How A Nursery Song Inspires Mindful Movement

Photo: Unsplash, Karl Frederickson

When I was a little kid there was a song that we sang in nursery school that makes me think of mindful movement. It went like this: “Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes. Head shoulders knees and toes, knees and toes. With your eyes and ears and mouth and nose. Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes!”

Because we think A LOT about the head, a lot about the shoulders, a lot about the knees and depending on the person a lot about the toes, it is the perfect song for Alexander Technique Teachers or anyone who practices the Alexander Technique. (If you don’t know about the Alexander Technique it is a mindfulness-based practice that teaches you how to move and live better.)

In fact, we think a lot about the whole body and how it moves through space. And if that isn’t enough we also think about the mind. In fact, we see absolutely no separation between the mind and the body. There is only mind/body unity so when you affect the body you affect the mind and when you affect the mind you affect the body!

I think that most of us don’t have really constructive ways to think about ourselves. Instead, if we think about ourselves at all, we think in very de-constructive, judgemental ways such as “am I too fat, am I too thin, am I too tall, am I too short etc.”

OUCH!This is not constructive thinking! This is not mindful movement.

The way that you think about yourself can change the way that you move, think, and react.

You can improve the way that you move by just thinking about yourself in a new and improved way. This is real mindfulness this is mindful movement.

So let’s learn new and constructive ways to think about yourself and practice mindful movement.

Sign up for my video course here!

Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes!

  • Heads up! Your head matters! Here is some knowledge. Your head rests on top of your spine but do you know the place where the head articulates with the spine? If you take your index finger and place it on the flap in front of your ears and place your thumb just behind your earlobe you can locate the place of articulation very deep in the skull. This is your atlanto-occipital joint. This is important because the way the head articulates with the spine determines how well you function. So paying attention to this articulation will improve the way that you move.
  • “Sunshine On My Shoulders Makes Me Happy” sang John Denver and so it should, but the shoulders have so much to bear. How many of you out there have aching shoulders and bad necks? My experience has been that most people misunderstand how the shoulder moves. They think that the point of articulation is closer to the center of the upper chest otherwise known as your pecs. Often this is the case with someone with rounded shoulders. Instead, think of the shoulders’ movement originating much further out. If you take your finger and trace the top of your shoulder all the way to the top of the arm you will come to the juncture of the shoulder and the arm.  This is where the arm moves best. Moving the arm in this way opens up the chest and prevents the sloping forward of the shoulders.
  • Are knees important too? You bet! Bending at your ankles knees and hips is critical for agility and balance. As we age we tend not to move through these joints. Squats and lunges are a great way to reintroduce this mobility. To do a squat stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Think of your head resting on top of the spine and think of letting go of tension in your neck, tongue, and jaw. Now bend at your ankles knees and hips as if you were to sit in a chair in an exaggerated way. Then stand up. Make this easy you do not have to muscle through this for it to be effective. Repeat several times. The better you get the lower you can go but ease into it. To do a lunge stand with your feet shoulder width apart then just step forward with one foot and then return to standing. Again repeat several times.
  • Are you on your toes? Many people walk inefficiently with their toes up in the air. You definitely do this if you find that you are wearing a hole in the top of your socks, slippers or sneakers. When we walk well our weight strikes near the middle part of the heel, crosses the arch of the foot and continues to our big toe. The big toe has two jobs; it helps balance you and it propels you forward. So when you walk think of walking through the big toe. Now don’t overdo this. Allow it to happen. Allow your arms to swing. Think opposite arm to opposite leg!
  • And last but not least. Stop trying- bringing too much effort to any given task tightens and shortens muscles and makes you less agile and flexible. Instead of trying harder to move tell yourself that you are going to allow yourself to perform a task. This is a mindset change. How you think about movement will actually change how you move. Your movement should be light, free and joyful.

How You Move Matters! You can learn how to move better with my Amazon bestselling book Agility at Any Age: Discover the Secret to Balance, Mobility, and Confidence.  My book is illustrated with 40 videos that you access with your iPad or smartphone! You can purchase it here.

