What Do Chairs and Shoes Have in Common? Part 1

by Karen G. Krueger

One common side effect of Alexander Technique lessons is a need to change furniture. After a course of lessons, a lot of chairs that once seemed adequate or even comfortable start to be very annoying. No chair can make you sit well, but a bad one can make it impossible to do so.

I have come to believe the same thing about shoes.

You’re no doubt familiar with the still-controversial barefoot running movement. You may even run barefoot or in “barefoot” or “minimalist” shoes. But have you thought about the effects of the shoes you wear daily, and the shoes you have worn throughout your life, on the shape and functioning of your feet?

In this and subsequent blog posts, I will invite you to consider whether what you wear on your feet is helping or hurting you, and I’ll provide resources for further exploration.

Let’s start by taking a good look at some basic shapes. Here are the feet of a typical newborn baby:

Baby Foot

Baby Foot

And here are is a pair of adult feet that have not habitually worn shoes.

This adult did not wear shoes regularly

This adult did not wear shoes regularly

This is the natural human foot: shaped like a triangle widest at the toes. Each toe aligns with its metatarsal, and the metatarsals and toes spread out like a fan.

Does it surprise you to see the adult foot? Have you ever considered how a baby’s little triangles turn into the foot shape we think of as normal — widest at the balls, with toes pressed together and towards the midline? This striking photo suggests an answer:

The foot pictured below is that of an adult who had never worn shoes on the left; on the right, that of a boy who had worn shoes for a few months. (Source: Conclusions Drawn From a Comparative Study of Barefoot and Shoe-Wearing Peoples, The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery. 1905; s2-3:105-136.)

Left: never wore shoes; Right: wore shoes for a few month

Left: never wore shoes; Right: wore shoes for a few month

Now look at the shape of couple of major-brand running shoes (looking at the bottom of the soles):

Running Shoe

Running Shoe

Running Shoe, 2

Running Shoe, 2

Note that both are shaped nothing like a natural human foot. Rather than spreading out to the toes, each shoe gets narrower from the ball to the tips of the toes. And these are shoes intended for athletic activity! Dress shoes, whether for men or women, are typically even pointier at the toes.

How can it make sense to run and walk in shoes that compress the toes into a wedge shape, instead of allowing them to spread out? What is the long-term effect of immobilizing the toes in this position for hours at a time?

In my next post, I’ll look at some of the other features of conventional shoes that are at war with the natural shape and functioning of the human foot, and talk about the resulting deformation and de-conditioning they cause.

In the meantime, try going completely barefoot for at least a little time every day — really barefoot, not even with socks on. Spread your toes, rub and manipulate them with your hands, find out what it feels like to have them actively engaged on the ground as you stand and walk. If you are like me, you will find it very enjoyable.

This is the first of three posts about what I have learned from my experiences exploring the approach to foot health pioneered by sports podiatrist Dr. Ray McClanahan. For a wealth of relevant articles and videos, see:

1. Foot Help

2. Natural Foot Gear (Click on the “Learn” tab)

3. Youtube channel of Northwest Foot & Ankle

And for a broader perspective on movement that embraces bare-footing and natural foot care, see Katy Bowman’s website nutritiousmovement.com.

Karen Krueger.png

KAREN G. KRUEGER became a teacher of the Alexander Technique after 25 years of practicing law at two major New York law firms, receiving her teaching certificate from the American Center for the Alexander Technique in December 2010. Her students include lawyers, business executives, IT professionals and others interested in living with greater ease and skill. Find her at her website.

Advice for a New Alexander Technique Teacher

Karen Krueger, ACAT ’10

1.  Trust your instincts.
Having completed a rigorous training course at ACAT, you are well-equipped to teach the Alexander Technique.  If your instinct suggests a particular approach with a student, or a particular insight that you think might be helpful, go with it, and see if it works.  If it doesn't, try something else. (See #2 and #3.)
2.  Throw out your agenda.

Read more

ACAT's Alexander Technique Teacher Certification Program: Supervised Teaching Component

IMG_0630-1by Brooke Lieb, ACAT Training Director ACAT’s Teacher Certification Program follows a developmental curriculum, which has been refined over the last 49 years. Our program is designed so that our graduates are prepared, and more importantly, are confident about their ability to teach, by the time they receive their teaching certification.

Throughout the course, students are being taught hands on skills, sometimes being guided through activities with the assistance of the teacher, and sometimes putting hands on the faculty to receive specific and customized instruction. At the core of effective hands on skills is always our own application of the principles to ourselves. Students come to understand and develop proficiency in applying Alexander Technique principles to all their activities, including the hands on and verbal components of teaching. How we are each applying those skills is at the heart of everything that we do in life, including providing instruction to another. Graduates have typically taught a minimum of 58 sessions under supervision by the time they graduate. I trained at ACAT  from 1987 to 1989, and I, too, felt fully prepared and confident about my abilities to work with students by the time I completed my training.

Here's what Karen Krueger, who graduated in December 2010 and who has served on ACAT's board of directors, had to say about the experience:

"Supervised teaching in the third year was a vital bridge from working with my trainers and fellow trainees to teaching on my own.

