Posture is a dynamic state
There are no ‘perfect positions’ to aim for with the Alexander Technique. When we talk about restoring balance, it is helpful to remember that this balance is not a fixed point but is constantly changing.
Our joints are not comprised of flat surfaces of bones stacked securely on top of one another but, rather, rounded surfaces that are able to balance because of the surrounding musculature. However, our muscles are not designed to hold us rigidly in place. The erector spinae muscles (deep postural muscles of the back) that work to maintain our upright posture do so not by a single major contraction, but through a series of continual adjustments as they respond to our constantly changing centre of gravity. We may think that we are standing or sitting ‘still’ but if we pay attention we will realise that there is continual, subtle movement. Likewise, the head is ‘elegantly unbalanced’ on the top vertebra of the neck as the sub-occipital muscles carry out their dance of gentle adjustments. Posture is a dynamic state.
Working with the Alexander Technique should not leave us looking stiff and upright as we try to maintain a particular stance that we believe to be right. When we truly understand and apply the principles of the Technique, movement (and stillness) becomes effortless. In fact, it is our habitual ways of sitting and standing that are often fixed and rigid. For example, standing with the knees braced back is a fairly common and passive stance that locks us into position with the knee joint taken so far into extension that subsequent movement is hindered. The bodyweight is taken heavily into the ligaments, cartilage and connective tissue, causing a stress on the knee joint. The pelvis tilts forward, increasing the curve in the lower back and stressing the hip joints. The entire spine is thrown out of alignment, impacting muscles in the neck, shoulders and lower back.
We may think that locking ourselves into these braced positions helps to keep us secure and balanced. Instead, it makes us more precarious, more prone to fall as we lurch from one position to another. When the knees and hips become fixed, we rely much more on our arms for balance, until soon we can’t sit down or bend without using an arm to support ourselves.
If we have become accustomed to standing in this passive way, then we may experience a temporary sense of instability when we take the knees out of the locked position. It is an instability that we should welcome as we are allowing the interplay of anterior and posterior muscles to take effect. Allowing our muscles to work freely is to allow more fluidity and ease in our movements, making us more dynamic and responsive as we let go of effort and holding.
Note: these posts represent my current thoughts and experience of the Technique and will probably be most helpful for existing students and new teachers of the Alexander Technique