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The Edinburgh Alexander and Therapy Centre has been offering Alexander lessons and workshops since 1994.

Friday, 01 June 2012

Sciatica And Semi-Supine

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Exchanging emails with a friend today they told me of their plan to spend the weekend on the floor in the hope of easing their sciatica. This blog is an open letter of sorts to them about what they might do; how they might help themselves using the semi-supine procedure that I know that they have learned from their Alexander Technique lessons.

I have a particular interest in sciatica; it was what led me to Alexander lessons in the first place. I was relatively young at 24 to suffer the severity of sciatic pain that I had; it would flair up making it extremely painful to walk and I would have to take time off work to let things settle down – anti-inflammatories after the first episode seemed to have no efficacy. I tried all sorts of treatment and became familiar with a number of different physiotherapy departments, went on the machines to have my spine stretched, even had surgery. The result was always the same, things would get better and I would go back to work; three months of thirteen-hour days (I was working as an accountant in London at the time) saw me off work again.

I only properly understood the cycle after my first Alexander Technique lesson, when I suddenly saw how the way I sat caused the pressure on the nerves that caused the pain. Now Alexander Technique did not cure the sciatica, it does not claim to, but it was the one thing that helped through, giving me control of my use and, through that, the ability to relieve the pressure.

At first, that control was only there, as sometimes happens, when I was lying in semi-supine, later it came when I was standing up, until now when I can get it pretty much almost anywhere. This allows me to live a full and active life, I can say I never cripple myself with sciatica now, if that is not tempting fate. A pain is almost always there in the background because of the way my back is, but to repeat, it does not bother me. I know enough to not attend to it, to direct my attention elsewhere, to interrupt the standard pain reaction in favour of elaborating what works.

And it is this, not the basic instructions for semi-supine (I’ll put them up on the blog sometime) that I want to tell my friend. Elaborate the orthogonal, go for the vertical, do not try and sort out the pain. You will only attend to it directly, end gain and make it worse. It is only when instead of relating to the pain directly by attending to it, that you allow yourself to begin to focus elsewhere, that things begin to work, almost by magic, except it is not magic, it’s predictable, repeatable, if you know about use and the use of the eyes.

If you can find a way to lightly focus on the ceiling, without concentration, without fixing the eyes, it will all start to work; it is a matter of getting curious and wondering. A helpful thought, sometimes, if the ceiling is too boring, the pain too distracting, is to imagine a brightly coloured mobile just above your eyes. If you allow yourself to see it, the same thing will happen, your eyes will open wide with wonder, things will start to work – you have created the awareness within which you can work with the directions. It is always the shift of attention, brought about through leaving yourself alone. When that happens, you start to breathe and things ease off. From experience, released breathing means a back that is working well; a back that is working well means released breathing. It’s chicken and egg sometimes, except in the case of sciatica, where the breathing comes first.