I've been meaning to post this for awhile, but been to lazy to summarize it, and it probably needs a summary.
This is an MP3 interview by Robert Rickover of Richard Brennan, an Alexander Technique teacher from Galway in Ireland that I'm linking to. But I think it would probably be of some interest (and possibly benefit) to people who don't study Alexander. Here it is:
How the Alexander Technique can help you improve your posture
And here are some of my thoughts -- not that they're particularly informed but I don't like to post the link bare without trying to show its relevance.
Linking back to Primal existence
It seems that posture is a problem for us in a way in which it was not for our ancestors. F. Matthias Alexander himself had some interesting things to say about that. He said that people living as hunter-gatherers did everything as it were "by feel" -- and got it right. Hence their superb physical qualities, such as agility, often commented on by early writers. (See, for example, Catlin on the Sioux.)
Why we go wrong
Nevertheless, as society became more complex with the onset of agriculture, and then industrialization, this cased to work for us. "By feel" no longer works for us, because our sensory appreciation has become disrupted -- we have "debauched sensory apparatus", in Alexander's words -- and we're no longer making reliable judgments. And this has happened because we've changed everything around us, but forgotten ourselves. The route back, Alexander thought, was through a more conscious understanding of how we do things.
Note, "knowledge" in the normal sense isn't what's meant here. For example, you can have a doctor who knows a great deal about respiration but who in practical terms doesn't know how to breathe. We're talking about actual kinesthetic experience -- but a kinesthetic experience that is thoroughly understood at a conscious level.
Current misunderstandings with regard to what we need to do
This is, I think, very important. Here, I think we can go diabolically wrong. What we have to bear in mind is that "posture" is not a position -- it's something dynamic. Interestingly, people seem to have had a better understanding of this in the past, and the standard definition of posture in the Oxford English Dictionary defines the word in such terms. However, currently, many people think of terms of a "position". That is fundamentally to misunderstand that we are systems in movement. And once you think in those terms you start to stiffen, to "hold yourself". And this is the reverse of what's needed. Neither is it any use to tell people to "sit up straight" and so forth. If people knew what that meant, they'd already be doing it. And in attempting to follow such an instruction all they do is fulfill a wrong idea of what "straight" means -- and remember they're trying to follow the instruction "by feel" and with "debauched sensory apparatus".
Richard Brennan tells a good story of a woman who came to him with arthritic pains in her knee. She said she'd been to her doctor and he had told her that it was just "wear and tear" and she should expect such things "at your age". This lady turned to the doctor and said that as far as she knew both her knees were the same age, so it wasn't an explanation she found convincing. How astute of her! Anyway, so she went to Richard Brennan, and he found that she was standing with most of her weight on one foot, and that was causing the pain. When he taught her to stop doing that, the pain went away.
This links to a major concept. It's not that you need to do something -- what almost everyone mistakenly tries to do with problems as a corrective. You need to do this: find out what you're doing that you shouldn't be doing and stop doing it. Take away what's interfering with normal functioning and "the right thing does itself".
In modern society we are all in fact walking around with bundles of acquired habits that we've become quite unaware of. Brennan mentions a woman who always wears a handbag strap over one shoulder, and who holds the shoulder up a little to keep the bag on. Keep doing that, and eventually holding the shoulder up becomes a habit, and you no longer know you're doing it. Brennan also tells his own story of agonizing back ache, which his doctor tried to fix with prescribing painkillers and recommending rest, because fundamentally that was all he had to suggest. Additionally, a bewildering array of alternative therapists -- including, surprisingly, osteopaths and chiropractors -- who were unable to do anything for him either. Eventually, he went to an Alexander teacher, who showed him in a mirror that he was sitting over at an angle of about 20 degrees -- and there was the origin of his back-pain. Brennan was working at the time as a driving instructor, and sitting so as to watch the driver and at the same time make sure the driver was using the rear-view mirror had necessitated this peculiar way of sitting. Over time, that way of sitting had become habitual to him, so that he no longer knew he was doing it. When gently sat up straight by the teacher, he then felt he was leaning over the other way at 20 degrees. (Remember our "debauched sensory apparatus".)
But I'll say no more on acquired habits and how they become part of our pattern of use. Anyone who wants to get more understanding on this should definitely read the book by the famous neurologist Professor Oliver Sacks, entitled A leg to Stand on:
Leg to Stand On | Oliver Sacks, M.D., Physician, Author, Neurologist
One other interesting comment Brennan makes is that he can see that roughly half of the people walking the streets in a modern country in the developed world have fairly serious problems with the way they move. The pity of it is, of course, that many of these are acquired problems, so that people need not have them.
