THE ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE: MISUSE IN PREGNANCY

In four-legged animals the weight of pregnancy is distributed over four legs, but in humans all the extra weight (the baby, the uterus and the breasts) is carried at the front of the body. Because there is more weight in front there is an increased tendency for the body to fall forwards. The muscles at the back of the body therefore have to work more to maintain the balance. From an Alexander perspective, misuse is when this increased muscular activity is concentrated in specific areas.

The way in which a pregnant woman compensates for the increased imbalance will reflect her habitual misuse. If she has a tendency to an over-tense posture, she will pull her head and upper back backwards, by over-contracting the muscles of the lower back. The woman with a more collapsed posture will give up all attempt to retain her uprightness. In both cases the deep muscles in the pelvis and the muscles of the legs have to work extremely hard to maintain the balance, and there will be excessive tension in the joints, which will restrict their range of movement. The ligaments are also put under a lot of strain, because instead of doing their normal job -which is to make the joints more stable - they have to do a great deal of the work of supporting the body (which should be done by the muscles).

Unfortunately, instead of stabilizing the balance, this way of compensating creates a vicious circle of misuse. In both the over-tense posture and the collapsed posture, the lower back is allowed to curve forwards excessively, which throws the weight of the baby even more forwards. The body then has to further compensate by contracting muscles in an attempt to bring the centre of gravity back. And so it goes on, made worse by the fact that the baby meanwhile is increasing in size. This gives us the commonly accepted image of the pregnant woman having a very hollow back with the pregnancy carried far out in front. Some pregnancy books even suggest this is a physiologically natural aspect of pregnancy!

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Everyone experiences stress, but some suffer from it more often and more intensely than others. In 1950 two American psychologists classified individuals into two basic behavioural groups: Type A and Type B. In challenging situations, both displayed a predictable and characteristic 'style' in dealing with stress.

Type A

hard-driving

achievement-oriented

very competitive

time-conscious

Type B

laid-back

easy-going

calm

relaxed

The peri-menopausal years are especially stressful, partly owing to greater hormone swings but also to alterations in the family structure. It is now established that stress may give rise to anxiety and depression, is associated with coronary heart disease and can detract from the individual's sense of well-being. Recognising and coping with stress early in life will make it easier to deal with the increased strains that the menopausal years can bring.

Stress has been described as 'the extension of strain'. Up to an individual's maximal tolerance level, stress improves performance and enjoyment of life by presenting challenges that have to be met. This is a healthy balance. (Too much or too little challenge can produce imbalance in the form of 'burn-out' or 'rust-out'.) Each individual has a different tolerance level, with an upper and lower point similar to those on a thermostat. Within this range there is a 'comfort zone'; outside it some distress occurs. Distress in life is caused by 'stressors', which may be internal or external.

The key to reducing excess stress is to understand your own abilities, ambitions, habits, motives and weaknesses. By identifying your own 'comfort zone' you will be able to recognise when you are moving out of it. Analysing your lifestyle will allow you to make appropriate changes to reduce stress and thereby lessen the negative impact it may have upon you during the peri-menopausal years.

How to keep within the 'comfort zone'

The following suggestions will help you to keep within your 'comfort zone'.

Discuss any problems that worry you with someone whom you can trust. Sayings such as 'get it off your chest' and 'a problem shared is a problem halved', while clich?s, offer important advice. Talking problems through with someone can significantly reduce their impact and lessen the stress they cause.

Have a balanced lifestyle which includes time for yourself, work, family life, hobbies, sport and exercise. Ask yourself what you don't have to do.

Know yourself well, including your ambitions, desires and the limits of your 'comfort zone'.

Maintain good physical health with a balanced diet, adequate sleep and regular exercise.

Set yourself achievable and worthwhile short- and long-term goals. This will give you a sense of purpose and direction.

Adopt a positive attitude to your capabilities and believe in yourself.

Nurture friendship and fellowship: a partner in life who is 'a good friend' is the ideal.

Maintain and improve your sense of humour.

Proceed with one thing at a time.

Listen without interrupting.

Start the day early and avoid fighting the clock.

Relax at some point during the day.

Attend assertiveness training classes to assist you in coping with the excessive demands of others.

Assertiveness should not be confused with being aggressive. The essence of assertiveness is being able to value yourself, and to say 'no, thank you' when unreasonable demands are placed upon you by others.

Counselling

The task of a counsellor has been described as that of giving the client an opportunity to explore, discover and clarify ways of living more resourcefully and towards greater well-being. It can provide an opportunity to express worries about the menopause and the years ahead as well as to discuss more general questions about the pattern and direction of the individual's life. It is also a good way of finding out which situations cause the most stress; a counsellor can often point out factors of which an individual may be unaware and suggest ways of mitigating the pressures they bring.

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