The Vault

Establishing Good Health For Life

By Sue Scott

 

This article is about how an understanding of energy flows can help the Alexander teacher in teaching children the Alexander Technique. When teaching children, parents are the link between the Alexander teacher and the child. Parental and environmental influences will either help the child to expand or hinder this natural process. Children naturally have good use. Bad use in children is caused by emotional and environmental influences which pull them down. The child quickly acquires habits of use from parents through association, setting up patterns for life. Many parents see this happening to their children but feel unable to prevent the deterioration of their children's posture and other aspects of bad use. When it comes to changing this state of affairs one meets a problem. The Alexander teacher has a limited influence over the child compared with that of the parent. However, parents may lack the knowledge or skills to remedy their children's situation. This problem can be overcome by introducing children and their parents to the idea of energy. Children quickly respond to new directions in thinking, and readily understand that energy can be identified as a force which can be felt, released and directed. The parents can be encouraged to direct their own and their children's thought by using the idea of energy.

What is energy? For many people the idea of energy is unfamiliar, so we will spend a little time explaining this important idea. Energy is the link between the soul, the mind and the body. It permeates and extends beyond the body and can be seen by some people as an aura. Its origin is in the centre of the body, and it flows down pathways close to nerves. The Chinese have identified the exact whereabouts of these pathways and Chinese medicine influences the flow of energy by using certain techniques. In the West, the best known of these techniques is acupuncture which uses needles to enable energy to flow towards those parts of the body where it is needed. But the Chinese do not have a monopoly of experience of energy flows, for one of the results of Alexander lessons is the conscious control of energy flows.

In a healthy person, energy flows strongly and vigorously, enabling good functioning. Activities of a carefree physical nature will tend to enhance a healthy person's use of the self, improving breathing and functioning even more. When energy becomes blocked, discomfort is experienced. If the situation continues, either cramps or debility may result. A person whose energy is permanently blocked in one area will suffer from various symptoms, which may lead to chronic illness. FM Alexander's experience provides a very good example of this. The energy in his vocal chords had become blocked, causing hoarseness with accompanying respiratory noise. His discovery that the constriction of the vocal chords was caused by habitual and harmful tension lead to his formulation of a new method of respiratory re-education. He became known as 'the breathing man.' This re-educative process enabled him to balance his own energy flows by improving his manner of use. He later found that others were harming the flow of energy in themselves by a faulty manner of use and he achieved many notable cures of chronic illness by teaching these people his method. In all cases of poor functioning, breathing is impaired. Adults who come for Alexander lessons learn to redirect their energy so that their breathing can improve and bring with it a relief from tension and an increase in strength.

Interruption to breathing causes a fundamental block in the give and take of energy. Breath holding is very common in children. It happens in emotional situations and also when concentration is required. But the habit of breath holding quickly becomes part of the child's response to new demanding situations. Breath holding blocks the flow of internal energy, and conditions the quality of responsiveness to the environment. It is very catching. One person's interference with the flow of their breathing will affect the quality of the breathing of the person in contact with him or her at the time. Try listening to someone who never pauses for breath and feel what happens to your own breathing pattern and feelings. The parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems are regulated by breathing. Cyclic activity of all kinds is linked with breathing. Energy is replenished and directed by good breathing, and is more effective if consciously directed.

Emotional forces have a strong effect on energy. Positive emotions increase the flow of energy, negative emotions decrease the flow. There is give and take of energy between people. One can feel unaccountably tired when with one person, uplifted with another, blocked with a third. Now this description of 'blocks' can perhaps be amplified by an understanding that on the energy level—'blocks' form irregular energy flows and patterns. When the pattern is uniform, health benefits. Negative emotional forces can cause the pattern to become irregular, and can lead to energy blocks. With Alexander lessons, the release from tension and pressure causes an improvement in the regularity of the energy pattern. Many people find their health improved as a result of taking Alexander lessons.

Children's health is governed not only by inherited factors but by environmental influences. The stresses of living, the influence of the weather, viral infections and other factors cause energy to become blocked, or to be weakened in a person. Children's energy can also be blocked or depleted by continuing sibling rivalry or by strong adult emotions.

Parents of unhappy children have an instinct to cuddle them, provide treats and comfort, to sing and play to overcome sadness and to release tension. When the child's spirits are lifted, the pattern of energy becomes more positive and is a healthy influence. If a parent tells their child "I love you," that takes them up too, lifting the spirits and enhancing positive emotions. Thus it will be seen that one of the major positive influences on a child's energy is to be loved and taken care of. I believe that good use can be fostered in this way—by loving attention from parents and teachers.

A child needs a continuing supply of energy from its parents. After birth, the link with parents, formed in the process of conception, remains very strong. Parents channel energy to their child, and the child will take as much energy as it needs at the time. The positive effects of channelling energy can be felt by the parents, as expansion and warmth in the chest. The negative effects can be felt in times of distress as hollowness or weight in the solar plexus.

Another factor which influences balance and replenishment of energy is that the overall quantity of energy can be low. If a person is tired from overwork, or exhausted from illness, the quantity of energy may not increase again. At such times parents with a sick child may feel unaccountably tired as the child draws from their strength to recover. Moreover, children do not always use their own energy well, and may squander it by overactivity when they should be resting or be asleep. At such times parents may feel anger that their child is squandering its energy. The parents have to supply this energy only to see it thrown away!

So here we have the situation of the child born into the world with lots of energy which it draws from its loving parents, growing and developing and responding constantly to the influences about it, unconsciously absorbing the patterns of energy, making them its own.

