Posture Made Easy: The Alexander Technique

We might think we’re skilled at sitting in a chair—after all, we practice all day at work. But proper posture all day is just as crucial as that computer and mug of coffee. Not only does it condition the muscles in your body, it can help you look and feel better. Standing or sitting up straight will also raise your spirits, sharpen your mind, and boost your attitude.

Going to the gym to help those back pains can be a temporary solution, but once in a while, someone with a little bit of knowledge will direct you to the Alexander technique. To its proponents, Alexander is much more than a posture technique. It is a way of life. Alexander Technique teaches you different ways of moving and thinking about moving so that standing straight takes less energy than slouching does. It makes you think about conserving energy and relaxing into everything you do.

The Alexander Technique is the brainchild of Frederick Matthias Alexander (1869-1955), an actor who began his career as a Shakespearean orator and developed chronic laryngitis while performing. Determined to restore the full use of his voice, he carefully watched himself while speaking and observed that undue muscular tension accounted for his vocal problem. He sought a way to eliminate that restriction. Over time, he discovered and articulated a principle that profoundly influences health and well-being: When neck tension is reduced, the head no longer compresses the spine and the spine is free to lengthen. Alexander restored his own natural capacity for ease of movement by changing the way he thought while initiating an action. From this work on himself and others, he evolved a teaching method that encourages all the body's processes to work more efficiently—as an integrated, dynamic whole.

Try a sample exercise

Start by sitting in a chair. Get comfortable. Do you find yourself slouching or sitting upright? Now stand up. How did you do it? Did you place your hands on your thighs or on the arms of the chair and force yourself up?

Now sit back down and try it this way. Sit upright in the chair and relax your head upward. Concentrate on relaxing your neck and thinking about a line traveling through the top of your head. To stand up, without pushing off your thighs or knees, relax upward and forward. Simply lean forward, tilting that imaginary line so that it continues to direct your body up and forward.

How did that feel? Was it easier than using the pushing off method? Did you feel less tension in your neck and back when relaxing upward?

Alexander found that the most useful change he could make was to mentally direct his neck to be free so that his head, followed by his body, could release in an upward direction—delicately, without any stiffening or undue effort. This is the guiding principle of all movements in Alexander technique, including walking and running. Next time you go for a walk or jog, try concentrating on letting that line from the top of your head direct you. Relax upward and tilt that line somewhat forward. Let your body follow and see if you feel more comfortable.

Practitioners of Alexander also focus on conserving energy in other ways. How hard do you really need to grasp a doorknob to open a door? Do you really need to bend so far over while brushing your teeth?

Alexander technique is best learned from teachers who have gone through the complete three-year training course and apprenticeship, though there are several good books on the technique.

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