Alexander Technique Help for Computer Users – Part 1: Awareness
Many of us, me included, have a love-hate relationship with technology – our computers, laptops, iPads, tablets and cell phones. We love everything they do for us: that seamless interface that connects us, almost instantaneously, with the world. We use them to get information, to interact with other people, for entertainment; we can produce complex documents, conduct research and solve problems, create images, presentations, videos and much more. What we don’t love, often, is how we feel after using this technology. Excess tension, poor posture, headaches, neck aches and back aches are all too common after hours spent at the computer, not to mention the prevalence of carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive strain injuries.
I would contend, however, that it isn’t actually working at the computer that is necessarily the cause of all these problems. Rather, it is the way we work – it is the way we sit, or hunch our shoulders, or the way we grip the mouse for instance. While a sedentary life-style is known not to be the healthiest choice, how we sit at the computer can make a huge difference in how we feel.
This subject dear to my heart, as I spend a lot of time working at the computer myself. I not only teach the Alexander Technique, I also design websites, mainly for other Alexander teachers, actively use the web and social media to educate people about this wonderful Technique, and much more. Indeed the Technique has given me the ability to work at the computer more mindfully, productively, with healthier posture and less tension.
While not a replacement for in-person Alexander Technique instruction, in this series of blog posts, I will be providing pointers to help your experience at the computer be more comfortable.
We can begin by cultivating a broader awareness while we use the computer. We are usually so immersed in our work (or game, or video, or Facebook…) that we forget about our body (until it starts to hurt, perhaps) and the space around us. We are totally sucked into the world on the screen in front of us. As a first step to mitigating this, broaden your awareness to include the room around you. If you have a window – look out! Look around and be aware of what’s behind you and to either side of you, at what’s beyond the computer in front of you. Can you maintain awareness of this, even for a few moments, as you return to the screen?
But how can we remember to be aware when the pull of the screen is so strong? It takes practice! It can be useful to set yourself a reminder or alert every so often. I find this mindfulness bell less jarring than many alarms.
What do you find are the biggest challenges to working at the computer? Did you try the awareness exercise? Did anything change? Was it difficult? Please let me know in the comments below.
Thanks for a very clear, understandable, practical application of the Alexander Technique!
Thanks, Mark. I couldn’t work at the computer without it!
Very nice, clear post Imogen! I worry a lot about the kids I see using their iPhones and other handheld devices with particularly challenging keyboards and tiny screens that almost force your to push your head down to meet them.
Perhaps future blogs about handheld devices and/or children and technology?
Thanks Robert. Yes, I agree the small screens of phones add an even greater challenge for the user. And yes – I think there is a blog on that in my future 🙂
Your simple, but (in my experience) highly practical advice about expanding our spatial awareness is one of the best ways to get us unstuck from that little screen in front of us. And you’re right. It takes practice (but the rewards are immediate!) Cultivating an awareness to include my thoughts and my body as they interface with my external environment has been key in my own self-improvement. Thanks for that.
Yes, spatial awareness seems to be a good starting point to me for getting “unstuck” from the screen. And awareness in general – of our environment, or our body, of our thoughts, emotions, etc. – is definitely the key to opening the possibility for change.
I’m going to give the mindfulness bell a try. Thanks for the link!
I have Repetitive Strain Injury, so I am keenly aware of the consequences of working on the computer for long hours. Through the Alexander Technique, I’m understanding that it is not the computer that causes my aches and pain, but my attitude when using it. I used to hate and became tensed just thinking about computers. Now, I am able to work for longer hours with less pain. I don’t approach it with a hate-love attitude. This concept makes me feel empowered. Yes, I have the power to not react to the tension! So, I constantly take breaks..walk around the house, go out doors, fuel myself with water and just rest.
Imogen, Good advise. I am one of those you speak about here. At the office, I sit staring into a computer terminal all day long. No question it is HOW I use my body rather than my ergonomic environment that makes me feel most comfortable. I am in charge, not mysterious forces on the outside working against me.
