A new take on posture
I like the word poise. It captures within it both the energy and availability of the cat poised to leap and the elegance of the African woman with a load poised on her head. Or the dynamic poise of a tennis pro waiting to receive a serve and the graceful poise of the tai-chi master practising his form. In one word, poise is both ready for action and fully composed - energised and with equanimity. I propose this is a more functional description of posture than its usual definition as a static position in space.
The origins of common posture problems
Our bodies diligently attempt to do what the mind asks of it. If one has a concept of posture as an immobile position, then this is asking the body to become immobile. The body recruits what it can to represent the concept held, and ends up stiffening into rigidity. We’ve all had the experience of soreness coming from holding one position too long. It is simply not a natural or sustainable practice.
The concepts we have of “shoulders back, chin up” (or similar) are usually distortions of our innate poise. We learn these “posture myths” when we are so young as to not have any discretion about its usefulness - or how we might attain such posture. Even if the model of “posture” we have is benign, the way we attempt to gain it can undermine the intention to improving posture. With no framework for matching concept with alignment, inappropriate effort is often recruited.
Unfortunately, such effort comes with a sensation of “doing something” which may feel like successful engagement, regardless of the actual outcome. Furthermore, this excess effort is often rewarded by our parents and teachers - those whom we’ve emulated. Once established, these patterns form the basis of habitual poise for the adult. Once habituated, they become to feel normal, and any deviation from the norm - however dysfunctional the norm may be - is rejected. One becomes insensitive to the very mechanisms that naturally regulate posture.
The most common experience adults present is one of “too little, or too much”. Holding oneself up is tiring , so before to long, one collapses into a slump. The slump is compressive of the organs and abusive of the spine and is not sustainable either. With no other option, so many of us oscillate between two ineffective “postures”.
Alexander Technique engages observation as a key tool to improvement. Learning to recognise the difference between what the body is doing and what the body feels like it is doing, is a fundamental part of a lesson. A mirror is often used, and the teacher will guide the student's attention to certain conditions which may otherwise be unnoticed. The teacher’s light touch and movement speaks to the body directly and one can experience a new balance of tone. The relaxation students learn forms a base line of minimum tone which one can use as a comparison to habitual tone.
One’s initial observations of self may be simply that everything is normal - i.e. habitual. Alexander Technique forms a framework of intentions that initiate a change in tone and can be a catalyst to improving self awareness. At the same time as holding these intentions, one must refrain from actively making changes, as this will result in the same effect as habit. An indirect procedure must be employed to enable the body to utilise its innate postural mechanism.
Clarifying the body map is also part of the re-education of posture. To have a clear concept of the spine’s location, curves and weight bearing aspect sends accurate information to the musculature attempting to conform to the newly redefined ideal of poise. Where the head articulates with the spine, the scope for movement the torso has, how the arms and legs support the body in achieving buoyancy and where the torso balances on the points of contact with support are other factors that are part of the picture in making positive changes to posture.
Ultimately, in order to effectively change posture, one needs to reconsider the very concept of posture, the way in which one relates to the body, the body map and the specifics of sensation tied up with habitual poise. FM Alexander made extensive experiments on himself to achieve such a change. Fortunately for us, his technique has been preserved and developed into a readily accessible method which anyone can learn. It may sound complex and challenging, but working with a teacher makes it readily achievable.
An improvement in posture is a profound and rewarding outcome of Alexander Technique training. Since the manner in which an change is made requires a whole body and mind retraining, the principles embodied will have effects far beyond sitting and standing. Those “postures” are simply where we find ourselves when we are interacting with the world whether it be at work or in play. The skill of Alexander Technique is most inspiring when it extends to activity and becomes inseparable from the activity itself. It becomes how you engage yourself fully in all that you do. It brings more quality to the output, but more importantly, more ease, presence and enjoyment to any actions you choose to engage it with.
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