"Like ACAT's entire curriculum, the supervised teaching class follows a clear sequential structure. Although it was always challenging, it never seemed impossible. Week by week, throughout the year, my skills grew gradually, until I was able to teach an entire lesson to a beginning student. This was perfect training for becoming a teacher in private practice, since at the beginning, most of my students were also beginners.

"In the first term of our third year, our supervisory students had significant previous experience with the Alexander Technique. We then moved on to less experienced students, and we worked with beginners in our last term. As the experience level of our students decreased, the expectations of us as teachers-in-training increased: starting with 10- or 15-minute segments of teaching specific elements of the technique, and building up to teaching 45-minute lessons. Throughout the process, our trainers were in the room with us, helping as needed. At the end of each teaching session, we had the opportunity to discuss what had happened with our classmates and the supervising teacher.

"Throughout the year, I got to try out different approaches to teaching, and to experience many real-world challenges, in a safe and supportive environment, in which both my students and my trainers were there to contribute to my learning. I also took advantage of the opportunity to teach a few private students outside class during my 9th term, and this, too, played an important role in my development as a teacher.

"The Alexander Technique teaches us to set aside undue focus on a goal, and to give attention instead to the "means whereby" -- the way in which we go about the activities involved in reaching the goal. This approach to learning is exemplified in the third-year supervised teaching curriculum at ACAT. And it works: when I graduated from ACAT, I felt fully confident in my ability to teach from day one."

[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.acatnyc.org/main/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Brooke1web.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]N. BROOKE LIEB, Director of Teacher Certification since 2008, received her certification from ACAT in 1989, joined the faculty in 1992. Brooke has presented to 100s of people at numerous conferences, has taught at C. W. Post College, St. Rose College, Kutztown University, Pace University, The Actors Institute, The National Theatre Conservatory at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, Dennison University, and Wagner College; and has made presentations for the Hospital for Special Surgery, the Scoliosis Foundation, and the Arthritis Foundation; Mercy College and Touro College, Departments of Physical Therapy; and Northern Westchester Hospital. Brooke maintains a teaching practice in NYC, specializing in working with people dealing with pain, back injuries and scoliosis; and performing artists. www.brookelieb.com[/author_info] [/author]

A Better Speaking Voice in One Easy (Alexander) Lesson

Your Brain on Vocal Fryby Karen Krueger I've been reading a lot lately about "vocal fry," a speaking mannerism that some people find extremely annoying and others defend as an innovative trend among influential young women. Vocal fry is a gravelly or creaky sound to the voice that is most clearly heard at the ends of words and phrases. Some people call it "the NPR voice." Others trace it to Kim Kardashian.

People who find vocal fry to be unpleasant and irritating often say it makes the speaker sound frivolous. Others reportedly consider it a mark of authority. Some say that young women cannot expect to be taken seriously in the workplace if they speak this way, and others respond that this is anti-feminist.

I do not propose to join this debate over aesthetics, politics and meaning. However, I would like to weigh in on one thread of the argument. Those who defend their own vocal fry and other trendy vocal mannerisms often say that "it's just the way I talk, and I can't change it." Inevitably, speaking coaches, vocal therapists and other such professionals will chime in with "yes you can, if you take lessons in how to speak properly, and by the way, if you don't, you'll damage your voice in the long run."

I'd like to point out another way: the Alexander Technique.

Anyone who talks can make an immediate change in how her voice sounds by changing what Alexander Technique calls her "use." You can try this out for yourself by duplicating an experiment I tried using the recording function on my phone.

Pick a text to read aloud while recording your voice. First, sit comfortably upright and read a few sentences in your normal speaking voice. Then, slump really badly and continue reading without purposely changing your voice. Next, sit up really straight and stiff, and continue for a few more sentences. Finally, relax and resume sitting easily upright, and read a bit more.

When you play back the recording, I think you'll be surprised by how different your voice sounds in the different parts, especially as you assumed postures different from your normal way of sitting. In my experiment, my "good use" voice (sitting like a good Alexander Technique teacher) was resonant and pleasant, though it had the usual weird otherness that I hear in all recordings of myself. My "sitting up straight" voice sounded unpleasantly strident. And I was very interested to hear that when I slumped, I developed a flat-sounding voice with a distinct vocal fry.

Four Readings, Three Postures

Alexander Technique lessons are good for many things: easing chronic pain, increasing efficiency of movement, dealing with stress, and on and on. I'd like to add to that list that the Alexander Technique can turn vocal fry from something you are stuck with to something you can eliminate -- when and if you choose.

[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.acatnyc.org/main/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/karen-headshot-67.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]KAREN G. KRUEGER practiced law in New York City for 25 years before training at ACAT, and has now been teaching the Alexander Technique for almost five years.  She is the author of the recently published book A Lawyer’s Guide to the Alexander Technique: Using  Your Mind-Body Connection to Handle Stress, Alleviate Pain, and Improve Performance (ABA Publishing).  Website:  http://kgk-llc.com.  Buy the book.[/author_info] [/author]