42 We Have Moved

Moving truck illustrationThis blog has moved and is now integrated into my studio’s website.

The new address is www.AlexanderTeachingStudio.com/blog

If you’d like to continue to receive updates of new postings you will need to go to the new blog site and subscribe.

 

 

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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41 Can You Fix My Kid’s Posture in Three Weeks?

I don’t work with children a lot but I do occasionally.

One August I got a rather frantic sounding e-mail from a local parent asking me if I could fix his son’s posture in the next three weeks, before school started. It was a matter of great concern, he wrote.

My first response when I am contacted by a parent wanting to bring their child in to see me is to ask, “Have you spoken to your child about coming in to see me?” I will agree to work with the child if (1) the parent gets a buy in from the child to at least try 2—3 lessons with me and (2) the parent allows the child to be part of the decision whether or not to continue past the initial lessons.

Half the time we don’t get past this initial interaction and the child never comes in. When the child does come in it is usually very obvious that it is the parent who needs the lessons more so than the child.

As a parent you are a model for your children. Kids, especially at a very young age, learn so much by imitating those around them.

father and son pointing

Kids learn a lot by imitating those around them

Adults understand modeling behavior as a way to teach their kids to do things like saying please and thank you, not using profanity, looking both ways before they cross the street, cleaning up after themselves.

But do you think about being a model for your children in terms of posture and Use?

If you don’t understand your own posture and Use, or even know what constitutes good posture and Use, how can you expect to be a good model for your kids? You are never too old to learn and to make changes – if you want to.

So if you are a parent and are really concerned about your kids’ posture start with yourself.  Be the best model you can. This will go a lot farther than constantly prodding your kids to “stand up straight!” That advice from your parents didn’t work well for you, so why do you think it would work for your kids?

Picture credit: Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

40 A Leaning Nation

sketch of tower of pisaI observe people. A lot.

I have always enjoyed people watching, even as a young child. As an Alexander teacher I am trained in the art of observation of self (and others). So, it’s hard not to observe people. Occupational hazard, I guess.

Some students ask me when I am out in public, if I am constantly judging people’s posture and Use. I’d say I am more of a curious observer than a critic. I wonder a lot at what people do with themselves and why. People and their Use are an endless source of fascination for me.

One thing that I have observed a lot recently is how most people don’t stand on their own two feet. Instead they lean.

couple leaning on luggage

Fig A: we can come up with an endless variety of ways of leaning on things!

They lean on anything they can. Walls, partitions, countertops, luggage, tables and chairs. And if there is nothing to lean on, they lean on themselves.

woman standing with weight in left hip

Fig B: a common habit of leaning on yourself-collapsing down into one hip.

 

woman standing next to broken down car

Fig C: another common habit of leaning on yourself-leaning back and sitting down into your lower back.

I have my own hypotheses about why this is so. One is that as adults when we sit, which most of us do most of the time, we don’t practice sitting upright and balanced, supporting our own torsos. When we sit down, we lean back against the back of the chair, or lean to the right or to the left supporting ourselves on an armrest.

Because we spend so many hours sitting and leaning we take the same leaning behavior into standing as well.

We get good at what we practice.

I go to a local Chipotle restaurant about once a month. I have been to a many Chipotle restaurants over last few years. Like most chains, the interior of the restaurants are quite similar. And in this chain they tend to have a low wall, about 3 ½ feet in height that people snake around as they wait in line.

What I enjoy a lot about going to Chipotle (besides the food) is watching how people wait in line. I’d say most of the time about 75% of the people are leaning against that low wall in some way or another. And the variations of leaning seem endless. And some are quite creative! The remaining 25% that are not leaning on the wall are leaning into one hip or the other, or are standing with their knees locked, pelvis thrust forward and literally are leaning back and down onto their lower backs.

Observing others is often helpful when learning to observe yourself. Watch how other people stand. What percentage are leaning on objects or on themselves? How do they lean? Do you observe any of these habits in yourself?

Picture Credits: Image of Leaning Tower of Pisa courtesy of TeddyBear[Picnic] at FreeDigitalPhotos.net; Fig A: Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net; Fig B: Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net; Fig C: Image courtesy of Witthaya Phonsawat at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

39 Use, Posture and Reaction

To a large degree your Use (and your posture) is a habit.