Richard Brennan has a new book out on the Alexander Technique specifically as it relates to posture: Change Your Posture, Change Your Life
Change Your Posture, Change Your Life, a book by Richard Brennan
Last edited by Lewis; 05-27-2012 at 08:50 AM.
Great post, posture is something I definitely need to address. Definitely will give these links a read.
So true what you state about habits and even furniture design/car seats conforming us into unnatural and unproductive postures.
I realized how important the way one carries themselves is, especially for those with compromised backs.
The information in Esther Gokhale's book 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back and standing/sitting guidelines I found so helpful in freeing me up to move without danger of aggravating the slipped discs in my low back. Her advice became essential for moving pain-free 98% of the time.
Years ago I had a bit of training in Alexander technique for same issue. The literature sound interesting especially Oliver Sacks's book.
Last edited by HeuristicFireFlower; 06-11-2012 at 08:11 PM.
This is the woman who advises people to hold themselves rigid and to breathe high up in the chest, isn't it?
Originally Posted by HeuristicFireFlower
That's not the same thing at all.
No, of course she doesn't say anything about being rigid, simply that elongation, not compression, of the spine is healthy and can be observed in cultures with good kinesthetic traditions. She speaks of an "inner corset" when performing movements that can stress the spine, but not with "rigidity". The comment on breathing is that when your spine is elongated and your abdominals are stretched, you will notice more movement in your chest during respiration than if your chest is collapsed. Which is not an admonition to breathe higher up. Nothing dire as you suggest, and very helpful to me and many others. I have only had brief exposure to Alexander technique so I can't make a qualified comparison but I know it's a profound and respected practice. However Gokhale has been accessible to me, and I'm much the better for it.
O Lord! This is up again.
The point I thought I'd made in my 1st post was that any "doing" involves tension. What happens in an AT lesson is that the teacher puts his or her hands on you not to manipulate but to make you aware of where you have excess tension. Once you know you can let it go. It's not something you can capture in language: you have to experience it kinasthetically.
Trying to adjust or align yourself fundamentally doesn't & can't work. It introduces new & different tensions even tho you won't be aware of them.
You can't solve a problem by thinking at the same level of thinking that caused the problem in the 1st place.
On the particular point: you SHOULD'NT lift your chest when inhaling. This is a common malcoordination caused by mistiming a breath so that the diaphragm is going the wrong way & the only solution is to lift the chest. Small children, whose usage hasn't yet been disturbed, don't do it.
The ribs must be elastic & flexible & able to expand sideways. If they don't it's because they're being held - in a word "rigid" - whether the person in consciously aware of that rigidity or not.
Posture is definitely a problem for us today especially with spending many hours in front of the computer. This article tells us the importance of increasing our awareness in proper posture to avoid deformity and painful conditions that may occur later in life.
Thanks for the in-depth post and links. I, too, have found a new understanding of what E. Gokhale calls "Primal Posture" and am sitting, walking, standing, and lying more naturally, elongated (non-compressed more accurate), and comfortable. It was strange to feel like I was leaning forward when in fact standing tall, but a true joy to find new ease and awareness in (yes!) dynamic posture. I really appreciate how Gokhale came to her method not through abstract theorizing, but by observing people from cultures devoid of back pain. It's learned! And can be re-learned at 48 yrs old!
Odd. I totally missed that instruction.
Biggest take home advice for me from Gokhale's book included finding the center of gravity and stacking (not forcing) ribs over hips so as not to tire the back muscles. Eventually, I could sit for hours this way with minimal if any discomfort. Bending from the waist to allow muscle that are meant to stabilize the back to strengthen and do so and not over-tax and spasm the muscles that aren't designed to fully carry the load constantly. Sorta re-distributing the work of holding the torso, through posture, allowing better movement. I don't get where that is rigid, rather I see it and FEEL it as taking stress off an area that's been delicate for years and giving freedom from fear of further damage and excruciating pain...
What I was impressed about the Alexander training was that it made me much much more body aware and mental connecting points to various areas of my spine were hyper tuned. Even though, I don't practice, the awareness was easier to recall in similar exercises.
Videos of counter-productive breathing "instructions" have been posted here before.
You don't have to "do" breathing. It's a natural process: you just need to get out of the way and allow it to happen.
Again, a "doing".
Originally Posted by HeuristicFireFlower
The whole point of the original post was that posture is actually something dynamic and that you don't try to "do" it. You endeavor to find what you're doing that you shouldn't be doing and stop doing that. Let the right thing do itself. Layering more tension on top is not going to be helpful.