Not holding positions


A client who has not had more than just a few sessions asked after a session if the position of his head was better than before and was he holding better posture.  This is such a straight forward question and it’s a shame that my answer has to be slightly more in-depth than a simple yes or no.

In short, his poise was better and the ‘position of his head’ was more in balance and yes, he was in better shape after the lesson….But…   The point I want to make is, that it is not about ‘holding’ onto a position; it is not about keeping the ‘right position’ for his head, or his shoulders, neck, back or anything else.  Looking at him during this ‘snapshot-in-time’ one might say that he was quite nicely upright, or certainly better than he was, but the key point is that it’s his muscular co-ordination and his condition that is better, not the position.

We are not well designed for remaining static or unmoving for long; we are much better designed for movement such as running, bending, throwing etc.  Our whole physique, given the muscular and skeletal arrangement, needs to function in a highly mobile, fluid and expansive manner in order to avoid problems.  Back pain from sitting at a desk is not the fault or problem of our chair or set up, although it will be helpful to adjust what we’ve got to suit our particular size and proportions. Back pain is the consequence and warning signal that we are not using ourselves efficiently.  Trying to hold the ‘correct position’ is only going to lead to problems as it’s too fixed a condition.

The condition refers to the quality of muscle tone throughout his body;  a condition where the muscles are neither too stiff and contracted, nor so flaccid and loose that he collapses, that they are all gently working together in a highly co-ordinated and synchronised manner and that there is also freedom of the joints for easy mobility.  Ultimately the quality that we all need, if we look at the best examples of healthy poise that we can find, in our own young children of 3-4 years old for example, is to be very free and supple, yet expansive in stature ie. tall and broad ….at the same time. Children are enjoying an experience of being simultaneously free (loose) and expansive.

Such combination of freedom (free of unnecessary tension) and being tall and broad all at the same time can seem contradictory as we so often associate ‘holding ourselves tall’ with effort, and on the other hand relaxation meaning we collapse into the sofa.  However, we have evolved as a species of vertebrate mammal to cope with the effects of gravity, to be athletic and also be free and expansive in stature. The arrangement of bones and muscles can all work in such a way that all our muscles are gently energised and ‘active’ without undue tension, so we are elastic yet also supported.   This is how we are ‘designed’ through the evolutionary process.  If we have developed a slouch, stoop, stiff back, neck, hips and knees it is because we have developed postural habits that are interfering with our natural poise and instinct that we have inherited at from birth.  We are spoiling it for ourselves, albeit unwittingly.   It is our ‘birthright’ to be free, expansive….and with that comes good health.

If we misuse any machine or piece of equipment we cannot expect it to work very efficiently afterwards. We are very much the same, being bio-mechanical with muscles and ligaments for motive power and support (or chassis) provided by a skeletal structure. The mechanisms are usually all controlled for us by our subconscious, but the subtle and finely tuned muscular co-ordination we once enjoyed as children is now ‘corrupted’ by postural habits so we are no longer functioning as designed.  As our movements are generally performed subconsciously, many of us are not aware of how we stand, sit, run, bend or do anything; we rely on our body to work it out; we trust the system. But our system cannot now be relied on to function well unsupervised.

FM Alexander evolved a technique that now bears his name to revive our natural poise, to give us a step-by-step procedure for taking more conscious control enabling our body and mind to work together….psycho-physical unity.  A short course in the Alexander Technique enables us to be more aware of how we use our whole ‘self’ in any activity. We learn to think in particular ways that help us make the most of ourselves, physically, mentally and avoid the problems of developing bad posture habits.

With Alexander lessons we learn to maintain a free neck with released shoulders that are not in any particular ‘position’ except for being open and broad, well balanced in relation to gravity and working in conjunction with the whole body.  The entire torso works as a sprung whole with legs and arms functioning cohesively and in an integrated manner with the head, neck and back. The new improving co-ordination which is free of habit brings more agility, better balance and easier and accurate movement, but it also benefits the efficiency of our vital processes such as breathing, digestion, circulation, blood pressure and even reproductive systems.   This also ultimately affects how we feel about ourselves, our confidence and allows us to overcome timidity and shyness.  All these things are affected by the overall working of our body. With Alexander lessons we learn to maintain more freedom and better balance as we move around, sit, stand or swing a golf club, run, play the violin, make a public speech or wash the dishes.  We are dealing with poise in action.  Consequently it can be understood that ‘to hold a position’ for our head, neck or back is entirely wrong as it interferes with our constantly changing situations and upsets our entire co-ordination. The ‘holding’ is the problem.  We must not hold positions or get stuck. We want to be free, in balance and able to move with minimum effort. Watch a 3 year old to see how they are when they move.

So, on looking at my client I said something along the lines of “Yes you are much better poised but do not hold the position.  As you move, continue to ‘free your neck’, inhibit tensing and think of your head going upwards and your back lengthening and widening as you walk. You mustn’t hold it, but continue to give these ‘directions’ as you go and then you’ll maintain the fluid co-ordinated quality that is free, expansive and unheld.  So you are constantly inhibiting and directing…..releasing and lengthening (and widening) as you move.”  This is thinking in action, not holding a position.

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