Habit is a pattern of behavior (or reaction) triggered by a cue.

As a human, you are a reactive being. Basically you go through life reacting to your world.
This is a good thing. Being a reactive being means that when you step off the sidewalk to cross the street and a car suddenly appears you react (typically by stopping). I think you would agree is this is a good thing. Otherwise you wouldn’t be long for this world!

That a lot of your habitual reactions are just that, habitual, is also a good thing. Habits are dealt with by lower levels of your brain. This allows you to not constantly be thinking about basic behaviors, such as how to tie your shoe, so you can devote mental energy to invent things, solve problems, plan for your future, etc.

But…and of course there is a but….we have developed a lot of habitual ways of reacting that play havoc with our Use (and posture).

What you see as your physical posture is to a large extent a manifestation of how you have habitually reacted to your world over time.

An important concept to grasp as you explore your habitual patterns of Use (and posture) and how to change them is that you can have choice in how you react to a particular cue.

Starting to recognize a specific cue and your unique reaction to that cue is the first step in making change. Once you recognize the cue you can decide to explore a different reaction. Let me give you an example:

therapist listening to a patient

A typical way of using yourself when you are intently listening to another–torso pulled forward and compressed, head pulled back and down. It doesn’t have to be this way!

Over the years I have worked with a number of  therapists. Therapists typically meet with their clients one on one, usually sitting across from each other. The client sitting across from the therapist is a cue for the therapist’s listening reaction to kick in. A lot of the therapists I see have developed a habit of reacting to the client by subtly leaning forward, rounding (compressing) their spines and pulling the head back and down—all in an attempt to listen to their client.

However, because they spend many hours a day in this typical reaction pattern it adds up. They wonder why they have rounded shoulders and a tight neck.

When they look at the situation as an example of how they are reacting to a cue (the client) and are introduced to the fact that they can have choice in how they react some change can take place.

They might realize that they can (literally) come up and back away from the client a bit, finding the back of their chair (and maybe place a large pillow behind it to support them).

It might feel wrong at first because it is not their typical pattern of Use in this situation. They may feel that they are not showing the client adequately that they are listening or even care. What they must realize is that they are just experiencing a different reaction. Simply because it is not familiar it may register as “wrong”.

So instead of teaching a student to sit up straight I help them understand that they can have more choice in how they react to their world. That way they can begin to find their own cues and experiment with making some conscious choices in their reactions.

Most of us feel like we go through our day making a ton of well-considered decisions, when in fact they are habits. One habit may not account for much, but added up over time have enormous impacts on our health, productivity, Use (and posture!)

Photo courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

38 Posture or Use?

Alexander Technique is often associated with improving posture. And certainly people that study with an Alexander teacher over time frequently show physical changes that others notice as improved posture.

When speaking to people about what I do, I often say that I help my students change poor postural habits or improve their posture. I use the word posture because it is a word most people have heard before. Most people have some notion of what posture is about.

However, here is my dirty little secret: yes I do help people with their posture, but not by helping them with their posture.

Huh?

I help people with their posture by helping them better understand, improve awareness of and develop strategies for changing their Use.

Every field of study has its vocabulary. Use is one of those special vocabulary words that belong to the Alexander Technique.

When you work with an Alexander teacher you learn a different approach to solving your problems. A different approach requires different thinking and some new ideas. So, some new vocabulary.

Your Use is how you support and coordinate yourself while in movement or at rest. Your Use is how you do whatever you do, in a very broad sense. And whatever you do has a physical component, a mental component and an emotional component—it involves the Whole Self (which as you guessed is another Alexander vocabulary word).

Your Use is influenced by your thinking and by your emotions.

To bring about changes in your habitual patterns of Use you must be willing to be more conscious of how you think and react.

If you try to improve your posture by just sitting or standing up straight you are missing a whole lot of what is influencing your posture for good or ill.

Study of the Alexander Technique is a study of the Use of Yourself.

37 Sleep Cures Many Things

Sleep cures many things. bearcat  sleeping in tree

Many years ago a doctor said this to me. I have never forgotten it.

I don’t think the doc meant lack of sleep itself is the direct cause of most of our ailments. I think he meant many things we suffer from are made worse by not getting adequate sleep.

