Back when I was a sports journalist, my days were filled with keeping up to date with the latest sporting news. No matter what the occasion, I was glued.
Life as an Alexander teacher – and a parent – means that things are slightly different now. However there's one event that still draws me in as much as ever – the Olympic Games.
The three-week festival offers everything that AT teachers and pupils could wish for. Sporting excellence, dedication to learning and reaching athletic potential, and continuous proof of just how amazing the human body can be. And I cannot wait for the show to get started in Rio tomorrow.
No matter what the event – be it the 100m sprint, the synchronised swimming or the mixed doubles badminton – there's so much to be inspired by. And what is noticeable in so many instances is that the very best in their field stand out not just with their performances but also with the way they use their bodies.
Long-distance runner Mo Farah, for example, looks so easy and light in his body as he glides round the track, no doubt buoyed by a rigorous training programme and confidence from previous victories, but also by a naturally wonderful coordination and freedom.
His body has retained much of the ease of movement and poise that all of us develop as babies when first we learn to crawl, then stand, and then finally walk and run. For most of us, this ease deteriorates as life goes on in the modern world and we begin introduce unnecessary tension to hold ourselves up, rather than maintain the balance. This can be caused by a number of factors including too much sitting at school or work, too many hours hunched over a computer or phone or too sedentary a lifestyle. Genetic factors may also play a part, as does the way that the people you spend your life with move. Youngsters learn so much through emulation – so if parents, teacher or carers have rounded shoulders and stiff necks and bend from the waist rather than the hips joints, then so will the child.
The physical demands of training for many of the sports at the Olympics also bring up some interesting dilemmas. We Alexander teachers encourage muscles to be used at their maximum length as much as possible to use minimal effort and move as efficiently as possible.
However, in sports such as rowing, the muscle mass needed and the culture of pushing the body to its limits in order to get stronger and stronger overdevelops and contracts muscles and leaves the immune system faltering.
In 2004 two of Britain's gold medal-winning coxless fours – Ed Coode and Steve Williams – had taken Alexander lessons in the run-up to the event and learned how to lengthen and widen their bodies as they rowed, become more aware of their bodies and consciously prevent themselves from pulling down and slipping into potentially harmful habits. It's a fascinating story and for the full account of how AT lessons helped the GB men's coxless fours win gold in Athens, written by their AT teacher Caroline Chisholm, click here: Remembering Olympic Gold for FM Alexander
This story highlights that despite being at the very top of their game, world-class sportspeople are still able – and willing – to open their minds and learn something new. In fact, to be the best, this attitude of continuous learning can be the difference between success and failure.
So as well as learning from the effortless grace and wonderful coordination of the athletes in Rio, we can also learn from their willingness to improve – both their performance levels for a specific activity and indeed themselves as a whole. And that is where AT can really come into its own.