Most people who have heard of The Alexander Technique associate it with ‘how to improve posture’ or posture training. Alexander Technique teachers tend to avoid the word ‘posture’, as it brings to mind a straight-backed stiffening, caused by the tightening of muscles.
Thinking of ‘posture’ can lead us to impose a new habit (straight-spined stiffness) on top of an existing habit of use, without any understanding or reduction of the original habit.
If by ‘good posture’ we mean a natural poise, ease, grace and balance, then The Alexander Technique can certainly help.
How we lose postural integrity
As babies, we had astonishingly big heads in proportion to our body size. When learning to walk in toddler years, your head was still disproportionately large, and the neck muscles still soft and under-developed.
The way you balanced your head would have been key to how you balanced your whole body and learned to walk. Like almost all toddlers you would have moved with ease, grace, poise and balance. Young children use their bodies efficiently and have abundant energy.
image Noel Kingsley
If you could continue this pattern of use, you would reach adulthood with well developed, strong postural muscles. Continually poised, you would most likely be naturally well-coordinated, easeful in movement, having presence and stamina. Good use would be instinctive.
However, in western society there are extra environmental pressures. From childhood we sit on chairs, our feet not reaching the floor. At other times our hips are lower than our knees, for example in car seats.
We slump over desks, concentrating on small details, blocking out our peripheral vision, ignoring our bodies. Later, exhausted from inactivity, we fall into soft sofas, often hypnotised by the television overstimulating our senses, blocking out the present, blocking or ignoring any feedback from our bodies.
The many shocks of life, coupled with overstimulation, can leave us with an ingrained startle response (neck tense, shoulders raised and held tight). In the wild we would release this response by fleeing from danger. Without the opportunity to release the tension, many of us live our lives continually partly startled. This may mean we are constantly at risk of overreacting to situations.
Inactivity, over-stimulation, lack of presence, the trials of sport, inappropriate fashions, overuse, all take their It is this tolls. One of the worst culprits is the computer. Even if perfectly ergonomically set up, the toll on our bodies is enormous. It’s as if the flickering screen that tires our eyes also mesmerises us, drawing our heads towards it. It is the action of craning forwards that is perhaps the most detrimental to our good use. It pulls us off balance, and squashes, our suboccipital muscles, with a detrimental effect on the whole musculo-skeletal structure. The health and ease within our suboccipital muscles determine our coordination, balance, ease, and the efficiency of all our movements.
The typical cycle
The idea of postural training is fundamentally flawed because it suggests holding, tightening, stasis, and mind/body division.
When we try to improve our posture, we will often straighten the spine, visibly stiffening. There is a fixed, held quality in this action. It involves putting excessive tension in our outer movement muscles, at the expense of the correct use of our deep postural muscles.
This action is not sustainable. Movement muscles with their fast twitch fibres lack the ability to sustain the effort involved. We tire, and slump into our habitual pattern of collapse, perhaps more deeply than before the effort of stiffening into ‘good posture’. When the slump eventually becomes uncomfortable, we realise that we’re slumping. We become self-conscious of the fact, again attempt to straighten out of the slump, repeating the whole tiring slump/straightening cycle.
The alternative to the slump/straighten cycle
We can regain our natural poise, ease, grace, balance, and freedom of movement by learning the Alexander Technique. This teaches us to recognise and release our built up tension patterns, so that our bodies move naturally, easefully, with economy of effort.
The Alexander Technique teaches us to develop an understanding of the subtleties of dynamically balancing our head and neck. When the head is delicately balanced on top of the spine, the whole spine is able to lengthen and release.
As our body structure realigns, our deep postural muscles are required to work. They regain their strength, and we are once again able to sustain an easeful, almost effortless, upright posture.
The Technique is tactile, in that the teacher ‘suggests’ through touching gently with the hands. It does not involve manipulation. The touch is both subtle and profound. The release of our habitual muscular tension allows the spine to realign naturally, safely and permanently.
Once learned, The Alexander Technique can be applied independently, anywhere, and at anytime.