Directions for the body
Balancing a four kilogram lump on top of a slender, bendy pole that has 26 separate components is a tough task. But most of us do it every day without thinking.
That's the trouble. A little thought about how our heads are perched on top of our spines could make us feel a whole lot better.
The health promotion day at Douglas Academy in East Dun-bartonshire is all about feeling better and living longer. The Alexander technique is one very effective route, explains Evelyn Tingle during her fourth session of a busy morning: "We take our bodies for granted. We imagine we know what they're doing when very often we don't. Most of us could use our bodies better."
The Alexander technique is about balance and aware-ness. It's about giving organs space to function and lungs room to breathe. Most of all, it's about learning how our bodies are meant to be used.
"When you buy an MP3 player it comes with a set of instructions," Mrs Tingle tells the class. "If you have problems these can help you solve them. But your body comes with no instructions at all. You have to work them out as you go along. So you copy your parents or you protect an injury long after it has healed.
"The Alex-ander technique comes with comprehensive directions for the body.
It offers lots of ways to learn how the body likes to use itself - and what this feels like. Stand up please... "
One of the main aims of Douglas Academy's healthy options day, explains Alison Waddell, the depute head who is organising events, is to introduce pupils to activities that would not normally occur to them.
"The whole third year, nearly 200 youngsters, is attending every one of 14 sessions. All the groups are mixed. So girls are trying Thai boxing and boys are doing salsa dancing and aromatherapy."
She opens a door onto a group of youngsters moving loosely to a rhythmic, pulsing beat, in step with the long-limbed dancer leading the class. The lads feel a little silly at first, they admit when the music stops, but "you soon get into it".
Beyond the next door, a white-coated young woman with a basket of bottles is offering odour sticks around, while a medley of sweet scents wafts along the corridor.
The gym has Thai boxing at one end and dance aerobics at the other. In domestic science, youngsters are making salmon and orange kebabs, and sampling strange-looking smoothies concocted by David Braid, the biology teacher. "Try this," he says, offering a cup of dark blue, lumpy liquid.
"Smoothies are a great way to get your five pieces of fruit and veg a day."
Back at the Alexander technique, the pupils are leaving, slightly more poised, better balanced and fractionally taller than when they came in. "I'd no idea that the way you stand and the way you breathe can improve your health," says Stephanie.
There are many paths to better health, and schools have to guide their pupils along them, says Alison Waddell. "We got very positive feedback on our healthy options day last year. So we're running one every year now.
"It's not just about good health while the kids are at school. We are giving them information and activities that can keep them healthier all their lives."
Qualification to teach the Alexander technique is through a three-year, full-time course, during which aspiring teachers learn good use of the body, then how to communicate this to others.
Subsequent teaching is through one-to-one sessions in which hands-on guidance and explanations are focused on the neck and head, where good use of the body begins.
More information from the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique, Linton House, 39-51 Highgate Road, London, NW5 1RS.
T 0207 452 5135 E firstname.lastname@example.org