Children start life with good use. They lose it as they pull themselves down in unconscious response to their families, friends, teachers and their environment. They become uncomfortable sitting in furniture which is the wrong size or doesn't offer their bodies adequate support. They become bored, frustrated, unhappy. They pull themselves down in sympathy with the adults who are close to them.

What we mustn't forget is that they go up again, whenever the stimuli are helpful, positive, good for them. What stimuli can parents provide to take their children up?

First say "I love you"—the most basic and most important communication between parents and children. A child should hear those words every day.

The environment plays an enormously important part in either contributing to or detracting from a healthy and harmonious energetic field. Each and every object has its own quality. Forces are brought to bear by order and disorder in the home, by the pace of life, by the intelligent solving of problems or by the use of force. Television and music of all kinds bring their influence to bear on the thinking and feeling patterns of those who watch and listen.

I would include in the environmental factors the need for good quality food and sleep. The physical environment should provide continuity and stability, the emotional environment supports the child too, adding fun, pleasure, laughter, warmth and poise. Combined with a sound structure this helps them to release their feelings and their bodies from contractive tendencies and from blocking.

Their environment can take them up. They need firm support under the sitting bones, slopes to work at while writing, eyes twelve inches from the page, feet on the floor. That means tables and chairs should be an appropriate size—modifiable as they grow. Every child needs exercise which is connected with the inner imaginative and mental world. Watching television cuts children off from physical activity while stimulating mental and emotional activity. Providing they can balance an hour in front of the television with an hour of running about or dancing, the harmful influences are modified.

The primary influence on a child comes from the parents. If adults are in a state of high tension this will be bound to be passed on to the children. If parents learn the Alexander Technique they will start to understand how they may harmonise their own energy fields and choose beneficial influences for themselves and their children. The Alexander Technique offers us a constant and reliable means of reordering our responses to this variety of stimuli. Where children are concerned, we can enhance our helpfulness to them by recognising the forces which are at work, and seek to modify or improve those forces which are brought to bear on the child.

Strong adult emotions can cause illness in the child. Tension between parents, repressed anger, depression or fear can lead to energy blocks or depletion in the child. It follows then, that Alexander lessons for parents will help them harmonise their emotions and will enable them to bring a more positive influence to bear on their children.

Life for a child should be predictable and regular. The pace should allow for quietness as well as stimulation. One minute's silence before meals while each child counts the external noises has proved an excellent way of settling down before eating. Tasting the food, identifying flavours, feeling texture and temperature, keep the child in touch with the moment. "Wait" and "Stop" are games to play which bring the child back to the present. If the game incorporates feeling, looking or listening, then their attention is held for those few moments, giving a chance to learn poise.

Car travel induces hurry and worry and the stress of fitting too much into one's day. We are keen to take our children to as many activities as can be fitted into the week. But all this doing obstructs the ability to be. Better to walk to and fro from school, talking of energy flows, than to be carted off to yet another class.

A positive approach to children's posture is more successful than criticism or scolding. Talk about energy. Describe what you see...

"I see your shoulders are drooping and your energy is going down."

"I can feel that you're not breathing easily, it's all stuck and difficult."

"Can you feel that your energy is stuck somewhere and is leaking out somewhere else?"

Imaginative faculties in children are so strong that the child can readily imagine the holes where the energy leaks out are being sealed up again so that they feel lively and happy and ready to smile again. Moreover they trust that it really happens and so it really does!

Parents can play these games with children until adolescence. Holding hands with a child is a lovely game. The child leads the adult—who makes sure the environment is friendly!—eyes closed and totally trusting. Gradually the experience of leading and being led develops sensory awareness so that less and less force and effort is used to direct the follower. Eventually each finds that the other's thought alone is enough to guide them. My daughter, then aged eight, once walked a mile with her eyes closed trusting me to lead her safely home. She kept reminding me: "You don't have to pull me Mummy. Just think me where you want me to go."

A child will readily release tension if given helpful stimulus. "Smile with your shoulders" is much more helpful than, "Don't hunch your shoulders." This approach establishes trust that the adult is sympathetic and is not attacking the child. Comments on how 'up' or 'big' the child is looking enhance those very qualities even more. Beware! It will be obvious to the child if you are not genuinely pleased! Routine comments of that kind quickly become patronising.

Story telling is an art to acquire. Start with anecdotes and simple tales of what you did or saw. Leave fairy tales until you are more confident. Through stories, messages can be given to the child indirectly. Children identify with the characters in a story and will play out roles and feelings and responses. Decide what key responses you would like to feed into the story. Maybe today it is to be stopping and working out what to do next. You make sure the characters in the story stop and think, "Now how shall I do this?" Perhaps you want a message about keeping energy flowing. The story revolves around the consequences of damming a stream, and the solution found by children to this problem.

Phrases that I have found useful are:

"Try softly, don't try hard."

"Have generous breathing."

An approach of this kind takes extra energy and imagination, but is fun once the initial difficulties are overcome. In the long-term, one's observation of children's behaviour and of the underlying forces at work is sharpened. The indirect approach towards harmonising energy flows livens up one's perception of the good qualities in life. Relationships with children become deeper and more rewarding and remove that sense of frustration and struggle so many of us have experienced when trying to influence children's behaviour. It stops us end-gaining and gives us a better means to help children lengthen and widen more of the time.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Sue Scott spent two years in the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra as a violinist until her marriage in 1969. She trained soon after with Walter and Dilys Carrington, sharing the final term with her new-born son Oliver. She maintained a lively private practice at home in Brighton while bringing up two sons and a daughter. Her husband is an acupuncturist, specialising in the treatment of children, so they share three great interests: music, health and children. Sue now lives in Cambridge—her children are completing their education through the final years of school and university.

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