Clients walk into Sherry Loh’s artfully decorated loft apartment with back pain, they walk out feeling two inches taller. The Alexander Technique practitioner has been helping SE1 sort out its postural problems for over five years. Her clients include actors, city workers, hospital staff, and especially people with RSI, joint and muscle pain.
A former career as a fashion retail executive means that Malaysian-born Loh (today in a designer top and jeans) does not look like a typical alternative health practitioner. The giveaway is the perfect comportment of her 5’3 frame, which she attributes entirely to the Alexander Technique.
“I come from fashion, so for my final Alexander Technique training project, I brought in my highest Yves Saint-Laurents and said to my teacher ‘help me wear these’. You have to release your weight onto your heels, not let them tip you forward on to your toes, keep your spine straight and let your head float up.”
The Alexander Technique dates back to the 1800s. It is a method to help change habitual movement patterns caused by subconscious mental triggers. A typical 40-minute session involves Loh guiding a client through everyday activities such as standing up, sitting and walking. She uses verbal instruction and gentle touch to unravel muscle tension. Lessons help clients recognise and unlearn bad habits that can interfere with natural movement and cause unnecessary stress and pain.
Like many, Loh came to the technique after suffering her own injury. Growing up in Malaysia she was a state level competitive swimmer. This love of water led her to take up windsurfing and sailing. On a windsurfing trip to Australia she injured herself. “The wind was so addictive, I went out every day. The big guys were going out in the smallest sails but because of my size, I couldn’t downsize in strong winds unless I used a handkerchief! I was totally overpowered, I broke myself!” she says.
The chronic shoulder pain persisted for two years, not helped by a stressful job opening and managing retail shops for an international luxury accessories brand. She travelled to Paris, Milan and New York twice a year for trade shows, while ticking off the roster of treatments familiar to any back pain sufferer.
“Acupuncture, physio, chiropractor, strange machines …I’d feel okay for a week or so afterwards, but the problem would reoccur. It was so depressing. Doctors can do an MRI scan, but they can’t monitor your movement, at least not on NHS budget. I knew by then it was my habitual movement that was the cause.” she explains, as she positions herself with perfect posture into a teal armchair (a passion for interior design means her treatment space is a departure from the pale walls and medical skeletons you might expect elsewhere).
A chance sighting of a poster for Alexander Technique lessons on the wall of a back care centre changed her life. She was so impressed with the lessons that she gave up her job to embark on a three-year full time course to become an Alexander Technique teacher 12 years ago.
“I slowly started getting better, until one day I realised I was no longer in pain. That wasn’t the only benefit. My Asian upbringing had made me quite tense: there was a lot of pressure as a kid to be amazing all the time. I would get punished if I didn’t do well at school, swimming or piano lessons. That adds tension and the Alexander Technique helped me to release and be at ease with myself.”
Loh moved to Bermondsey five years ago, and practices from a space overlooking Neckinger Mills, a Grade II listed paper mill. Her eye for design extends to interiors, and her teaching space is an eclectic mix of furniture from around the world, sculptures and a growing number of terrariums. She also teaches at a clinic in Harley Street and corporate clients at their offices.
While Loh gets immense satisfaction from watching her clients improve, her greatest joy is being able to help her 82-year-old father who suffers from Parkinson’s Disease, a long- term condition of the brain that impacts movement.
“He has medication that stops the tremors, but most of the problems come from posture and lack of balance. A classical Parkinson’s problem is a forward stoop. I work with him to give him balance and confidence to stand and walk.”
She has recently got involved with a trust in the UK that helps people who have Parkinson’s as well as their carers.
It is this rounded, yet unique, approach that has made Loh a favourite among those suffering from desk bound lifestyles. Which other alternative health practitioner can help you manage chronic pain, improve at a sport and teach you how to walk in heels?
Explore the neighbourhood – Loh's guide
Casse-Croûte, 109, Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3XB
It’s tiny. The food is delicious and it is like you are in France. I perch on the bar and order a Lillet, a French aperitif made from wine and citrus liqueur.
Bar Tozino, Lassco Ropewalk, Maltby Street, London SE1 3PA
It’s a very good little tapas bar with jamon hanging from the ceiling. There is always a cosy and friendly vibe in there.
Third Space Gym, 2b More London Riverside, London SE1 2AP
I go there for the pool, ballet and Pilates. I used to train to win, but Alexander Technique has changed the way I swim, making it a more holistic experience.
Koops Mill Mews, London SE1 2AN