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Alexander Technique and "good posture"

Updated: Nov 4, 2022

According to Wikipedia, Alexander Technique "is a popular type of alternative therapy based on the idea that poor posture gives rise to a range of health problems."

Okay, remind me what the Alexander Technique is.

Alexander Technique is a method for changing habits through the development of mindbody unity and conscious, embodied awareness. (Other teachers may define it differently, but at the very least, my definition is rooted in F.M. Alexander's writing and pedagogy.)

When I ask my students what they're learning, they say things like...

"Alexander Technique is about acting with clear intention, moving more freely, pausing before reacting, and letting go of things I don't need to be doing."

Then why do I keep seeing pictures of skeletons?

GREAT question.

If you've ever googled "Alexander Technique" (AT) or looked online for a teacher, you've most likely seen images like this...

A series of upright people with various arrows designed to teach you which skeletons have "good" or "bad" posture. You've probably also read that AT lessons will improve your posture and relieve your back pain!

But if that's not AT, why is this messaging so common?

So, here are my thoughts:

  1. Meriam-Webster defines "posture" as "the position or bearing of the body whether characteristic or assumed for a special purpose," which implies a fixed state. But in everyday conversation, "posture" is generally understood to be you tend to stand and move. And if learning AT can help you to move in a well-coordinated way and stand with easy balance, isn't that "improving posture?"

  2. F.M. Alexander did set out to figure out the cause of his persistent vocal issues (a physical problem), and he did change the way he stood and moved as a result of his discoveries. So if you're interested in changing the way you stand and move (again, commonly referred to as your "posture"), then it makes sense that F.M. Alexander's technique would be an effective way to do so.

  3. AT is a method for cultivating mindbody unity, which involves making conscious connections between our thoughts, emotions, and feelings. Because this process does result in greater awareness and control of what we're doing physically, it (along with yoga/feldenkrais/pilates/and literally any other embodied awareness practice) gets branded as "improving posture." So while it would be inaccurate to say, "yoga is a method for improving posture and reducing back pain," it can be helpful in these arenas and therefore many people are drawn to yoga (or Alexander Technique) because of that.

It's easy to understand how Alexander Technique has become so deeply associated with "improving posture" even if that isn't a main principle or aim of the practice.

...But Alexander Technique can help me improve my posture and relieve back pain, right?

Le sigh. "Improve your posture and reduce your back pain" is catchy marketing, and it does help to make the connection that our daily habits have a big influence on how we feel, but to me, AT is not fundamentally about either. I also think this mentality undersells the benefits of learning Alexander Technique.

Alexander Technique lessons are forums for play and experimentation. We will move. We will reflect on how we're moving. Your teacher may even show you a skeleton and teach you how the human body fits together.

All of these stem from a core AT principle that we do what we think. Or, as my teacher Catherine Kettrick would say:

Movement is embodied thought.

Looking at a skeleton isn't part of a broad AT philosophy of "good posture" that teaches you what all those arrows mean and how to stand or sit "properly." But learning how your body fits together and how it's designed to move might just shift the way you see yourself - and subsequently, the way you move. We're affecting what you do by aiming for what you think.

So when we say AT is a method for improving posture, what I believe is more accurate is this:

By shifting our understanding of anatomy and developing an embodied sense of awareness, we are strengthening our ability to...

  • Move with effortless coordination and balance

  • Let go of unnecessary tension patterns

  • Pause, and act with intention

  • Be aware of what we're doing in any given moment

  • Stand, sit, play, live, with mental/physical flexibility

Even without me mentioning "back pain" or "posture" at all, I bet you're already thinking, "wait, I want those things!"

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