Many people come to an Alexander Technique (AT) lesson to talk about posture. They want “better posture” and they don’t want to hurt or feel fatigued when having “good posture”. To address this frequent topic I wrote a sample introductory lesson. This lesson explains how posture applies to the Alexander Technique and how you can address your own posture. While reading, I want you to ask yourself: What is your personal definition of posture and how do you manifest this definition?
What is posture?
In The American Heritage Dictionary, the definition of posture is: a position of a person’s body or body parts: a sitting posture…; a characteristic way of bearing one’s body; relative placement or arrangement.1 What posture definitions fail to explain is that the manifestation of your posture can be moving and changing.
Posture should allow movement and change to occur, even within a seemingly still situation, like sitting in a classroom. You can see this clearly in a small child learning to sit or walk, they move as they balance- the movements are small and subtle but necessary to being a comfortable upright human being. As adults this movement is less noticeable, yet still accessible.
What is “good posture”?
Throughout life we are taught “good posture” and “bad posture”. As children we were told posture was important and even to “sit up straight.” With this demand for a straight back, the necessity to sit in a chair, concentrate for extended periods, and the instruction to “sit still” we started to deny the possibility of movement within our posture. Therefore, posture became a position. The “good posture” position may have been reinforced by being told: you look like you are paying attention, it is better for your back, and it will help you stay awake. Or alternatively, when you slouch you may be asked if you are paying attention, or told you look like a slob.
For many of us our “good posture” brought pain, tired muscles and antsy feelings. So, after a bit- you slouched. Slouching is an alternative sitting position, which brought invited relief from sitting “straight”. Any position that we are in for too long becomes uncomfortable, it just does. So maybe you developed a variation of your slouch, seeking rest, comfort and stability. Basically, over time, you developed a few positions to flip between whenever sitting, standing, and whatever else you may be doing.
Now, a few clarifications:
The word “straight” is often used when referring to the back; but the back is not straight. The term “back” is a generalization for saying spine, ribs, shoulders, pelvis, numerous muscles and other attachments. The shape of our spine affects the structural relationship to our head, ribs, arms, pelvis, and vise versa. Our spine has four curves in motion that absorb and cushion as we move. The spine works much like the shocks in a car, absorbing change and impact as we move while protecting the spinal chord and head. These curves are vital to our health and wellness. In most cases attempting to straighten the necessary curves of our back will only bring pain, tension and injury.
Our backs help balance the entire body. This includes the legs, head, arms and how we are interacting with the world around us; making coffee, carrying a gallon of milk to the table, or kicking a soccer ball. The human body, just like a skyscraper, needs movement to balance. You may not see the small movements of the body, but like the skyscraper these movements are just as necessary.
Revisiting our sit up vs. slouch- posture example, there are a few things that are working against us.
1. We have a fixed idea of what posture is; we think it is a position to hold.
2. We move to seek relief and find other (ground) support through slouching.
3. Our memories of posture interfere with how we sit- every time.
Note: For simplicity, this example refers to the posture of sitting. The posture lesson may also be applied to standing, walking and how we move throughout our day.
Incorporate anatomy into your posture:
You can be upright without feeling the desire to melt to the ground (slouch). We can begin to examine this by doing an experiment. Begin by taking a look at the curves in spine of this man.
Take a few minutes wherever you are sitting. Try to go from “straight” to slouch. Feel both positions by going back and forth, spend a minute in one then the other. Imagine your own spine and how you change the natural curves. Describe to yourself how your spine’s curves are currently shaped as you feel each position.
When in “good posture” we stiffen, resisting movement. We lift ourselves up, instead of feeling the support we have from gravity and allowing balance to happen. We force the position, using too much muscle. Most importantly we stop the small physical movements inherent in us that eliminate the effort of being upright.
When we slouch we are over extending certain curves, while tightening the opposing curves. Slouching creates an unbalanced distribution of pressure throughout the body, which can cause strain, injury, fatigue, and chronic pain. Like sitting straight, over time slouching will also have an adverse impact.
Now, try a place in-between, where you are not stuck in either position. In this place you are not lifting up and not pulling down. Recognize where you are in contact with support: the bottoms of your feet on the ground, back of the upper legs and pelvis on the chair, your back against chair, your arms are resting on your body or an armrest. See your surroundings. Include what you are thinking about and how you feel in the experience. Over time, by returning to, and getting to know this greater awareness you may discover a new relationship with your body in space. An AT teacher would help you find and understand this movement in space within your unique circumstances.
Your new relationship may allow for an upright alignment without holding and pain.
Adults are not used to feeling these small movements, we are used to the big stuff- pushing a door closed, picking up grocery bags, moving the couch, downward facing dog. Feeling the small movements that we use in balance requires slowing down and engaging in physical listening; paying attention to subtle movement and acknowledging what is physically happening. Once you are able to notice, then you can speed back up.
The Alexander Technique teaches that posture is dynamic; meaning human beings should allow movement when we sit at the computer or stand in a check out line, instead of being stiff. When sitting you can allow relative adjustments to happen, they just happen all on their own. When we hold, we stop the movement, making it difficult and uncomfortable to sit for a long period.
This is an example of a lesson on a specific topic. Some people come to address specific topics: how they type at a computer, talk in front of a group, play an instrument, others just show up: they have pain, want to be more present in their day, or are curious. We begin to work together, generally with hands on teaching, and various topics begin to emerge: breathing, thought patterns, moving your arm, walking, resting, putting on your jacket, sitting at a piano, holding a musical instrument, just to name a few. To find out more, contact Kansas City Alexander Technique at firstname.lastname@example.org or (989) 506-5327, I am happy to discuss how you can incorporate the Alexander Technique into your life, answer any questions, and set up a lesson.
***This is a general introduction to help you understand what Alexander Technique is and how it can be helpful to you. Working with an AT teacher in the room, you will receive direct information and feedback that is particular to you and how you move.
1. Definition posture. The American Heritage Dictionary Dictionary site. https://ahdictionary.com/word/search.html?q=posture&submit.x=0&submit.y=0
Updated 2017. Accessed March 19, 2017.