We may wear our immune system down with lack of sleep and then be more susceptible to contracting the cold or flu that is going around the office. Or we may already have a cold and our lack of sleep makes it linger on that much longer. Or we may have a chronic condition that we have to live with and manage and lack of sleep makes it that much more difficult to deal with.

I originally started to study with an Alexander teacher in 1995 because I had been suffering from chronic neck, shoulder and upper back pain for about 6 years. Although I was diagnosed with a condition related to Fibromyalgia, a lot of the pain was due to postural and tension issues—things that I could affect positively through learning and applying the skills of the Alexander Technique.

The Alexander Technique helped and continues to help me a great deal. What is also very important though is that I get adequate sleep. Because if I do not get adequate sleep over a period of time, my posture suffers, excess tension creeps in and I can slip into a pain cycle.

When you are tired your muscles don’t work as well to hold you up and you literally droop. That drooping pulls you out of shape and stresses your body. When you droop it affects your ability to breathe efficiently. When we don’t breathe efficiently you don’t get as much oxygen to your cells as otherwise. And you need adequate oxygen to fuel all the systems of your body.

Over the years some people have tried to convince me that you can train yourself to need less sleep. I have not found that to be the case with myself. I need between 8 ½ and 9 hours of sleep a night. I know that because if I let myself sleep without an alarm clock for a week or two I almost without fail wake up after 8 ½ or 9 hours.

I have chosen to make sleep one of my top priorities. Because I don’t like it when I am in pain and I know that lack of sleep contributes to pain for me.

Making sleep a top priority for me means…

  • I do not stay up late to get one more thing done on my to do list.
  • I listen to my body. When it is tired I don’t continue reading or watching that TV program for another ½ hour. I turn off the light and shut my eyes.
  • I don’t answer the phone after 9 o’clock.

And it means I wake up at an advantage and not a disadvantage when it comes to working on my posture.

Photo courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

36 Comfortable or Familiar?

woman sleeping on her sideI’ve been conducting an experiment for the past month.

For years I slept on all four sides. I slept on my back, right side, left side and front. Sometimes for a time I would have a preference for one of the four sides. Sometimes I would rotate through all of them in the course of one night.

I decided for the past month to sleep only on my back or on my front.

What I noticed from day one is that my shoulders feel much better each morning when I wake up. They don’t feel the least bit stiff, which is how they normally feel. That in itself is enough for me to continue with the experiment.

What has been most interesting though to observe is the strong desire in me to roll onto my side–even though lying on my side has never been completely pain free for me. Even if I have enough pillows to support my head and neck the shoulder toward the bed is always compressed somewhat and just a little bit painful. But the slightly curled up fetal position I adopt when on my side is very familiar and the comfort that familiarity provided would win out over the slight discomfort I felt in the shoulder.

Your posture is to a great extent habit. Habits are familiar. When you are familiar with something it is comfortable. But not necessarily comfortable as we traditionally define it: affording physical ease or relaxation. Comfortable because it is known and not something new. An important distinction.

For me it is more comfortable to get together with old friends than to go to a party where I don’t know many people. Humans tend to resist change. What’s known (the old friends) is familiar and therefore comfortable. Something (or somebody) new is unfamiliar and therefore uncomfortable (at least until you get to know them).

Often a student experimenting with a new way of balancing her weight in sitting or standing will comment that her old way is more comfortable than the new way—even though the old way is compressing her low back and causing pain. This is just one more example of the same phenomenon of describing something familiar as comfortable.

man crossing his armsTry this experiment: cross your arms in front of you. Notice how this feels. Cross your arms the opposite way (so if your right arm was on top originally, put your left arm on top and vice versa). Notice how this feels.

Typically the way you cross your arms first will be your habitual way and it will feel comfortable (because it is familiar). The second way will not be your habitual way and it will feel uncomfortable (because it is unfamiliar). You can do this same experiment with crossing your legs as well.

One of the reasons that making changes to your posture is challenging is that we feel this strong pull back towards the familiar. New ways of doing things at first feel uncomfortable (meaning unfamiliar).

Understanding this fact is important. And also realizing that the more you practice the more familiar new habits will become and consequently the more comfortable.

Photo of woman sleeping courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Photo of man crossing his arms courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net