Everyday Alexander: Shoveling

The Alexander Technique comes in handy when the snow flies.  I just came in from shoveling our first significant accumulation. It was beautiful, but wet and heavy. For those of us without snow blowers, it’s a great aerobic activity, and often pleasant if the temperature’s not too frigid.

But it seems to produce all sorts of minor injuries, aches and pains for people.  If you find yourself with low back pain, twinges in your shoulders or neck, or other maladies as result of shoveling, pay attention tohow you are bending and lifting when you shovel. Like vacuuming, sweeping, or gardening, shoveling is essentially about lunging. Some things to be aware of:
  1. Make sure your feet are fully engaged with the ground, your weight distributed evenly as across the soles.
  2. Bend at the ankles, knees, and hip joints, not at the waist. 
  3. Don’t scrunch your neck as you glide the shovel under a pile of snow.
  4. When you lift, use your springy legs as levers — don’t make your arms and shoulders do more than they have to.
  5. Again, make sure to keep your neck long and easy–don’t pull your head back and down.
Here’s an example of how not to shovel: 
And here’s an example of a squat and a lunge in combination, with hands-on guidance. It’s a summertime gardening activity, but the actions of bending, leaning, and lifting are similar to shoveling:

Notice the long, aligned torso and coordinated bending in the ankles, knees, and hips. See what results you get when you allow yourself this balanced way of moving when you shovel. At the very least, avoid the compressed, hunched way of shoveling in the first photo, and see how much less fatigued and achy you are when you’re through.Of course, we all work our muscles in a special way when we do manual labor like shoveling. A great way to reward yourself for your hard work is to lie in Constructive Rest for a few minutes when you’re through. Here’s some guidance for your “lie-down,” as the Brits call it.
Now have some hot cocoa and a cookie!  Whatever you find yourself doing in this hectic winter season, remember to slow down, tune into yourself, and breathe!

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  1. Pingback: Shoveling Snow with the Alexander Technique | Body Intelligence

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