When I tell people I teach the Alexander Technique, there are a few standard responses. Here are two of my favourites…
A) A blank stare: followed by either: a change of subject or, if I’m lucky a question… “What IS the Alexander Technique?
B) A knowing nod; “Ah the Alexandria Technique, of course, that’s all about good posture isn’t it?”
This second sort of statement is often closely followed by a subtle (or not so subtle) change in the way that person is standing.
This change usually involves the person doing whatever they believe they must do to have “good posture” or NOT TO SLOUCH.
Perhaps a kind of physical straightening up – you know the ideas: balancing the imaginary book on the head, the plumb line or reaching up through the crown of the head.
Or a drawing back of the shoulder blades – chest out military style. A shift of the pelvis to counteract the tilt as they suddenly notice they are carrying all their weight on one foot.
If they are sitting; leaning away from the back of the chair, (as if leaning on the chair back was a crime to good posture.)
What is interesting about the change that occurs is that it’s never exactly the same in each person.
This makes sense when we accept a fundamental principle of the ITM Alexander Technique – that thinking causes movement i.e. person’s thinking, which includes their concepts and paradigms as well as the messages that they send from their brain to their body to create movement.
Because everyone has a slightly different idea of what good posture looks like or should feel like within our system, we end up with different movement patterns.
Even if two people have the same idea – it’s quite likely that they will translate that into a slightly different movement in their body.
What people very rarely do when trying to have good posture is LESS. Using less muscles, moving less parts.
But what if that’s all we need to do?
What if, instead of believing we need to DO something to stand or sit well, we embrace the idea that humans are actually made very well indeed.
That we evolved with a skeleton designed to carry us upright, balanced and strong. Our muscles and ligaments are designed to move that skeleton; turning bones about joints with brilliant accuracy and efficiency.
Our nervous system is designed to send messages to those muscles and ligaments, switching on and off in a miraculous display of patterns, allowing us to carry out the tasks we wish to accomplish – from playing the piano to rock climbing to holding hands. Using our thoughts to design and create movement.
That there are parts of our brain specialised in keeping us in balance and all we need to do is get out of the way of that inbuilt system and not add in our preconceived ideas (and therefore movements) of what good posture should be.
From this perspective of well-made-ness, standing is as simple as stacking our bones in the most efficient way to remain upright.
Efficiency in the context of movement is doing the very minimum with our muscles, using the least amount of effort to achieve the desired movement.
“Bad posture” from this perspective is just inefficiency: making more movements than we need to accomplish the movement: standing, sitting… playing the violin.
I’d like to chuck out the idea of posture altogether AND, while we are at it, the idea of good and bad. Instead, we can think about the way we choose to arrange our body parts – either efficiently or less efficiently.
We all have the same basic parts, the same number of joints – and yet we can arrange them so differently.
When we see that thinking causes movement, we see that these different ways of standing come from our ideas about what we need to stand: to “stand well,” or even just to stand in such a way that makes us feel like ‘us’.
You might have noticed a certain type of teenager: overnight the tallest in the class by a head, literally trying to make themselves a whole head shorter while standing. How they do that is quite ingenious. They might increase or decrease one more curve of the spine, they might lean backwards or to one side, or go for a wider leg stance. Humans are endlessly inventive in pursuit of their goals!
You might have noticed the habitual handbag carrier, who walks about with that shoulder lifted to brace against the bag's weight.
The strange thing is that even when the bag is put down the shoulder remains lifted. Even when the rest of the teen’s class has caught up height-wise, the stoop remains. It has become part of their plan – the movement creates a familiar feeling, it feels like ‘us’
The plan was hatched for a good reason, but even when that reason has gone, we persist because it feels right.
Why don’t we make a new plan?
Well, it’s just not culturally very common to question how we are moving and reason out more efficient ways to use our bodies. We tend to rely on “instinct” or “what feels right” – but when we boil these things down they both end up looking like old, and unreasoned plans.
“Instinct” is the plan we have always used before – and “what feels right” is the result of that old plan.
Change is hard and new ways of moving can feel wrong. What FM Alexander’s pioneering and extremely sane work offers us is a framework and toolkit of thinking disciplines to reason out what we want to do, and how best to get there. Along the way, it helps us understand and deal with the pitfalls that might scupper us on the way to positive change.
As one of his students Frank Pierce wrote, “The Alexander Technique doesn’t give you anything new to do, it helps bring more practical intelligence to what you are already doing – to deal with habit and change.”
I would love to share this work with you. Join me for a 6-week course to explore the principles of the Alexander Technique and how you can apply them to your life to overcome unhelpful movement habits and find more freedom and ease in your activities.
WHAT TO EXPECT:
✨6 sessions over 6 weeks: Thursday 22nd Feb-28th March, 7-8 pm at The Family Practice, 116 Gloucester Road, BS7.
✨We'll talk about the principles of the Alexander Technique and apply them to activities that interest you through a series of lessons - be it jogging, singing, a yoga pose, typing at a desk or simply sitting…
✨Don’t worry if you don’t have a plan for an activity, everyone starts with a sitting lesson
✨Investment: £125 for the course (concessions available)
✨Places are limited to 6 people.