Posture Lesson #1

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.

spine from side

EXPERIMENT
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 kansascityalexandertechnique@gmail.com 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.

References

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.

A Basic Introduction:

The Alexander Technique

What are the basics of the Alexander Technique?

The way humans are designed to move is based on gravity, balance, structure and our nervous system, to put human existence simply. From the moment we were created in utero the conditions were percolating for us to become upright humans. We developed and grew. Learning movement patterns that would help us strengthen for the next growing phase in life. Eventually, we got ourselves to this moment, of reading this article.  Attention to this moment in your life.

How are you in contact with the ground? This is your support, how are you using it? Are you leaning against a counter with one foot on top of the other? Are you resting on the couch with your head propped up high on a pillow? How did you physically transition from laying down to siting…….how did you move…..do you remember?

Bring a bit of attention to your physical self- can you feel the top of your head with out reaching for it with your hand?

What else are you doing: multitasking, distracting yourself online from your computer work, helping your child with homework?

How is your thinking affecting your movement choices?

I always teach a bit of anatomy, it depends on the day and the students what parts I teach. The shape of all 27 bones in your hand affects how your hand moves, types, grips, scratches an itch and holds a steering wheel. Do you know what these bones look like?

Movement understanding can come from learning anatomy and noticing how we move and think. Another important part of the Alexander Technique is feeling movement in a different way. As you work with a teacher, in what is referred to as hands on, they are able to transfer a new type of movement understanding. This is best experienced, as each teacher has a different feeling, a distinctive way of using his or her hands to transfer motion.

Here are a few commonly used words and how I define them within the Alexander Technique:

Gravity……..is a part of our environment.

Balance…..is the weight and counter weight within our body.

Nervous system……is the communication between our mind and body.

Structure………….the parts that comprise our body- the bones, muscles, organs, fascia, tendons, the list goes on and on.

Every Alexander Technique introduction is different, just as we change with each new breath. Above are a few important topics I tend to include with new students. How do you live in this world? In my classes, I teach for you and your activities; the way you walk and talk. To experience how I would work with you, you must come to class.

Morning Wake Up

Lay on a somewhat hard and flat surface. A comfortable surface. Stretch out so your arms and legs are all in opposite directions. Now that your limbs are apart from your body, don’t work to stretch, and let yourself rest on the ground.

Listen to your breath without trying to change your breath. (lifelong study)

Notice what you keep thinking about. Acknowledge when you are thinking about what you have to do later today or something that happened earlier. Bring your attention back to what you are feeling physically, right now.

Beginning with the edges- fingers or toes on one side- move your one chosen body part in gentle circles, just a few – then in the other direction. Let this circular motion travel across your body. For example: if you chose your right fingers, next make circles with the palm of your right hand- one direction then the other. Keep on the same side- continue these circles with your lower arm, elbow, upper arm, shoulder, upper ribs of the right side, spine, now cross to the other side- left pelvis, hip socket, femur, knee, lower leg, ankle, heal, middle of the foot and finally toes. Now begin with the other hand or foot, circling the other parts.

You might notice that I named some bones and some joints- feel the difference between how you circle a bone and how you circle a joint. This is an experimental investigation- so feel movement and identify different sensations, rather then trying to fulfill a routine.

Feel your body moving in relation to itself and enjoy the movement.

Next, move in any way that feels good.

Rest. You decide how long.

Slowly come to standing.

Notice your breath without trying to change the current rhythm.

Walk and take these new sensations with you as go about your day.