My name is Mary Derbyshire. I am a fitness and movement coach. My methodology is the Alexander Technique, a mindfulness-based practice that teaches you how to move better. When you move better you feel better and when you feel better your whole life improves! Let me know what you think or ask a question! I love to hear from my readers! Feel free to post in the comments section below.

Stop Doing These 5 Things To End Back Pain

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Back pain can be debilitating! If you have back pain and neck pain you are not alone. According to the Mayo Clinic, back pain is the 3rd top reason people see their doctor.

Doctors at the University of North Carolina state that “Low back pain is the second most common cause of disability in the United States and a common reason for missing work.”

We all know that back pain is incredibly painful and can disrupt life in immeasurable ways.

Many of the treatments for back pain, whether invasive or non-invasive, may not be successful and can have lasting side effects.

Perhaps a new approach is needed.

Perhaps we need to shift the paradigm.

Perhaps it is not your back hurting you but rather you hurting your back.

Think about this. How you sit, how you stand, how you move could be creating unnecessary muscular tension. Unnecessary muscular tension can cause pain.

So the answer is to address how you move and reduce the amount of muscular tension you use while moving.

Would you agree that you don’t move like you did when you were a child?

Think about how a child moves. Effortlessly. A young child runs, jumps, hops, skips and tumbles all day long and never complains about a bad back, neck or knee.

Think about how they sit and stand. Their heads are beautifully poised on top of their spines.

Look at this adorable girl. See how her head and spine relate in a unified and lengthening way.

Compare her to this young man. Notice how his head and spine are compressed and that his back is not straight. He is slouching and his head is not poised on top of his spine.

This was FM Alexander’s observation way back in 1890: the way your head relates to your spine determines how well you function.

Better functioning means better movement. Better movement means less muscular tension. Less muscular tension means less pain.

5 Tips On What NOT To To To End The Cycle Of Back And Neck Pain.

1.Don’t try too hard! Trying hard just gets in your way. Trying brings about more muscular tension.  Stop trying and start allowing. Just tell yourself that you are going to allow yourself to be right here and right now. Take a moment to let this sink in. Allow yourself to be where you are right now. What is that like?

2.Don’t slouch. When sitting, do you sit on your sitz bones? In order to sit up with any degree of ease, one needs to be sitting on the sitz bones. Do this: find a hard chair. A kitchen or dining room chair would be perfect. Sit on the chair and slide your hands palm up under your bum. Do you feel the boney bits? These are your sitz bones – otherwise known as your ischial tuberosities. Now slide your hands out. See how much better you are sitting? Many people sit back from their sitz bones and this forces them to slouch. So you see all the while your mother should have been telling you to sit on your sitz bones to improve your posture and not telling you to sit up straight.

3.Don’t clench your jaw, tongue, and neck.The primary principle in the Alexander Technique is that the relationship of your head and neck dictates how well you function and move. When you clench your jaw and tighten your tongue and neck you are interfering with this relationship and thus hurting your back. So tell yourself not to clench your jaw. Instead, tell yourself to soften your neck and tongue. See if this changes how you move.

4.Don’t try to sit up straight. If a parent or teacher ever told you so sit up straight you most probably very quickly felt pain, tension, and stiffness. You can’t try to sit up straight with any comfort or ease. Instead, pay attention to your head on top of your spine. Then pay attention to your sitz bones on the chair. Allow your spine to lengthen away from your pelvis towards your head. Remember don’t try! Allow instead!

5.Don’t go-go-go! Instead, stop and lie down. I would like to teach you a very simple practice that has a profound effect on how we move. It is called the Alexander Technique Lie Down. Lying down in this way resets you. It is kind of like rebooting your computer. We live in a go-go world and don’t pay much attention to stopping. Stopping is very important and lying down gives you the opportunity to stop and reorganize. It is preferable if you do this on the floor with carpeting or a yoga mat. If you cannot get down to the floor, no worries. You can do this in your bed but be sure to replace the pillows with books. Here is the sequence.

