue written and awaiting layout and print. Thanks for waiting. PC
Just a quick announcement to share Michael Gelb's new book "BRAIN POWER: Improve Your Mind as You Age". It debuts today.
He produced a series of Leonardo Da Vinci inspired books during one of the greatest book/movie/hysteria movements of all time when the popular Dan Brown book The Da Vinci Code took the world by storm. Perfect timing.
Now with Baby Boomers becoming more aware of how retirement affects the mind and with the new attention to neuroplasticity capturing so much attention he's done it again.
"This book presents the most essential, practical, research-validated information on how to improve your mind as you get older.
It includes a section entitled "Balance and Poise: The Missing Links in Healthy Aging" featuring a strong endorsement and description of the Alexander Technique."
"A blueprint to optimize your brain and improve the rest of your life." Daniel G. Amen, MD, author of Change Your Brain, Change Your Life
"You will find, on every page, useful and intriguing knowledge, resources, practices, exercises, and technologies to unleash your brain power and improve your mind as you age. Buy it, read it, live it!" Tony Buzan, author of Use Both Sides of Your Brain
"This book offers an excellent collection of tools to improve your mind and life. I hope everyone will read this wonderful resource, which can help us all to not just survive but thrive." Bernie Siegel, MD, author of 365 Prescriptions for the Soul and A Book of Miracles
Click here to purchase the 248 page paperback at Amazon for only $9.95!!