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Change Your Posture, Change Your Life by Richard Brennan

Listen to interview with Richard Brennan discussing posture

The teacher helps this man to lengthen all the way from his feet to the top of his head The teacher guides  this man into a freer way of walking

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Improve Your Posture with the Alexander Technique

Millions of people today are very concerned about improving the way they look, and as a result spend a great deal of money on their clothes, cosmetics and at hair salons. Yet, most people would agree that one of the most attractive qualities about a person is the way they sit, stand and move - or in other words, their posture.

Sequence of pictures showing a stooped ape rising to an upright human, then back down to a slumped computer user

Typical Pattern of Deteriorating Posture

As children most of us have beautiful posture and ease, flexibility and grace of movement, but as we grow older, however, it is an entirely different story. From the age of five or six we start to tense our muscles in reaction to life's fears and worries, and as a result our posture deteriorates, often quite seriously. Our shoulders become hunched; our neck becomes stiff and inflexible, and many of us begin to sit in a slumped and 'pulled down' fashion.

As we begin to be aware of our deteriorating posture we try to compensate by holding ourselves in a rigid upright position as we sit up straight and pull our shoulders back. This only causes us to tense our muscles even more worsening the situation. Many people will even describe posture as 'the way you hold yourself' or 'the shape you are in'; but in fact posture is nothing of the kind. A person's posture should be constantly changing depending on what activity they are doing. Unnatural, fixed postures will invariably lead to ill-health in the future.

This six-year old child has a beautiful naturally upright posture

Natural Poise

What many people do not realise is that good posture happens without physical or mental effort. Young children who still have grace of movement and upright posture are not 'doing' anything to achieve this state of being - it is in-built! This is because we all have an incredible arrangement of postural reflexes throughout the body that support us against the force of gravity and naturally co-ordinates our movements for us. It is only the inappropriate muscular tension, which builds up gradually over the years, that creates an interference with these reflexes resulting in us moving in ways that are awkward, extremely inefficient, or even downright harmful. This can give rise to a whole range of common ailments such as arthritis, neck and back pain, sciatica or just general stiffness and immobility in later life.

Alexander's Unique Insight

In fact, most of the postural problems that affect adults can be traced to over-tensed neck muscles that interfere with the free movement of the head and spine. If this freedom is not present it will be impossible to obtain any lasting freedom elsewhere in the body. This is because the head is very heavy (weighing approximately 14 pounds) and sits upon a very unstable structure - the spine. To obtain good posture, it is essential that the head balances lightly on the top of the spine, so that the head, neck and back are allowed to move without restriction. This, in turn, allows all the other mechanisms and reflexes throughout the body to work as nature intended - the spine becomes aligned, allowing all our joints and muscles to have the maximum movement and flexibility. Good posture also helps us to experience a general feeling of lightness that allows us to move with very little effort.

Regaining a Healthy Posture

Young girl sitting on a school chair with rounded back Alexander teacher helping young girl to sit with back more upright Young girl sitting in chair with improved posture after Alexander lesson

Photos: Brad Anderson

People living in developed countries generally spend many hours each day sitting in chairs, and these typically slope backwards. These two facts combined together contribute a great deal to the high incidence of back pain. Using a forward-sloping wedge-shaped cushion or a well designed chair can help improve posture and decrease back pain.

To obtain good posture it is important to realise that freedom of movement is not achieved by doing anything, but rather by realising what we are already doing to prevent this freedom of movement from taking place and then taking steps to stop interfering with the way we move. This not only allows the body's own healing processes to function, but also brings about a greater efficiency of energy and a happier outlook on life.

The Alexander Technique can help you to regain good posture as you learn new ways of sitting, standing, breathing and moving that put less pressure on your body and this in turn will allow you to perform all your daily activities with greater ease and efficiency. Many students experience a general feeling of lightness throughout their bodies and describe the sensation as 'walking on air', 'moving with no effort'. or 'having all the joints well oiled'. It is simply the feeling of letting your body work as nature intended without the interference that is practically universal in Western society today. Although the experience can differ for each individual, many describe it as a feeling that their worries have been suddenly lifted off their shoulders. One of my pupils poetically described it as 'the champagne feeling'. Following your first Alexander lesson this feeling may only last for a few hours after the lesson finishes, but with subsequent lessons this will last for longer and longer periods.

Benefits of Good Posture

As you become able to use your body more efficiently, you will have more energy to do the things that you enjoy. Often the tiredness that people feel throughout the day or in the evenings is replaced with more energy and enthusiasm, which enables them to achieve more during their day. This naturally gives them a greater sense of fulfilment in their life, and when the body is more active it is more likely to function naturally, which will maintain it in a better condition later in life.