Siobhan Ryan speaks to a woman who is using an old technique to help solve a modern problem.

The number of people who spend a lot of their leisure time sitting in front of a computer playing games or surfing the Internet has rapidly increased in the last few years and is continuing to climb.

This has led to concerns from health experts about the effect this can have on people's backs, arms and wrists as they spend hours in the same position.

The thousands of people in Sussex who spend most of their working week in front of a computer and then use a computer a lot at home run the risk of developing significant health problems.

These can range from stiff necks and aching backs to Repetitive Strain Injury.

A lot of the problems are caused by the postures people adopt while using a computer, such as slouching or leaning too far away from the keyboard.

Lisa Joffe says that people should look to the causes of their problems, instead of simply taking painkillers in order to carry on with what they are doing.

Lisa, from Portslade, says that the answer is to apply the Alexander Technique to everyday life.

The technique has been taught around the world for more than a century and is growing in popularity.

It works by changing movement habits in every-day activities in order to improve ease and freedom of movement, balance, support and coordination.

The technique focuses on the re-education of the mind and body, teaching how to release tension and use the appropriate amount of effort for a particular task.

It can be applied to sitting, lying down, standing, walking, lifting and other daily activities.

Most people come to use the technique because they are in pain or because they are performers who want to improve the quality of their singing, playing, acting or dancing.

Lisa completed three years of full-time training in the Alexander Technique in December 1999 and practises at the Clinical Centre for Chinese Medicine in Hove.

She also teaches intro-ductory workshops for groups and at Portslade Community College.

She said: "I came to the technique through chronic knee and back pain. I wanted to be able to understand how I may have been contributing to this problem through my postural habits and how I could help myself.

"I had no idea of the freedom and ease of movement that I would also come to enjoy through applying the technique.

"It is a practical method for releasing unwanted muscular tension throughout the body, which has usually accumulated over many years of stressful living.

"You are, in effect, unlearning habitual patterns of tension and rediscovering easier ways of moving, sitting and standing."

Lisa has drawn up a num-berof dos and don'ts when it comes to using computers and desks.

These include a good desk height to avoid strain. As a guide, it is important that arms are at right angles when typing. The seat of the chair should not slope backwards, as this is especially tiring for the back muscles.

If the pelvis is tilted backwards because of the shape of the seat, this forces the person to bend their spine forward to reach their work, causing unnecessary wear and tear on the vertebrae and discs.

Before beginning to use the computer, you should allow your arms to hang loosely by your sides, stretch your fingers down towards the ground and breathe in.

Then breathe out and bend your arms freely at the elbow joints, allowing the muscles to flex. Place your hands on the table, keeping the arms at right angles to it.

Then flex your hands gently back from the wrist and place them gently on the keyboard.

Lisa says: "Before starting, you should allow yourself to breathe, think of your neck and shoulders softening and try not to tighten the wrists.

"Do take breaks. It is easy to go into a trance when gazing at the screen, so you should get up and move around to avoid becoming transfixed.

"You should also remember to breathe. As concentration increases, tension creeps in. This can lead to holding your breath and hunching your shoulders."

For more details about the technique, Lisa Joffe can be contacted on 01273 776499.