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Change your posture and you may never look back

Many back-sufferers spend years in pain when, in many cases, all they need to do is change their posture

Richard Brennan practising his Alexander Technique. He says pain is a warning sign that something is wrong with the body. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

Back problems have reached epidemic proportions globally, with recent figures revealing that four million people input “lower back pain” into Google each month.

Richard Brennan, director of the Alexander Technique teacher training college in Galway and experienced practitioner of the method, has just published a book entitled Back in Balance which aims to help people to discover the root of their back pain and find effective techniques to eliminate the problem for good.

“I developed major back problems for many years as a result of my occupation as a driving instructor,” says the 60 year old.

“I tried dozens of treatments but by chance I met an Alexander teacher who explained that the Alexander Technique would be very effective in helping to treat my problem.”

Although by his own admission Brennan knew nothing about the technique, he decided to have a couple of sessions to address his constant pain which was making him desperate.

“After a few lessons in changing my posture, my back pain slowly but surely started to subside and, as the tensions gradually diminished, I also noticed that I was beginning to sleep better, my self-esteem and confidence grew and I felt happier overall.

“Before trying out the Alexander method, I was in pain constantly for seven years. It was very debilitating and prevented me from leading a happy life. I couldn’t walk very far, nor drive or even sit in a pub to enjoy a drink for any length of time. Life was very desperate.”

Lasting relief
Brennan says Alexander became the only method that gave him lasting relief; he hasn’t had any back pain for over 25 years.

“Now I can do everything I want without a bother. When I had my back problem I was told by the doctors that I would never lift anything ever again and they wanted to operate on my spine completely by removing the three lower discs and fusing the vertebrae.

“Luckily I decided not to have the operation. Now my back is fine – in fact, a few years ago I was able to lift full bags of cement when I was putting an extension on my house – so the change has been truly remarkable.”

Richard, who is married to Caroline and has two children, Ciaran (20) and Laoise (13), says pain is a warning sign that something is wrong with the body.

Many back-sufferers spend years suffering and trying to find treatment for their ailments when, in a lot of cases, all they need to do is change their posture and become aware of the damage they are doing to their bodies on a daily basis.

Since his recovery he has been teaching the Alexander Technique and set up Ireland’s only Alexander teacher training college in Galway in 1998.

He has written several books on the subject, and his latest, Back in Balance, aims to help people to release muscular tension and alleviate back pain with some simple easy-to-use techniques.

“Many people carry on as I did with unnecessary pain for years, not realising that anything can be done about it,” says Brennan.

“But the Alexander Technique [which was developed by Australian actor Frederick Matthias Alexander in the 1890s] involves becoming aware and changing postural habits that are at the root of a multitude of health issues such as back pain, neck problems, breathing problems, depression and anxiety, to name just a few.”

All sports
He says the technique improves posture and performance, which makes it suitable for perfectly healthy people looking to improve all sports, particularly running, swimming, golf and horse riding.

“I have been teaching the technique now since 1989, and have great sympathy for people with back pain – I know that most of the routes people go down give little more than short-term relief and sometimes make it worse.

“In my new book I wanted to bring a message of hope to all those in pain. There is a technique that really does work and anyone can learn it simply and in a short period of time.

“Nearly everyone I have helped has far too much tension in their back muscles – but they are completely unaware that they are tensing these muscles. They do it unconsciously. Once they realise this is the case they can release the tension and their back starts to improve. The results are often very dramatic.

“I also wanted to expose one of the causes of back pain which 49 per cent of the population suffer from; namely the very common sloping-back school chair which is used in nearly all schools in Ireland.

“I am very active in trying to improve their design which often causes children to tilt their chair forward as they don’t like the feeling of being pulled backwards.

“Over 21 per cent of children under 16 have back problems and I have in fact managed to change a proposed EU directive which was opening the way for school furniture to be allowed to slope back even further.”

Brennan’s book details all the bad habits which often result in a lifetime of back problems – I have found it easy to read and the tips are straightforward , so I am very hopeful for a miracle cure. Watch this space.

Back in Balance by Richard Brennan, published by Duncan Baird and costing €15, will be launched on Thursday, October 3rd, at 6.30pm at Charlie Byrnes Bookshop in Galway city.

Basic tips to improve your posture
When sitting, make sure the chair you are sitting on is not sloping back.

When standing, try to put equal weight on each foot. People often favour one leg and then sink into one hip.

Don’t stand up straight as you were told as a child – this only tenses the back muscles even more.

Realise that life is NOT an emergency. Lie down on the floor for 20 minutes each day with the head supported by books or a pillow and the feet on the ground and the knees pointing to the ceiling. This is a fantastic way of relieving pain in the back.