Exercise is touted as the key to sustained good health. For many, the practice of exercise is unfortunately failing to achieve healthy outcomes. One hour of exercise per day is often not the panacea to spending the rest of the day sedentary. Alexander Technique presents a wholistic approach both to exercise, and to purportedly sedentary routines. It can keep exercise healthy, safe and fulfilling.
The need for exercise
Most of our work, and many recreational pursuits are, by their nature, sedentary. It seems that such time spent inactive comes with a price: either a compromise in health, or an exercise practice to counter the time spent inert.
What we might now call a “civilised” lifestyle uses very few of the movements homo-sapiens evolved to thrive upon. We abstract the motions of our primal ancestors into sports, gyms and swimming pools in order to fulfil the physical requirements for our optimal health.
What if sitting wasn’t sedentary?
Alexander Technique trains one to sit, at ease, with a perpetual, subtlety dynamic poise. Well coordinated sitting is neither immobile, nor tiring. It is characterised by an appropriate engagement of postural musculature and a lively disposition.
The sedentary professional who works hard to tone the ‘core’ in the gym every morning, but then lets the postural musculature disengage for the rest of the day, is misdirecting the energy of exercise. What is needed, is some technique for keeping the appropriate musculature engaged thought the day. Alexander Technique provides exactly this framework.
The inhibition and direction used in Alexander Technique are thought process which support a dynamic poise. The former prevents the overuse and inappropriate recruitment of muscle. The latter prevents the under-use of muscle, stimulates an effective core support, and (indirectly) activates appropriate muscle recruitment for the task at hand.
In this way, our ‘sedentary’ occupations have less negative impact on our health and don’t impose the same need for countermeasure. A positive sitting position is not a replacement to, but a positive complement to an exercise practice. Energetic activity can become seamless with, and supportive of ‘stationary’ work by again drawing on Alexander Technique.
Attitudes to exercise
In addition to its many benefits, exercise carries risk. It involves repetitive movement and increased load to musculature. Modern society puts a stigma on lack of exercise which may create unhealthy attitudes. This may snowball with our already overactive penchant for competitiveness - either with others, or with ourselves.
Being clear about motivation for exercise will help one stay within healthy parameters and pace accordingly. For me, exercise is: “for enjoyment and the benefit of my overall health”. This intention helps me stay within the functional limits of ability, whatever they may be at any given time.
In tune with the body
Staying in tune with what the body’s needs is critical. We need to know the moment we start to tire so that we can manage the potential compromise tiredness brings to form. Recognition of all conditions present is primary knowledge to deciding what activity is appropriate, how to engage effectively, and when to stop.
Such attention to the self may also be called being ‘in the moment’. I find it difficult to relate to treadmills with TVs in front of them. The runner is increasing the chance of compromised form by adding distractions.
Being 'in the moment’ allow us to stay open to possibilities. We all have habitual behaviours associated with exercise, so we need to maintain choice. It may be the choice to continue or stop, the choice to go fast or slow or the choice to allow weight to transfer a different way through the body.
The choice that we make can be kept healthy by referring it back to the overall intention for exercising, to the central coordination, and the whole body condition at the time of deciding. One alarm for me is if I hear myself say “I’ll just do ….”. Often times, when I reconsider, this phrase is a recognition that it’s time to stop, but I feel some drive to go further - inconsistent with my overall intention.
Choosing intelligently means we can meet limits effectively. If we choose to push limits, and it is a choice made with ability to coordinate as a factor, and sits within our overall intention, then it is less likely to lead to pushing too far.
An exercise in efficiency
For the most part, exercise is most effective when considering efficiency. The form of our chosen exercise will provide a reference to what this is, as will our coordination. Efficiency is marked by an effective engagement of tone, and a balance through the whole body, resulting in maximised performance.
Engaging the whole body might better be expressed as ‘engaging the whole’. A healthy psychological engagement is inseparable of a healthy physical engagement. Also engaging with the environment around - the sounds, smells, peripheral vision etc. will all help to keep a universal attention and stay ‘in the moment’.
Coordinating yourself for exercise
Exercise is fundamentally a function of coordination. A prioritisation of attention on coordination during exercise is the most healthy practice one could do. When used as a primary focus, the Alexander Technique framework brings together all the natural and technical components of exercise. The result is an ease and functional way of keeping healthy.
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