Saturday, 1 February 2014

On 14:41 by Victoria Stanham   No comments
Posture (getting it good or getting rid of the bad) seems to be an issue for almost everyone I meet.
Posture & pain
On the surface it seems to be a matter of getting your spine straight and your body parts aligned in such a way that it communicates elegance, confidence and grace. If, to top it off, you are able to maintain that poise throughout the day without seeming to put any effort into it… well, then you’ve really hit the jackpot, and you can forget about the whole issue for the rest of your life.
But is it really that simple? Posture, (good or bad) is really about a lot more than physical alignment of body parts. That external appearance is no more than the physical reflection of the inner workings of the mind, the emotions, the body’s insides (try keeping an erect stance in the midst of stomach cramps) and the context in which said body is immersed at the time. Posture is no more than a snapshot of the present moment. Therefore, much as the present moment changes from one instant to the next, posture is as dynamic and ever-changing as your moods, your thoughts and the weather.
Does that mean you’re doomed to rounded shoulders and sway backs, with every sway of your inner and outer world?
Not really. Although mind and body will move (for such is their nature), you can cultivate the ability to witness their movement, without running after every bodily sensation, thought and emotion that comes your way. In order to do that, you need to strengthen that quiet center within yourself, that ability to witness your workings instead of becoming fully identified with them; you want to have the strength to mold the circumstances to align with your best interests instead of letting the circumstances mold you to their wish and whim.
And that, my friend, requires both knowledge and practice.
First and foremost you need the knowledge; you just can’t reach a destination whose general direction in space is unknown to you. Where would you start and in which direction would you take your first step? So you get yourself to an Alexander Teacher, who will explain to you all the intricacies of the balance of your head on your spine, and its supreme rule over your posture. With her hands she’ll give you a wonderful experience of what that possibility looks and feels like in your own body and mind, showing you that it’s not something beyond your ability, but rather something quite natural to your design but that you forgot somewhere along the way.
Is that it? Sorry, but no.
After you acquire the theory (and having experienced its effects in your lesson you have come to believe in it), then you need to apply it, to test it, to try it out and see what obstacles lie between you and your upright destination. If all you ever needed was the theory, then you would be blessed with the gift of ‘learning by direct transmission’ and you wouldn’t be reading this blog. But chances are you’re among the vast majority of us, who need to plod our way step by step, learning from our mistakes.
So, you need to take this knowledge and apply it to your real life.
Because habits are strong little gremlins who don’t give up without a mighty
fight, you need to be constant and disciplined in your application. Problem is, we’re only constant and disciplined about things we either have already habituated (not the case here), or things we’re passionate about, things we really want to get better at.
Unless you came to AT because of a particular hobby or activity you're passionate about and want to get better at, chances are you arrived because your poor posture is either unseemly or causing you pain, or, quite often, both.
The problem with this lies in the fact that when you don't have some external source of impetus, (something that you can measure your progress against and thus become passionately involved with your process, and something where applying your AT makes absolute and complete sense), chances are you won't be remembering to apply the principles at all. Be honest, how many times do you REALLY remember to watch your use when working at the computer. More often than not, whatever you're doing at the computer seems a lot more important than watching your use. 
You may say that your pain is something you’re “passionate about getting rid of”. Well, in my experience, pain is a motivator, until pain is no more. You apply the principles of the Technique until your pain gets better, and then you forget about it, your gains posture-wise gradually disappear, pain returns, you go back for AT lessons… and the cycle repeats itself ad infinitum. It’s like the perversion of the phrase “no pain, no gain”. Is that really the philosophy from which you want to live your life?
So what to do about this? Well, you need consistent practice in applying the principles, you need to strengthen the new patterns of movement, and build tone in the new body integration. You need to take yourself to further limits. It is in the liminal space that the questions appear; there is where the habit-gremlins show their horny ears and thus let you know where they are still very much alive. You need a laboratory for self-exploration, 60minutes twice a week devoted exclusively to thinking about your movement: how your hip flexes, how your torso bends and extends, how to efficiently lift a weight (or your weight own weight for that matter). In this laboratory all other distractions disappear, you are immersed in the experience of your body-mind… and here is where you find out how far you’ve integrated the principles, where they are not clear, which parts of your body are not clear, which bits of your thinking are not clear, etc. So when you go back for your next AT lesson, you have all these wonderful questions to explore with your teacher.
In other words, go do some exercise. Nowadays no one disputes that it is both necessary for your physical health as well as your mental health to get some exercise, some movement in your joints. If the form of exercise works on your mind-body connection, all the better, you’re getting a 2-for-1.
My recommendation: go find a good Pilates instructor. My students who take lessons in both methods are the ones who make the fastest progress. One process feeds into the next and sooner than you think you'll be coming to your AT lessons with fascinating questions like:  “How do I do a roll-up without straining my neck?”,  and, “Can we look at how I can keep my balance in the open leg rocker?”, or, “What do I need to be thinking to allow my hips to release in the single leg stretch?”

Pilates Stability Chair
A good Pilates lesson is the best fit for Alexander Technique students  who want to work on their posture but don’t have a specific context of application that they are passionate about — people who arrive at the AT without any avid desire to sing better, or play better golf, or other such regular activity that is of supreme import to them. There’s a lot of you out there, who just want your back to stop hurting and your appearance in the mirror to look a little more elegantly erect, rather than the human equivalent of a sack of potatoes.
So keep it in mind, if all you want your AT to do for you is correct your posture or get rid of your pain [those are effects; check out last week's post to understand why we don’t want to “do” the effects of an activity, but rather understand the principles behind it that produce the effect], what you need is some activity that captures your mind and heart. And if you can't think of any, go find yourself a Pilates studio, it will do wonders for your stamina, and health, and it will fuel your desire and appreciation of your AT practice.
And if you already do Pilates (or Yoga) and are stuck in your progress, no real advancing, or very little, despite all your effort, consistency  and diligence; then go find yourself a good AT teacher and explore the intricacies of the exercises you find challenging with your teacher.
Or if none of this interests you, then think about what you just love doing; maybe it's knitting, or reading, or talking on the phone. Take that to your next AT lessons and have your teacher show you how you can have an even better time doing it.
As usual, comment, questions, and counter-arguments are most welcome. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments box below. We all learn from each other, and your comment might just be the next reader’s “a-ha!” moment. Share the wealth. ;-)
Victoria J

Image attributions:
"Posture & pain" by Beth Sucamp
 "Gremlins" by Inti
"Pilates Stability Chair" by John Ranaudo


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