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

Friday, 18 January 2013

Physical Literacy in Schools

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The Telegraph yesterday reports that Baroness Campbell, chairwoman of UK Sport, has complained that eleven-year olds in Britain ‘can hardly move’. Indeed apparently ‘they can’t catch, throw, jump or run – the fundamental basic movements of every sport’. The remedy is for more primary school teachers to be trained in PE.


There are some basic assumptions in this that can usefully be questioned. The first is the priority given to sport in terms of everyday fitness and movement. It’s simply not necessary to make movement subservient to sport; people can get what they need from dance, from everyday movement, from learning to sing well, from having an active life. This is not an anti-sport point, sport if you enjoy it, is a valuable thing in itself, to be commended and I teach many sports people how to use themselves well in their chosen activity. Equally, I teach actors and singers how to look after and use themselves well in their chosen activities. The athleticism in terms of stamina and endurance of the opera singer is quite the match of the top-flight athlete, with both relying on good co-ordination and control.


This then is the point missed, that the Baroness has got the wrong way round, namely that good co-ordination and control exist prior to sport in everyday activities of sitting, standing and walking. Good co-ordination and control is not sport dependent, although it can be enhanced and developed in sporting activities. It exists in everyday life and too often when you look at children they are badly co-ordinating themselves in the above tasks of everyday life, as well as writing, drawing and using a keyboard. Good co-ordination and control shows itself as much in these activities as sport and the fundamental basics are not catching, throwing, jumping or running, but the use of the head, the neck and the torso in relation to each other. 


Having re-iterated one of Alexander’s points, it is also important to re-iterate another, namely that prevention is the key. Too often children’s use deteriorates when they enter school and here, yes, primary teachers could do with knowledge of how people use themselves, so children’s co-ordination improves in their daily round of lessons by preventing the kind of habits that evolve which makes movement sluggish and un-enjoyable. Children learn to be inactive, as much as they learn to be active, there is a great deal of need to exercise the principle of prevention here. This recognises that the primary co-ordination centres on the head and neck, Alexander’s primary control, and that when this goes wrong consequences follow. Co-ordination evolves in the context of inter-personal relationships and the basic achievements of standing and walking through control of the head and neck are too often not fully mastered by the young before the demands of throwing, catching, running and jumping are made on them. Mastery of this basic grammar of movement does not just facilitate successful sporting achievement, but success in all areas of life. This is basic to education, something that John Dewey noted of Alexander’s work many years ago. 

Richard Casebow

Back in the mid-1980s, I started to suffer from severe sciatica that often made walking and working difficult. At the time, I was training in London to become a Chartered Accountant and I left, as I was spending increasing amounts of time off waiting for the pain to subside. Around this time, I also became depressed, as my prospects seemed to darken with little hope of a normal life. In seeking help I found my way both to a psychotherapist and then to an Alexander Technique teacher, both of which helped enormously. The therapy with forming a life plan and understanding myself, encouraged me to dream of the life I have now. The Alexander Technique gave me the practical tool to help realise it and to allow me to rehabilitate myself to lead a full normal life.

The link between Alexander Technique, Psychotherapy and the art of living intelligently became something that has fascinated me ever since and is something I have continued to explore myself and with pupils and clients since. This blog is my attempt to elucidate the links, as well as to talk about Alexander Technique pure and simple and the benefits of therapy.

I founded the Edinburgh Alexander and Therapy Centre in 1994, Counselling Conversations came later after I became a practising therapist in 2003. Professionally I act as the Treasurer of the Personal Construct Psychology Association and sit on the board of the UKCP’s house magazine The Psychotherapist. When I am not to be found working, there is nothing better I like to be doing than spending time on a Scottish hillside, exploring the arts or just spending time with friends and family, including the family cat.