The Alexander Technique Lie Down For Back Pain and Neck Pain and Healthy Living

  1. Find a spot on the floor with carpeting or a rug. Place a pile of paperback books on the floor. This is where you will place your head.
  2. Sit on the floor with your back to the books. Lower your chin to your chest and roll down so that your head rests on the books. You should not have so many books that you tuck your chin, nor have too few books so that your head falls back onto the books. The book height is not a science. It may change throughout your lie down and it may change from lie down to lie down.
  3. Place your hands on your ribs. Bend your legs so that your feet are flat on the ground and your knees are pointing up to the ceiling.
  4. Lie this way for 15-20 minutes once or twice a day. If you cannot manage that length of time start with 5 minutes and build up.
  5. Think about allowing your head to release onto the books.
  6. Think about allowing your back to release onto the floor. This includes your upper back, your shoulders, your ribs, and your lower back. If you feel tightness in your lower back you can do a pelvic tilt.
  7. To get up off the floor, roll over into a fetal position and then get onto your feet.

I hope that you have found this useful. Let go of preconceived ideas about aging and free yourself up for easy movement.

Here is a link to an instructional video I made. Click here

So I’ve just given you a lot of information on what not to do to help your back pain. If you sit better, stand better and walk better you will move better. Better moving means less pain increased mobility and confidence. Better mobility is critical to living well. If you would like some more instruction on how to sit better you can sign up for my FREE video course Sitting for Success here.

If you would like to learn more ways to improve mobility and get out of pain sign up for my course 5 Ways to Heal Back Pain here.

Or you can get my Amazon bestselling book Agility at Any Age: Discover the Secret to Balance, Mobility, and Confidence here.


My name is Mary Derbyshire. I am a fitness and movement coach. My methodology is the Alexander Technique, a mindfulness-based practice that teaches you how to move better. When you move better you feel better and when you feel better your whole life improves. You can get my Amazon best-selling book Agility at Any Age: Discover the Secret to Balance, Mobility, and Confidence here.

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How I can Save You Up To $1495 on an Office Chair!

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This is no joke.

I just GOOGLED “ergonomic office chairs” and found chairs that cost upwards of $1500!

Photo: Unsplash: Florian Klauer

Here is the secret: you don’t need one.

You can find a perfectly good chair at a local store or better yet recycle one from a friend’s garage sale and paint it if you must.

This is what to look for and it may surprise you.

  1. Find a chair like a kitchen or dining room chair.
  2. Make sure that the seat is firm. You do not want a rush seat. If you find that the chair is too firm and uncomfortable you can put a cushion on the chair. You know the ones I am talking about. They have little strings on them so that you can tie them to the chair back. You can find these cushions at hardware stores or home good stores
  3. The seat should be flat. It should not be hollowed out nor should it slope backward. This is very important. Backward sloping chairs make you slouch.
  4. Chair heights vary. The height of the chair should allow your feet to touch the floor. Your whole foot does not need to touch the floor, just some part is enough. If you are very tall find the highest chair possible.
  5. Buy your self a sitting wedge- you will be forever grateful. Your hips like to be higher than your knees. A sitting wedge is higher on one side than the other. You sit on the high side and this raises your hips. You want the wedge to be firm and not too squishy. The height of wedge should be about 3-4”. Here are 2 wedges I like: the first is the Desk Jockey Car Seat but I also like it at my desk. Desk Jockey also makes a really nice lumbar support that I highly recommend   My other absolute favorite wedge is the Gymnic Movin. It is inflatable so you can adjust its firmness. It also moves so it makes your sitting more dynamic. Your body likes to MOVE and the Gymnic Movin’ allows for Dynamic Sitting! However, this wedge is not for everyone. If you have balance issues opt for the Desk Jockey instead. Just click on the pictures and you will be taken to the product. If you want to splurge here is a great adjustable chair. It actually is a chair for cellists but I use it in my studio they also make one for taller people. Just click on the image and it will take you to the site. 
  6. If you must sit on soft furniture place a cushion behind your back to support better sitting. The pillow will prevent you from slouching and will provide a bit of support.

So I have just given you some easy and inexpensive solutions to sitting problems.

Remember small changes can have big impacts. Sign up for my FREE video course Sitting for Success here.

