Mothers, teachers, mentors, and acting instructors across homes and classes are familiar with the “Sit up straight!” mantra to their children and students. Posture is incredibly important for adequate spinal alignment, sufficient breathing, and also evens out tension often held within the neck and back. With back, neck, and shoulder injuries ever-rising, we can all benefit from posture improvement, breathing technique, and learning to release stress and strain from our bodies.
The Alexander Technique was developed by F.Matthias Alexander in the 1890’s, and is a posture and muscle-control technique that helps to align, center, and control the body easily and naturally . After practicing for a period of sesions, this becomes effortless. The Alexander Technique is a way to apply pressure and overall adjustment in a natural, and almost holistic sense, as it allows the body to remain in a completely balanced state of ‘rest’ yet while it is still moving and alert. This state of both physical and mental well-being is one of positivity, relaxation, and clear alertness. An improvement in overall posture is a natural outcome.
Starting in early childhood, we learn to adapt to various situations, circumstances, and physical environments given our natural genetic structure, and our ability to learn movement. As time progresses, habits truly do dictate how well and how completely our bodies learn. The natural poise of a baby cannot be denied, as it is the most comfortable and efficient form of human alignment. As we grow older, we often over-use a particular set or group of muscles. Over-extending a particular muscle, or group of muscles, will cause you to adapt to that stance even if you are not functioning in an optimal and physically balanced state.
Tension in the neck, back, and shoulders is common amongst both the young and old. With the increased dependence on computers, sitting in chairs, cars, and other sedentary lifestyles, the craning of the neck and slouched shoulders are of increasing concern. Not only does this cause unnecessary strain in these areas, but the tension that begins to build can create further damage, stress, and muscle slackness. This type of muscle use is inefficient and does not help to improve your posture in the long-term.
In an optimal state, the body is carried flawlessly, without limitation, and without pain. Since chronic stress and tension are diminished, this allows for free-flowing energy and better circulation throughout joints, muscles, and even blood. Without any constrictions, the body can adapt to the environment fluidly, whether it is sitting, standing, or posing. This is often why actors and actresses use the Alexander Technique to improve their overall appearance and skills; the technique provides them with the skills needed to make the best use of their energy, and enhance their physical bodies naturally.
Another interesting aspect of the Alexander Technique is that once physical problems are removed, aches and pains within the body may translate to an emotional level as well; there are many times when neck, back, and shoulder tension is also a combination of anger, sadness, or negative feelings that are literally ‘stored’ in these areas. With the help of Alexander Technique, both a physical and emotional ‘release’ is possible, and can improve emotional problems considerably.
The central ‘theory’ behind the Alexander Technique is the use of a Primary Control. This means that your spine, shoulders, and back are thought to be the centerpiece of your body, almost like an imaginary ‘cross’ that can improve your posture. These remain stable yet supple, creating your center, and all other joints and muscles are extensions of this strong area. When in a state of natural rest, this area will be balanced and poised, without tension and control. Coordination of the entire body can take place from this center point. The best way to begin is by making sure your neck is in alignment with your spine, no matter what your stance or activity. This can feel awkward at first, but keeping your eye level perpendicular to the ground, and your head slightly tipped forward (not craning your neck), will help in the adjustment period. Your head should move smoothly and effortlessly, not rigidly or “stuck” to your neck.
The Alexander Technique is named after its founder, F.M. Alexander, himself an actor and teacher who taught the technique without textbooks or required reading. Instead, he emphasized that this technique could, and should, be taught in a one-on-one setting. This ensures that students would have a guided and methodical understanding of the technique itself, and knew what to expect from themselves when practicing.
Today, almost every town and city has at least one trained teacher of this technique; its helpful to look in alternative health classifieds, local adult groups, and even healthfood and organic stores for leads. You’ll learn very valuable lessons from anyone who is trained and qualified; these will cover all areas including sitting, lying down, standing, and walking. Each session can range from 20-60 minutes. Your progress will be monitored, and the more you practice, the more effortless and natural your balanced posture will become. Steps to improve your posture with better coordination will greatly enhance your daily living, aches and pains, as well as increasing the chances of healthy joints and muscle groups. Our mothers and teachers had great intentions when chiding us for sitting up straight, and you can further improve your posture by learning the benefits of the Alexander Technique.