As you say, simply being aware of what is around us and noticing when fatigue begins to take over and tension mounts is all important. Moving around at intervals helps. The Alexander Technique has given me a set of skills that make the process of working at my desk all day much easier, with much less tension in my body. Learning to inhibit habitual patterns is quite liberating and works to make me free of pain. It also helps me feel a whole lot better about myself, believe it or not! Thanks for the nice post. I look forward to more in the series.
Yes, opening up your awareness around the screen is great for not getting dragged in. It can help improve your gaming too for those who like to play computer games. Expanding your field of vision rather than laser-sharp focus on a cursor equates to much more situational awareness in many games.
I like to have an ‘opposition’ to the screen when at the computer – as if the light from the screen is pushing up through the eyes to the crown of the head, and sending the crown of the head up towards the back of the room as a result. Keeps you from getting pulled in. By opposition, I mean like two magnets pushing away from each other.
Hey that mindfulness bell you link to is simple but useful! Wish I’d turned down my speakers a bit first though, the first time I tried it my speakers were on full and I nearly jumped out of my chair 😉
I like the “opposition to the screen” idea – very helpful as I sit here right now!
I guess with your speakers turned on full the mindfulness bell wasn’t quite as serene as experience as I’d hoped! Good warning to everyone else – have your speakers on low when you try it out!
The minute I saw the title of this blog I knew it was a topic meant for me! I struggle quite a bit to manage my body in relation to the computer. I did your little mindfulness exercise, and I had mixed reactions–I really love being absorbed when I work, so I’m not so eager to expand my awareness! But if it will help me with the physical demands of technology, I’m game.
Looking forward to more posts on this.
The Reflective Writer
Personal-Professional Balance Through Writing
Sometimes the Alexander Technique will challenge us on our attachments! But awareness really is the key to change – so being able to maintain some awareness of our surroundings and our body while we work, at least part of the time, is important. In time you may find this actually helps your focus… 🙂
setting up a bell as a reminder is a lovely idea, though I suspect many of us would be tempted to ignore it! I always ask my students to give over just a few seconds, whenever they think of it, to checking in with themselves and asking what they’re doing with their heads in relation to their bodies. Just the act of checking in is enough to make positive change – my students are usually surprised that something so simple can be so effective.
The bell is an interesting exercise (and I think you are right – we often don’t want to be interrupted to pay attention to ourselves…). I found myself very resistant to it at times, while at the same time acknowledging it as a useful reminder. I’ve had a couple of AT workshops I’ve attended where, as a discipline you might say, every hour on the hour, we stopped, paused in whatever we are doing, and taken a minute to be with ourselves. That’s quite an interesting exercise too…
Imogen, This is going to be a helpful series for me. A few months ago I strained my arm and believe it was caused from not sitting properly at the computer. I have a laptop now so have been taking it all over the house and have found myself resting my head in my palm with my elbow jammed into the table — not even realizing how long I sit like that! I like the mindfulness exercise although it’s pretty easy for me to do that because I have two cats that love to hang out (read: lay on) my keyboard or demand a pet! They make sure I’m pretty aware of my surroundings. Another issue I have is when I get caught up in a project – I lose all concept of time. Thank you for this important topic — my arm hopes I read the next one soon! 🙂
caregiving. family. advocacy.
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I spend way more time in front of my laptop than I should… I would get more accomplished if I didn’t. It makes sense that it causes all the illnesses that you suggested.
I’m sure some of the pain I have in my neck, shoulders, back etc. is caused by this.
Thank you for making us more aware.
Jane~mom to Nicole, 17 yo, VSD, PAH, Eisenmenger (dx 1/22/10)
BHJS (dx 2/4/11)
“You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”
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Thank you for sharing the mindfulness bell!
You’re welcome, Margaret. It is a helpful tool!
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