Or you can purchase a longer course 5 Ways to Heal Back Pain here.

Let me know how this works for you- I would love to hear from you!


My name is Mary Derbyshire. I am a fitness and movement coach. My methodology is the Alexander Technique, a mindfulness-based practice that teaches you how to move better. When you move better you feel better and when you feel better your whole life improves. You can get my Amazon best-selling book Agility at Any Age: Discover the Secret to Balance, Mobility, and Confidence here.


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How to Change Your Trajectory

This post may contain affiliate links.

Do you want to hear a surprising truth?   

You don’t have to take a 180-degree turn to make a change in your life. To change all you need to do is move one degree away from where you are right now and you will be on a new trajectory.

This is important. Many people think that change has to be radical like a total make-over, a do-over, a transformation from a cocoon to a butterfly.

It is hard to change radically. Humans like consistency and change needs to be subtle or else it is too overwhelming.

We live in a culture that places enormous value on extremes and because of this often times the complex is heralded and the subtle is overlooked or even dismissed.

For instance, you may think that the only way to get rid of back or neck pain is with strong medicine, a shot of cortisone or surgery. All of these options are extreme.

There are alternative ways that are more subtle and very effective.

Perhaps just changing the way that you sit, stand and walk could lessen or eliminate your pain and change your life for the better.

As an Alexander Technique teacher, this is what I do. In very subtle ways I teach you how to change the way that you move and even the way that you think.

Here is a testimonial from Rosemary who had watched a short video I had made about the importance of releasing unnecessary muscular tension in her body.

I often tell people to think about not clenching their tongue and jaw.

Clenching your tongue and jaw is harmful to the head/neck/spine relationship and this compromises the way that you move and live.

Mary, I just wanted to let you know how much better I am sleeping since watching your video a month ago.

You said to unclench your teeth. I didn’t even know I was doing that until you pointed it out.

Now, as I am dozing off, I tell myself “relax your jaw” and poof off to sleep! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!

So, for Rosemary, here was a simple and subtle solution to address a common problem. Releasing the jaw to calm down so as to be able to easily fall asleep.

This is how the Alexander Technique works. An Alexander Technique teacher gives you cues either with verbal instruction or with their hands to

teach you how to release unnecessary muscular tension and to redirect yourself through space.

This excessive muscular tension interferes with the way that you use yourself or in other words the way that you move and even think.

As a result with less clenched muscles, you move more freely, with greater ease and very often with less or no pain.

Why don’t you give it a try!

There are many ways to study and learn with me. I teach privately in Little Compton, RI. Or you can purchase my Amazon bestselling book Agility at Any Age: Discover the Secret to Balance, Mobility, and Confidence here, Or you can sign up for my FREE video course Sitting for Success here

Get in touch! I would love to hear from you! You can send me an email at

Photo: Unsplash, Sean Stratton

Between a Rock and a Hard Place?

Are you stuck between a rock and hard place?

Check out this photograph!

These are actual rocks at our nearby beach!

Talk about being “between a rock and a hard place!”

Whenever I walk the beach and come upon these stones I always ask myself “How did that little rock end up in the position to be supporting that big rock?”

Perhaps these rocks represent you?

Do you ever ask yourself “How did I get into this situation and how can I get out of it?”

If pain and stiffness are putting you in between a rock and a hard place, I may have a solution.

The Alexander Technique is very beneficial for people who experience pain.

Often times it is the way that you move that is causing the pain. When you learn how to move well the pain and stiffness go away and you feel better!

Most people believe that pain and stiffness are an inevitable reality of aging. This belief is false. You can move easily into your senior years. The Alexander Technique is a skill that you can learn, that will teach you how to move better. I can teach you that skill!

The bonus is that the Alexander Technique is fun and really quite easy to learn.

There are several ways you can learn about the Alexander Technique. You can buy my book Agility at Any Age: Discover the Secret to Balance, Mobility, and Confidence here: You can sign up for my 4-week video course that begins on Tuesday, July 5th, 2017 here:   Or you can study with me in person, here is a link to my calendar:  

If you would like to contact me here is my email address

It’s time to get out from under your rock!